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Review: The Rooms at Newcastle Alphabetti

Alphabetti Cracks It Again!

The Rooms
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Until Saturday 5th November 2016

The Rooms previous production (NETG review) was a big hit with us and we have continued to talk about it since. No wonder that it picked up our 2015 Best New Writingaward (NETG Awards news). So will The Rooms 2016 be as memorable? This is a brand new production with 3 brand new plays in 3 more areas of the venue with 3 different writers and actors.

The show is a promenade performance which will visit 3 parts of the building. The audience are forewarned to wrap up warm for an outdoor experience and that the show involves a lot of standing. Having said, judging by the reactions of some of the audience, it is still an unusual format that can take some getting used to.

Word Salad by Sarah Gonnet

The audience is split up into 3 smaller groups that visit each segment in a different order. Our group headed off to the ladies first. The group of nine found it quite intimate by the time Robert Nicholson entered, as Matthew, asking if we had read the notice outside and looking for his creative partner Catherine. In such a small space it is difficult not to feel involved in the action. In Sarah Gonnet’s play Matthew runs cold and hot, manic and then depressed. The show examines the creative psyche as well as a brief look into the mental issues that can affect us. What is normal? Why do we aim to behave the same way? In Rosie Stancliffe’s debut as director we have a pretty intensive intimate experience.

Backstreet Salesmanby Becci Sharrock

After a chance to recharge drinks our group was led outside to the alley between the soon to be demolished Odeon cinema and the back of the office block that Alphabetti is a part of. The lights dim before “Z” appears pushing a trolley with a lamp. Matt Miller plays the streetwise Z who sleeps in the streets and watches the comings and goings of the people in Newcastle’s city centre in Becci Sharrock’s play.  The lighting design in this production is clever as the single halogen lamp creates a large shadow on the wall behind Z. Karen Traynor directs an interactive experience as Z splits the group up and moves them around the space. He describes both his trading activities and some injury he has had. Matt literally bounces off the walls and it is difficult not to wonder what he isn’t telling us.
The staff issue you with a brolly in case it starts raining and we recommend wrapping up warm for this part of the show.

A Terrorist’s Guide to Romance by Laura Lindow

The final experience is in a box that has been built in the normal performance area.  James Hedley is Citizen X who is excited by taking control of the underground network under Newcastle. Old tunnels and sewers provide a space that can be explored and controlled. Laura Lindow’s play is as much a romance as it is a call to arms. By the end of it, it feels a shame that an actual tour of the underground spaces isn’t a part of the experience. Rachel Glover directs a tight performance in which James is both convincing and disturbing.

The new Rooms are as intense as the 2015 productions. They are much more in your face than a standard theatrical show format. There is a real skill on the part of the actor as they manipulate the audience in each space. The audience are bound to react as the action unfolds and the actor has to deal with that reaction. Not so much “breaking the 4th wall” rather it can be more of a 3 ring circus as the actor asks for a sample of blood or help with opening a door.  The visceral experience is a treat that exploits the unique space that Alphabetti occupies.  Each play feels like is has a personal element for each playwright and they give you plenty to talk about in the bar afterwards. It only has a limited run and only limited numbers can enjoy the show each evening so advance booking is recommended.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver the North East Theatre Guide – follow Stephen at @panic_c_button

Tickets: The Rooms By Laura Lindow, Sarah Gonnet and Becci Sharrock
Directed by Rachel Glover, Rosie Stancliffe and Karen Traynor
Curated by Ben Dickenson comes to Alphabetti Theatre from Thursday 27th October – Saturday 5th November (excl 30th October) 2016 at 7.30pm

Running time: approximately 1 hour, no interval
Ticket Prices: £8 Full Price / £6 Concession (Students, Senior Citizens, Artists/Equity)
Venue: Alphabetti Theatre, The Basement, 18 New Bridge Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8AW
Note: Part of the performance does take place outside so warm clothing is advised. Umbrellas will be provided.

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