Leaving and Queens of the North

Skip to: Leaving, Dr. Frankenstein, Hedda Gabler

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.



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

Day of the Flymo: a good play for Wet House fans

Day of the Flymo publicity image

Despite a few niggles over the episodic format, Day of the Flymo is a thoughtful play that won’t disappoint fans of Wet House.

Paddy Campbell’s had a whirlwind 18 months at Live. His début, Wet House was so much of a smash hit it won the Journal’s award for Best Play and got a revival at Live the following year. So now he’s following it up with a second play, Day of the Flymo, again at Live Theatre. What could possibly go wrong? … Actually, quite a lot. When your first play is that much of a runaway success, people’s expectations go into overdrive. And there’s no guarantee that the next play will live up to the blockbuster you’ve just done. Has anyone heard of The Sparrow? Thought not. That was a flop of Alan Ayckbourn’s that immediately followed Relatively Speaking.

Well, if Paddy was worried this might happen, he needn’t have done. It’s another decent, thoughtful play, and anyone who liked Wet House won’t be disappointed with this. It’s fair to say that Campbell played it safe this time and stuck to his strength, which is writing about what he knows, but its a strength that serves well. Last time it was based on his work in a hostel for alcoholics. This time, it’s based on his experiences of social care. But there is one big difference between in two plays. In Wet House, a bad situation was made worse by a sadistic carer who brutalised the residents, manipulated the other staff, and bullied everyone. In Day of the Flymo, social worker Ben (Akemnji Ndifornyen) is competent, capable, good-natured, and works with equally dedicated people – and yet, even with the best will in the world, things go wrong very easily.

The story centres on Liam (Kalem Patterson), a 13-year-old with, it appears, the difficult combination of Asperger’s and ADHD. He’s a tearaway who got himself thrown out of school, and was probably mentally damaged by his violent father. A strong theme of the play the effect Liam has on his family. Mother Karen (Jill Dellow), having taken the worst of her husband’s violent behaviour, never fully recovered and doesn’t know how to handle her son. Which mean it falls to Liam’s half-sister Becca (Tezney Mulroy) to look after the whole family in the middle of her GCSEs. Desperate for respect, Liam makes friends where he can: first with mischievous old ladies who get him to mow the lawn (amongst other tasks); then Clara (Sophie Pitches), who bunks off her posh school and his family issues of her own; and then, most alarmingly, a gang up to no good who can set him up for anything. Continue reading

Wet House: the challenge of the début

Paddy Campbell’s Wet House at Live Theatre is a promising start. But in spite of this, I have some misgivings about Live’s influence.

Charaters from Wet House

Like most new writing theatres, Live Theatre wants to build up relationships with writers they can call their own. Lee Hall has a string of successes at Live, as shortly to be demonstrated by the upcoming re-run of one of his many successes, Cooking With Elvis. More recently, Lee Mattinson has been building up a respectable following. But they both had to start somewhere. Every established playwright was once an untested one where the theatre had to take a gamble and hope for the best. Live’s last gamble was Zoe Cooper with Nativities, which was sadly a disappointment. So now, step forward Paddy Campbell with Wet House. Like Nativities, this is a play largely drawn from personal experience. But whilst Nativities tried to make an interesting story out of office politics – not an easy choice of topic, it must be said – Wet House dwells on the more interesting, and much darker, topic of a hostel-cum-scrapheap for incurable alcoholics.

There is a cast of six: three care workers and three of the many residents. Helen (Jackie Lye) is a jaded care worker disillusioned by a management that cares more about targets than people. Mike (Chris Connell) is an equally jaded care worker and ex-squaddie, who thinks this whole thing is a waste of time. Enter new recruit Andy (Riley Jones) in an unplanned change of career direction after buggering up his arts history degree. Probably the most accurate description given of the place was “like Dignitas, but takes longer, and without the dignity”. But Mike is the sort of ex-squaddie who spent little time promoting peace and understanding in warzones and a lot of time dangling IRA suspects out of helicopters, and he takes his style with him to the Wet House. When a silly mistake by Andy provides Mike with an opportunity to inflict his DIY justice on a sex offender resident, Andy’s life progressively becomes unbearable.

Continue reading