Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune ★★★★
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 2nd June 2018
By Terrence McNally
Director: Mark Calvert
Designer: Rhys Jarman
Lighting Designer: Zia Bergin-Holly
Sound Designer: Nick John Williams
Assistant Director: Holly Gallagher
Fight Director: Neil Tattershall
Voice Coach: Helen Jane Simmons
Northern Stage have had a fabulous 2018 so far and they carry on in this fine vane with the RomCom Frankie and Johnny…
The set and the audience both fit on Stage 1 – the bed sit/apartment is in the centre of the stage with both halves of the audience facing each other. The use of a traverse stage is nothing new but sitting on the stage with the curtains closed does make for a very intimate experience. Adding to this are the windows of the apartment block surrounding Frankie’s apartment and the walls cut out of just the one room. Voyeuristic theatre indeed. The apartment itself is fully functioning with sink, cooker, fridge, tv and lamps that will all come in to use at some point. Rhys Jarman has excelled once again.
Having said that, whilst the setting is different, this feels like a classic Northern Stage-style production. I’ve not said that in a while. We have been coming here since we arrived in Newcastle in 1990 and the shows often have a “feel” that other theatres don’t seem to have – an identity, as it were. That’s the same for all theatres. It isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t a criticism. The show feels comfortably ‘Northern Stage’. I digress. Back to the review!
The show begins with the audience looking at the two actors going through the throws of passion through a net curtain. Subtle lighting means you don’t get to see much but you know what’s happening and that’s enough to set the scene. Frankie (Ruth Everett) is a waitress in New York. She is on her first date with Johnny (Richard Blackwood) who has started work as a cook at the same place. The film and the meal may not have been fruitful but clearly there has been more success in the bedroom. Frankie goes for a dressing gown and the net curtain swings open.
What happens next will determine if the event is simply a one night stand or something much more long lasting for the middle age couple. The pair keep changing their ages when asked but you get the impression they may both be in the 40s. With that age comes baggage and experience of past, failed, relationships. That is why this story works. It isn’t a teen romance full of “what ifs” but a middle aged tale of “I’ll avoid repeating the same mistakes if I can help it”.
The Terrance McNally script is full of humour. Johnny is confident and wants to pass ahead. Frankie seems much more cautious. Both have the emotional and, literally, physical scars of their respective pasts to deal with. The internal demons of middle age. But what will happen next once the initial sex stops? Will it be fun? Will it be coercive? Annoying? Short lived? How will workmates react when they find out? And more the point: what is that piano music currently playing on the radio?
The audience are onlookers on a single night in the lives of two busy people. Occasionally Frankie and Johnny look out and discuss the neighbours who are still up at 3am, or the moon, the Clair de Lune as they say in France.
The characters are believable. Richard Blackwood’ Johnny exudes confidence, Ruth Everett’s Frankie isn’t shy but remains cautious. Director Mark Calvert succeeds once again in producing a sharply observed piece of theatre. This was a much better interpretation than the film.
Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Pamela Raith Photography
Running time: 2hrs 20mins (incl. interval)
Age recommendation: 14+ (contains sexual references)
Tickets start at £10. For full details or to book tickets see https://www.northernstage.co.uk/Event/frankie-and-johnny-in-the-clair-de-lune or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.