A busy week and then a wall

It’s been a pretty crazy month in April, but I have also, for most of it, been pretty ill. Last week my usual, ahem, failsafe plan of powering through and ignoring it did what it always does: works until it didn’t, when my body finally said enough and a three-day migraine wiped the feet from under me. So this week, work aside, I plan to take it easy: lots of green veg, lots of rest, lots of naps and nights in.

I did manage to do some fun stuff last week, though. Saw Avengers Endgame, a little movie you might have heard of, and went for cocktails at Beelim House again. Went to another gig in the Cluny – this time Cluny 2, which I liked a lot less, since it seemed to have been set up with no thought to the sightlines, and I’m never that fond of being in a basement. Still, it was to see Simone Felice, who my friend L is mad about (she was right at the front of the stage, while I sat at the back and felt a bit sorry for myself). While I am not totally converted, it was a good gig and we met him afterwards (I shamelessly insisted she took a photo with him), and he seemed very nice.

Yesterday I was back at Northern Stage to see Isle of Brimsker, a lovely wee play by Frozen Lights, a company that specialise in theatre for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It was a really well-done show: thoughtful, clever and performed with bags of charm, and I am pleased that Northern Stage is making such an effort to engage wider audiences.

But now, this week? Just lots and lots of naps.

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Warhol in Edinburgh

As per my previous post, I was in Edinburgh this week. Mainly this was to see a show – Cora Bissett’s excellent What Girls Are Made of – but it also provided a great chance to catch up with friends.

My friend A and her husband moved back to Scotland a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen their new place since, so A & I met for drinks and dinner before the show (an OK-but not-stellar chips and halloumi burger at Red Squirrel, mostly because it was handy for the theatre, though it was a perfectly fine stopping point: friendly staff, very decent selection of veggie options). I stayed the night at their gorgeous house, which gave me major home envy: my room (just one of their guest rooms!) had an en suite, and the whole place was just so lovely and elegantly fitted out, I am now planning to secretly move in and see how long till they notice (it’s a big house – could be a while)…

A and I stayed up chatting till the early hours, so I admit I was more than a little hungover when I went back into town the next day to meet my friend D, through from Glasgow. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from taking in some culture, and decided to head to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

It’s been years since I have been – I’ve never even set foot in Modern Two – but we started there, keen to see I want to be a machine, an exhibition of Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi pieces that included many of the famous Warhol prints and movie posters. I’m less familiar with Paolozzi, but his work was a fascinating counterpoint, and the exhibit is well laid out across five rooms, with plenty of explanation as to what’s what and why it matters. It’s also free, which is always a bonus.

NOW at Modern One was more of a mixed bag. A selection of works by Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, and Wael Shawky, it covered most of the ground floor, and some bits took me more than others, though as again it was free, I was happy to have a mooch.

D and I then had lunch and a wander, before he had to head back to Glasgow, so before my evening train I met A again for a few drinks in a pub off the Royal Mile (we powered bravely through our hangovers). The pub had a sign on the bar that said ‘those that drink langest live langest’ and at this rate A and I will be around till our 80s…

Bicycles and Fish and What Girls Are Made of

I was pleased to see a couple of shows by women on stage this week, although two very different shows. Katie Arnstein’s Bicycles and Fish was a tale of a feminist coming of age, and I liked rather than loved it. Arnstein is an engaging performer, and bits of the show were delightfully sharp, but it also felt a bit too much like a feminism for beginners taster, so I didn’t exactly feel like the target audience.That said, I would be keen to see her most recent show, Sexy Lamp (inspired by comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s (now best known for Captain Marvel) sexy lamp test – The second show was much more my thing – in fact, it’s mix of spikiness, Scottishness, heart and humour felt tailored to my tastes exactly. I had heard good things about Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of at the Fringe, so when I found out it was coming back to the Traverse I thought it might be worth the trip – with the added advantage I got to hang out with my friend A, who relocated back to Scotland a few years back. It’s a fantastic show – raw, funny, and with some sly digs at posh boys in bands. What’s not to love?

Behind the scenes magic at Northern Stage

As you may have already guessed from this blog, I am a bit of a theatre nerd. No, really! So I was delighted to be offered a chance to see behind the scenes at Northern Stage, on a tour of their Scenic Workshops.

Located in an unprepossessing industrial estate in Walkergate, I admit that come the day and the realisation I would have to cab it out there (at no small cost), I was having second thoughts. (I had of course agreed to go before realising it would be such a hike to get there: I tend to forget everybody drives in Newcastle, so assumes that you do to). But it ended up being really fascinating, and I’m glad I went.

The tour was run by Production Manager Chris Durant, who took our little group of visitors through the various processes a set goes through before it reaches the stage – from the designer’s idea through to scale models through to transporting and assembling the various bits in different theatres throughout the country. We were shown props and drawings from previous shows (including A Christmas Carol), and walked round the set-in-progress for the upcoming A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is one of the most ambitious sets the team have ever produced, but which is currently lying around the warehouse in bits as it’s being finalised. It’s hard to look at a bunch of bland, barely painted props and see how they fit together to create a workable backdrop to a play, and I admit I was left marvelling at the kind of minds that could do so.

An enthusiastic, patient and knowledgeable guide – with an impressive tolerance for stupid questions (from, um, me) – Chris gave us a genuine insight into everything that goes into realising a production, and all the myriad issues that have to be addressed when creating a set – far, far more than the average audience member likely ever realises. Not just, does this look like the designer wants it do, but is it practical for the cast, the audience and the theatre? How heavy is it to lift, how hard to assemble, how easy to fit into the different stage dimensions that might be encountered on a tour? Will it fit on a truck? Everything from making sure a set adheres to fire regulations to keeping things on budget has to be considered, and it really made me appreciate all the work that goes on, literally, behind the scenes.

Thornton Street Cafe

I am always on the look out for coffee spots near the station, since I am usually so paranoid about missing a train I arrive super early. So I was pleased to stumble across this cute little cafe across the road from where my aunt lives, just a few minutes from Central Station. Although I only had coffee, the staff were friendly, it has a menu I would be keen to check out and a relaxed vibe. Definitely worth knowing about…

Dinosaurs abound in the winter gardens

While the reason we were in Sunderland was to see the Da Vinci exhibit, we of course took the opportunity to check out the winter gardens – attached to the Museum and set in the lovely surroundings of the park.Although I am not sure if it’s just for the holidays, they have currently been transformed into ‘Jurassic Gardens’ and dinosaurs were hidden throughout. (One child was so startled he accidentally felled a brontosaurus!) Although it’s not a large space, it certainly seemed popular with families, so worth taking your dino-loving kids to!

Da Vinci drawings at Sunderland Museum

Took a trip to Sunderland today to see the Da Vinci drawings – selections of which are on display around the country. It was the first time I had been to the Museum and I was impressed – there were a number of good exhibits, including some drawings from the archives, some LS Lowry and a series of drawings of local pensioners by Andrew Tift called One Day You’ll be Older Too.

The Da Vinci exhibit was astoundingly good value – £2.50 a ticket! – and showcased some beautiful pieces. We rounded off our trip with coffee and a scone in the cafe (also not bad value) and a wander round the winter gardens. Definitely worth a visit.