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…

Live Theatre New Season Launch

Last night’s visit to Live Theatre started with more drama than I would have liked. All the Metros were off, so Heworth Metro was in chaos as people desperately tried to get on a bus or find a taxi (ah, it was like being back in London!). The situation was made worse by the fact that a young man had been taken very ill, and when I arrived was lying on the floor of the station in what looked to be a state of semi-consciousness, so the Metro staff were not only having to contend with lots of commuters trying to figure out how to get home, but the disruption of an ambulance arriving and a medical emergency. (Props to them for managing, and doing so with politeness and sensitivity. At one point I heard one of the staff gently ask the fallen man, “Is there a girlfriend or a boyfriend we could call for you?” No weighted pause between the two options, as if the latter might be some reluctantly acknowledged choice. It occurred to me, fleetingly, that it is in tiny gestures of inclusion and kindness like this that the world is saved.)

Eventually, I managed to get a taxi, and made my way to the New Season Launch at Live Theatre. Drinks and food in the Undercroft were followed by a presentation by AD Joe Douglas on the coming season, which is packed full of goodies.

We were treated to a snippet from one of the plays in the upcoming Elevator festival, W*nk Buddies (asterisk theirs), the title of which caused much hilarity, and some music and discussions. Local lad Kema Sikazwe, a charismatic young performer, did a rap from his upcoming show Shine, about his search to reconcile his sometimes-conflicting heritage (he was born in Zambia, but raised from early childhood in Newcastle). At the other end of the age scale (I’m sure they won’t be offended for me saying that!), two former members of Lindisfarne celebrated the return of last season’s hit Clear White Light with a couple of songs. Live Theatre’s Writer in Residence Chinonyerem Odima read an extract from her new show Princess & The Hustler (a show she winningly described as based not only in politics but “Black Girl Joy – which I don’t see enough of”). She also talked about the project she is doing with Northumbria University students, Land: Beating the Bounds, which comes to the theatre in May, and two terrifyingly confident* members of Live Youth Theatre talked about the programme’s 21st birthday celebration, Turning Point.

(*Young people scare me. I am Officially Old).

Overall, the coming season has much to be excited about. Following Approaching Empty, which comes to Live fresh from the Kiln in February, the ‘big’ shows are a mix of smart revivals – such as The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil, a play Douglas had a big hit with when he was working in Scotland – and new writing (Princess, Shine). There are some on-the-pulse political pieces: DUPed, about Ian Paisley and the DUP, is sadly more relevant than you would want it to be; and Locker Room Talk puts a fresh spin on gendered politics.

Douglas said that, alongside politics, which is baked into the bricks of Live Theatre, one of the season’s themes was ‘growing up’. Fitting neatly into this are teen comedy Drip, and feminist piece Ask Me Anything, for which we have been promised the theatre will be transformed into a teenage girl’s bedroom, while #BeMoreMartyn: The Boy with the Deidre Tattoo, by Hope Theatre (who did the well-received Gypsy Queen) looks at a young life cut short, celebrating Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett.

One of the things I am most keen to see was It’s True, It’s True, It’s True. This got fantastic reviews at the Fringe and when I tweeted about it last night produced a flurry of excitement on Twitter – it’s great to see shows which did well at the Fringe not only get another bite at the cherry, but tour further than the London-Edinburgh nexus which is all too common.

So – all in all, lots to be excited about. You can check it all out here:

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Backyard Bike Shop

Yesterday made an overdue return visit to Backyard Bike Shop, down next to the river. It’s a lovely place – a cosy cafe that does a small but quality menu, but switches to a cocktail bar after 5. Alas, we were too early for cocktails, but the food was delicious and the staff were friendly.

I normally have the avocado smash – predictable, I know, but the “will they do my egg how I like it?” is my standard cafe test. The lovely waitress explained their avocados weren’t ripe so, prompted to be more adventurous, I had the chick pea pancakes with dahl, and S had the courgette ribbons with goats cheese curd – both of which were utterly delicious.

Now to go back for their cocktails.

Arch Sixteen Cafe

One of the lovely things about being back is seeing areas which were in decline when I left becoming regenerated. This is particularly true in Gateshead, much of which was in a fairly desolate state in my youth.

My friend S now lives in Ochre Yards, an estate of fancy new flats near the Hilton, and so any easy walk from the new bars on the Gateshead side of the river. The railway arches have also become home to a host of new businesses, including the butcher’s/wine shop Block and Bottle, and a fancy new tea shop. It’s also home to great wee cafe, Arch Sixteen.

A funky space that offers a range of coffees, cakes and sandwiches (the food offering looks good, though is relatively limited – though it does include several vegetarian offerings, and they plan to expand the menu).

It was a quiet afternoon when we popped in, which gave us a chance to chat to the proprietor Bob, who was lovely. He told us all about the different events the place hosts – ranging from freelancers’ networking to sewing nights and music gigs – and we were impressed by his commitment to really making the place a community hub.

Plus, I *love* a railway arch. Count me in for a return visit.

Small Town Inertia at the Side

A day off today, which I used to catch up with my old friend Simon, the photographer. Given our mutual interest in photography (his expert, mine… less so) we decided to check out the new exhibition at The Side Gallery, Small Town Inertia by J A Mortram.

Running till March – and free – it’s an incredibly powerful show. Mortram’s pictures show the brutalising effects of austerity on the disabled, the poor, the vulnerable – and, crucially, his subjects get to speak. Most of the photos are captioned with quotes by their subjects, which makes it feel like they have some agency in this: we are not just poverty tourists, peering at their misery. And it is, for the most part, misery, with both loneliness and the abuse and cruelty of strangers a common theme, especially for those who are mentally or physically disabled. They are often insightful and eloquent about their situations – one quote in particular stuck with me, from “David”, who compares the poor to chickens, pecking at the weakest in their midst, instead of uniting against the farmer who will be cutting off their heads.

It’s not an easy show – I found myself on the verge of tears a few times – but it is an important one.

Those Who Know

You may remember before Christmas I visited the pop up bar Miracle on Grey Street. Well, now the holidays are over it has transformed into an Alice in Wonderland theme, so my friend M and I decided to make a return visit.

Called Those Who Know, it’s quirkily decorated throughout with a thorough commitment to the theme, and offers a range of themed cocktails  – I tried the No Time to Say Hello and Black-Hearted Queen, both of which were nice.

The cocktails are good fun (and half price throughout January) and though they could do with adding some drier drinks (as far as I could tell, the menu veered towards the sweet), they are all in on the theme and it makes for a fun night out.

The front room was fairly busy and lively (though nothing like the Christmas rush, when queues were out the door) though we easily got seats in the back, a less atmospheric space on a quiet Wednesday but still decorated in the theme and dominated by a giant projected clock.

It’s a really fun use of the venue – I’d love to see more of this sort of thing!