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REVIEW: Playing Up Six at Newcastle Northern Stage

Playing Up Six
Newcastle Northern Stage 3
Tuesday 14th November 2017

Theatre isn’t just about seeing a multi-million pound West End production that has had five star reviews from the national newspapers. We often find that many of our annual highlights are found in small venues with new writing. 
Playing Up was formed in 2013 by graduates of Live Theatre’s Writers Course. It’s aim is to showcase the best creative talent in the north east. Tonight we had 6 new sketches around 15/20 minutes each, written by local talent and performed mainly by young actors. The result is a rich and entertaining mix. At £8 a ticket it also represents really good value for live entertainment too. It shows good theatre doesn’t have to cost the earth.

It was very close to a full house at Northern Stage and each production was warmly received by the appreciative audience.

Life Assembly Lessons by & dir. Lewis Cuthbert
“Your teenage years are always a dizzying mess of questions. But for these compound members, crouching in a hidden nook on another of their stolen nights, there’s a lot more to work out… and less time than they’d think.”

11th –              Richard Delroy
17th –               Jackie Edwards

Children referring to themselves by a number. Their education clearly limited by those that control them. Life Assembly Lessons was the straightest play of the six. 11th and 17th are meeting in secret on a first date. They have protocols to follow that they have been taught but it is clear that 17th is better educated than 11th. They both arrive in their matching dungarees discussing life without knowing the answers. Richard Delroy and Jackie Edwards do well to capture the innocence of the 2 characters. They’ve been told their career could lead down 2 paths without really knowing what either job entails. The description of Lewis Cuthbert’s drama suggests they’re in a cult but the claustrophobic isolation and uncertainity about the answers to the questions give it more of a feel of the 70s movie Parts: The Clonus Horror

Table For Two by Chris Wilkins, dir. Anna Snell
"John and Katy are not enjoying their anniversary meal.  They have problems, issues and things they need to talk about.  But they will resolve them with love, respect and understanding – won’t they?"

John –              Ollie Cook
Katy –              Amy Telford
Mr Steele –         David Parker

I used to work in a restaurant and you’d spot them: the couples having a special meal but they’re not actually on good terms. Amy Telford is the spiky wife who is not going to be satisfied. The menu is not her cup of tea and she isn’t in the mood. As her husband, played by Ollie Cook, tries to paper over the cracks tonight’s audience find themselves laughing in recognition of the situation.

The short play then has a gear change as the misogynistic Mr Steele appears with his brief case. The sharp charismatic self-made money man turns which should be a private conversation into a violent version of Indecent Proposal. Here is a man who believes he can change the behaviours of Husband John if the price is right. David Parker shines as the devil in a suit. 

I Heart Christmas by Alison Carr, dir. Laura Halford-Macleod

"It’s Christmas Eve and Judy is decorating her tree and wrapping her presents while ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ is blasting. But then a visitor turns up bearing a very special gift, and it’s not Santa. A black comedy about a grand gesture when really gift vouchers would have sufficed."

Judy –              Sara Jo Harrison
Carl –              Craig Fairbairn

The first half of the evening ends with a surreal surprise. Imagine the guy from a first date misreads the signals and appears on Christmas Eve with a inappropriate gift? The dysfunctional lack of chemistry between two people who’d only previous shared a few glasses of wine at Pizza Hut leads to plenty of very funny moments. Sara Jo Harrison’s Judy cringes as Craig Fairbairn’s Carl continues to misjudge the mood music.  This was a very nice way to ensure everyone came back after the interval.

Love In The Time of Grindr by & dir. Patrick Robertson
"Colin wants a reminder that love and genuine human connection can still flourish in this cold and impersonal modern age. Harry wants to put his dick in something. It transpires these objectives do not align particularly well."

Colin –             Chris Iddon
Harry –             Matt Miller

Colin is not the average regular Grindr user. In fact he really isn’t prepared as he over thinks how the evening will go. Deliberately stacking the Little Mix CDs in an obvious place as the door bell rings. His date Harry is in town for one night and he is looking for some fun to pass the time away until his train goes in the morning. Chris Iddon is suitably  floundering and saying the wrong things as he misreads the situation. Matt Miller dominates as his character is full of confidence and is used to taking the lead. The result is a comical sit-com with great timing from both actors.

All In A Good Cause by Michael Blair, dir. Brian Green
"A breezy lunch meeting between a charity’s project manager and the rep from an independent profiteering company, sorting through the fiddly details, crossing the T’s, etc. It may be charity but it’s still only business."

A, the rep –        Eilidh Talman
B, manager –        Eilish Stout-Cairns

There is something quite terrifying about the callous way in which Eilidh Talman and Eilish Stout-Cairns discuss the future of a colleague at their charity. Once again, there are plenty of laughs in Michael Blair’s script. The under current about the lengths a charity will go to in order to improve reputation and public awareness are disturbing. This was a slick, fast paced piece that left you thinking. 

Beat The Bite by Colin Cuthbert, dir. Dolores Porretta-Brown
"‘We’re not monsters, that’s what people forget. Would monsters drink smoothies?’ – Vlad T.I., Group Leader, Haemophiles Anonymous"

Vlad –              David Foster
Frankie –           Paul Gaitskell
Lee –               Liam R Angus
Craig –             Liam Scarth
Sally –             Mary Pickin
The final short play was another comedy involving the evening meeting of Haemophiles Anonymous. Early laughs came from David Foster’s Vlad the Impailer putting out the seats with a voice like The Count in Sesame Street.  Frankie may have few words but the way he applauds each statement was cracking the audience up. As the show ventured into community centre politics it provided some great lines.

Playing Up 6 was a fun evening that achieved all that it said to do.  Six great short plays mixing fun with the disturbing, the surreal with the criminal. Sharp acting, comic timing, well observed scripts and intelligent direction resulted in a great night.

Review by Stephen Oliver

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