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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Stage’

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!

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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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