It’s Different for Girls – Live Theatre

Back at Live yesterday, as this is a culture heavy week for me. I had really high hopes for the play – an all-woman production – but it ended up being pretty frustrating on a number of levels (see my review here). That said, I’ve had a pretty good run at Live so the occasional disappointment is to be expected, I suppose… and it’s always worth a visit. I did get to see the Christmas lights in town, though…

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Dinosaurs at Northern Stage and Ghosts at Live Theatre

Another day of theatre yesterday – I am rather loving the fact that I am seeing so much. I had a meeting at Northern Stage in the afternoon, where I got to do one of my favourite things (rant about theatre and class) in good company. I hadn’t, however, reckoned with the fact that the theatre is currently showing Dinosaur World Live, so was mobbed with excitable kids. I was actually quite jealous – not only would I love to see a show featuring ‘live’ dinosaurs – but it was only an hour long! I did at least get to see one of the dinos roaming wild in the cafe, which made up for some of the commotion.

Then after a quick stop at Pizza Express on Dean Street – a place I haven’t been since I went on a date there 25 years ago with a bloke who actually fancied my flatmate more than me (good times), I was back at Live Theatre for the press night of Clear White Light. It’s quite an odd concept – a retelling of the Fall of the House of Usher, set against a backdrop of NHS cuts and to a soundtrack of Alan Hull (of Lindisfarne fame) songs, and it took a while to find its feet – the first half dragged a bit (and you know I already think everything is 15 minutes too long), but it bounced back with a very strong second half that had some proper surprises, and the acting was strong throughout. The rousing finale, a song exhorting us to ‘bring down the government’ ended the evening on a high note. (“I think every play should end with an ode to revolution,” said one of my fellow audience members, as we were leaving.

It’s sold out now, so if you haven’t got a ticket you are probably out of luck, but if it does come back or you can get returns, it’s worth catching.

Fans at Live Theatre

Another trip to Live Theatre last night, this time to see Fans, a lively show that is part-gig, part theatre, a love letter to the bands we have loved before. It was my first ‘press and guests’ night at Live, so I was excited at the prospect of meeting some of the people who work there – and with whom I have been exchanging emails, though I went about this in my usual rather haphazard fashion of just introducing myself to random strangers and hoping they didn’t mind.

I got there early so set myself up in the Undercroft to do a little writing first, and ended up sharing my table with Plastic Glass (@plasticglass1 should you wish to check them out on Twitter), a bunch of young Sunderland-based musicians who the theatre had asked to do a live post-show gig at the weekend and so had been invited to see the show. This seems a great idea to me – giving a platform to young bands, encouraging engagement and cross-pollination. Though I affected the air of world-weary journo, I was slightly alarmed to realise I was literally old enough to be their mother – in fact, after a carbonated drink went volcanic on them, I was handing out tissues to clean it up like a proper mam, which I felt rather blew my cool.

My cool quotient further plummeted when, as I went into the show, I was handed a glowstick and told not to break it – thereby activating the ‘glow’ – until instructed, but of course the faff of balancing wine glass, jacket, handbag and undamaged glowstick while taking my seat proved too much for me, and I snapped the damn thing before I even sat down, and so then had to hide the brightly illuminated evidence of my incompetence until the allotted moment arrived, when of course it was buried so far under my seat and my bags I couldn’t find it…

Where We Began – Live Theatre

Home is obviously a subject that has been preying on my mind a lot lately. So I was interested to see Where We Began at Live Theatre the other night, a play made by ‘sanctuary theatre’ Stand and Be Counted. Since returning to Newcastle, I have already been to Live twice and it shows every sign of becoming one of my favourite venues – a welcoming ambience, and a really strong, interesting programme of shows.

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This was my first time in the studio, a compact space for smaller shows, and I admit my night started in a slight grump as my plus one got stranded by Metro cancellations, then my mood not helped by the woman who rocked in two seconds before the start with a party of six and asked me to move seats to make room (hey, lady, if it’s that important your group sit together – maybe don’t wait till everyone else is seated before turning up?) (Yes, yes, I am aware it takes a special kind of privilege to come to a show about immigrants being displaced and being annoyed you have to move from one whole row to another. I’m sure she had a good reason, don’t be so judgemental, blah blah…)

Once started though, the show itself really moved me. A dystopian look at the logical consequences of the hostile environment – why not send ‘em all back? – it was part inspired by the real-life trials of one of the performers, young Londoner Tafadzwa Muchenje, whose life is currently on hold as he seeks the same permanent leave to remain that his family has been given (a family that only came here because we wanted his father’s skills. Not that this country would ever invite people here then screw them over, oh no.). At one stage, he was standing right next to me as he told his story, and it was almost uncomfortably intense (it’s frowned upon to leap from your seat and give the performers a big hug, but lord, I was tempted), and when Greek-born Zoe Katsilerou kept saying, ‘my soul is in Glasgow’ it was all I could do not to join in and yell, “mine too!”

For all my First World Grumbles (even as I type this, I am in the middle of a tantrum about my laptop being slow), I am a lucky person. While I have lived in plenty of places, it’s always been by choice – or, at least, desire. Moving for a man or a job or a dream, some of which worked out, some of which didn’t. I still think of several of those places as ‘home’. Glasgow, where I studied, have friends, and built a big chunk of who I am, has a hold on me that time doesn’t seem to lessen, and the hooks that London gets under your skin are never quite prised free. And though if some post-Brexit diktat decided we all had to stick within the borders of our hometown – because if you are going to adhere grimly to country lines, why not narrow it down still further? – I would be quite well-served by mine (I have family, friends, familiarity, a flat), it would still break my heart to know there are places I could never go back to, whole swathes of my past life off limits.

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I never, really, expected to come back here. Not for long, not for real. I wanted to experience new places, I wanted the space and the freedom to explore who I was away from my mum’s well-meaning but censuring scrutiny, to know what it felt like to strut unfamiliar streets. I’m still unpicking what it means to return. But Where We Began reminded me how very, very fortunate I am, that the decision was up to me.

Where We Began is touring – you can follow the company on Twitter @SBC_Theatre for more details or check their website 

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Two Pints at Live Theatre

It’s easily more than a couple of decades since I have been to Live Theatre (to see Singer of My Youth Martin Stephenson, if I recall, though well after his Daintees heyday). So I was delighted to be invited to attend the British premiere of Roddy Doyle’s play Two Pints last night, which gave me an excuse for a return visit.

The play itself – performed on a stage with a specially built, working bar from which you could buy Guinness – was a delight, and the theatre itself is a gem. Friendly staff, and abundant toilets for such a small venue (this mattered to me a lot, since I am currently in period hell – again! My uterus is not happy to be home, apparently, and playing up like a sulky teen. Think Carrie, maybe, and you get the visual.)

The bar is charming, including the Undercroft – which hosts regular networking sessions for local creative folk – and the theatre is compact enough to feel intimate but big enough to attract great shows. I’ve already planned my next visit…