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REVIEW: Wasteland at Newcastle Northern Stage

Gary Clarke Company presents:
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Thursday 26th September 2019

Gary Clarke has created a sequel to COAL that tells a story about how the young generation coped with the closure of the pits that employed their fathers. This is a rarely covered examination of one aspect of how the youth took over the empty factory spaces in order to create their own culture back in the 1990s. The biggest shame is that the show is only in Newcastle for two shows.

The largest hall in Northern Stage was packed. The majority of the attendees around us were younger people who were here to experience live dance theatre. They were not alive during the timeframe of this production and hence the show had a need to explain the context around these events. It is pleasing to say that it did so in a clever way using members of our local community.

As for the young members of the audience – they provided a real buzz in the room. You could feel genuine excitement and the hall lights going down was met with a youthful vocal acknowledgement. We were in for a treat.

Proceedings started calmly. Alistair Goldsmith staggered on, swigging from a bottle, clearly unable to accept the position as he eventually sat and waited for his turn at the dole office. On his way to his seat he gave a very physical performance of the anguish and the effects. He was joined by members of a North East Community Choir that had been convened for the show. John Armstrong, Peter Curran, Steve Dodds and Ken Richardson sang a version of The Red Flag on the theme of Coal not Dole.  Backing these singers were members of our local NASUWT Riverside Band: Fiona Taylor on the Flugelhorn and Jamie Beeston on the Euphonium. Coupled with the video footage of the final hours at the pit followed by watching the demolition of the site helped set the tone as Alistair moved to the armchair in front of the tv to watch time go by.

The action moves on as the next generation moved onto the stage with their hoods up on their coats. Starting with the miner’s own son (Reece Calver) listening to dance music on his bed, the set up quickly expands as a shopping trolley delivers speakers and decks to a former industrial space. Thus follows a high tempo, closely choreographed set on the style of mid-90s rave culture. The ravers Robert Anderson, Jake Evans, Elena Thomas Volquin and Emily Thompson Smith joined Reece in a face paced and energetic display in moves that were a common sight in places like Manchester’s Hacienda club. Charles Webber’s lighting design accompanied the music, which includes What Time Is Love by KLF, in building up the tension and the size of the event. Northern Stage provides a big platform on which to perform and this ensemble were able to fill it with their moves.

The real surprise comes at the end. No spoilers here… but the show of compassion between the miner and his son raised the show above that of a simple celebration of youth.

Musically, the transformation from the traditional music of the pits to the emerging dance culture is as jarring as it was at the time. Generations don’t need to understand the music of the previous generation.

Unlike The Full Monty, the reality of the destruction of the traditional industries was rarely a laugh. The removal of the livelihood for future groups would have an effect that lasted decades, and arguably explains the despondency in some communities today.

This was an energetic and tight dance performance. Wasteland is, however, much more than just a dance show. The show succeeds in delivering a clear narrative which may help explain the situation that we find ourselves in today. The use of a talented group of community singers and band members made for a memorable performance.

This is quite special.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

Recommended age – 14+
Photography: Joe Armitage

Tickets from £10 are available at or call the Northern Stage box office on
0191 230 5151.

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