The river runs just yards from Live Theatre’s Newcastle Quayside home. It’s about time it had a play named after it. DAVID WHETSTONE reviews Tyne
Some radical stuff has been staged at Live recently, including a play featuring a different actor each night (White Rabbit, Red Rabbit) and another with a character on a dog chain (Brilliant Adventures).
But this is Live as many people know and love it – Live in its comfort zone, if you like. Even director Max Roberts in his programme note calls it “one of those quintessential Live Theatre plays”.
Michael Chaplin focuses on the River Tyne and the people who live on it or near it and for whom its waters are a kind of lifeblood, harbouring memory and a sense of belonging.
As writer-in-residence at Port of Tyne and a Geordie romantic who returned a few years ago from work-enforced exile, Michael’s eyes and ears are finely attuned to the river.
He wrote a book, Tyne View, inspired by a walk along both banks, and passages have been reworked for the stage to mark not only Live Theatre’s 40th anniversary but the Festival of the North East.
With Kathryn Tickell as musical director, it was always going to be as much about the sounds inspired by the river as the words.
Songs range from the traditional Water of Tyne to a beautiful one from Sting’s forthcoming album, The Last Ship.
As a frame for these, and for pieces by late Live Theatre writers Tom Hadaway, Julia Darling, Sid Chaplin and Alan Plater, Michael has constructed a fictional narrative.
Siblings Kate (Victoria Elliott) and Mark (Paul Dodds) are reunited by the death of their father, Ralph (George Irving).
Kate has been a good girl, taking care of her dad and listening to his stories of the Tyne of old. Mark, who went to London, has more ambivalent memories of the man.
But Ralph has left a scrapbook full of jottings for Kate to give to his son. Cue a journey of discovery led by the ghost of Ralph, who loved the river.
Other characters, including offshore businessman Bruce Shepherd (brother of Freddie), are brought to life by Zoe Lambert, Jane Holman, Phil Corbitt and Newcastle-born newcomer Assad Zaman.
It’s not so much a driving narrative as a stroll with pauses for reflection. There are some nice moments, some moments of whimsy.
I loved hearing Julia Darling’s The Women Who Painted Ships brought vividly to life by Zoe Lambert and Jane Holman. In the war, it seems, women did indeed paint ships on the Tyne.
Some of the songs brought a lump to the throat and some, I’ll be honest, did not.
Not radical, then, and not even immune to charges of sentimentality. But there’s plenty to enjoy in this reflection on a river that, even post-shipbuilding, still plays an important part in our lives.