Bizarre Love Triangle at Northern Stage

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’.

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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).

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Wise Children at York Theatre Royal

It’s been a week of jaunts this week – after Edinburgh on Monday, came a trip to York that I booked without realising they would fall in the space of a few days, to see the first production by Emma Rice’s new theatre company, Wise Children.

I’ve long been a fan of Emma Rice. I love Kneehigh, and although I didn’t catch much of her stint at the Globe, what I did see I really liked. I admit I was disappointed when I heard that the company would be using the Old Vic for its London base – this is a theatre that I have long avoided, having fallen out of love with it for various reasons, all of which I admit are personal (and perhaps a bit irrational).

But to my mind, it tends to be overly expensive, most of its productions are too long, and their lack of decent toilets means you stand a very good chance of missing the first 10 minutes of the second half either because you are stuck in a queue, or your view is obscured by people returning to their seats for the same reason (and this is even before you even consider the queasy, hard-to-shake taint that Kevin Spacey’s uncovered antics have tarred the place with). There are a ton of great venues in London and no such thing as an unmissable production – there’s usually half a dozen ‘unmissable’ shows on at any one time, and unless you are a full-time critic, you can’t possibly catch them all – and I decided a while back I wasn’t giving my money to any venue where I felt so ill-served. So I sadly resigned myself to just not seeing any more Emma Rice shows for a while.

Moving to Newcastle, though, has actually opened up my theatre-going in exciting new ways. Edinburgh is 90 minutes away, York just over an hour – and the economics of regional theatre mean the cost of excellent dress circle tickets (in a theatre small enough where that means I was closer to the stage than I would have been in most London venues) AND return train tickets came to roughly the same as the Old Vic is charging for most stall seats for its current productions.

Unfortunately, the weather gods had used up their benevolence on me with a lovely day on Monday, so I didn’t see York at its best, but even rain and grey it’s a beautiful city. The theatre was a short walk from the station, and it’s a lovely space: a bar / bistro space downstairs that caters to any comers so was a bit rammed for my tastes, though upstairs was a little calmer, and the staff were efficient and friendly. My seat – front row dress circle – was great, and I was seated next to a pleasant couple with whom I had a nice chat in the interval.

And toilets! My god, toilets! I will never stop banging on about the need for good toilets in theatres: it’s an accessibility issue for anyone elderly, pregnant, on their period or with bladder/digestive issues, and too many theatres are bloody terrible. These were plentiful – pretty sure there were more women’s toilets in the dress circle alone than in the Donmar, Old Vic and Almeida added together – and kept clean. I’d go back to the place on that reason alone.

As a fan of the book that both play and company were named after, my expectations were high but the play (mostly) matched them. It balanced the trademark Emma Rice playfulness and theatricality – fourth wall breaking, gender/race-blind casting, bawdy humour, music and physical theatre – with the spirit of Carter’s novel, and when Rice came out at the curtain call (the show was being filmed by the BBC, which is possibly why she was there for an afternoon matinee), many of the audience were on their feet.

My travel wasn’t quite as smooth as I hoped city hopping would be – my train was a bit delayed by a cancelled service – but the trip was my no means onerous, and definitely one I would make again if something that struck my fancy.

Wonderland at Northern Stage

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.

No Miracles Here at Northern Stage

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.

Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers at Alphabetti

Maybe it’s my vegetarianism, but the title of this show really put me off, as did some of the artwork: I loved the ‘minifig’ poster (see below) but pictures of blokes with bacon hanging from their knees made me think this was going to be some absurdist farce, which is very much not my thing. However, I was lined up to review it (see here), so dutifully went along – and am very glad I did, because it’s a corker of a show.

I always like Alphabetti: the bar is friendly, welcoming and lined with books (and they have a dog!). They put on an interesting programme of shows, and seem very committed to nurturing local writers – each week of the Bacon Knees run has a ‘reaction piece’ commissioned to be performed right after it. It’s a shame that my schedule has prevented me from going more since I have got back, and that everything I have wanted to see – and there have been a few shows on my radar – has been some sort of scheduling clash.

Based on this show, I am missing out. It’s a darkly funny and often moving look at the lives of two misfits, with strong performances and sharp, tight writing. At only an hour long it never outstays its welcome, and even with the aftershow I was home by 10 – not bad for a week night! They are also offering Pay What You Feel, making the show accessible to even the most straitened finances: get yourselves along!

The Shy Manifesto at Live Theatre

Another week, another show – and last night was off to see one-man show The Shy Manifesto at Live. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the show – though I suspect, to be fair, I am not the target audience. Young actor Theo Ancient put in a sterling performance, but I felt too old and too working class to be that engrossed in the self-dramatising dilemmas of some (semi)posh white boy, and it seemed a bit of an odd fit for Live. Still, there were a decent amount of laughs, and it was short, which is one of my favourite things for a play to be…

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Barluga and Boulevard

It’s Restaurant Week in Newcastle, so I used that as an excuse to try out Barluga (and, um, not order anything from the Restaurant Week menu). It’s a place I have walked past many times so it was nice to actually see inside – the decor is lush and warm for such a spacious place.

The menu had a decent mix of vegetarian and gluten free meals – important as one of my friends is GF – and though I plumped for a fairly basic option (grilled halloumi burger and chips) it was very tasty and my friends M and C professed themselves pleased with their respective roast chicken and salmon, though M felt her Bailey’s cheesecake dessert was singularly lacking in the taste of Bailey’s!

After that we headed to one of Newcastle’s most raucous nights out, Boulevard, to see this year’s “adult panto”.

It’s obvious a show called Jack off the Beanstalk isn’t for the easily offended, and I admit there were a few moments that jarred against my Brighton-honed, theatre-tailored PC sensibilities. But Boulevard stalwart Miss Rory runs a tight ship, there were plenty of outrageous laughs, and the staff were pleasant and efficient – I love a place that does table service and is actually on the ball about it.

The night was almost marred by the loudest hen party in the world, who were ejected at the interval after multiple warnings (imagine being so loud you get thrown out of a Geordie club!), with Miss Rory wishing them them the worst of weddings (“I hope it rains on your wedding day – acid rain!”), while someone foolish enough to be on the phone in the second act got a severe dressing down from the stage. I kinda wish more theatres adopted that policy…