One of the places I miss most in lockdown is Alphabetti. Coming back to Newcastle, it was one of my favourite discoveries: a venue run with heart and hope, welcoming the kind of small, gutsy, diverse shows I had worried I wouldn’t find here. The fact that the bar boasted a library, fairy lights and a dog made me love it even more.
It’s also now, inevitably, tied up in bittersweet memories for me. Most visits, it was my routine to call in to see my beloved Glamorous Aunt, who lived in Waterloo Street, just a few minutes away. I would come bearing gifts – she liked nutty chocolates, and all things glam and luxurious, so it was a pleasure of mine to seek out wee treats for her (the benefit of her liking chocolates I couldn’t eat – I can’t eat nuts – also meant I could stock upon them safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t give in and eat them myself!) A box of Fortnum & Mason pralines I got as a Christmas present from a client was received with delight at their fanciness; gold-sprinkled brazil nuts appealed to her magpie taste. If I hadn’t found anything during the week, I would pop into the M&S at Central Station and buy something there (a Northerner never likes to turn up empty handed). We would sit and have coffee and chat, and she would try to persuade me to eat biscuits, since she believed, all evidence to the contrary, that I wasn’t eating enough, and even when I was stressed about work or money or feeling like a boring failure at everything, she somehow made me feel like I was living this glamorous, fast-paced, enviable life and that she was proud of me for doing so, and I always left her company feeling better than I arrived.
It breaks my heart that now she is gone – she died at the start of lockdown, possibly an early, undiagnosed victim of COVID – I won’t ever have those conversations again. I won’t ever arrive at Alphabetti buoyed with coffee, chocolate biscuits and praise, her enthusiasm and pride for my writing career wrapped around me like my big fake fur coat (which she also loved: we shared a passion for leopard print).
Selfishly, though, I don’t want to lose Alphabetti as well. We repose so many of our memories in buildings, in routines, that I want to have that to go back to. That’s just one of the reasons, of course, but it’s a small, personal thing, and if this crisis has taught me anything it’s that these are the things we should treasure. There are wider, bigger reasons – so many people since I arrived have sung its praises, saying how it has transformed the local theatre scene. By prioritising writers and creatives, giving opportunities to performers who are starting out or less established or maybe even doing something that isn’t quite polished or flashy or fleshed out enough to find a home in a bigger venue but still deserves attention, by welcoming diverse voices on stage and in its audience, it has created something of real value in our city, and I hope that it is able to weather the storm.
It is running a few projects in lockdown, one of which is Listen Up, a micro-commission for under-represented writers (you can find details here).
It’s also running an online programme, including Betti Recommends, here.
And should you be able to, you can donate to the theatre here. I’m still not working at full tilt – my career has been affected by COVID, like so many others – so I can’t support venues as much as I would like to. But I threw in the price of a couple of boxes of gold-sprinkled Brazil nuts. I figure my Glamorous Aunty would approve.
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Newcastle-based rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1
If you want to read something a bit darker, I just re-released by earlier novel Doll and my short stories No Love is This.