Fuel, Imaginate and Northern Stage in association with National Theatre of Scotland present
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 6 May 2023
Written by Hannah Lavery (Lament for Sheku Bayoh, The Drift, National Theatre of Scotland, Eavesdropping, ThickSkin)
Directed by Natalie Ibu (Road, The White Card)
Performed by Tamara Fairbairn (The Moors), Esmé Kingdom and Kirsty MacLaren (The Crown, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour)Stage 2 of Northern Stage has been the venue of many an emotional piece of theatre over the years. It have become a place to learn, to empathise, to think and the catalyst of change. It was a pleasure to be invited to see three incredible actors deliver a measured work with the energy and enthusiasm of kids in their final year in primary school.
So what is this tale about? The official blurb says that the show follows Alice, Jade and Chloe. Running is Alice’s happy place - she’s the best runner at her school but is struggling to prove her worth. Jade is slowly coming to realise that prejudices can be found everywhere, even in the most surprising places. Realising that her education is ill-equipped to encompass her own history and heritage, and taunted by bullies at school, she knows it’s time to tell her own story. Meanwhile, litter is piling up in the local forest, and all over the world an environmental crisis is looming. Chloe is determined to make a change, starting with the town. The three girls prepare to stand up for what they believe in despite the injustices stacked against them.
For much of the first half of the hour long show you are presented with three apparently separate stories. Three girls, of the same age, with three separate issues: misogyny, racism and the environment. Depressingly in Hannah Lavery's script, some of this is perpetuated by their teachers at school. Amy Jane Cook has designed a set for the cast to climb over as they establish their point of view. The clever part (no spoilers here) is when they merge into a single event.Kirsty MacLaren is able to show the constant energy of a 10/11 year old. In her segments Alice is running around like a pre-teen on a full set of batteries. Is it really eight years since Our Ladies set the North East's theatre world on fire?
Tamara Fairbairn appears as Jade, the child who becomes painfully aware that the history taught in school is only part of the story. Tamara is able to powerfully convey a point of view and give her character agency.
Esme Kingdom makes a fine professional debut as Chloe who, like Jade, often remarks in the way of someone with a passion - but not always the full picture does. That innocence of observing but not always fully understanding the impact. With Chloe, this is as much about the family upheaval as the desire to improve her environment.
The teachers and the parents are a significant element to an 11 year olds world and that is reflected in the script. The kids, at that age, often look up to their elders, but are then confused by the position taken up by those people that they trust. I found the idea that a school leader would make the title of the exhibition about the "Empire" - without fully understanding the baggage that comes with it shocking. Likewise, a teacher settling a sports event with a vote rather than a trial seems at odds with fair play. But, in doing so, the play has worked in flagging up the issue of only viewing life within the bubbles that each of us lives in. If only schools were receptive to long lasting changes to support the environment. for example.
If director Natalie Ibu and writer Hannah Lavery set out to promote discourse on this issues, then this has, in my opinion worked.
But the show is not just about doing the "right thing" it is an entertaining journey for the audience - complete with an uplifting finish. It is nice to leave a theatre feeling positive. Perhaps the future, in the hands of the next generation is bright, after all.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Oluwatosin Daniju
Northern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RH
Thursday 27 April - Saturday 6 May 2023
Box office: 0191 230 5151 or www.northernstage.co.uk
Running time: 50 minutes approx.
Recommended for: 8+