West End Girls / Wank Buddies

Adam Hughes / Jake Jarratt & Cameron Sharp
Live Theatre’s Elevator Festival
Live Theatre, Newcastle
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Elevator is part of Live Theatre’s work in developing new writing, a festival of new plays and workshops focusing primarily, but not exclusively, on NE writers, performers, directors, choreographers and other creatives. These two plays have been part of that process, each recipients of a Live Theatre Bursary which provides in-kind support and £2,000 in development money.

This double bill opened on 26 March and plays on 27 and 30. Another double bill is on 28 and 29.

West End Girls

Written by Adam Hughes, music by David Barton

Directed by Jake Smith with choreography by Chris Cuming

The West End of the title is not the glamorous, glitzy West End of London but the rather less salubrious West End of Newcastle, an area which, in 1959 when the play begins, was notorious for its slums and which, as this play shows, kept reclaiming that reputation during the intervening sixty years.

It’s set, in fact, in three time periods: 1959 when Noble Street was demolished and replaced by the “housing of the future”, the Noble Street Flats; St Cuthbert’s Village in 1989; and now, 2019, in the Grade 2 listed Byker Wall, a long, unbroken block of 620 maisonettes which was acclaimed in 2017 as “the best neighbourhood in the UK”.

We see the story of Newcastle’s social housing through the eyes of three generations of women: Anne (1959), who was delighted to be one of the first to move into the Noble Street high-rise and became an activist, almost an apostle, for the building, even as it sank back to slumdom; Jane (1989), who tolerated living in St Cuthbert’s Village (for want of anything better), even though finding a job with that as an address was next to impossible; and Charlie (2019), who, having left university, finds problems even in the celebrated Byker Wall.

Patricia Jones plays Anne, Amy Allen Jane and Leah Mains Charlie, and they tell us their stories, swapping back and forth between time periods with a “back to…” to indicate the change. Each also plays a part in the others’ stories—as neighbour, mother or whatever is needed.

There’s a lot of narration delivered directly to the audience, interspersed with short scenes from their lives, showing how where they live impacts upon them.

It is a powerful story, well performed by an excellent cast, but I felt it was a little too long which weakened the impact on the audience. It would benefit from judicious pruning—it’s good, but it could be even better.

Wank Buddies

Written and performed by Jake Jarratt and Cameron Sharp

Dramaturgy by Anna Ryder

Movement direction by Alicia Meehan

Jake and Cameron are at a uni party. Jake’s in the kitchen and Cameron is dancing wildly. As the party is drawing to a close Jake goes searching for somewhere to crash. Most rooms are occupied but he finds one, all done out in pink, which is free. He gets into bed and settles down to sleep.

Then in walks Cameron. It’s Becca’s room and Becca has told him he can have it for the night. This interloper, he says, should leave, but Jake refuses. So Cameron gets into bed with him.

Now Cameron is gay and camp with it, while straight Jake comes from Crook (in County Durham), a place not known for its sophistication and diversity. Although, of course, he is at Newcastle Uni, which gives him at least a veneer.

The scene, then, is set for… what? a battle?

To begin with, yes, but it turns into an exploration of what it means to be masculine (male? a man?) as these two and their sexualities come together—collide—for the first time. Previously they had been aware of each other but that’s all.

What follows is a riotous mix of physical theatre, dance, argument, reminiscence and comedy, which had the audience laughing and even occasionally cheering whilst it delivered an ultimately very serious message.

The piece is much enhanced by the dramaturgy of Live’s Creative Associate Anna Ryder, who is also one of the region’s brightest up and coming directors, and the choreography / movement direction of Alicia Meehan, a member of the very first Fertile Ground graduate dance company who has since worked with, among others, State of Grace and Southpaw.

Ryder’s contribution is to make sure the piece stays focused for maximum impact and Meehan’s movement keeps us consistently entertained whilst illuminating the characters’ personality—and testing their flexibility and movement skills!

Is this the story of a real event? It could well be, for the characters’ names are the names of the performers too, but it has also been dramatized, even fictionalised to give it impact and to draw us in.

The audience loved it! And so did I.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan