The Novocastrian Philosophers’ Club

Cinzia Hardy and the Literary & Philosophical Society, in collaboration with Northern Stage
Literary and Philosophical Society Library and Mining Institute, Newcastle
(2007)

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It’s not often one emerges from a theatrical performance smelling of lavender, but then there’s more than a touch of the faded photograph and buried memory about this endeavour. I’m reluctant to give it a name – not really a play, certainly not a guided tour but still totally evolved from the buildings that host it, The NPC smacks as much of those audience-involvement fests we didn’t much enjoy in the 1970s, but infinitely classier. The structure is less dramatic than architectural – this is a trip through the mind of what the building might represent in the form of an internalised journey – if you see what I mean.

Groups of only fifteen are welcomed into the foyer with much fuss and mumbling and it becomes apparent that everyone you see, from the ubiquitous cleaners to the librarians and the cast of unexpected visitors, is playing a part. Possibly for Lit and Phil regulars this creates a ceratin confusion – isn’t that Kay Easson who usualy runs the place putting things into omninously numbered cardboard boxes and handing me strange little tickets? Suspension of disbelief would be difficult if this wasn’t clearly a game into the realism of which we all have to committ for the duration of the evening.

Depending on your state of mind, it’s either whimsical or enlivening to hand in tickets at the desk and be given capsules of proverbial wisdom in exchange, to tell your favourite colour (black not allowed, alas) and to shuffle between the chess players and the assistants diligently labelling every book as The Waterfall.

Shuffling is rather the mode of the evening – this is an old builing and we have to be guided round it with great care. A slip on an uneven step would certainly ruin the mood. So we go upstairs and down, into rooms that are a theatrical event in themselves. Love-lorn librarians give place to bold explorers and tea-ladies (who actually serve us tea). There is a journey, both ours and the explorer’s, and it involves dinner tables and small jungles (waterproof poncho provided) and finally a meeting in the lecture-treatre where journey’s end is signalled and we’re left bemused but entertained.

It was mildly unconfortable (too much dry ice for asthmatics), rather tiring and quite bewildering, but that last in a totally good way. It sparked ideas and I suspect it animated the buildings for those seeing them for the first time. As an old Lit and Phil hand, this sense of wonder and discovery was not available, but still I stood amazed at the transformation of one space into a casino complete with gorgeous James bond type! There was a most captivating live owl and a sense of cameraderie and a little box instead of a programme that provided the lingering valedictory aroma of lavender.

Architectural heritage meets Ripping Yarns/Alice in Wonderland – hardly hard-edged drama but a performance of gentle relevation, exploration and surprising, eye-opening beauty.

Reviewer: Gail-Nina Anderson