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REVIEW: Braids + Cheer Up Slug at Newcastle Live Theatre


A double bill of debut plays about young women growing up in the North East


Braids + Cheer Up Slug

Newcastle Live Theatre

Until Saturday 23rd October 2021

Our first visit to Newcastle’s Live Theatre since the pandemic started and it was a chance to see a double bill of new writing.


Written By Olivia Hannah  
Directed By Kemi-Bo Jacobs 
Designed By Anna Orton 
Performed By Rochelle Goldie & Xsara-Sheneille Pryce

The evening featured two new plays, each one was about a pair of North East teens coming of age. Each play explored the realities of growing up. The universal truths that one has to face as one turns from being an egocentric child raised by their parents to a young adult standing on their own two feet are always challenging. Both plays took the audience on a different journey though how the individual reacts to the material will depend upon their own experiences and background.

Braids featured Xsara-Sheneille Pryce as the confident 19 year old Abeni who is coming to the end of her time at a college. Hailing originally from Manchester, she has adapted to living away from her mother. The show starts in a hair accessory shop as Abeni is guiding younger Jasmine, performed by Rochelle Gouldie, into buying the necessary kit in order to get purple braids. As Selina Thompson said in Dark & Lovely "hair is just hair", however, as the girls discuss, hair is a part of one's identity. The significance of the braids is an early theme is the dialogue between the two.

Whilst Jasmine is still locally to the place that she was brought up, she is going through the process of metamorphosis into a young adult and this has a bearing on her reaction to the braids. Olivia Hannah's play looks into the battle between the individual and the concept that David Lammy put in his recent book: belonging to a Tribe. The tribe being  the group that you associate with - be it the young "goths" that hang about the centre of Newcastle on a Saturday afternoon or, in the case of the characters in this play, the apparent "Ambassadors of Blackness".

The dialogue involves how others view the pair and how they in turn interact with those that hold that view. The characterization was sufficiently defined that one did not feel that you were watching actors. Rather it felt like 2  people discussing their own real situation. We are told about their upbringing, relationships with others at school and indeed they have the space to fall out.

What really struck me beyond the issues of race was the rarely mentioned aspect of going away to college and expecting life at home to stand still. It is a shock when you first go back and discover that people have carried on leading their own lives without you.

October is Black History Month and as such this is a fitting tale of stereotyping and lack of understanding that young people still face simply as a result of the colour of their skin. But Braids is more than that as it unpicks growing up in 2021. 

Cheer Up Slug  

Written By Tamsin Daisy Rees 
Directed By Anna Ryder 
Designed By Anna Orton
Performed By Jackie Edwards & David Fallon 

As the interval started I became aware of a anti-covid measure that Live Theatre have introduced, they are blowing lots of cold air into the venue. Thus it was the second theatre I've been to this month in which I had to put my coat on, fasten it up and wish I had brought a jumper along. Perhaps they wanted us to feel that we were literally outside on a Duke of Edinburgh camp in the middle of Autumn?

Bean (Jackie Edwards) is the first to set up camp. Eventually long time childhood friend, Will (David Fallon), turns up. Will dislikes slugs it seems, in fact he  appears at the tent armed with plenty of hand sanitizer. He is concerned that Bean is not taking the expedition seriously. He needs to complete it in order to improve his chances of getting into Durham University whereas Bean is happy to feast on golden syrup and Hob Nobs. They both await Dean who is not just another camper, he is also Will's best mate and Bean's boyfriend.

This play explores the potential differences between life long childhood friends who may be growing physically but are not necessarily maturing mentally at the same rate. It nicely introduces us into some of the childish quirks that still form part of their rituals but there are early signs that their patience for one another isn't what it used to be. Will comes across as no fully appreciating the emotions of those around him. Bean is still in touch with the fun side of her inner child. The shiny stage design by Anna Orton has now revealed an area of mud that Bean is happy to walk barefooted in.

Bean reveals a bottle of wine which is a turning point. This is a moment in time when the harsher truths of growing up are revealed.

Jackie Edwards puts in one of the best performances of the year that we have seen so far as Bean goes through a multitude of connected emotions. In a year in which #MeToo has evolved into a conversation about teaching boys about acceptable conduct and behaviour Cheer Up Slug is a timely reflection on the problems faced by girls. Tasmin Daisy Rees' play is powerful tour-de-force and the audience were enthusiastic in their applause at the end, recognising the performances of both Edwards and Fallon.

Both plays are blessed with great acting and thoughtful direction from Kemi-Bo Jacobs & Anna Ryder. Theatre is able hold a mirror up to the less comfortable elements in the world we live in. However it is still possible to feel entertained. Braids has a pleasant redemptive feel and Cheer Up Slug had a number of early laughs for the audience. Newcastle's Live Theatre is back and it is a return to championing challenging new writing - long may that continue.


Review: Stephen Oliver

Photographs: Von Fox Promotions


Show Information:

Approx. 2hrs with interval

Age Rating: 14+ Please note that Cheer Up Slug contains adult themes with references to sexual violence and consent

Free Post Show Talk: Meet the cast of both plays, Tue 19 Oct (after the 7.30pm show)

The following performances will remain socially distanced even if guidelines change: Wed 13 Oct at 7.30pm and Thu 14 Oct at 2pm.


Audio Described
Captioned performance (21 Oct)
BSL performance (19 Oct)




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