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Everywhere We Go

Dale Meeks and Iain Cunningham
Boyle Yer Stotts
The Customs House, South Shields
to

How best to describe this play?

I can’t think of anything other to say than that it’s celebration theatre. In fact, it’s tribal.

On 21 May 2017, South Shields FC (“The Mariners”) beat Cleethorpes Town 4–0 in the final of the FA Vase at Wembley. This was a club which, just two years previously, didn’t even have their own ground but played in Peterlee, some 20 or so miles away. 15,000 supporters travelled down to watch the game.

The people of Shields (population 75,000+), a town which, like so many in the NE, has borne the brunt of austerity, felt its pride restored and, two years later, still basks in that famous victory. Many, in fact, have switched their allegiance from Sunderland or Newcastle teams (the town has always been divided between the two) to the Mariners.

Football is big in South Shields.

Everywhere We Go celebrates that victory. The first act is little more than a summary of the history of the club from its last years in Peterlee to its triumph at Wembley. It even goes through each stage of the cup, from first round to semi-final, listing goals and the players who scored them, with many a reference to the heroes, the Julio Arcas and others.

A whole act, in fact, devoted to exposition and yet it contained more unforced audience participation than any panto. Chants, songs and cheers led by the actors punctuated the words of the four characters who tell the story—Margo Sullivan (Jill Dellow), Finbar (Craig Richardson), Kip Peirce (Luke Maddison) and Billy Bogden (Wayne Miller)—filling the theatre with their noise.

As I said, it's tribal, with actors and audience bonding in a way which doesn’t happen very often. There’s no fourth wall here; the actors address the audience directly almost all of the time. It’s a real celebration of an event which will live long in the memories of the folks of Shields.

But what about those in the audience who aren’t Mariners fans or Sand Dancers (the nickname of the people of South Shields), such as me for instance?

Ever felt all alone in a crowded room?

But we are catered for by the second act, the travelling and London antics of our four friends from act 1, along with the two rather shadowy characters of Troughton (Iain Cunningham) and Bungle (Dale Meeks) (the writers), and the strange character who appears to…

To say more would be a something of a spoiler, so I shall remain silent.

This act can best be described as “madcap” or “zany”, taking us back in time to the trenches of the First World War (yes, really!) or illuminating the dangers of trying to stuff too much of a saveloy dip into your mouth at once (although that might have been unintentional—if it was, keep it in!). It takes us on the bus to London, to the station as the announcement of the cancellation of the train is made, to Covent Garden where the fans began their evening's entertainment the night before the match, to a rather unexpected nightclub (strangely reminiscent of a pub in Shields we have already visited) and to a rather sinister narrow lane… Hmmm.

The actors, particularly the four on the stage most of the time, are, at times literally, run off their feet. Gemma Cunningham’s movement choreography as they change the set (six chairs) doesn’t give them a chance to catch a breath, for it’s all done at the double (at least!) and also gives Miller and Maddison the chance to show off their acrobatic skills (although whether all the falls were planned is another matter).

Everywhere We Go is, as someone once remarked about football, a game of two halves. The tribal, celebratory, it’s-wonderful-to-be-a-Sand-Dancer first act is for the Shields football fans (all of the people of the town!); the second, with its fast-moving, farcical comedy will please everyone, footie fans and non-fans alike.

The Customs House prides itself on presenting good North East theatre; here it has gone very parochial, which is absolutely right, reflecting the interests and, yes, the pride of its community. It can take the wider (regional) view and the narrower (intensely local) perspective with equal facility and that is exactly what a local theatre should do. Yet again this little theatre on the banks of the Tyne proves its worth to its community, the region and even beyond.

And finally, this is Boyle Yer Stotts' first production for 13 years. Let’s hope that, awaking from its slumber, it has more to bring us in the near future.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan