Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Joe Caffrey’

I’ve been listening to Sting’s CD of music from this show for five years, waiting for a UK production. Mystifyingly, it premiered in the US in 2014, trying out in Chicago before opening on Broadway. It’s so quintessentially British, I just can’t imagine it on Broadway. This new production, with a new book, opened where it belongs in Newcastle and is now touring the UK. I caught it in Northampton and for me it’s up there with other great British musicals like The Hired Man and Billy Elliott, with a score that’s as good as the former and better than the latter.

Like Billy, it places a personal story alongside recent social history. Teenage Gideon goes off to sea, seeking a better life than the shipyards of Wallsend can provide, leaving more than his girlfriend Meg behind. He returns seventeen years later to sort out his late dad’s house and tries to reconnect with Meg, now a thirty-something business-woman and single mother. In the shipyard, the ship they’re about to finish hasn’t been sold and is instead to be dismantled, and the shipyard closed. This is Thatcher’s Britain. The workers are having none of it and led by foreman Jackie and Shop Steward Billy, with support from the townswomen, led by Jackie’s wife Peggy, they take risky and defiant action.

Sting’s score and lyrics are terrific, and the new book by director Lorne Campbell is excellent, not afraid to wear it’s heart on its sleeve and concluding with a rousing political rallying call. I loved Rob Mathes folky orchestrations which Richard John’s band played beautifully. The design by 59 Productions is stunning, with projections creating the ship and shipyard, terraced rows, street scenes and interiors of houses and the pub. The final scene takes your breathe away. Even the choreography of Lucy Hind has a foot-stomping folk aesthetic and an edginess about it. Campbell’s superb production has Geordie blood running all the way through it.

Richard Fleeshman is excellent as the returning older Gideon and Frances McNamee sensational as feisty older Meg. Joe McGann and Charlie Hardwick make a lovely loving couple as Jackie and Peggy. Katie Moore is great too as Meg’s equally feisty teenage daughter Ellie and Joe Caffrey, not the only cast member to have done a turn in Billy Elliott, is a very passionate Billy. It’s clearly a very committed ensemble and I loved their banter with the audience before each act.

A great British musical which I hope I will see again in London, a transfer it so richly deserves, but you’d be wise to see it on tour, just in case!

Read Full Post »

I was cursing the education system at the interval of this play last night. I studied history for 4 years, for things then called O & A levels, and all we covered was the 125 years between 1814 and 1939. I was also cursing not reading the programme before the start. In my view, this 1976 Caryl Churchill play about mid 17th century English history needs, or at least benefits from, some prior knowledge.

It was clearly a fascinating period, the closest England came to revolution (a century before the French!). Charles I grabbed absolute power, provoking a thirty year period of unrest and civil wars until the establishment of the constitutional monarchy which still survives. Just the names of the groups involved makes you smile – in addition to the Roundheads and Cavaliers, we had the Ranters, Diggers, Levellers and the New Model Army! More recent history plays, like last year’s James plays, present historical events in a much more accessible way than this, though, which is very 70’s and very wordy, in a G B Shaw way. Too much of it is people talking direct to the audience and the endless debates about who’s side god would be on, though historically accurate I’m sure, just muddied it all for me.

Director Lyndsey Turner has added 40 or so ‘extras’ to the 18 strong cast (and it is strong, with actors like Leo Bill, Daniel Flynn, Alan Williams, Steffan Rhodri, Joe Caffrey and Amanda Lawrence in relatively small roles) which gives it an epic sweep. Es Devlin’s brilliant design starts as a giant banquet, before becoming a bare wooden stage, the boards then removed to reveal the earth. The audience wasn’t considered enough, though, as the sight lines (well, at the front of the stalls, at least) are dreadful. Soutra Gilmour, more usually a sole design credit, provides excellent costumes.

Notwithstanding my lack of preparation, I think we’ve become used to history presented more clearly and lucidly, so despite a spectacular production, I suspect it’s impact 40 years on has been watered down significantly.

Read Full Post »

I didn’t know what a wet house was. It’s a hostel where those with drink and drug problems can continue to use in relative safety, for them and the community. In this hugely impressive first play by Paddy Campbell, we visit a wet house in the North East and peep into the lives of three residents and three staff.

Ex-army Mike is a bantering misogynistic bully, scarily free of repercussions. He terrorises the residents and controls his colleagues. It doesn’t take long before he’s turned new boy Andy, naive and fresh from university, into a drinking pal prepared to turn a blind eye. He sexually exploits lonely colleague Helen. Spencer, a paedophile who was himself abused as a child – his mother would sell her house keys to punters who could take their pick of her son or daughter – gets the worst of Mike’s treatment. Digger is a long-term drunk who hasn’t seen his children in years. Kerry is pregnant; she’s been exchanging sex for drugs and seems to have lost all humanity. You can see how being a ‘carer’ for these people is a tough job that messes with your head and turns you to drink, but lines are crossed unacceptably.

It’s a brilliantly structured play with strong characterisations and brittle, edgy dialogue containing much black humour. It oozes authenticity, no doubt because Campbell worked in a wet house himself. The parallels with last Thursday’s Wildfire are uncanny. That showed us another difficult job, the police, which damages too. Though it has the same hopelessness, it ends with a sliver of hope as Digger tries to clean himself up for his daughters 21st and for once everyone cares, and Mike shows us a glimmer of humanity and remorse. This is both a better play and a better production, in a more appropriate theatre.

I don’t know whether the fact this was their last show had any effect, but the six performances were all stunning. Chris Connel is extraordinary as Mike. One minute you’re laughing at his gallows humour and seconds later horrified by his verbal and physical violence. Riley Jones as Andy carefully and cleverly steers his character from charming rookie to Mike’s partner in crime. Jackie Lye’s delicate performance as Helen show she really does care and is seemingly unaffected by the cynicism and disillusionment around her. Joe Caffrey positively inhabits Digger and you so want to help him and root for him; a marvellous performance. Simon Roberts plays Spencer like a rabbit in the headlights with such realistic injuries you can’t help but wince. Finally, Eva Quinn presents us with the tragedy that is young Kerry in a performance that breaks your heart.

This is a triumph for Live Theatre Newcastle and their director, who directs this, Max Roberts. It is clearly a candidate for this year’s best new play and I can’t wait to see more of Paddy Campbell’s work. The run is now over, but keep a look out in case it turns up again as it’s absolutely unmissable.

Read Full Post »