Windrush @ Northern Stage 09/05/2018

Created by the Phoenix Dance Theatre from Leeds, and choreographed by artistic director Sharon Watson, Windrush comes to Newcastle’s Northern Stage for a two-night run.

Windrush: Movement of the People makes up the evening’s second act following an excellent duo of mood-setting shorter pieces. Beginning in the Caribbean, following a crowd of people due to make the trip, the performers are dapper and full of optimism, all set for the promise of a new world and better lifestyle.

Shortly after arriving in England, the mood takes on a sombre tone. The movement within the dance hints at feelings of repression and disappointment as the deal sold to them by the British Government turns out to be full of challenges. Racial prejudice and ignorance makes it hard to find lodgings and work; in turn this makes it doubly hard to fit in amongst their new country folk.

This more downbeat section culminates in a positive ending, with a love story blossoming between a Caribbean man and a local girl. If many Brits were fearful of sharing their streets with people from a different culture (despite history telling us that such a happening was nothing new), the piece indicates that large elements of British youth had no such trouble. The people on the Windrush brought cooler clothes, better music and a whole range of new dance routines. At a time when British fashions were as colourful as a foggy day in winter, and conservatism still dominant across society, the joy to be found in those who embraced a different culture is clear to see.

Featuring all 10 dancers on stage at once, the final section is an utter delight. The celebratory feel of the whole troupe performing as one suggests a far more fulfilling life experience than that of those seen earlier in the play, sticking to what they know, resistant to change. Themes of embracing new experiences, celebrating differences and the benefits of finding common ground are clear, and any performance that makes one leave the theatre wanting to do nothing but dance is nothing short of a triumph. Windrush is fantastic.

*****

Brighton Rock @ Northern Stage 01/05/2018

Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock comes to Newcastle’s Northern Stage as part of a wider UK tour.

Beginning with the death of gangland boss Kite and the attempt of his prodigy Pinkie to seek revenge, Brighton Rock hits an impressive intensity in its opening minutes, maintaining it for the duration.

Largely shot in subdued lighting, the evocation of dingy backstreets, dank boarding houses and constant threat of violence never leaves the theatre. The darkness is beautifully-balanced by the ray-of-light presence of Ida, an amateur detective whose glamour and nosiness combine to brighten an otherwise singular world of violence. It’s a great performance from Gloria Onituri, and allowing her character a greater role also gives the piece a much-needed sane voice.

Often debated amongst scholars of the novel is the plausibility of Pinkie’s great contradiction – on the one hand prepared to murder anyone who gets in his way, on the other a firm believer in Hell for those who have sinned. Lavery’s adaptation – combined with an edge-of-the-seat performance from Jacob James Beswick – covers the religious angle without allowing it the dominating force it becomes in the novel, and this subtle interpretation serves the piece brilliantly.

Seen alongside Pinkie’s adolescent wedding night nerves and fear of intimacy, his religious rantings fit perfectly within the mind of a confused teenager for whom life no longer has purpose. This emphasis on youthful confusion over fully-formed religious conviction also gives space in the plot to suggest that, with Kite’s death, Pinkie lost not just a mentor but a father figure too – perhaps the only person he ever listened to. Without Kite’s presence, there is nothing to stop Pinkie going off the rails.

A faithful interpretation of Greene’s novel with some fantastic modern touches; Lavery’s adaptation makes for a thrilling piece of theatre and a real lesson on how to adapt a classic.

****

My Romantic History Review @ Live Theatre 24/04/2018

First seen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, My Romantic History comes to Live Theatre for a three-week run. Documenting a work-based affair between Tom and Amy, the former tells his story in the first act, where a drunken romp with a colleague somehow morphs into a relationship, despite him doing little to encourage it. Rather than end things, he chooses to play the part of a selfish idiot, in an attempt to get dumped. It’s only a serious development within their relationship that forces him to re-evaluate his life and actions.

The second act delivers a turnaround that also proves the play’s masterstroke. Here we are taken back to the beginning, and given Amy’s point of view. Far from being the overly-keen colleague as depicted in Tom’s world, her interpretation turns the tables. It’s Tom who’s been doing the running, appearing wherever she goes, and any attraction she shows is largely down to her wanting to prove to a female colleague that she is not too old to date.

As well as hearing two interpretations of the same relationship, Tom and Amy also compare their present plight with memories of their first loves; rose-tinted flashbacks to a place where everything seemed much simpler. Chance meetings with said first-loves later in life suggest to both that there is more to relationships than ‘finding the one’, and their unromantic office-fling suddenly feels as normal and valid as any Romeo & Juliet  style of love affair.

My Romantic History has some memorable one-liners and plenty in it that anyone chained to an office desk can recognise. The two-sides-to-every-story approach is centred on relationships here, but in watching this play it’s easy to wonder how humans manage to maintain relationships on any level. Far from being a point of despair however, writer DC Jackson emphases how very funny this realisation can be.

****

Minefield Review @ Northern Stage 22/03/2018

The idea of Argentinian director Lola Arias, Minefield comes to Northern Stage following a tour around the UK. Arias’ cast compiles six veterans from the Falklands/Malvinas conflict – two Marines, one Gurkha and three Argentinian conscripts. Although the play is primarily about the war itself, its title reflects the wider legacy of the land dispute, for both the nations involved and the impact it had on the respective soldiers’ lives.

Minefield uses a variety of mediums to cover its subject. There are contemporary accounts, flashbacks to the war, press/personal cuttings and live music. This approach makes for a thrilling spectacle, the past and present crashing into each other throughout. Appearances from General Galtieri and Prime Minister Thatcher – played by the men in Spitting Image-style masks – add humour and present a taste of the incendiary political mood of the time, in both Britain and Argentina. The frenetic pace of the piece is one of its many strengths, and the quick shifts from more relaxed, latter-day reminiscences to battlefield action and back again give Minefield real unpredictability.

The sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas comes to the fore at the close of the play. There is no neat, agreeable resolution between the men, who in a rapid-fire section push forward British and Argentinian claims’ to the islands. The scene plays out like a stand-off, and tension is high. This highly-charged climax is a highlight of Minefield, and integral to grasping the complexities found in analysing the war itself. It’s also a sign that the veterans’ respect for each other goes far beyond politics.

Perhaps the play’s most-lasting legacy is its emphasis on the individual experience of war. Whilst there is some overlap within the men’s stories, all six come from different backgrounds, had different reasons for their military involvement and wildly-different lives before, during and after the events described.

Whilst countless books have been written on the conflict and politicians continue to propagandise as to its pros and cons, Minefield demonstrates how a true understanding of war can best be found through those directly involved in its horrors.

****

Nuclear Future @ Live Theatre 16/03/2018

Review by Kate Millar

Presented by Gameshow, Nuclear Future merges emotive, scientific, historic and concerning tones in a work-in-progress play based around the topic of nuclear weapons and how their usage could impact our future.

Sole performer Josie Daxter manages to encapsulate the audience from the onset, using scientific information with brief reference to past historical nuclear events.

Aided with video and scientific script, Josie performs a warm, descriptive monologue which welcomes the audience into her private life. A brief account into Josie’s working day, with links to love, family, humour and imagination are thorough before she experiences her very own terror. The audience is taken on a journey from the basics of how a nuclear weapon is created, to how it is used, before summarising the effects of mass destruction.

Incredibly-tuned visuals and sound support the tone of the play as it dramatically changes to a state of sheer mayhem. Sirens, sepia-coloured fuzzy tones, bleak shades and fear take over the room and audience, as the intimate space in Newcastle’s Live Theatre echoes themes of absolute carnage.

Emotive and engaging, Nuclear Future is a thought-provoking piece, fuelling the chilling tones associated with nuclear weapons and their usage.

****