Kate Fox: Never mind dualling the A1, let's have duelling on the A1

Journal columnist and poet Kate Fox has fun with the big story of the week - and also puts in a word for an experimental arts initiative

The single carriageway on the A1 road near Felton in Northumberland
The single carriageway on the A1 road near Felton in Northumberland

Apparently there’s going to be some duelling on the A1.

It was first promised back in approximately 1814, when Thomas Bewick did a satirical engraving of two MPs waving swords at each other while 4x4s thundered past horse and carts in their race to get to Scotland. The two parliamentary candidates for Berwick were the first to get duelling. Lib Dem Julie Porksen and Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan wielded their weapons and said it was good to get practice in for when they got down to the House of Commons.

Trevelyan had lined up some cardboard cut out figures of George Osborne to show their support for her, though his ongoing 5-2 diet had necessitated some last minute trimming down of them.

Then sitting MPs Alan Beith of Berwick and Ian Lavery of Ashington had their turn, though eschewed swords in order to have a duel of words- the sort of word battle popularised by Eminem in 8 Mile.

They both composed a rap about how they were mainly responsible for the government having now realised that there are some parts of England North of Manchester but not quite as far away as Mars.

“We would have come up for the duelling in the North East before”, George Osborne has been quoted as saying. “But the trains took too long and the roads just weren’t very good and I do have an economy to run”.

Meanwhile citizens on the sections of the A1 where duelling is not to be allowed have offered to instead wrestle any further politicians who come forward to claim sole credit for long overdue money finally being spent in the North East.

I am generally the sort of person for whom the phrase “Experimental theatre” is about as appealing as the phrase “Colonic irrigation”, but, mainly because I’m in ARC’s professional development network for local creatives, I get to see shows there for cheap.

Theatre production Thirsty coming to Arc Stockton November 26, 2014
Theatre production Thirsty coming to Arc Stockton November 26, 2014

It’s opened my eyes to types of theatre I personally find much more enjoyable than going to watch actors acting.

ARC, in Stockton, has quietly been becoming one of the best places for interesting new theatre in the North under the stewardship of Annabel Turpin. It’s being increasingly recognised as a home for innovative but accessible new work from theatre makers and companies who do things a bit differently, often with an emphasis on shows that involve audiences directly - they become part of games for example or are activists who might get arrested, or get dressed in boiler suits and go on an imaginary trip to Reykjavik.

That’s alongside the stuff that you’d expect to see at a regional arts centre like Beatles and Queen tribute nights and stand up comics off the telly.

Now, in a bit of a bold move, ARC is introducing “Pay What You Decide” for their drama, dance and spoken word shows for the next six months. For me, this is the way forward. It means that people will be able to take a chance on something that they might otherwise not have tried. It means that, for some, theatre will become more affordable.

I’m not sure on what basis people might decide, but I can imagine that for me it will probably be a mixture of self-interested and selfless. Like when I attend shows at the increasingly popular Free Fringes in Edinburgh. Sometimes I might see a show that touches me so deeply I put the fifteen quid earmarked for that week’s gas bill into a bucket whilst weeping.

Another time, I might see something that I think is destined to be turned into an Oscar winning film and, with relief, put the shiny three pound coins that’s all I can afford that week into it, thinking that the performers will do all right in the future.

It’s not exactly reliable or scientific, but then, neither are audiences or shows. At a time when people are less likely to risk their hard earned pennies on shows they’ve not heard of or seen before, this sort of innovation seems one great way to make sure we still nurture and encourage Northern talent and artists who can’t afford a PR budget of thousands to tell us how great they are.

The Wrong Season’s Greetings

No use wondering what Tony’s frozen face

and Cherie’s clingy arm

might actually mean.

The former first couple’s scary card

was clearly just late for Halloween.

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