Live Theatre, Newcastle, and touring
Having written last year (about Open Clasp's Rattle and Roll) that the message dominated the medium so that the theatricality of the piece was, to a large extent, lost, it's good to be able to report that the company's production for this year, BlueGiro, whilst still putting its message across with much vigour, is much more tightly focused and works well as a piece of theatre.
BlueGiro is the story of 16 year old Jodie (Jade Byrne) who travels with her mother Evie (Jilly Breeze), neighbour Lisa (Jessica Johnson) and "voice coach" Laura (Arabella Arnott) to Manchester to audition for a TV talent show. Circumstances mean they unexpectedly have to stay overnight in a hotel. That evening, while Jodie stays in the room to rehearse, the other three decide to go for a drink, first to the hotel bar where a noisy stag night is taking place which makes them move on elsewhere. Meanwhile Jodie decides she is going to go to the bar for a drink herself. The subsequent events form ther climax of the play, which ends with Jodie doing her audition performance.
BlueGiro's theme - for Open Clasp is a company which deals with women's issues - is sexual violence against women and is built around the stories of women with whom the company worked in workshops prior to the writing of the play.
Writer McHugh has created a quartet of very believable characters. It would be nice to be able to say that Jessica Johnson's loud-mouthed, slutty Lisa is a caricature but her like can be seen - and heard! - reeling around town and city centres every weekend.
A couple of things don't quite ring true. It's a bit difficult to conceive how Evie and Jodie came to connect with Laura who is so unlike them in (almost) every way and, having made contact, would become friends, although the brittle relationship between her and Lisa does convince. However what does point up the issue-based nature of the piece is that fact that the three adults have the same background of being the victims of sexual violence although that is not what brought them together in the first place, for this is gradually revealed.
It is a fine, strong cast: Jade Byrne is a very convincing 16 year old whilst Jilly Breeze perfectly captures the dilemma that all parents find themselves facing at some time or another: she wants to support and protect at the same time and this can and does lead to conflict within herself and with her daughter.
Jessica Johnson gives Lisa, the sort of woman you would cross the road to avoid, a brassiness which is frankly scary but there are moments when deep-seated insecurities surface and suddenly the irritation which she inspires most of the time is pulled aside to reveal the pathos within.
Arabella Arnott gives us a Laura who is trying to fit in and fighting against the demons in her past . There is an awkwardness in the way she plays the character which suggests almost a desperation to be accepted, as if she knows she doesn't quite fit but really wants to.
The play successfully marries drama and humour, a difficult task at any time, but it has to be said that the TV talent show setting, with its host "Simon", does provide lots of opportunities for laughs!
The staging (designed by Bridget Murton and Sophie Jacobs) is interesting. Everything is on wheels - flight cases open to reveal a bed, a bar and other furniture: a clever way of making a virtue of a touring necessity!- and the way in which the actors move them into position is choreographed. At times I felt that the change-overs went on too long and some dramatic tension was lost, but this might have been because Live Theatre's auditorium is not a standard shape, having the audience on two adjacent sides, and so the cast were having to change what they had become used to in the rest of the tour.
What I found worrying about the piece is the almost explicit suggestion that all men (or, at least, all the men mentioned in the play) are sexual predators so that, by the end, I (and, I suspect, the few other men in the audience) felt like leaping to my feet and shouting, "We're not all like that!" That said, how can I know what women feel in their relationships with men? I do wonder if a woman reviewing this play would have a different take on it.
But the audience thoroughly enjoyed it and, in spite of feeling a little misunderstood, so did I.
The tour ends on 26th March
Reviewer: Peter Lathan