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Budding critics run the rule over shows at Northern Stage

The aspiring critics of the Cuckoo Young Writers pass judgement on the latest shows at Northern Stage

Left to right are Charlotte Hall, Rosie Willan, Emma Swan, Rob Ash, Noerthern Stage artistic director Lorne Campbell, Lucy Jones, Rosa Garland, Jade Holroyd and Peter Cumiskey
Left to right are Charlotte Hall, Rosie Willan, Emma Swan, Rob Ash, Noerthern Stage artistic director Lorne Campbell, Lucy Jones, Rosa Garland, Jade Holroyd and Peter Cumiskey

Nothing that happens at Northern Stage slips by the aspiring young critics who are sharpening their skills on a scheme devised by the Newcastle theatre and New Writing North.

Designed – in the words of Northern Stage artistic director Lorne Campbell – to create “a healthy critical dialogue” around the theatre’s work, it involves the young writers assessing the merits (or otherwise) of the shows in the current season.

The eight budding critics are part of New Writing North’s programme for young people, known as Cuckoo Young Writers (details on www.newwritingnorth.com) .

Find out here what the reviewers made of of the Young People’s First in 3 showcase, Standby for Tape Back-up and A Lyrical Dance Concert:

Young People’s First in 3 reviewed by Rosa Garland

Northern Stage once again proved themselves to be a truly wonderful platform for creative young people with their vibrant variety show Young People’s First in 3, organised and performed by people aged 16-25.

From a sarcastic song about McDonalds and a documentary about a local band, to some impressively energetic Irish dancing, the event was a joyful union of some of the best fresh talent the North East has to offer.

The relaxed, cabaret-like atmosphere immediately established a friendly environment for the audience.

The space itself was decorated in such a way that the intimate venue was made even more personal – right down to the sweets laid out on the tables.

The event hinged on its relationship with the audience; both Victoria Gibson (actress) and Gemma Hutchinson (musician) let it known that they wanted their acts to be humorous, serious and, above all, relatable.

They achieved this brilliantly; I was in stitches at both acts at times, while remaining equally involved when their tone became more sombre. Women are on the rise in comedy and these two were perfect examples, grabbing the audience by two hands with their professional strength.

The brave assortment of acts presented to us over the evening ensured our attention was held throughout the show.

They were chosen for being unusual and attention-grabbing and this definitely showed - not only was the evening about showcasing talent, it celebrated art forms that are often considered ‘niche’ and are therefore sometimes less visible (e.g. storytelling and spoken word).

Andrew Bleakley daringly pushed the boundaries between spoken word and theatre, toying with both language and character, while Rachel Wills explored storytelling in an interestingly simplistic fashion, managing to hold the audience’s attention with only herself and some well-chosen background music.

Newcastle University’s Irish Dance Society brought the energy in the space to a high point, losing the gaudily coloured costumes and wigs we are so used to seeing in order to focus on the vivacity of their movement.

A good word to sum up the overall theme of the evening would be ‘individuality’.

Each artist cleverly presented a piece of themselves to the audience, from William Kirk’s poignant visual art pieces, some of which derived from his own experiences in Barcelona, to Bleakley’s philosophical spoken word piece exploring the possibilities that come with breaking free from an ‘indoctrinating’ past.

Adam Mann and Jordan Tindale’s film Behind the Music felt equally personal, as they riffed on the theme of the people and story behind a band’s music in an incredibly well-made and sensitive documentary.

The curators’ business between acts further personalised the event, turning us into participants rather than mere spectators.

When talking to the artists and curators, their buzz and excitement about the project and their pursuits was evident and this seemed to me what the event was really about – bringing that enthusiasm to an audience to show them what a wonderful store of talent we have just waiting to break onto the arts and cultural scene.

I will be eagerly keeping an eye out to see where these artists head next.

Standby for Tape Back-up reviewed by Rob Ash

Paul Blakemore Ross Sutherland in Standby for Tape Back-up
Ross Sutherland in Standby for Tape Back-up

Standby for Tape Back-up is the brainchild of poet-come-performer Ross Sutherland and features perhaps the most profound analysis of the opening credits to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air ever undertaken.

The performance itself was a medley, combining elements of spoken word, stand-up and straight drama to create a deeply personal and visceral show about one man’s journey of reflection, existential madness and ultimately reconciliation.

Inspired by the supposed synchronicity of The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Sutherland created a series of life stories using only a visual collage taken from an old videotape once belonging to his deceased grandfather.

The apparently playful images worked as a focal point to his narrative, allowing him to deal with challenging subject matter in a much more engaging way. I mean, who would ever consider the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to be a poignant representation of morality or that The Crystal Maze could give an insight into the inner workings of human psychology?

It is testament to Sutherland’s creative endeavour that he managed to evoke such a thought-provoking and emotive response from seemingly silly and futile source material.

Standby for Tape Northern Stage Spring Season preview

The constant rewinding of these images and the way each loop was met by another reconfigured narrative demonstrated how old videotapes are like memories; re-runs of past mistakes that invade and advise are present.

The most moving moment came when he dissected an old NatWest advert, using it as the catalyst for a prolonged diatribe about his four unhappy years working for the company and the cyclical lifestyle it induced.

In doing so he managed to derive more meaning from the 30-second clip than its creators could ever have imagined.

The show ended with an extract of the opening scene from Jaws which manages to create a state of fear even though the shark is notably absent.

At this point Sutherland drew the conclusion that existence is simply too big to digest and, in the same vein as Spielberg’s Great White, you only need to know that it’s out there for it to matter.

Sutherland has produced a highly innovative piece that is perilously balanced on the fine line between comedy and tragedy.

It was like a warped yet utterly compelling episode of This is Your Life, told through a VHS as opposed to Michael Aspel’s big red book.

A Lyrical Dance Concert reviewed by Rosa Garland

Gillie Kleiman and Eleanor Sikorski whose Lyrical Dance Concert is coming to Newcastle
Gillie Kleiman and Eleanor Sikorski whose Lyrical Dance Concert is coming to Newcastle

A music and comedy show like no other, this was truly original, unexpected and fun. I have never heard so many pop songs, nor seen so many physical boundaries crossed, in one show before.

It was all threaded through with joyously outrageous dancing – and not just from the performers. I finished the night grinding to Beyoncé on stage. Not how I expected to spend my evening!

The performers, Gillie Kleiman and Eleanor Sikorski, clearly had a wonderful rapport but the show absolutely hinged on the participation of the audience.

Over the duration of the night, we sang songs, dedicated a (hilarious) dance to Harry Potter’s Professor Snape, featured in a music video and had our personal problems soothingly dealt with.

Pop music was presented as a communal experience – something that brings us together and always will do.

This show had a daring physical edge; its intimacy suited the small, cabaret set-up but had the potential to make some of the audience feel very uncomfortable.

Personally, I felt that this audience/performer relationship was the impetus behind the show – people were encouraged to shed their shame and dignity at the door and join in the pure, unadulterated fun that pop music creates.

Naturally, the risk of humiliating yourself was all part of the fun!

A Lyrical Dance Concert Northern Stage Spring Season preview

It took some time to completely warm to the notion, I must admit.

The energy of the first half, unfortunately, wasn’t quite as explosive as it could have been. It just wasn’t punchy enough for me to feel involved in what was going on, even though I appreciated straight away there was some hilarious material to be had.

The comedy cleverly played upon the ways in which we all relate to music. It had the potential to be an absolute fireball of comedic energy. However, the first half simply lacked a certain spark – a certain connection – to establish the right level of atmosphere from the start.

I was bewildered, initially, as to what the performers were trying to achieve with their speeches and long silences which somewhat diminished the momentum. However, I was soon won around. There were giggles, chuckles and a lot of laughter throughout.

This was due, in no large part, to the fact a lot of the humour was hugely relatable, with that familiar air of two best friends who find each other endlessly entertaining.

The eclectic costumes and on-stage props gave the show its own kind of DIY glamour, sometimes literally, as when Sikorski hammered a makeshift bridge together on stage wearing gold sparkly heels.

This, combined with the familiarity of the music, conspired to create a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. By the end, the whole audience was caught up in the energy, dancing away and having a great time. We just had to overcome that initial feeling of awkwardness a little sooner.

A Lyrical Dance Concert was a great idea and a lot of fun, with certain sections revealing a lot of potential. It’s great to see something so eccentric and original, celebrating the madness, unpredictability and power that music has in our culture.

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