The Season Ticket: a prize above all prizes

Scene from The Season Ticket

Sometimes touching, sometimes brutal, The Season Ticket is a great four-way collaboration portraying lives on the fringe of society.

Could you assemble a better team? Lee Mattinson has already shown how skilled his writing is with Donna Disco and Chalet Lines.  Pilot Theatre wowed us with one of the best staged plays ever with The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Northern Stage, of course, as an excellent track record of mainstream productions. And Purely Belter, the film adaptation already made of the book this is based on, is a cult classic in Newcastle. And yet seemingly surefire collaborations don’t always work out. Such high expectation can set up such bitter disappointments. But not here. The Season Ticket is every bit as good as I hoped it would be, and more.

Gary and Sewell are two young lads at the very bottom of the pile. Gary has a sister who is desperate to get her A-levels so that – it is quietly understated – she can get out and move on to a better life – Gary has given up on going to school, and best friend Sewell has seemingly given up in general ever since his father died. The two of them begin in the middle of an inept petty crime, looking for suitable luxury household appliances to burgle from their headmaster’s house. Perhaps, it’s suggested early on, it’s got something to do with Gary having a half-inattentive alcoholic mother. But it emerges that she, too, has her own reasons to give up, once it emerges what sort of person Gary’s father was and what he did to them. Continue reading

Teechers and Donna Disco

(Prologue: Chris Neville-Smith sits as his computer, thinking that he really can’t be arsed to write two articles about two plays he’s already seen. “What I really need” he thinks, “is a contrived theme to connect the two together.” Suddenly, he realises they’re both set in schools. Problem solved.)

Who would be a secondary school teacher? Here you are, trying to help teenagers learn the stuff they ought to know unless they want to spend the next forty years in the beef caracass factory, and what do they do? Have a riot. And who would be a secondary school pupil? It’s like Lord of the Flies, but with thick oversized schoolboys in charge. The only consolation is that it gives teachers and pupils alike the chance to write plays about what schools are like.

So two plays that are doing to rounds now are Teechers and Donna Disco. Both plays are smash hits, and having seen them before I can vouch they are smash hits for a reason. I also had high expectations for the companies producing them. And so, in perhaps the least surprising turn of events in the history of the blog, both productions were exactly as good as I was expecting. I won’t give a detailed appraisal of the plays as they’re already getting praise from pretty every Tom, Dick and Harry, but I’ll give a quick run-down. Continue reading

Warning: this is not Hi-di-Hi

Lee Mattinson’s Chalet Lines isn’t the gentle drama about Butlins it’s made out to be – but when you take it for what it is, it’s very enjoyable.

Live Theatre has always taken risks with its new writing. As a result, it’s very much a hit-and-miss affair. It’s worth it for the hits, because when it gets it right it produces runaway successes such as And a Nightingale Sang and The Pitman Painters. The first half of this year, however, has been on the the other end of the scale. By almost all accounts, Nativities was a disappointment and Utopia was a disaster. Geordie Sinatra and Close the Coalhouse Door were successes, but they were co-productions where the lion’s share of artistic credit really goes to the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Northern Stage respectively. Fortunately, Live can call upon playwrights with past successes and loyal followings. Steve Gilroy brought The Prize to Live last month, and now it’s the turn of Live veteran Lee Mattinson to bring Chalet Lines, directed by Madani Younis, artistic director of the Bush Theatre where this play was co-produced.

I’ll start with the problem: this is a play that doesn’t do what it says on the tin. I got this impression that this was going to be a play about what made families who went to Butlins in the 70s and 80s. In a modern world of package holidays and Easyjet, it would have very interesting subject to see what made people go to the same British resort year after year. Instead, this is play focuses on a disintegrating family, mostly set in the last two decades, and the setting of Butlins is only incidental. I noticed several people (presumably people who were expecting something gentle like Hi-di-Hi!) not return to their seats after the interval. You could argue that the play’s not for those people, and that you’ve already got their money anyway, but Live is pushing their luck. They’ve frequently marketed their plays differently to what’s in them: recently we’ve had Faith and Cold Reading which little to do with faith or cold reading, and I haven’t a clue what Nativities had to do with the Nativity. This is a bad habit and will cost Live future ticket sales if they’re not careful.

Continue reading