Queens Hall Arts
Live Theatre, Newcastle
Up on a windy hilltop beauty spot, early morning, two strangers meet. The young man seems strangely withdrawn, vague, the middle-aged woman slightly eager to please in that manner that could hide a quiet desperation.
Small facts of their lives emerge, but there’s a sense of inconsequentiality. Is he supposed to be meeting someone called Dean? Is it his brother? Why does he have a busted lip? What’s the woman doing there anyway? And how come they meet the next morning, and the one after that?
There are references in the play to Peter Pan’s lost boys, to humans flying, swans are regularly spotted and described The boy Jamie (Tom Booth), who seems inordinately cold, is given to repeating, Groundhog–style, the same dialogue. Hang on though, could he possibly be…?
Laura Lindow’s play Wishbone, directed by Rosie Kellagher, is the second in the Queens Hall small-scale, low-budget series bringing to the stage new work from the region and, like its predecessor, John Challis’s The Next Train to Depart, is a two-hander building on the consequences of a chance meeting. It played to a full audience in Live Theatre’s upstairs Studio.
The simple, low lighting set is dominated by a skeletal tree in a way that hints at the obligatory arboreal embellishment in Beckett’s Godot and, like that play, (one of my favourites though one any dramatists imitate at their peril) you could say nothing happens, but maybe not twice in this instance.
Joanna Holden plays Meryl, the more animate of the two characters. She does well with limited material. Tom Booth has less to go on. At its best the play creates a slightly spooky sense of the unreal, a possibility of people trapped by their history.
Given time it could develop into an interesting piece of theatre. At present it comes over as an early draft still looking for its real reference point, still attempting to bring together with some artistic discipline its various strands. And it pays little homage to the live stage. This could be performed, with virtually no change, on radio.
With all good theatre, we can hear in the background the play’s distinctive heartbeat, its lifeforce. That heartbeat has still to be discovered with Wishbone, suggesting a new writing series such as this needs an overseeing dramaturg who, working with the author, can nurture potentially good plays into a proper shape before giving them public exposure.
Let me mention a strange trend of late in plays on Tyneside. At the finale, a handful of back row people, not unconnected with the production, whoop, cheer and generally indulge in the kind of enthusiastic excesses designed to convince the audience that what they’ve just witnessed is something exceptional.
Very little theatre is exceptional, and thus this tactic is increasingly exposed.
Reviewer: Peter Mortimer