Two shows in two nights for me this week. First off was my first trip to this year’s Elevator Festival at Live Theatre. Offering a mix of “new plays by rising talent” and talks about the state of the industry (including the future of playwrighting, and the role of women and the state working class representation on stage) – most of it very reasonably priced – it unfortunately runs the two weeks I am busiest in the year, so I’ve had to limit my attendance to a couple of shows.
One of these was Matthew Greenhough’s solo show about two young men whose friendship is torn apart by their opposing political beliefs over Brexit, It’ll Be Alt-Right on the Night. A sharp and funny piece, I enjoyed it, though it needed a little more polish in its performance.
Second up was Them/Us at Northern Stage, which was the epitome of polished, and which even I enjoyed, newbie to dance as I am. A performance that was particularly strong on the idea of male-on-male tenderness – something you don’t often see on stage – it was actually very moving even if I only had the vaguest idea of what was going on.
Since I was out with Young People (we met one of my companion’s friends at Northern Stage), we even went for drinks afterwards – at 10pm! on a Friday! Who even am I? – and ended up at a bar that is new to me, Alvinos. Apparently they do good cocktails, though I was sticking to wine as I was already pretty squooshed, and with 3 floors it’s deceptively large. We scored a place on the outside terrace upstairs and enjoyed some serious putting the world to rights before I staggered into a taxi outside and made my way home.
Another day, another show! This time a trip to see Bizarre Love Triangle, a verbatim play about OCD that is being shown as part of Brain Awareness Week. I must admit OCD is a subject quite close to my heart, as a couple of my friends suffer from it, as did an ex-flatmate, and if you’ve ever seen it up close, you realise fast it’s far more than just ‘being tidy’.
The play was sensitive, often surprisingly funny and handled the subject with care, though the ending came so abruptly I was left a little surprised that it was over. (God knows, it’s not often I think something should be longer, but it definitely could have done with more of an actual ‘ending’.) Read my full review here.
Bravo to Northern Stage for putting on such a small but important show (and hosting a discussion afterwards).
Another theatre trip this week, to a play I have been dying to see – Beth Steel’s mining drama, Wonderland. This is the third ‘heavy industry’ play I have seen at Northern Stage – the others being The Last Ship and The Last Seam: you can guess the theme from the title.
Wonderland covers much the same ground: the miners’ strike, and the effect it had on its community. It took me a while to get into it – the first half was overlong – but it grew into a piece of real power, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.
Read my full review here.
Back at Northern Stage on Friday to see another show. I admit I wasn’t in the mood for it – a hectic work week had left me drained, which was evident when I arrived to realise I was still wearing my ‘house cardi’ (the shapeless, warm throw I schlepp around in, never to be seen out of doors), and I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to be reviewing, so stood at the box office for a good couple of minutes going, ‘um… a show?’. Then I tried to get in by confidently showing the usher my Metro card, so all in all not my best night for smoothness.
On top of that, my tiredness made me grumpy with the audience – did the man next to me not realise that jiggling your leg when you are on bleacher-style seating makes the who row move, and was making me seasick? (Why are men ALWAYS so unaware of how their behaviour affects others? Would it kill them to be at least a little in tune withe their environment, the way women are trained to be from childhood? But then, why won’t that woman stop talking all the way through the fecking show? Does she think her voice isn’t carrying right to the front of the stage?) How do SO MANY people need to go to the toilet during a show that was barely an hour long?
Despite these inauspicious factors, I was pretty won over by the show itself. A piece of gig-theatre by local group The Letter Room, No Miracles Here could be dark – it’s about someone planning to kill themselves – but ended up being warm, funny and ultimately uplifting. And short enough that I could get home in time to squeeze in an episode of Ghost Whisperer before bed, which is always good.
It’s been a busy work week for me, but I did manage to squeeze in some socialising (and shopping: I could have happily bought up the whole of Fenwick’s Christmas department…)
First up was A Christmas Carol at Northern Stage, a 20s set take on the story with a great jazz soundtrack. It took a little while to get going and was – as everything seems to be – a bit too long, but once it hit its stride it’s a delight of a show, with some really impressive physical theatre and I particularly enjoyed seeing a classic in my native accent. (Review here).
Next was Mixtape Xmas at Live Theatre. A raucous sorta pop quiz, I went with my friend L as a birthday celebration – although the show could have been much tighter, and some of the audience were frankly a bit twatty, it was good fun and for once my arcane knowledge of 80s and 90s pop lyrics came in handy…
Back to Northern Stage! This time for a production of Under Milk Wood (and a sneaky portion of chips and garlic bread beforehand). I didn’t love the show as much as some critics seemed to – the video projection seemed gimmicky to me, and
reminded me of those ‘arty’ videos you used to get back in the 80s when bands couldn’t make it to Top of the Pops and video was so new that we would be excited about anything, even if it was just a close up of a boiling kettle – but the performances were a thing of loveliness.
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.