Back at Northern Stage for the second time in two days, this time for their New Season Launch party. A presentation hosted by BBC’s Newcastle Alfie Joey showcased some of the season’s upcoming shows, with some ‘turns’ (as they say up north) from some of the performers, video clips and on-stage interviews with some of the creatives, then a chance to mingle over drinks in the bar.
It was a fun evening, though I thought the format of the evening could have been improved. Joey was a personable host, but the line up of interviewees skewed very heavily to white and male, which isn’t really representative of the season (which could definitely do better in terms of racial diversity, but certainly isn’t as pale and pasty as this made it appear). (In fairness, when I mentioned this afterwards, they did say some of the women they had planned to have on to speak had had to cancel. But still – it’s 2019, folks. Do better.)
The shows themselves are a great mix, and lots to look forward to (and, mercifully, involve a lot more female creatives than was evident from the launch).
Tentpole shows include the Christmas special The Snow Queen, which Newcastle folk are already excited about (I was chatting to a couple of women in Alphabetti the other week who were already planning their trip!) It’s directed by Mark Calvert, who did last year’s A Christmas Carol and written by Laura Lindow (who couldn’t attend the evening but gave Calvert a statement to read). Lindow directed one of my shows of last year, don’t forget the birds, so I am properly excited to see what she can do on a large stage. (EDIT: an earlier post mistakenly credited Laura with writing rather than directing birds, and she graciously pointed out that was actually Catrina McHugh. Apologies to both for the error!)
Other big shows include Toast, based on the Nigel Slater book, which is already successfully touring to great reviews, and a fresh take on The Hound of the Baskervilles, done apparently in the same style as the theatre’s hit War of the Worlds (which I didn’t see as it was before my Grand Return).
A music-infused version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream also looks like a good night out, and though I can’t say I’m much of a Matt Haig fan, if you are you’ll probably go for the show based on his book How to Stay Alive.
There are also a lot of exciting shorter runs. My old faves Frisky and Mannish are back in town (they are a RIOT. Go see them!) and Split Britches, who I saw in Brighton and was hugely impressed by, bring Unexploded Ordnanaces (UXO) in September. A Friendsical musical keeps things light, and getting Travis Alabanza’s acclaimed show Burgerz is a real coup for the theatre. Daniel Kitson and Jason Byrne are on the schedule, and Umar Butt’s Alex and Eliza looks fascinating. There’s also of course a huge amount of fun kids shows, including a Merchant of Venice aimed at children and a Christmas show for very young children (4 and under – who tend to be an under-catered for group) Wolf.
Dance is also well-represented. Gary Clarke Company’s Wasteland looks at the impact of industrial decline and its surprising inter-relation with rave culture, while at the other end of the scale, balletLorent returns with a fairy tale show (with an original story by Carol Ann Duffy), The Lost Happy Endings.
My personal standouts:
Although there’s an awful lot of the above I am keen to see, big standouts for me were I Have Met the Enemy (And the Enemy is Us), which will be premiering at Byker Community Centre and has been co-created by Common Wealth, with the input of local residents, with whom Northern Stage has been doing extensive outreach work (I am hazy on the exact details, but watch this space). Importantly, this will be cheap – two quid – for Byker residents to attend, so it’s not just about shipping in a Northern Stage audience so they can feel good about getting out of their comfort zone.
There’s some quality LGBTQIA+ content. Curious Festival is hosting some work there in July (link here to the festival programme) and the House of Ghetto: Black Pride photos which were already in situ in the gallery downstairs were stunning. A Spectacular Drag Storytime is aimed at younger audience members and their families, while Rent Party is inspired by the New York tradition of throwing fabulous parties to make rent, and looks a hoot. (Hoot is a thing we say now. I watch Brooklyn 99.)
I have been trying to catch Bonnie and the Bonnettes on stage for a while now. They’ve done many shows at Alphabetti, but they always seem to clash with some major deadline or something else I have booked, so I’m excited to see their show And She, and liked the preview song they did at the performance.
And I SIMPLY HAVE to see Pride and Prejudice* (Sort of), an all-female retelling of the famous novel from the servants point of view. Not only are writer and director Isobel McArthur and Paul Brotherson Glaswegian, so I already love them (I spoke to McArthur, who was a delight, in the bar afterwards and we bonded over the fact we went to the same uni), but also the things McArthur was saying about how she approached the show made it clear it was a smart, feminist production, and one that looks like it pushes all the right buttons for me. (Plus, it’s already been a smash in Glasgow, and if you can take Jane Austen to a Glasgow audience, you’re doing something right.)
Tickets are on sale today. What are you waiting for?
(Below: one of the stunning pieces in the Black Pride exhibition.)