The Last Train to Scarborough, Stephen Joseph Theatre, review


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The Independent Culture

When will prime time television wake up to the charms of steam detective Jim Stringer?

True he might not spend half his time rummaging around inside a dead body for clues in line with the current fashion for post mortem-based drama.

And there is little in the way of technical wizardry a la Sherlock that might spice up his dogged investigations into railway murders. But Stringer is an incredibly likeable, honestly flawed protagonist- an ordinary bloke with a wry sense of humour and passion for trains. His is a character fully immersed in the values of his time and class.

Still, television’s loss has hitherto been the book-reading public’s gain. And now it is the turn of theatregoers to enjoy author Andrew Martin’s absorbing, nostalgic adventures set during the Edwardian heyday of steam travel.

Director Chris Monks discovered Detective Sergeant Stringer in a bookshop under local interest - although its appeal must surely be wider.

For the artistic chief of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the title of3 Martin’s sixth novel in a series which has taken our hero from the secret stations of the Somme to the far flung tracks of the British Empire was an obvious attraction and it now forms part of the Yorkshire Festival marking the Grand Depart of the Tour de France next month.

There is certainly more than a dark flick or Yorkshire noir within its pages or “Raymond Chandler meets Geoff Boycott” as Monks describes it in his programme notes.

The story line is a simple one. A railwayman goes missing after working the last train from York to the seaside resort. Stringer, a former fireman played by Matthew Booth, is pressed into service to find him.

He must leave behind his alluring wife (Jennifer Bryden) on a mission that involves him spending a night at an out of season boarding house where he must unravel the secrets of the misfit guests and the enigmatic family that owns it.

Some of the plotting is a little bit ragged around the edges and the denouement perhaps fails to deliver the big twist that the measured build up promises. It was never quite edge of the seat stuff but entertaining and atmospheric nonetheless. Even though this is produced in association with the National Railway Museum there is plenty here for non-puffer-fans.

To 14 June