A Song for Ella Grey
Adapted by Zoe Cooper from David Almond's novel
Pilot Theatre in association with Northern Stage and York Theatre Royal
The simple set (Verity Quinn) has stepped pedestals either side of the stage draped with duvets. The softness of the set enforces the dreams of youth, while the second half has the pedestals stripped, providing a harder, harsher reality of later life. Various locations are played upon them with the back stage having video projections (Si Cole) seen behind a white gauge. This all produces an ethereal quality, slightly surreal, which echoes through the production.
This is the première of a brand-new adaptation of David Almond’s novel, set in the North East, taking us to familiar locations, like Bamburgh beach. It relates the story of best friends, Ella Grey (Grace Long) and Claire (Olivia Onyehara), teenage relationships and first love. It begins all very lightheartedly with the teenage friends having a good time and going to the beach for a party. They have a strange experience there hearing curiously haunting music, and so their bizarre journey begins.
The story is based on the ancient Greek legend of Apollo’s son Orpheus and Eurydice, about the most retold of all Greek myths. Orpheus falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, they marry, and then tragedy strikes; we get the phrase ‘don’t look back’ from this story.
Ella represents Eurydice. The first half seemed overwritten, to no apparent advantage; so often, less is more. The video projections successfully enforced a constant feel of location and atmosphere, especially when portraying Orpheus, visible but not ‘seen’. For some reason, when a later threat occurred, this was replaced by an actual visible figure, grotesquely clothed with an almost comical head, which broke the spell for me. Accents are hard to deliver, especially Geordie, but one still must have clear diction and not speak so fast that the sense is lost; the company may know the words but it will be the first time an audience has heard them—helpful if cast are made aware of this, especially if performing out of the area.
All five members of the cast, apart from Long, play more than one role, which they handle with ease, creating believable relationships. There are songs, music and sharp humour amid the drama and sadness. Choreographed movement figures, no pun intended, a lot in the production, which enforces the surreal quality of the mythical basis of the story, removing one from the reality of the present. Indeed one phrase came to mind while watching, “and now for something different”.
There are a lot of small scenes, maybe apart from a longer classroom one which gave the actors some background to their character as opposed to being 2D, giving the audience greater sympathy and understanding with them.
It tours till 22 March but runs till the 15 February in Newcastle, so plenty of time to catch this refreshingly different production full of young talent.
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez