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Review: Jumping Puddles from Open Clasp Theatre Company at Gateshead Caedmon Hall

A new play drawn from the real-life experiences of young women in the North East has just started a tour

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Phyllis Christopher Anna, played by Lauren Kellegher
Anna, played by Lauren Kellegher

A questionnaire came with the Jumping Puddles programme, asking if the show had increased my knowledge of issues faced by young women.

The five listed were homophobic bullying, domestic violence, sexual violence in nightclubs, being a young carer and the impact of bereavement.

If that isn’t guaranteed to make the experience of being an old (well, ish) man seem a bit better, then I can’t think what else would.

This is the latest play from Newcastle-based Open Clasp Theatre Company which specialises in drama inspired by real lives.

Women’s Aid, Childline, Young Stonewall, Rape Crisis, Child Bereavement UK and Respect are all credited as sources of support and information.

Phyllis Christopher Molly Roberts as Grace and Paislie Reid as Bella in Jumping Puddles
Molly Roberts as Grace and Paislie Reid as Bella in Jumping Puddles

You’ll have gathered this is not a rib-busting comedy but it is performed with panache and agility by four excellent young actresses.

Collaborators Frantic Assembly assisted in taking the show several steps in the direction of contemporary dance. If you’ve seen The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in which the physical theatre specialists were also involved, you’ll recognise some of the moves.

Music comes from DJ and turntablist Mariam Rezaei, giving a genuiinely clubby feel to the nightclub scenes and a scratchy, disjoined backdrop to some of the edgier exchanges.

For a while, it did seem as if director Rosie Kellagher’s production was a bit in thrall to the music and movement. Where was the plot?

On the set of frames and platforms which serves as home – and later as nightclub and classroom – teenage sisters Anna and Grace arrange bedding and push cardboard boxes around.

Phyllis Christopher Paislie Reid as Bella in Jumping Puddles
Paislie Reid as Bella in Jumping Puddles

A plot of sorts does emerge. The girls’ mother is seriously ill in hospital and they are fending for themselves. Anna, the younger, is at school, Grace at college.

They are beset by issues aplenty. Anna is being bullied in person and via social media – text messages, in language that pulls no punches, flash up or scroll across screens – and she thinks she might be gay. Or bisexual. She has accepted she is “a freak” and no-one likes her.

Much of this is bottled up for fear of alerting the social services who might take her into care.

Grace, self-absorbed, skips college for clubs and, when not blotto, agonises over an unsuitable boyfriend.

There’s no father on the scene, only a distant aunty who’s gay and a teacher whose lukewarm inquiries as to Anna’s wellbeing are met with a poker face (well, teenagers can never be sure of an adult’s agenda).

Despite its thicket of issues, Jumping Puddles is not too preachy and if it crosses your mind that, boy, this pair have drawn an unfair share of life’s short straws, then I’m quite prepared to believe that’s how it is for some in our society.

Phyllis Christopher Lauren Kellegher as Anna
Lauren Kellegher as Anna

The cast, Lauren Kellegher as Anna, Molly Roberts as Grace and Paislie Reid and Maria Crocker playing several roles, clearly embraced the physical demands of the show, moving at times as a synchronised unit.

But the personal touch has not been sacrified and there are some achingly touching key moments, notably when the sisters, silently facing us, appear gripped by a deep, inexpressible grief.

So, definitely not a comedy; but Jumping Puddles should strike chords, touch hearts, entertain and maybe even educate on its northern tour.

For dates visit www.openclasp.org.uk

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