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Get Off At Gateshead

Ian Skelton
Gala Theatre, Durham
(2008)

For his seventh in-house production at the Gala, director Simon Stallworthy has chosen the second play of writer Ian Skelton whose Beamish Boy the theatre premiered last year. Skelton had already had a successful career as a writer for TV and radio and Beamish Boy reflected that in many ways. In the intervening months he has matured as a writer for the stage and Get Off At Gateshead is a much more tightly written, even spare, piece which gradually - and cleverly - unfolds what at first seems to be a simple plot about two former lovers meeting again after twenty years.

Under Stallworthy's sensitive direction and in the hands of an excellent cast - Peter Peverley and Jackie Fielding as the ex-lovers Mark and Angela, Rosalind Bailey as Angela's mother Lynn and Donald McBride as Mark's father Walter - the hidden complexities of the story gradually emerge movingly and with occasional touches of gentle humour, much of it from Donald McBride for whom, I gather, the part of Walter was written.

Interspersed with the story and covering the occasional scene change, is music from NE folk musician Katie Doherty, sung and played by Doherty on keyboard, accompanied by Sophy Ball on fiddle. Her music and songs are modern but with a very traditional feel, and occasionally, in the appropriate context, she plays with the song "When the boat comes in", which forms a motif for Lynn's mental deterioration as her Alzheimer's develops. It's an effective device and adds much to the play's atmosphere.

A section of the arch of the Tyne Bridge, part of Lucy Campbell's fairly simple but effective set, is almost a character in itself, being, both literally and metaphorically, at the heart of the play. And yet, for all its firm grounding in the landscape and culture of the North East, Get Off At Gateshead is a play which deals with universal themes.

Without a doubt this is the most successful of the Gala's in-house productions to date and if the theatre can maintain this standard of writing and performance, Newcastle's Live Theatre will need to look to its laurels as the purveyor of the best in NE drama.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan