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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Metro Challenge – Monkseaton

As I said in previous posts, today marked another stop off the Metro Challenge, as I got to cross Monkseaton off the list. Not only is it handy for my friend S and a funky little high street, there is also some very nice stained glass in the station…

The Metro Challenge and my first trip to Lidl

I have been in my flat nearly a couple of weeks now, and it’s starting to feel like home. I am also very aware though that I don’t want to fall into the same trap I did in Brighton, which is to become so comfortable in my own little neighbourhood I rarely venture beyond it.

With that in mind, today I decided to set myself the completely spurious Metro Challenge: over the course of the next year, I will visit as many Metro stops as possible, and see what is in the neighbourhoods. (Before you start, yes, I am aware that some are in neighbourhoods that are less than lovely – I’ll proceed with caution and skip anywhere I am not comfortable going). The rules are also that I can only count the ones I have been to since I moved: no adding up all the ones I have visited over the years.

Metro Map third A4

So far, I am doing quite well:

Heworth, obviously: I live here

Monument, Central Station, Haymarket – all three are the central stops for Newcastle city centre, so I have been to them plenty of times already

Hadrian Road – little to recommend it except a nice church, and my mate M’s house and her splendid cooking.

Chillingham Road – the main stop for Heaton, where I looked at a few flats, and also visited another friend.

Ilford Road – looked at a flat nearby. I used to live in this neighbourhood, so was all oddly familiar.

Jesmond – I used to live round here, too, way back in the day, but this time was to look at flats again.

Gateshead – my estate agent, and my friend S are both nearby.

South Shields – for my visit to the Customs House.

So today’s addition to the list was Pelaw, which is right next to a big Aldi and Lidl. I have never been to Lidl before – not for any particular reason, just other supermarkets have always been handier – and since I am counting even a bland new experience as a new experience, I’m counting it as a win.

Metro life

I’ve lived in three cities with a metro system (4, I suppose, if you count Sheffield’s trams), and they are very different. Glasgow’s famous ‘clockwork orange’, whose cylindrical trains seemed so small the first time I saw them, I laughed (laughter which died down quickly when I got on and spotted, in no short order, a guy wearing a Freddie Krueger bladed glove and someone else bleeding profusely with a head injury: welcome to Glasgow!) (I must stress, I lived in Glasgow for a long time, and loved it, but there were times when I returned and it made a… strong… first impression).

London’s underground was everything people say it is, for better or worse. On the one hand, and incredibly clever feat of engineering that spans most of one of the world’s most complex cities. On the other, an un-air-conditioned, sweaty, strike-plagued, overcrowded, dirty hellscape full of rude people who would throw their granny on the live rail to get a seat. (One of my friends once managed to get into a crammed carriage just before the doors closed, only to have a fellow passenger PHYSICALLY PICK HER UP, plonk her back on the platform and drag his girlfriend inside in her place).

The Metro, of course, was the system I grew up with. I remember being dazzled when it opened as a child, a fast and easy route from my Felling neighbourhood to the glories of Newcastle city centre. After I left, I only used it rarely: my mum lived within walking distance of town, so I used to just amble down the road whenever I needed to. Since she died, I have most often stayed with friends in Wallsend or Sunderland, or family in Heworth, so have become necessarily reacquainted with it.

Much of it is unchanged, at least to my memory: the boxy cars, the bumblebee signage of yellow and black; the terrible mural at Monument featuring barely recognisable local figures, the Latin at Wallsend. But it’s a very different experience from using the London tube, and it is taking me a little time to get used to it.

For a start, the gaps between the trains seem ridiculous when you are used to London – 12 minutes between trains? Why aren’t people rioting? (The trick, I have been sagely informed by fellow Northerners-cum-Londoners, is to use the Metro app and think of them as trains, not tubes). Although some of the trains are slightly shabby, they are mostly tidy and clean (ish) – they are also both more spacious and, conversely, less well-designed to handle a crowd: tube trains seem better designed for standing, if you need to. The ‘open door’ buttons are not just for show, too, which has led to a few near misses at my stop, as I complacently wait for the doors to pop open, unsolicited. (In London, it’s a sign of being a tourist if you actually press the button).

It can be as unreliable as London – I cancelled my first yoga class because the metros were off the Sunday I needed to get to it; and I had to cab it back from South Shields on Friday as the lines were down after my play. But at least, in a smaller city, there are alternatives: the buses are good, and not usually too crazy-busy, and a taxi is an affordable option (albeit not all the time, and obviously not for everyone).

But it’s the Metro etiquette that has thrown me the most. On a recent visit, before my relocation, I nearly missed my stop because an elderly gent stepped back, waving me past and I was so puzzled by his gesture I didn’t get that he was inviting me to get off first. I hung back, not wanting to push past him, and we stood in a polite standoff until I twigged, muttered a hasty thanks and left.

In the main (I have been wearily informed by long-term locals this is not always the case), people are quick to stand for those who need seats. I have realised Metro etiquette if you catch someone’s eye is not to look away hastily but to acknowledge them with a slight smile – hey, look at us, we’re all on this train together. Occasionally, this will even lead to chat: an old lady will explain her reasons for reading the Metro newspaper (‘it’s all rubbish, but it’s something to read’), and I got quite the lecture on bird-keeping from a woman carrying a canary in a cage. In London, I would have veered away from her as a potential loon: in Newcastle, I happily made small-talk, nodded where she needed me to (yes, I can imagine canaries are territorial). Which made me think, it’s not just that the Metro is different. Maybe it’s that I am, too.

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Gateshead High Street

I’m in Gateshead High Street, and I’m lost. Lost, because my always questionable ability to read Google maps has once again led me astray, but also lost, because I am in a landscape that is both alien and familiar.

It’s an experience I have become used to over the last two weeks, since I returned, after a 20-year absence, to the town that spawned me, but if feels particularly acute today. Because while I have lived away from the North East for the best part of two decades (or three, really, since I only returned sporadically after I left for university), I have of course visited in the interim. But my visits followed a prescribed and narrow trajectory: city centre, my mum’s place, friends’ houses and, latterly, less happily, hospitals and cemeteries, but I haven’t set foot on Gateshead High Street in over 30 years.

While as a girl I saw a visit as a Saturday morning treat, I speedily abandoned it when the shiny new Metro opened (in 1980!), which made getting from Felling where I lived to the centre of Newcastle a fast and easy doddle. Since everyone else had pretty much the same idea, the high street went into rapid decline, and has only recently seen a bit of a renaissance, as money has been ploughed into regeneration on the Gateshead side of the Quayside and the ‘NewcastleGateshead’ brand is being ruthlessly marketed.

Some of the infrastructure has changed – the iconic ‘Get Carter’ carpark now only fodder for greetings cards and posters – but the Metro Station / bus exchange brings back a flood of memories; nights spent shivering in bus stops after a trip ‘into town’. It’s already a culture shock after London, as I just saw a couple of women who misread the arrivals board in the station and misjudged the time of their next train head back to the concourse, muttering, only to be stopped by a kindly Metro worker who points out, unasked, the next train is in 2 minutes, not 20 – they were reading the time for the 4th train – an interaction I can’t imagine in London. (This is not the first time I’ve seen this mistake happen: while the gaps between Metros are long enough to make a Londoner riot – 10 minutes between trains! – I have watched several people stomp off in a huff because they’ve read the screen that shows the 3rd and 4th train rather than wait for it to go back to 1st and 2nd. Is this a Geordie thing?)

I’m looking for an estate agents, to apply for a lease, and I’m lost. My mood isn’t helped by the fact my period – which has been on and off more often than a soap opera romance since I moved (Stress? Perimenopause? At my age, it’s a coin toss) takes this moment to kick in. Suddenly it’s the elevator scene from Cabin in the Woods in my unprepared pants, so I arrive at my appointment not only sweaty and hassled from my wandering, but wiggling like a duck wearing a wet nappy (you try radiating ‘I am a trustworthy tenant’ when you are hovering your arse above the chair as you fill out your bank details because you are too scared to sit down)*.

But the ladies are lovely, and as we chat I reminisce about the high street. Ah, Shephards, says one, recalling the department store that used to dominate the street. ‘I never did figure out how they did the Christmas sleigh.’ And instantly, I am cast back into a memory so vivid but weird it is almost hallucinatory: of my mum taking me to see Santa. But not just queuing to see a fat man on a chair in a grotto – no, you got into a sleigh, which took off, and you emerged in a winter wonderland. It felt so real and so extraordinary that, honestly, I thought I had made it up, that it was some dream I had solidified into memory, and to hear someone talk wistfully of the same experience is almost jarring, like she peered into my head.

I have a feeling it won’t be the last time this happens.

*If you are thinking, blimey, that’s personal, she shouldn’t be talking about stuff like that – wow, have you come to the wrong blog.

Remember Shephards?

(Unrelated photo alert: the bar in Northern Stage. C’mon, I was having a period crisis. You think I stopped to take pictures?)