NORTHERN STAGE AT SUMMERHALL – 2015.
From the shattering to the blindingly obvious in this year’s Northern Stage offerings.
This year Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s theatre company Northern Stage has taken up Edinburgh Festival Fringe residence at Summerhall, on the site of a former school of veterinary medicine, the Dick Vet. It’s a rambling, shambling site with performance spaces like Old Lab and Dissecting Room, unlikely kinds of places for all kinds of show, plus an art gallery, café, pub and open space to enjoy a drink in the sun – or a huddle in the damp. Paines Plough have brought along their mobile Roundabout space. Overall, there’s the feel of the down-at-heel made smart by occupation of an echt Fringe venue.
You need to voyage to the far corner and up two flights of steps in the austere premises to find Northern Stage’s season. I managed three of their shows – another, My Name Is… reviewsgate.com has already covered in London. Measuring value in terms of effort, I’d say one would have been worth the climb three times over, while another justified the steps that actually had to be taken.
The best thing to be said about Catrina McHugh’s 55-minute Key Change for Open Clasp theatre is that it accurately represents the words and behaviour of the people who devised it, women inmates at HMP-YOI Low Newton, a Durham closed prison for adult and young women. Laura Lindow’s production has the touch of veracity from the opening when the cast, as prisoners, start taping out the prison spaces, an effort that soon falls apart amid arguments.
These women are – put it this way. You wouldn’t go out of your way to meet one on a dark night, but if you did and she invited you to hand her an iron bar, don’t think twice, just scarper.
Yet it becomes clear that, while kept apart from society these people are not a race apart. Education may have been in short supply, let alone skills for co-existing. It’s too easy to say ‘prison works’ (it does; but how?) and ignore what’s happening. The people here have been ignored, abused or bullied into their inability to cope with frustrations and complexities. Nobody’s taught them to negotiate relationships. A broken ’phone leaves a mother desperate to talk to her child, so she threatens another inmate for her place in the queue. Replayed later, this time going beyond the threat, the dreadful vulnerability below aggression is evident, the desperation of someone about to lose her one brief chance to talk to her child.
Episodes from the life of a battered wife, so eager to please her husband, so sure he loves her and caught between love, hope and fear are near unbearable in their conviction. Miseries, hopes, frustrations, anger come alive in Open Clasp’s performances. And they’ve survived some of the most expert audiences, touring male prisons.
Simply closing prisons down wouldn’t solve the problems but if the march away from progress in treatment of such people isn’t reversed then they and those around them face a bleak future. The success of Key Change is that such ideas on social or political policy are the means, not the end. What leaps out is the need for a way the characters here, and others for whom they stand, could have a chance to become what they might be; Nora Helmers freed of their iron-barred doll’s houses.
MORE THAN A GERM OF AN IDEA
Daniel Bye is a regular in these Fringe seasons. This year he’s caught the bug and done his medical research, looking at how diseases spread. He’s already toured this infectious show in the spring and takes it further in autumn, ending near home in Stockton-on-Tees. Transforming the space into a theatre-in-the-round Bye sits among his audience before identifying himself, and taking a place on all four sides as well as on stage – nowhere is immune from his presence during the hour and ten minutes of his show.
He isn’t a separate character, but himself in his performance. As he sums it up, “I’m a maker of theatre. Sometimes I write, sometimes I direct, sometimes I perform. My work is immediate, playful, surprising and engaged with the world we all live in.”
One of the most significant things he demonstrates is the importance of play and metaphor – the disease which he imagines breaking-out on an air-flight is compulsive weeping, to which he alone seems immune. It’s in that context that serious and factual points are made. He explains, for example, why measles is far more spreadable than Ebola – to do with how the virus travels and the period of infection. Ebola considerately waits till symptom show while measles germs troop round the place several days before the source stars feeling unwell (it is fortunate it’s not the other way round).
He produces medicines, he passes round hand-sanitiser before demolishing the credibility of doing so. At one moment he’s striking intellectual sparks, at another chatting casually. If he doesn’t round-off every thought he provokes, that’s the point: that we go on thinking and wondering.
PARADISE NOT REGAINED
Working on Projeto Paradiso with Teatro Maria Matos Municipal, House on Fire, Warwick Arts Centre, supported by the Cultural Programme of the European Union, not to mention National Lottery funding and Sectretario de Estado da Cultura and DG Artes, Sheffield-born Third Angel produce a show that seems paradise for successful funding applicants. Where did all the money go in this 70-minute two hander)?
Lacking the hard research of the other two shows, ideas are softly indulged rather than hard-examined, while the performances, deliberately or not so deliberately, are lacklustre (though there seem to be three casts). A table’s put together (not without a drill coming apart, all too emblematically), but while many might justifiably regard safely constructing a table from flat-pack instructions to be near the achievement of paradise, it scarcely takes so many people as the list of credits imply to labour and bring forth such simplicity.
The idea that plans for domestic or societal perfection tend to go wrong because of human limitations is barely a truism, just something that’s obvious to anyone who thinks a minute. Looking at captioned photographs, either the captions or the cast indications in the programme handout are wrong.
The projections of room walls are well done, but that’s about it. Oh, and Portuguese Theatre Company Mala Voadora’s involved as well.
by Catrina McHugh.
Kelly: Christina Berriman Dawson.
Lorraine: Victoria Copeland.
Lucy: Cheryl Dixon.
Angie: Jessica Johnson.
Director: Laura Lindow.
Sound/Composer: Roma Yagnik.
Choreographer: Holly Irving.
Movement support: Holly ‘KiJjala’ Rose.
by Daniel Bye.
Performer: Daniel Bye.
Director: Dick Bonham.
Designer: Emma Tompkins.
Lighting: Katharine Williams.
Dramaturg: Sarah Punshon.
Scientific adviser: Dr Mark Booth.
Mentor: Alexander Kelly
1 Sep 7.45pm Tron Glasgow 0141 552 4267 www.tron.co.uk
8 Sep 7.45pm Everyman Studio Theatre Cheltenham 01242 572573 www.everymantheatre.org.uk
9-10 Sep 7.30pm Oxford Playhouse (BT Studio) 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
18 Sep 7.30pm Council Chambers Barnstaple 01769 572573 www.beaford-arts.org.uk
24 Sep 8pm Lincoln Drill Hall 01522 873894 www.lincolndrillhall.com
30 Sep 8pm Norwich Arts Centre 01603 660352 www.norwihartscentre.co.uk
2 Oct 7.30pm Theatre Royal Margate 01843 292795 www.theatreroyalmargate.com
18-21 Nov 7.30pm Bike Shed Theatre Exeter 01392 434169 www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk
26 Nov 7.30pm Arts Centre Washington 0191 219 3455 www.artscentrewashington.co.uk
2 Dec 7.45pm Cast Doncaster 01302 303959 www.castindoncaster.com
3 Dec 7pm ARC Stockton 01642 525199 www.arconline.co.uk
THE PARADISE PROJECT
conceived & devised by Jorge Andrade, José Capela, Alexander Kelly, Chris Thorpe, Rachael Walton in collaboration with Tanika Alves, David Cabecinha, Fernando Villas-Boas, Lucy Ellinson with creatuive input from Hannah Butterfield. Mark Maugham..
Performers (at this performance) Jerry Killick, Stacey Simpson.
Designers: José Capela.
Image editor: Antonio MV & Tingo Pinhal Costa.
Lighting: Jim Harrison, Edwardo Abdala.
Sound: Ivan Mack, Rui Lima, Sérgio Martin