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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Under Milk Wood at Northern Stage

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.

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.

Crocodile shoes and canaries in a coalmine

So, it’s been nearly three months since I moved back to Newcastle – moved home, as I am getting used to saying – and while at times it has been stressful (and expensive – so, so expensive), I’m also convinced more and more that I have done the right thing.

I’ve loved reconnecting with family – my Sunday nights at my cousin’s are now a highlight of my week, not least cos she stuffs me full of beer and great food and I only have to stagger round the corner to get home – and with old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades.

I’m still getting used to my neighbourhood – I miss having a Co-op and a coffee shop at the end of my street – but I like my new flat, and being handy for the Metro, although I still turn up everywhere early because I can’t quite believe I can get to town in 10 minutes rather than the ‘everything is an hour away’ London commuting experience. I love having more space (fitted wardrobes! A spare room!).

My hopes that moving North would enable me to plug into the local arts scene in a way that I never felt I could down south have so far proved wonderfully true. I have been welcomed with open arms by people in the theatre scene, having meetings with the kind of folk I would have previously dismissed as Too Busy and Important For The Likes of Me. I’ve already been to six of the region’s performance venues and seen nearly a dozen shows, and I’m enjoying exploring more offbeat work and ventures. I’m hoping at some stage this involvement will become more participatory – I’m already mooting doing some readings – but at the moment, I am happy just to observe, and enjoy connecting with a bunch of interesting, passionate people.

All of that, really, was what I expected – or at least hoped – to get from my move. A life rich with connection, friends and family, culture and arts, and less focused on the punishing reality of just slogging to make ends meet as a working class freelancer, without a partner or the Bank of Mum and Dad to help out. I’m thrilled by it – it’s gone better than I could have dreamed – but also not entirely surprised.

What has caught me more off guard are the ways in which I am not just reconnecting with others, but with myself. My accent still wanders liberally from one end of the UK to the other – from Newcastle to Glasgow with some Ireland thrown in for good measure – and I still find myself regularly shocked by how cheap the drinks are.

But there are moments when familiarity hits me so hard I’m thrown. I’ll walk down a street I don’t remember, but realise I know where I am going. Words and phrases I haven’t used since childhood are slipping into my conversation. I find I have fully-formed opinions about neighbourhoods I wasn’t aware I knew existed, and can tell by the lightest variation in an accent from which side of the river someone stems.

Talking to a director the other day (get me, now), we were discussing the specificity of cities. We’d both lived in Glasgow, and found it culturally similar to Newcastle, but were also both acutely aware that each city has its own flavour, its own quirks and beliefs and habits. And lately I have been thinking about those specificities, the things you only ever really know if you live somewhere, a culture you have to inhabit to understand.

(A Glaswegian friend of mine once said it’s impossible to explain to an outsider the horror of the phrase, ‘’ExCUSE me, pal’ which sounds harmless but usually means you are at best going to be tapped for cigarettes, at worst mugged, and so you should always head off in the opposite direction when you hear it).

Sometimes the things you think are unique to you, are actually culturally ingrained. In the Biscuit Factory this weekend, enjoying their gorgeous art, I was looking at some bird sculptures and casually remarked that my mum would never have images of birds in the house, believing it unlucky. ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a mining tradition,’ my companion blithely assured me – and something I hadn’t even ever wondered about fell neatly into place.

Sometimes, you forget how engraved certain things are in your local culture consciousness until they are surfaced by other people. Say the phrase ‘She’s lyin’’ in an Geordie accent to anyone of my age and we instantly have the Jimmy Nail earworm Ain’t No Doubt stuck in our head for the rest of the day, when most people will barely be able to recall it.

And the other day when I wore my fancy, shiny Brighton boots to the ballet, one of the ushers stopped me and said, ‘wye, they’re a right pair of Crocodile shoes, aren’t they?’ And I was so shocked I stopped on my way to my seat. Oh God, I thought, they are, aren’t they? They really, really are…’

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A Night at the Ballet

An unusual treat for me last night, as a friend had got us tickets to Northern Ballet’s production of The Three Muskateers at the Theatre Royal.

It was my first time back in this theatre for a good 20 odd years and it remains as opulent as ever. I’m no ballet expert so I struggled a little sometimes to follow the story (maybe there should be special nights with plot surtitles, the way they translate opera, for newbies like me), but the dancers were graceful and fluid, the set and costumes luscious and it was impossible not to be swept up in the magic. As a bonus we even got to hang out with some of the dancers afterwards – my friend knew one of them – though I nobly resisted trying to bond with them over my own Barre experiences. I figure they might have done a little more work on that front than me…

Future Bodies at Northern Stage

Why, yes, apparently I live here, now, because I was back at Northern Stage last night to see a show called Future Bodies, which was a fascinating look at the potential impact of technology on the human body.

I didn’t love all of it – it was too long (Dear theatre- and film-makers: everything can be shorter than you think it should be) and the slightly random approach to captioning annoyed my inner subtitler, who favours practicality over style every time when it comes to reading captions. (Subtitles shouldn’t be whack-a-mole: you shouldn’t have to guess where they will next pop up). But it was a bold, thought-provoking piece with a talented and charismatic cast from two companies whose work I haven’t seen before, so I am definitely pleased I saw it. I also got to meet and chat with a couple of female theatre makers beforehand, so all in all a very profitable evening…

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A week at Northern Stage

It’s been a busy week of theatre for me. I’ve seen three shows, all a Northern Stage – it’s definitely becoming my local. The first up was The Lovely Bones, a visually stunning adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel. I liked it a lot, though it didn’t quite effect me as much as the book, and it was a little overlong – in my experience anything longer than 90 minutes without an interval makes the audience get twitchy, and it would have benefited from a bit of a trim.

The same applied to The Mountaintop – another compelling production grounded by strong performances (Rochelle Rose in particular blew me away), but that would have been stronger with a tighter edit.

Last night was a very different kettle of fish – and, at an hour long, certainly didn’t overstay its welcome. The Elvis Dead wasn’t the kind of thing I normally go see – to be honest, I only suggested it as my friends L & D are fans of The Evil Dead. It’s a musical romp through the movie, told via Elvis songs, and it actually works incredibly well: we were all in stitches throughout, and Rob Kemp is a performer of real charisma.

All three productions are touring, so worth seeing if they end up in your neighbourhood…