Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
12:00 AM 29th December 2023

The Arts Scene In 2023

2023 Where to start?

The obvious answer is January 1, but that seems too trite, so I am going with an impressionistic view of 2023. And, to my surprise, it seems to have been a very good twelve months. I could not declare a vintage, but it was certainly enough to keep me hungry for more input.

Andy Cryer ©Tony Bartholomew
Andy Cryer ©Tony Bartholomew
I have the good fortune to live in Scarborough, so the basis for my cultural voyage has been the Stephen Joseph Theatre. There have been some extremes. Mark Thomas’s appearance in England and Son was a powerful experience as he laid bare the realities of life for some in our country. On the other hand, there was an appearance by local lad Mark Jewison for an evening of Gershwin songs—a pure delight, but also a ‘powerful’ one in a completely different way from England and Son.

For sheer fun (and is not ‘fun’ the reason we subscribe to these events?) I could not have done better than the Comedy of Errors (more or less). The show pointed out the sheer absurdity of Shakespeare’s original and took liberties by injecting 80s songs into the action. For sheer pace, I saw nothing like it this year and deservedly received one of the most enthusiastic standing ovations. Come to think of it, I do not believe I have seen as many audiences on their feet as I have this year.

This year also saw a return to form for the great Sir Alan Ayckbourn with Constant Companions. He has broadcast warnings before about the threat posed by Artificial Intelligence, but this was almost an elegy for the demise of humanity as the machines take over. One of the most poignant images seen this year: while the humans dither and wrangle, the male and female androids secretly hold hands, looking on in detached amusement.

Another jewel in our crown is the Ryedale Festival. Since I no longer have a car (health, not legal restrictions), I am limited to the event staged in Scarborough. This year it was the estimable Orchestra of Opera North playing a programme that had instant kerb appeal: Mozart, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. However, imagine my surprise when I realised that the soloist was none other than Proms sensation Bomsori Kim. My description of the audience listening to her playing was 'spellbound' and that does not do justice to our appreciation of her virtuosity. With the artistic treasures of St Martin’s Church, it was a memorable evening.

East Coast Open
East Coast Open
Scarborough Art Gallery threw up two delights: we were treated to a hundred works of art in the East Coast Open and a room full of portraits from the gallery's own collection. I had never been a fan of portraiture until I once had an hour to kill in London and wandered into the National Portrait Gallery. With careful and leisurely pperusal,you begin to see what this artistic genre is all about.

The main exhibition for the year was the East Coast Open. I am nowhere near as competitive as I used to be, but I always attend events like this with the hope that I will find someone not as good as me. Reader, I blush to confess that I could not hope to match any of the remarkable works on display. Not only did I review this show, but I also had the privilege of interviewing five of the artists—a humbling experience.

I wonder if there is anyone more modest about their achievements than Richard Mantle, Chief Executive of Opera North. I went to La Rondine this season, and at the end, as the applause for a splendid production died down, Richard came on stage to thank the Opera North faithful on the occasion of his retirement. The whole of the company stood behind him—not just the performers but also the technicians and stage hands. He spoke quietly of his time with the company, thanked Opera North staff, and then thanked the audience for their attendance and continuing support.

As I wrote at the time, ‘Not a dry eye in the House’ and as he walked off stage, with all on their feet, there came the opera lover’s token of approbation, ‘Bravo’.