REVIEW: The Last Train to Scarborough, Stephen Joseph Theatre

Matthew Booth as detective Jim Stringer
Matthew Booth as detective Jim Stringer

Waterstones Scarborough tells me that it has sold 800 copies of Andrew Martin’s novel.

This probably meant that the first- night audience had a high percentage of exceptionally informed spectators. What might they have been expecting?

People always complain that an adaptation leaves out their favourite bits. Not so here. I can’t think of anything that was in the novel that was not in Chris Monks’ reworking: five actors successfully covered 18 characters; the complex parallel plot line was fully realised; the inner working of Jim Stringer’s mind 
appeared projected on to the floor.

Further, if audience members had a picture of Jim Stringer in their minds before, I suspect it will now have morphed into Matthew Booth. He is on stage for virtually the whole evening dealing with the temptations of being away from home (yes, even in a 1914 Scarborough B&B there were temptations) and solving a murder mystery. It is a dominant performance.

Jennifer Bryden had the unenviable task of switching between the suffragist Lydia Stringer and the seductive Amanda Rickerby, as well as playing other minor parts.

Luminous as Lydia, but not tempting enough as Amanda, she appeared at times rather awkward and her attraction to Jim somewhat lukewarm.

Other characters switched so successfully that it was difficult to tell who was playing what. Did the excellent Andy Cryer, brilliant as the oily Theo Vaughan, really play five other parts as well as bringing off this key character?

The same could be said for Liam Evans-Ford playing the hulking, brain-damaged Adam Rickerby as well as the ebullient Tommy Nugent. However, perhaps the most spectacular transformation was Steve Huison’s as he went from the feeble Howard Fielding to the menacing Gus Klaason.

As a detective story this is not Raymond Chandler. Audience members were heard to characterise the play as ‘Ealing Noir’ or the next episode of Ripping Yarns. But you still want to know who dunnit and, of course, a surprise ending is part of the package.

Don’t forget, at least eight hundred people have bought the novel in Scarborough.

They’ll all want to bring family and friends. If you don’t have your tickets yet, I advise an immediate contact with the box office.

It at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until Saturday June 14. Performances are daily at 7.30pm except Thursdays when the show starts at 7pm.

Review by Mike Tilling