We’re back. New venue, new audiences, different sensibilities. Geordies really know their onions; they’ve got a 24 carat theatre heritage and there’s a terrific scene up in Newcastle. Northern Stage (where we were) and Live Theatre are bang on form at the moment: Lorne Campbell has inherited a very healthy organization from Erica Whyman, who moved to the RSC in January to become Deputy AD. Her legacy is mighty; no wonder she was named 2012 TMA Theatre Manager of the Year. For 40 years, Live Theatre has been the dramatic voice of working-class Newcastle. Lee Hall had one of his greatest successes with them; in 2007 his play The Pitmen Painters opened at the tiny venue for a one month run. And so began one of the great theatrical journeys: Nick Hytner took it to the National Theatre, and from there it went on to New York before returning for a West End stint and a national tour. From Broad Chare to Broadway. Crikey, talk about punching above your weight.
Newcastle and Hull have a famous dramatic link too: Alan Plater. The late, great writer was born just down river in Jarrow, and brought up in Hull. He really loved both towns, wrote plays for both Hull Truck and Live, and played an important role in the establishment of both venues early on in the 1970s.
It’s a big old stage is Northern Stage (the widest outside London) and our set looked like a doll’s house on there. However, it meant that we had loads of room behind for warm-ups and games of Foursquare. We always do a warm-up, but it’s really important when you’re playing a big space like this. There are the usual Yoko Ono-esque primal shrieks and wails that were drilled into us at drama school, and which may or may not be more effective than a cup of tea and a cig, and articulation exercises (tongue twisters) to help us chew our way through the text clearly (bits of Dr Seuss are particularly good). We also have a couple of favourite games that help us get into ‘the zone’. The first, ‘Foursquare’, is a bit like tennis without a net. Or rackets. And you play it with a football. So I suppose it’s not very much like tennis, but it is pretty competitive; somebody mentioned that some theatre companies have because it caused rows. Much as we enjoy it, we think it’s a poor basis for a decent row. I think there are possibly underlying tensions and issues at play in those casts and Foursquare is merely a catalyst. The other is ‘Big Booty’ and it is brilliant for generating the focus, alertness and fun that you need when performing comedy. Warm-ups can be collective and playful; it’s not all ‘me, me , meeeeeeeeeeeee’.
After the performance on Wednesday we had a ‘Post-show’. If you’ve not been to one, it’s basically a chat and Q & A with the cast (and sometimes the director and the writer) in the auditorium after curtain down. I really enjoy them, both as spectator or actor, because you can get/give a fascinating insight into how plays get made and played. If you’re a creative or performer, you get the chance to gauge your audiences’ reaction to what you are doing. It’s like the DVD extras of theatre. A large contingent of Theatre Studies students stayed behind and opened up a good, frank discussion about the play and its issues, and we explained how the show developed from early drafts to press night and beyond. It’s an excellent way to make theatre more accessible and inclusive for young and new audiences. And the theatre buys you a drink.
Newcastle at night is not sedate, and we flung ourselves, livers first, into it again and burned through our touring allowances before the weekend. Dabbawal (delicious Indian street food) was the food favorite, and the week culminated in a night at the discreetly named World Headquarters. It was there that Philip bumped into the Manchester United and England striker, Danny Welbeck. Somewhat star-struck and overwhelmed, he only managed to repeat the footballer’s name to him over and over again. Apparently Alicia, Amy and Viv were less whelmed, and Andy and Jamie were ‘busy’. I missed all this, unfortunately, as I’d ended up in Benwell with some Poles at a house party that got a bit weird.
In the break, we found out that JFG has been nominated for Best New Play in the UK Theatre Awards. Congrats, Tom Wells – nothing less than you deserve.
Right, that’s it for me. See how it goes next week. #jump4goal