Review: The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Thursday February 13 2020

Four Stars

There is enough material in the biography of this show’s real-life protagonist to fill several evenings of theatre. Johnny Longstaff hailed from Stockton-on-Tees, arrived in London as part of the hunger marches of the Great Depression, fought Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts at the Battle of Cable Street and took up arms against fascists in the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.

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Review: The Snow Queen –Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Monday December 16 2019

Three Stars

Stage adaptations of The Snow Queen are a staple of the festive season, but Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of friendship overcoming adversity is almost unrecognisable in Mark Calvert’s production for Northern Stage. Even the title character (played by Elizabeth Carter) is reduced to a cameo appearance.

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Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Wednesday September 18 2019

Three Stars

There is a certain irony in how Sherlock Holmes barely appears in his most famous literary adventure. His near-absence is indicative of the ambivalence his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, felt towards the character. Indeed, The Hound of the Baskervilles marked Holmes’s resurrection eight years after Doyle tried to kill off his fictional detective.

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Review: A Christmas Carol

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First published in The Times, Monday December 10 2018

Two Stars

The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone” to a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” is as much a fixture of the season as advent calendars and fairy lights. Neil Bartlett’s stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’s tale is a perennial favourite because it so perfectly captures the blend of melancholy and compassion in the story, without recourse to sentimentality.

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Review: The Last Ship – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Friday March 23

Three Stars

Often, when rock stars turn their talents to musical theatre, the result is little more than an extended medley of their greatest hits, tenuously strung together by a nominal storyline. While the score for Sting’s Tyneside-set musical The Last Ship features several entries from the singer-songwriter’s discography, including songs from his 2013 concept album of the same name, there is nothing cynical or jaded about the deeply personal project.

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Review: Alice in Wonderland – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Tuesday December 5 2017

Four Stars

In true Wonderland style, the sign above the bar at Northern Stage reads: “We’re all mad here!” Yet the young audience members who have gone to the trouble of dressing up in spotless pinafores and Alice bands look out of step with what’s happening onstage. This festive show may share its title with the enduring classic but its raucous tone is a world away from Lewis Carroll.

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Review: A Song for Ella Grey – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Friday September 8 2017

Three Stars

David Almond is one of the most prolific and highly acclaimed writers of novels for children and young adults to hail from the northeast of England. Known for his distinctive merging of realism with the fantastic, the author has adapted several of his best-known works of fiction for the stage, notably Heaven Eyes, which follows a trio of runaways from an orphanage, and The Savage, about a young boy’s grief following the death of his father.

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Review: Instructions for Border Crossing – Northern Stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 14 2017

Two Stars

The writer and performer Daniel Bye has a track record for staging performance lectures that wear their hefty subjects and the depth of his research admirably lightly. He is best known for Going Viral, his award-winning exploration of viruses (in every sense of the word) and his multi-layered look at the idea of value, called The Price of Everything.

 

Bye’s performance style, which combines affable audience interaction with elements of multimedia, has always been something of an onstage juggling act, with lots of ideas thrown up in the air at once. His new piece, which deals with border crossings, in all their menace and absurdity, feels stylistically overstuffed, befuddling his message.

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Review: Salt – Northern Stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday August 10 2017

Four Stars

At the start of Salt, Selina Thompson, the writer and performer, tells us about the year she spent at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, mostly listening to “white, men talking about their pain.” It is one of the lighter moments in the powerful, 70-minute monologue, eliciting a rush of relieved laughter from the (largely white) audience, but it is important because it forms part of the litany of incidents, serious and trivial, that led this young black woman from Birmingham to embark on the amazing journey she describes.

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Review: East is East – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Thursday April 27 2017

Four Stars

Theatre directors are always faced with a dilemma when reviving a play whose reputation has been eclipsed by a successful film adaptation. To what degree should they acknowledge the iconic imagery of the movie while seeking to remind audiences of the story’s theatrical origins?

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