Posts Tagged ‘Live Theatre Newcastle’

This play is the second in a planned trilogy by Ishy Din about the male immigrant experience. For some reason I missed the well-received first part, Snookered, about Asian men born here, when it visited the Bush Theatre in 2012. This is about Asian men who came here, and I’m very glad I caught this one.

It’s set in Teeside in the days between Margaret Thatcher’s death and her state funeral in 2013. Raf and Mansha used to work in a factory making steel bridges. After it closed, Raf bought a minicab firm and Mansha runs it for him. Mansha’s son-in-law Sully is a driver, Raf’s son Shazad is working there during his University holidays and Raf has recruited Sameena, their first female driver, a feisty ex-con who Sully knows and likes but Mansha doesn’t trust.

Raf decides to sell up, but Mansa doesn’t like the sound of his new boss, so he puts together an offer by remortgaging, bringing in Sully with his recently deceased dad’s industrial disease compensation, but it isn’t enough – until Sameena becomes an unlikely third partner using her own inheritance. Raf demands cash and no paperwork, to avoid the taxman, and leaves them with the business books. Their enthusiasm wanes when the books are examined and they find out the truth about what they’ve bought. It goes from bad to worse when they discover who’s backing Sameena, and why. Friends and relatives are betrayed, generations clash and hands are forced.

The first half set-up was a bit slow, but the second half is terrific as it becomes a multi-layered, cleverly plotted piece that takes its hold on you, helped by six excellent performances and a realistic minicab office setting by Rosa Maggiora. A definite recommendation from me.

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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.

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I like a bit of what we used to call agit-prop! This 1968 Alan Plater play with music (Alex Glasgow) with additional material by ‘soul mate’ Lee Hall  (Billy Elliott, Pitman Painters) has been given a timely revival by Live Theatre Newcastle in a production by Samuel West now on tour courtesty of Northern Stage. Timely as a tribute to Alan Plater, who died a couple of years ago and who’s work we see all too rarely, and timely because of the troubled times we’re in.

It’s an unashamedly partisan presentation of the history of mining and miners in the UK from the mid-1800’s to recent times. Now that makes it sound really dry, but it isn’t. It’s told in ‘flashbacks’ by a North East family at home, contrasting the lives of two sons brought up by their grandparents (their parents having died), one a miner and the other at university. There’s a narrator who has fun with the concept of that role and a handful of other characters. The music is largely traditional music hall / folk songs (the man next to me was clearly a Geordie as he was singing along, somewhat irritatingly!).

It works on two levels – the story of the sons and how their lives diverge, as one follows dad and the other breaks free, and the telling of history.  It was entertaining, instructive, at times very funny and at others very moving. Even though it is Plater’s play, you can see Hall’s stamp on it, particularly with the updated ending. 

I think two intervals was a mistake, and there’s no obvious reason for them, as it slowed it down a bit. It also looked a bit lost in a theatre the size of Richmond and I’m not sure it’s one of Soutra Gilmour’s better designs….. but its well acted and well staged and well worth catching on tour.

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This staging of former Labour MP & minister Chris Mullin’s diary of the period from 1997 to 2009 is surprisingly effective and entertaining. On a simple stage with six chairs in front of a 12-screen video wall, actor John Hodgkinson brilliantly narrates extracts from Mullin’s diary whilst the people he talks about – political and personal, known and unknown – step forward to briefly act out his perception of their part in his reflections.

In addition to Hodgkinson’s star turn, a versatile group of four actors – Sara Powell, Tracy Gilman, Hywel Morgan and Jim Kitson – switch roles completely convincingly, showing enough of the characteristics of the known people – including Blair, Prescott & Straw – to make any ‘signposting’ unnecessary, as well as playing people we don’t know (including his kids!).

What’s so clever about Michael Chaplin’s adaptation is that it tells both the personal story of Mullin’s 12 years, including his family life and visits to Africa as part of his work in the Foreign Office, but also a pretty good history (albeit with a personal spin) of the New Labour period. Mullin has a great self-deprecating humour, so it’s funny and entertaining despite the fact it’s primarily tracking a political journey.

Originated at the Live Theatre in Newcastle, it’s now at Soho Theatre, though staged downstairs with table seating so you can have a tipple while you watch. Great fun, but only 3 performances left!

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