Northern Stage new season

This has been a week of theatre stuff for me – almost like old times. After seeing Tree at Alphabetti on Wednesday, last night I was at Northern Stage to see the launch of their new season, This is Now. And what a season it looks to be!

As usual, it was a friendly and relaxed night, with drinks and tunes in the foyer, then we headed down to Stage 2 for interviews with artists and some clips of coming shows. Northern Stage used to hire a professional to host these things (if my pre-pandemic memory of times past is correct), but they don’t need to with new AD Natalie Ibu at the helm. Resplendent in a gorgeous yellow dress, she looked like literal sunshine in the dim auditorium, and she made for a warm, welcoming host – the right mix of articulate, passionate and charismatic, but always making space for other artists. If the themes of Northern Stage’s seasons since her joining as AD have been in a very real way about making people feel at home in a theatre, this seems very much a reflection of Ibu herself.

And there was plenty to talk about. The season is a great mix of shows that were cancelled due to Covid (Curious Monkey’s Here, which is on in March, was literally in tech rehearsals when the theatre closed), and exciting new stuff. Ibu’s passion project headlines that – the UK / European premiere of Claudia Rankine’s The White Card. A recorded interview of Ibu and Rankine – a woman who radiates steely intelligence, quiet determination but also the curious mind of a true creative (I loved the bit in the conversation where they were discussing people talking about the show in the toilets afterwards!) – did a good job of whetting the appetite for what feels like a truly timely play.

My own pick is the one that I was saddest got cancelled, so am thrilled that it’s coming back – the story of Labour firebrand Ellen Wilkinson, Red Ellen. I didn’t need to be sold on this, but a delightful recorded interview with writer Caroline Bird and onstage chat with director Wils Wilson made me even keener to see it.

While the big shows all look pretty great – including The Invisible Man, which opens next week – there are plenty of smaller shows to get excited about. There’s the usual line up of dance for adults and children (BalletBoyz are back, and Northern Ballet’s ballet for children Pinocchio looks charming). The theatre continues its longstanding relationship with LGBTQIA+ arts, with Curious Festival in July. While the festival remains as inclusive as ever, a focus on trans work seems to be reflecting the recent surge in transphobia, so again feels timely.

A full children’s programme includes an adaptation of the always popular Julia Donaldson (Zog and the Flying Doctors), Oi Frog & Friends, the Kenya-set Handa’s Surprise (again based on a book), and Aidy the Awesome.

Shorter but interesting runs / touring shows look to be Rice, a play about migrants across generations, a new play by Papatango winner Samuel Bailey (who won with Shook), Sorry, You’re Not a Winner, and Luca Rurtherford’s one-woman show You Heard Me, which is about the complexities of reclaiming personal power (this also is visiting ARC Stockton, where there is a related arts installation).

Deafinitely Theatre’s Everyday – which is devised theatre based on interviews with deaf women who experienced domestic abuse – looks like a hard-hitting but necessary watch, and also boasts probably my favourite poster of the season (my crappy photography notwithstanding!). The importance of not just reaching disabled audiences (with Frozen Light’s 2065, for example, targeting audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities) but making a space for disabled creatives to tell their own stories is reflected not just in the programming of Everyday, but also Snatched, disabled actor Melissa Johns’ story of coming to terms with her body being put in the public domain when her private photos are hacked.

Best title definitely goes to Boundless Theatre’s How to Save the Planet When You’re a Young Carer and Broke, and young people’s stories remain at the fore – BRASH Theatre’s Ankles A Book of Spells uses teenage girls’ experiences to inform this piece on school uniform policies.

There’s more of course – you can check out the shows online, or pick up a brochure in the theatre. There will also be the chance to see many of the above online. I was also pleased to see that the theatre is recognising the pandemic isn’t actually over – the big shows will all have at least one socially distanced performance.

If you need further encouragement, the newly reopened cafe sells Pink Lane Bakery cakes…

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