WAXA BELTA HELTA SKELTA

Serena Ramsey
Laurels, Whitley Bay

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Serena Ramsey in WAXA BELTA HELTA SKELTA

As play titles go, this one is slightly more cumbersome than say, Hamlet, but then the soliloquy is longer.

Serena Ramsey writes, directs and acts this forty-five-minute one-woman piece and brings to it a good deal of energy, ribaldry, humour and occasional pathos. I didn't check the following fact on Google, but suspect this is the only play to embrace both witchcraft and Greggs pasties,

The latter item is one of Tyneside's most successful exports in an age of industrial decline. Once, as they say, we built ships. Now, to mix metaphors, the vegan sausage rolls fly the flag.

Those other famous Geordie exports Ant and Dec also feature strongly, as do Newcastle Brown and Cheryl Cole in a tale of a young woman whose mum deserts her to join a cult, while her stern father admonishes her as a matter of course. Growing up's not easy.

For some reason, the auditorium at Whitey's Bay's brave new small theatre, Laurels, is flooded with dry ice a few minutes before the start. The odd cough apart, the effect is minimal and of little relevance as it's mainly clear by the time the play starts.

Serena Ramsey eventually struts on stage in a kind of feathery, oversized bikini. This is ditched within minutes to leave her yet more scantily clad, a state of undress that persists throughout the piece, again without that much relevance, the pleasure of exposed flesh apart. At one moment she does cover herself in paper bags. Greggs paper bags, of course.

It's an eclectic piece of theatre, often jumping about impatiently just as a line of thought looks in danger of being developed. Presumably this is to ensure nothing too close to naturalism ever invades. Which is fine except the basic subject matter, a young woman's difficult relationship with her parents, occasionally lends itself to a bit of naturalism, not always inviting Serena Ramsey's less conventional style, as Barbie Dolls, jars of Marmite and packets of Bisto come and go.

Ramsey is an arresting presence on stage and certainly nobody sleeps while she's on. At times she involves the audience in bits of repartee, though the young dudes who mainly frequent Laurels (this writer excepted) looked and sounded up to it. The pace rarely flags, sound and light effects abound (from Tingying Dong) while Lara Abor's set design is both colourful and offbeat.

In some places it seems a bit adrift and slack, needing an external pair of eyes the better to shape Ramsey's obvious talents. I understand the harsh economics of small-scale theatre right now and that company belts have been fastened tighter than a Victorian corset. Given the seemingly endless nightmare of the pandemic, any piece of theatre that makes it to the stage at the moment is a minor miracle.

But a sympathetic director could help mould this work, give it a stronger shape and direction without, I hope, losing its energy. How about looking for funding from a sponsor? The ubiquitous Greggs comes to mind.

Reviewer: Peter Mortimer