Turn over a theatrical stone in any theatre large enough to have a repertory theatre, and you’re likely to find a seething mass of performers and small-scale companies producing work that, often, develops quirkily individual shows.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Northern Stage has developed an excellent project to present a rolling repertory of such work from Tyneside at St Stephen’s Church, located at the bottom of the hill on the north side of the New Town, towards Stockbridge (EH6 5AB). They’re less plays than the expression in performance terms of individual interests and ideas.
St Stephen’s has an imposing entrance, a stone staircase, as it’s approached from the city centre. Ignore it – the entrance is round to the right, taking you downstairs to a small auditorium, with an even smaller one beyond. In the larger space there’s Alex Elliott with Best in the World (7-12, 14-19, 21-25 Aug 12.45pm). This co-production between Unfolding Theatre and Northern Stage turns out a friendly and encouraging examination of how everyone can personally be at their best, and has their own value. There’s the chance to participate at several levels. No-one’s forced to, but most people will want to as the hour or so proceeds.
There are plenty of achievements included in Elliott’s material, some Olympian, but mostly related to darts – a sport which contributes several stories and various sorts of participation. Elliott is a persuasive narrator and demonstrator, and the focus on the effort and persistence that makes both success and leaves positive stories in the wake of defeat is correspondingly heartening.
Round in the studio Daniel Bye is also into lecture/demonstration in The Price of Everything (14-19; 21-25 Aug 11.30am), with a number of strategically-placed lies. They help make the point about perfidious commerce and politics. It’s an amiable, if sometimes over-obvious show, which the performer is keen to establish isn’t theatre. Which may be true. Or not. Wilting Fringegoers might like to note that Elliott’s show offers a free banana, Bye’s a glass of milk.
What I Heard About the World (8-12, 14-19 Aug at 4.35pm) takes the larger stage, with three performers in Third Angel’s production (with Voadora). Jorge Andrade, Alexander Kelly and Chris Thorpe begin apparently in three separate worlds, sitting or lying in silence around the space before, jointly or severally, coming out with the kind of stories usually found towards the bottom right-hand of newspaper pages and evoking the quirkiness of other societies’ ways seen from our own perspective (there’s doubtless plenty of material for the reverse perspective).
Strangest of all, possibly – or maybe just the one with the most significant hinterland – is a radio station that used to broadcast silence; the idea being that if there were anything on the lines of a nuclear attack, it would interrupt its own silence (why couldn’t it just interrupt regular programmes? – perhaps it just shows that, if people are anxious enough, they’ll buy anything).
Anyone combing the day for a play would realise by now that’s not what’s on offer in a programme which becomes a survey of alternative uses for an audience and a stage. Yet there’s something nearer to conventional ideas of drama in two later-in-the-day offerings, starting with Gary Kitching’s Me and Mr C (8-12 Aug, 14-20 Aug, 22-25 Aug 8.15pm). Combining input from Greyscale, Northern Stage and the Empty Space it’s roughly 45 minutes rooted in stand-up and improvisation. Kitching has an affecting modesty as he builds a catalogue of assistance he’ll be asking for during the piece, and shows a resilience when his stand-up character goes from the lonely home he shares with his fumy, Mr C, to spots at a comedy club where he undergoes a hail of invited heckles.
It’s the contrast between this hostile noise, and the silence at home, with ‘Me’ apparently unable to anything about either, that gives the piece its dark edge and depth. And in the bigger-scale Ugly Sisters RashDash, with Not Now Bernard, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Dep Arts Ltd take another perspective on Cinderella’s joint villains.
Pushed together by the world’s perceptions of them, the two present their view of how put-upon they are. It’s both musical and physical, in a RashDash way – which also means not at all slapdash – but the overall strategy of the eighty-minute show (8-12, 14-20; 22-25 Aug at 10pm) is the move from bovver-girls through attempts to prettify themselves and conform into acceptable young women, to the quiet truth as they are when not seeking to aggravate or pacify the world.
Tickets for all shows, and details of others in the season: 0131 558 5047; www.noerthernstge.co.uk).