Productions and Performers

Every Christmas show, panto or otherwise, needs a villain. Panto audiences (and I’m talking adults as well as kids) love to boo the villain and take enormous pleasure in letting him/her know exactly how they feel.

“You horrible, slimy little children. I’m going to melt all the interval ice creams. Ha ha ha!”

And they love him/her for it!

This year has been the year for evil women! Apart from The Sheriff of Nottingham, we've had the Wicked Queen, Carabosse and Gothel, but none of them were quite as fascinatingly evil as the svelte, suave, sophisticated and thoroughly scary Canopus Sly in Northern Stage’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Created by writer Laura Lindow and domineeringly performed by Jessica Johnson, this androgynous embodiment of evil is undoubtedly my Christmas Villain of the Year, an award which must be shared equally between writer and performer.

After there has been little or no live theatre for 18 months or thereabouts, theatres and companies need to open with a bang and there was no production which left a bigger impact on me than Haddock and Chips from CaroleW Productions, a play both comic and serious, written by Janet Plater and superbly performed by Joe Caffrey and Phillippa Wilson, which opened at Gosforth Civic Theatre before touring to 14 other venues.

For me, definitely The Most Enjoyable First Post-Pandemic Show!

I’ve always loved children’s theatre, because good children’s theatre is simply good theatre, full stop. Kitchen Zoo was performing two of its hits at Northern Stage and ARC Stockton, one in a new version, but I didn’t manage to see them so I couldn’t justify choosing one or the other as “Best Children’s Show” but that didn’t matter because in August Unfolding Theatre gave us something very different in Stage 2 at Northern Stage.

Free School Meals was scripted by Luca Rutherford based on workshops she, Unfolding Theatre’s director Annie Rigby and associate artist Alex Elliott did with children aged 7 to 12 from Byker and Walker in Newcastle, and was based on footballer Marcus Rashford’s school meals campaign. It was hard-hitting and beautifully performed by the kids who had done so much to create it and deserves special recognition as the Most Hard-Hitting Piece of Dramatic Social Commentary.

And I have to say that there were other socially conscious professional productions during the year in the Newcastle Fringe which didn’t have the impact of Free School Meals.

“And what about the streamed productions?” I hear you ask.

Two really stood out for me, one theatre and one dance. The November Club’s Repeat Signal successfully combined a sense of place (Woodhorn Colliery), a touch of the (possibly) supernatural, the meeting of two cultures and a young man and a young girl developing a relationship, all in 30 minutes, leaving the audience with a warm glow. For me, this was definitely the Best Stream (Drama).

Michael Heatley and Hit the Ground Running Dance Theatre Company's Macho used Easington Social Welfare Centre, essentially a working men’s club, and its members, who were listening to a comic in the concert room, drinking in the bar or playing snooker, as a powerful and fully integrated background to the dancers’ turmoil and confusion of trying to understand and deal with what is it means to be a man. This wins the Best Stream (Dance).

Let’s hope—oh please!—that at the end of 2022 we can follow the usual pattern of the Best of North East Theatre and pick up where we left off in 2019!