Two Trips to the Tyneside

Having had my membership for months and barely used it, as is the way of things this week I made two consecutive trips this week, both to see great films.

[Contains spoilers]

If Beale Street Could Talk was first – the exquisite new film by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins. A powerful, painfully relevant story of black lives with a strong cast (Kiki Lane and Stephan James as the young couple at the story’s centre were both new to me, but it also features standout turns from more established actors such as Regina King, Colman King and – a long-established favourite of mine – Aunjanue Ellis), it’s a gorgeously shot and achingly romantic film, and one that will haunt you long after you’ve seen it.

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A lot more fun, though still tragic in many ways, was Can You Ever Forgive Me? Based on a true story, it’s smartly written with two incredible turns at its centre in Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant (and, to my joy, has appearances by some of my favourite actors, including Jane Curtin, Anna Deveare Smith and Marc Evan Jackson). (For a more detailed review, why not pop over to Caution Spoilers?)

In some ways it was a jarring combination – it’s a little tough to watch a movie about a white woman basically getting away with her crimes the day after a film that shows a black man incarcerated for something he didn’t do – but both are examples of film-making at its finest.

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The Ship Inn and Gangstagrass at the Cluny

I seem to split my time fairly evenly these days between the Quayside (Live Theatre) and Ouseburn – and, following Friday’s snowy visit, I returned in mercifully better climes for a gig at the Cluny to see Gangstagrass.

I was going with my friend L of Raven in a Graveyard – and her parents, who are an absolute delight, and way hipper than I will ever be. It’s not often you see a couple of pensioners getting down to a mix of bluegrass and hip hop – not in my life, anyway – but her folks were long time fans, having seen the band in Edinburgh and the US. (They were chatting away like old friends before the gig – I was impressed!).

Dinner first, and we decided to try The Ship, in no small part because of its proximity to the venue. But it’s a place I have been keen to try for ages, but have so far only managed to walk past when it’s stowed. It’s is an old-fashioned pub – dog friendly, good beer, some board games – but has also successfully established itself as a venue for vegan food. I had the ‘fish’ and chips with mushy peas, which was filling, but not amazing: the chips were great, but the ‘fish’ – tofu wrapped in seaweed and then fried in batter – was a little bland, and the peas looked processed rather than marrowfat: L said she’d had better on previous occasions. Her parents fared better with a pie, gravy and chips that they said was great (and certainly looked fantastic). I’d definitely go back, though – a good range of options, really friendly staff (who were great about my nut allergy) and it’s a lovely space – no wonder it gets so busy.

The gig was in Cluny 1 again – the same place I saw Rob Heron. My only knowledge of the band was that they did the Justified theme, but their hard-to-quantify sound – an engaging mix of bluegrass and hip hop – and their fantastic stage presence made for a great gig, and I’m really pleased L suggested it – part of what I wanted to do when I moved was broaden my horizons, and do more than just go to the theatre all the time, and I’m actually doing pretty well on that. I’ll never be as cool as her folks, though…

Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers at Alphabetti

Maybe it’s my vegetarianism, but the title of this show really put me off, as did some of the artwork: I loved the ‘minifig’ poster (see below) but pictures of blokes with bacon hanging from their knees made me think this was going to be some absurdist farce, which is very much not my thing. However, I was lined up to review it (see here), so dutifully went along – and am very glad I did, because it’s a corker of a show.

I always like Alphabetti: the bar is friendly, welcoming and lined with books (and they have a dog!). They put on an interesting programme of shows, and seem very committed to nurturing local writers – each week of the Bacon Knees run has a ‘reaction piece’ commissioned to be performed right after it. It’s a shame that my schedule has prevented me from going more since I have got back, and that everything I have wanted to see – and there have been a few shows on my radar – has been some sort of scheduling clash.

Based on this show, I am missing out. It’s a darkly funny and often moving look at the lives of two misfits, with strong performances and sharp, tight writing. At only an hour long it never outstays its welcome, and even with the aftershow I was home by 10 – not bad for a week night! They are also offering Pay What You Feel, making the show accessible to even the most straitened finances: get yourselves along!

Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra

The reason I was in Ouseburn in a blizzard (see previous post) was to go to a gig – my first at the Cluny. My friend Linda (of Raven in a Graveyard) is a regular there, and said that Rob Heron and his band were a fun night out. Well, she wasn’t wrong – the band were a delight. They’re a band that’s hard to categorise – I’ve seen them described as ‘swing honkytonk rockabilly’, and there was certainly some rockabilly style in the audience – but enormous fun, and with one of the most personable front men I’ve seen in a while. The music was toe-tappingly good, touching on everything from unrequited love to gentrification and bargain wine at Lidl, and the atmosphere was great (though we could have done without someone sending Linda’s drink flying then, instead of offering to replace it, just giving a cheery thumbs up. Er, thanks, love.)

The Cluny itself is a nice venue: small enough to feel intimate but not so small you feel squashed in, and with a decent programme of gigs (which is a good thing, since I’m going back this week…).

Thali Tray Indian Street Food

It was snowing a blizzard last night, so I must admit I was regretting my decision to book tickets to a gig in Ouseburn, which was a long, icy trek down a steep hill from town. But I was pleased that I finally got round to trying this great little restaurant, which I have walked past several times since it opened, always with a hungry gaze.

Tucked under the bridge – which gives nice shelter to the outside yard, a colourful exterior gives way inside to a spacious, white-washed brick interior. We timed our arrival just right, before two large parties were about to arrive, but though the place isn’t massive, it has a fair amount of tables and, had the weather not been baltic, it would have been nice to eat outside near their open fire pit.

The menu is limited, but has vegetarian options. I should have ordered the custom thali tray (so I could get my dal) but went for one of the set options instead, which was actually very nice (the naan was particularly good). The place also does a range of decent beers from Newcastle Brewery, and the staff were lovely and took particular care over my nut allergy, which was nice. I would definitely visit again. Maybe in nicer weather, mind.

The Shy Manifesto at Live Theatre

Another week, another show – and last night was off to see one-man show The Shy Manifesto at Live. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the show – though I suspect, to be fair, I am not the target audience. Young actor Theo Ancient put in a sterling performance, but I felt too old and too working class to be that engrossed in the self-dramatising dilemmas of some (semi)posh white boy, and it seemed a bit of an odd fit for Live. Still, there were a decent amount of laughs, and it was short, which is one of my favourite things for a play to be…

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Barluga and Boulevard

It’s Restaurant Week in Newcastle, so I used that as an excuse to try out Barluga (and, um, not order anything from the Restaurant Week menu). It’s a place I have walked past many times so it was nice to actually see inside – the decor is lush and warm for such a spacious place.

The menu had a decent mix of vegetarian and gluten free meals – important as one of my friends is GF – and though I plumped for a fairly basic option (grilled halloumi burger and chips) it was very tasty and my friends M and C professed themselves pleased with their respective roast chicken and salmon, though M felt her Bailey’s cheesecake dessert was singularly lacking in the taste of Bailey’s!

After that we headed to one of Newcastle’s most raucous nights out, Boulevard, to see this year’s “adult panto”.

It’s obvious a show called Jack off the Beanstalk isn’t for the easily offended, and I admit there were a few moments that jarred against my Brighton-honed, theatre-tailored PC sensibilities. But Boulevard stalwart Miss Rory runs a tight ship, there were plenty of outrageous laughs, and the staff were pleasant and efficient – I love a place that does table service and is actually on the ball about it.

The night was almost marred by the loudest hen party in the world, who were ejected at the interval after multiple warnings (imagine being so loud you get thrown out of a Geordie club!), with Miss Rory wishing them them the worst of weddings (“I hope it rains on your wedding day – acid rain!”), while someone foolish enough to be on the phone in the second act got a severe dressing down from the stage. I kinda wish more theatres adopted that policy…