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Review: Double Bill at Newcastle People’s Theatre

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Five Kinds of Silence by Shelagh Stephenson
The Zoo Story by Edward Albee
Newcastle People’s Theatre
Until Saturday 31st October 2015 

The People’s Theatre may be an amateur group but that has never stopped them from putting on brave productions.  2013’s production of Bones showed it could handle the heavyweight plays skilfully.

Opening up the double bill is Shelagh Stephenson’s Five Kinds of Silence.  A family live under a cloud of fear as father Billy is not afraid to be violent towards his wife Mark and his two daughters Susan and Janet. In his opening monologue Billy announces how much he loves the smell of blood and the smell of fear. The daughters have had enough and shoot him using his gun.

Gordon Russell owns the stage as the aggressive Billy. Whilst he accounts for his actions he doesn’t demand sympathy as he repeats the cycle of abuse. Gordon gives a passionate convincing performance and provokes emotions in the audience.

Photo: Paula Smart
Anna Dobson and Nicky White, on the other hand, are easier to show empathy with as Billy’s 2 daughters. They recall their story and relate to how life in the detention centre has greater freedom than their previous home life. Along with their mother, played by Val Russell, they recall a life that no one should suffer.

Kath Frazer directs a powerful performance that is, by its very nature, heavy going, at times.

After the interval there is a change in tone with The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. A park bench in New York is the location that Peter has chosen to read a book on most Sundays when the weather allows. Only on this Sunday, a random walker called Jerry decides to stop and talk. They don’t know each other but that doesn’t stop Jerry asking fairly intrusive questions before a monologue about the set up at his flat. Peter tries to be polite but Jerry doesn’t follow any social protocols as he passes judgement about his family set up.

Photo: Paula Smart
Stuart Douglas juggles between Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams in a captivating performance as the man who has just been to the zoo.  On the bench is Sean Burnside as the sometimes apologetic Peter. He reminded me of David Schwimmer at his Friends best as he tries to underplay his job.

The two-hander is well executed. Anyone who has been stopped by a random person in a bus, pub or bench will know the feeling when the polite replies are misinterpreted as genuine desire for an in depth conversation.  The interaction and awkwardness make for a great play.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for the North East Theatre Guide from Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook


The double bill appears on Tuesday 27th to Saturday 31st October 2015 at 7.30pm at The People’s Theatre (Studio Upstairs), Stephenson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5QF
Cost: £13.50 (Concessions £11)
Box Office: 0191 265 5020 or online at

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