Leaving and Queens of the North

Northern Stage have just completed their Queens of the North season, with the headline act being two plays with prominent female leads. As well as this, there were other plays and events that are, to use Northern Stage’s words “Stories by women, about women, about humankind through the eyes of women”. However, out of all of the events I saw, by far the strongest one was neither Dr. Frankenstein nor Hedda Gabbler, but a lower-key production over in Stage 2. So let’s begin with this.

Leaving

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Paddy Campbell’s new play, it must be said, had a pretty tenuous link to the Queens of the North season it was officially part of. A play that explores young people leaving foster care through their own words, both male and female, the only vague claim this has to be about humankind through the eyes of women is that the artistic director of the performing company Curious Monkey happens to be female. This play would surely have been programme with or without a Queens of the North season to put it in – it would have been crazy not to, given the following both Curious Monkey and Paddy Campbell already had.

But, hey, whatever, that’s just marketing. What I’m really interested is the play. I knew little of Curious Monkey’s previous work, but this was playing to Paddy Campell’s greatest strength on writing very fairly and knowledgeably about the social care system. The only question was whether a verbatim play could live up to his previous more conventional scripted plays. Well, what do you know? It has; in fact, it’s surpassed those expectations handsomely. Continue reading

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Odds and sods: February 2017

Okay, we’re quite a bit into March now, so I’d better hurry up with this. Sorry this is late, but I didn’t want to delay the Vault Festival reviews any further as I had a couple of press ticket reviews waiting on that. But now that’s out of the way, let’s turn attention to what else happened in February.

Beyond the End of the Road

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You may recall that last September I reviewed a scratch performance from The November Club, a theatre company heavily based in rural Northumberland. Beyond the End of the Road is set in such a small community, a fictitious village based on interviews with people in similar real villages. As well as the research to get the community feel right, there’s lots of live music in the story, with guitars and other instruments cleverly used to represent all sorts of props. The most promising bit, however, was the story of two outsiders returning to their home village for different reasons. And then, just when things got interesting – it finished. Continue reading

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Roundup: Vault Festival 2017

The main bar at the Vaults

REVIEWS: Skip to: Scenes from an Urban Gothic, This is not Culturally Significant, Circle Line, Claustrophilia, Mars Actually, Blood and Bone, Ventoux, Three unrelated short plays

So Vault 2017 is on. This time last year, doubts were being raised as to whether there would be a Vault 2017 at all owing to financial worries. I was always a little sceptical of this worry, because realistically this space can’t be used for anything else, but whatever the worries, this year, it’s as busy as ever, with no sign to a casual observer that there was ever any trouble. So I found the time to get myself down to London and dip my toe for four days.

To repeat the same thing I said last year (and will probably repeat every year), the Vault Festival should not, as some in the arts press suggest, be considered London’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe. The whole point of the Edinburgh Fringe is that anyone can take part. The Vault Festival, on the other hand, is a curated festival. I don’t like this blurring between the two kinds of festivals, because this encourages the practice of claiming your festival as a fringe then curating it (e.g. York, Ludlow), depriving entry-level performers of opportunities to get started that is so desperately lacking right now.

This is not in any way the fault of Vault – they never claimed to be a fringe themselves, it was other people who labelled them that way. It would help, however, if they were open about how they curate the festival so the difference is known and understood. I heard that a lot of acts this year was chosen based on a theme of “space”, but that could mean anything, and I always think it’s better to be open about this.

Anyway, enough of that. Let’s get on with covering the festival. Continue reading

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The problem with political theatre

Frame 1:

How differing views are treated on the internet – but is the same happening in theatre? (From Chainsaw Suit.)

COMMENT: It’s fine to do political theatre aimed at changing people’s minds. But you’re failing in your objective if the only people listening are people who already agree.

Disclaimer: This is not a catch-all attack on every piece of political theatre ever made. If you make political theatre and you’re cross that I’ve said something that you don’t do, please append #notallpoliticaltheatre on to the disagreeable statement.

Last week I did my annual trip to the Vault Festival. My roundup of that will be coming soon, but whilst I was away I missed a rather high-profile event at Northern Stage about how to respond to Donald Trump. (This wasn’t specifically an arts-focused event, but Northern Stage went far beyond a role of host and made a big thing of it.) It was followed on Tuesday with Live Theatre’s seminar on writing political theatre as part of its Live Lab Elevator festival (which, again, I couldn’t get to because of clashes). This wasn’t specifically about him, but I am picking up an obvious pattern ever since that day of November of wanting to use their arts to fight the new Mr. President.

Just to be clear, I think Donald Trump is a complete fucking nutjob just as much as anyone. But as I read through the blogs and social media talking about these events, I have one consistent observation, and a lot of you reading this are not going to like this. Quite simply: I don’t understand what these people expect to achieve. This is not a new problem to anti-Trump plays, but stretches back long before then. No shortage of people intent on using theatre to deliver a message against Trump or the Tories or corporate greed or misogyny or anti-immigrant sentiment or environmental destruction – but in terms of winning other people over to this position, I see little evidence they’ve thought that through. Continue reading

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The Empty Nesters’ Show

The goodbye scene in The Empty Nesters Club

Unlike many Godber plays, The Empty Nesters’ Club is very much a niche play. But if you’re in the niche of empty nesters, you won’t be disappointed.

Since leaving Hull Truck, John Godber has, if anything, got busier. Once I made an effort to catch all his plays; now there’s so many productions coming out thick and fast I often leave it until the second tour to know if it’s worth watching. The latest show on its second tour is The Empty Nesters’ Club, a play about what happens to Vicky and Phil when their only child Millie (played by Godber’s real daughter Martha) goes to university.

Presented as a meeting of the Empty Nesters’ Club, a support group created by Vicky, she tells the story of her own daughter. The story begins with the life of typical parents of a sixth-former, working hard as a taxi service for their daughter, givng her a freedom but secretly staying awake in bed until she comes home. Being unable to resist telling everyone she’s got an offer from Oxford. (She goes to UCL instead, but that story thread will become relevant later.) All busy until the drive home from her new home – and suddenly they don’t know what to do with themselves.

This play has a similar appeal to Shafted!, which toured this time last year. Telling the story of a colliery couple after the defeat of the miners’ strike, clearly this was very popular with people who’d been there; not because it particularly took sides, but because people related to the story of what happened in the following three decades. A similar appeal is at play here: the audience was almost entirely people old enough to have been through Phil and Vicky’s experience. Continue reading

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Cyrano de Bergerac: Broadsiders know best

Cyrano and Roxane

Cyrano, very faithful to the original story yet made into their own, Deborah McAndrew and Conrad Nelson once again gift Northern Broadsides with a flawless adaptation of a classic play.

Is there no stopping Deborah McAndrew and Conrad Nelson? Although producing their plays under the banner of Northern Broadsides, the husband-and-wife team of writer and director are practically a company within their own right. Not that I think Northern Broadsides is complaining. McAndrew and Nelson have already gifted them hits such as Accidental Death of an AnarchistA Government Inspector and The Grand Gesture (as well as a good collaboration with Northern Broadsides proper with An August Bank Holiday Lark). Barrie Rutter is very lucky to have got them on board.

One thing is missing from this adaptation that is common to previous McAndrews adaptation which some fans of hers may miss. Up to now, she has transplanted classic tales to modern day settings very successfully – tales of petty despotism and political opportunism are just as fitting today as they were a century ago. This time, however, she’s opted to keep the play its original setting of Paris in 1640 at the time leading up to the siege of Arras. Our nasally-enhanced hero Cyrano is still commander to cadet Christian, and he still has the unenviable task from his beautiful and beloved cousin Roxane to do the match-making between her and the new boy in town. Continue reading

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Underground overground: what happens next?

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Womble jokes: coming soon to Buxton.

So Underground Venues lives on. After much speculation (well, much speculation from me), they have moved from their extremely popular site in the basement under the Old Hall Hotel to The Old Clubhouse, a pub just up the road outside the Opera House. This was always one of the hot favourites: plenty of venues work this way in Brighton, I gather Tom and Yaz used to run events at the Old Clubhouse prior to Underground Venues, and this option was seriously explored three years earlier when it looked like 2013 would be the final year.

Applications for Underground Venues were supposed to open two days ago, and from this I was supposed to glean more information from what this might entail. However, due to some gremlins in the system the old Pauper’s Pit information was still showing and applications had to be delayed a few days. However, from this blog post we can already work out quite a bit about what’s in store, and from this ask some questions of what happens from here. Continue reading

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