In the Esk Valley passions are running deep as rehearsals get under way for the Neil Simon hit comedy Last of the Red Hot Lovers.
The sharp, satirical comedy is the choice for the summer season for Glaisdale-based Esk Valley Theatre, run by director Mark Stratton and his producer wife Sheila Carter.
The play is set in 1969 and its central character Barney is a married man determined to join the sexual revolution.
“We spend a lot of time reading plays and making a decision to choose a play which is challenging for us and exciting and also something our audience will enjoy,” said Mark.
“We like to do plays that have something to say about the human condition, that have depth, a good narrative and are not just about getting laughs,” he said.
For the ninth season, the couple wanted to do a five-hander but, in an echo of situations across the country, Arts Council funding was not forthcoming.
They decided, instead to do Last of the Red Hot Lovers – originally written for four actors, one man and three women but being staged here as a two-hander.
So, in the church room in Glaisdale, actors Rodney Matthew and Joanne Heywood are getting to grips with their lines – and each other – under Mark’s direction.
Rodney is playing Barney and Joanne the three women with whom Barney embarks on affairs.
For both of them it is the first time they have appeared for Esk Valley Theatre, though North Yorkshire-born Joanne is a familiar face to audiences at York Theatre Royal.
She played Dilys in First of the Summer Wine and Miss Lovelock in Grace and Favour.
“It was the play that particularly interested me,” said Rod, who hails from Scotland.
“American theatre is very good and deals with the complex things in life,” he said.
He has worked all over the country, from His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen to the Oxford Shakespeare Company and a host of theatres in between including the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
The play was the thing for Joanne, too, although she jumped at the chance to work in Glaisdale with Mark and Sheila.
She usually travels with her dog Oscar but he is staying at home in Essex until rehearsals are over.
She is playing three different women: selfish, tough Elaine Navazio, Bobbi Michele – self-obsessed and slightly crazy – and Jeanette Fisher, a woman who has discovered her husband is having an affair, is on antidepressants and “wakes up to gloom and goes to bed to gloom”.
“I loved the play and really wanted to play three parts at least one of which I wouldn’t normally be cast in because, frustrating as it is, you do get type cast,” said Joanne.
“You don’t get a lot of opportunities to play something a long way from yourself. All three are cracking roles. To be in all three acts and have the challenge of playing three very different women is wonderful,” she said.
Both Joanne and Mark are staying in Glaisdale and have settled into the community – which is important to Sheila and Mark who consider their professional company part of the fabric of the village.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers will run for three weeks at the Robinson Institute in Glaisdale. It opens on Friday August 9 and runs until Saturday August 31.
Performances are daily at 7.30pm with matinees every Thursday at 2.30pm and also on Saturday August 17 and Tuesday August 20 and 27.
The box office is on (01947) 897587.