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!

RBG at The Tyneside

Back to the Tyneside Cinema yesterday, having negotiated their slightly annoying system for redeeming free members’ tickets (you have to buy them in person, or book them over the phone and then collect them at the box office, so in effect queuing both on the phone and in person, which is kinda irritating). The irony that I was allowing minor stuff like this to annoy me while going to see a film about a woman who has more backbone and grit than I could imagine was not lost on me.

RBG is a fascinating documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice who has become something of an icon in recent years. Being English, I was less aware of her formative – and formidable – career standing up for gender equality (including taking on a key case where a man was being discriminated against, a widower not eligible for the same survivor benefits his wife would have been given to support the raising of their son).

It’s unashamedly partisan, though not a hagiography, with plenty of input from the lady herself, her friends and family, as well as some of the people she has helped, and the younger generation who made her a meme. Senior figures like Bill Clinton feature (some of them Republican), and it doesn’t gloss over some mis-steps, or some things that baffle her friends (for instance, her ability to be friends with the late Justice Scalia, a man at the opposite end of the political scale).

It was well worth the trip, and I was pleased to get a chance to see the Tyneside’s Gallery Cinema – a tiny screening room (3 rows of seats) that is perfect for smaller films like this: on a Tuesday afternoon there were barely half a dozen of us in the room, but it’s great that the cinema is showing these kinds of films knowing they won’t get sell out screenings. Maybe I’ll forgive them for their Membership ticket scheme after all…

Brinkburn Street Brewery Bar and Kitchen

As mentioned in my previous post, yesterday I went to the Cluny Cheese Festival with my friend L (of Raven in a Graveyard fame), and as part of our mini pub crawl afterwards, we ended up in the Brinkburn St Brewery Bar and Kitchen. I’ve wanted to try this place for a while – I saw it on the way to the Kiln, as it is on the same block – and wasn’t disappointed.

The vibe inside was laid back and friendly, and the space is very nicely laid out: a sort of mini-snug is partially cordoned off from the main space, allowing you to lounge on sofas near an open fire, but still feels part of the action and lets the place still feel spacious and airy. We didn’t eat there this time, though L tells me the food is good, with vegetarian options. The place offers a great selection of reasonably priced beers, is dog friendly (we had a very doggy day, since everywhere we went there were dogs, which is always a good thing), and the toilets were clean and in good working order, which is a thing I increasingly care about.

The staff were friendly, too – when I asked for a recommendation for an ale to try they were happy to give me a taster – and had we not been on a mission to try at least a couple of places that day, I would have happily stayed the whole afternoon. In fact, I am already planning my next visit…