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Review: Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing at Newcastle Live Theatre

Walk in the shoes of some real Victorian characters at Live Theatre

A Live Theatre Production. World Premiere
Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing
Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Saturday 3rd December 2016

Written byShelagh Stephenson
Directed by Max Roberts
Designed by Alison Ashton
Music by The Unthanks
Choreography by Lee Proud

Photo: Keith Pattison
Shelagh Stephenson’s new play looks at the issues of 1844 but many of them apply as much today. Women being, at best, ignored and misrepresented. Opportunities for the few rather than the many. Add in a mix of pseudo-science being passed off as medical cures; racism, slavery and misogyny and it could well be 2016. Sharp wit in the writing give the show more of a feel of a present day sit-com rather than period drama making the show accessible to a much wider market. Live Theatre, once again, show there are benefits in showcasing new writing rather than sticking to the old pot boilers.

Photo: Keith Pattison
On a well designed and visually appealing set representing Harriet’s attic room on the Front Street in Tynemouth we meet the lady of the house discussing her ailments with her brother in law doctor Thomas Greenhow. From being a writer and social reformer with strong anti-slavery views, Harriet is now considering herself to be just an invalid. Dr Greenhow keeps having to remind her that she isn’t about to die.

After his departure Harriet gets a visit from Impie Haddock, a young lady with a fixation for painting seals and a very matter of fact way of speaking. She is not hampered by normal social conventions of speech.  After announcing that her awful husband was killed just over 10 days after they were married she says she is happy. Not for her the formal period of mourning, a problem is resolved – so why get upset about it? Harriet encourages her to elucidate her feelings.

Photo: Keith Pattison
This is in contrast to Harriet’s housemaid Jane who gets up at 4am to make the fires and the breakfast. Her place is eternal servitude and a fine comparison is to be drawn without having the point rammed down ones face.

Photo: Keith Pattison
Later we are introduced to Impie’s uncle, the blinkered Robbie Grey and his brother’s child Beulah whom he has taken on but is struggling to work out. Harriet is a strong character who is able to put Robbie in his place and the man aggressively tries to assume the alpha position in the group.

Photo: Keith Pattison
The play is blessed with a great cast and some fine acting. Lizzy McInnerny is perfect as the headstrong socialite Harriet. Though the character, at times, is a bit eccentric, Lizzy never appears to be unnatural. Amy McAllister, likewise, is delightful as the young Impie Haddock. Far more eccentric and thoroughly wonderful, Impie was fabulous thanks to Amy’s delivery of the script.

Photo: Keith Pattison
Deka Walmsley’s Robbie Grey walked on the right line between being just obnoxious and recognisable in a modern context. Kate Okello and Laura Jane Matthewson don’t put a foot wrong as the niece Beulah and the maid Jane.

Photo: Keith Pattison
Max Roberts and Shelagh Stephenson direct a sharply observed play that entertains as well as making you pause to think. The issues and misconceptions in Victorian England haven’t gone away nor has social mobility particularly improved. Whilst dealing with some big issues, the play doesn’t get heavy and remains entertaining. Add in some fine dancing to go with the music by local stars The Unthanks and the Quayside venue has a great show that it can justifiably be proud of.

Review by Stephen Oliver.


Photo: Keith Pattison
Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing is at Live Theatre from Thursday 10 November to Saturday 3 December 2016. For more information and tickets which cost between £12-£26, concs from £10 ring Live Theatre’s box office on (0191) 232 1232 or see

DURATION:2hrs 20mins, incl. an interval
2PM MATINEES:Thurs 17 Nov, Sat 19 Nov, Thurs 24 Nov, Sat 26 Nov, Thurs 1 Dec & Sat 3 Dec.
4PM MATINEES:Sun 20 Nov & Sun 27 Nov

BSL Wed 30 Nov, 7.30pm
Touch TourThurs 1 Dec, 6pm
Audio DescribedThurs 1 Dec, 7.30pm
CaptionedSat 3 Dec, 2pm

FREEPOST SHOWTALKS (Free booking essential):

Photo: Keith Pattison
Harriet Martineau and Victorian Pseudoscience
Sunday 20 November (after the 4pm show so approx 6.30pm)
Harriet Martineau and Victorian beliefs in practices such as mesmerism and phrenology, are discussed by Dr Ella Dzelzainis, Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature at Newcastle University and co-author of Harriet Martineau: Authorship, Society and Empire (2010), Pat Beesley, PhD candidate in English Literature at Newcastle University and recent convener of The Pseudo/Sciences of the Long Nineteenth Century Research Group and Patrick Low, PhD student of History at Sunderland University researching Capital Punishment in the North East of England (1752-1878).

Photo: Keith Pattison
Harriet Martineau In and Beyond Tynemouth
Tuesday 22 November (after
7.30pm show so approx 10pm)
Dr. Joe Hardwick, lecturer in History at Northumbria University and organiser of the Mapping Radical Tyneside website talks about Martineau’s significance for Victorian radicalism and the emergence of the professional woman writer. The talk connects her domestic life in Tynemouth with the powerful voice that she developed on issues as wide ranging as slavery, empire, politics, economics and the rights of women. 

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