You, Me and Everything Else
Devised by the company
Northern Stage, Newcastle
It may be the playwright in me but I’ve always been suspicious of purely devised theatre. It can be self-indulgent, often more agit-prop than real theatre and is frequently over-long.
The best devised work is usually completed by a “proper” writer; for example, the classic Oh What a Lovely War, although it was devised by Joan Littlewood and the company, was written by Charles Chilton. And when Camisado Club (then called NORTH2014) devised its first show, Send More Paper, in March 2014, it used the services of playwright Susan Mulholland as dramaturg.
No writer or dramaturg is credited for You, Me and Everything Else, just a director, Rebecca Frecknall. Either she kept the eight company members on a tight rein during the devising process or they were remarkably focused but, whatever the reason, the result is a tight and effective piece of story-telling.
Subtitled A Science-Fact Love Story, it actually tells three stories: the journey of the Voyager spacecraft which launched in 1977 and is now travelling through interstellar space, the decisions about what would be on the gold disc it carries which would represent humanity to any alien lifeforms which might encounter the craft and a love story between two of the staff which developed during these planning stages.
The three are interwoven, even though Voyager’s story follows a different time-scale from the other two, starting with the launch on 5 September 1977 and ending when its power will eventually shut down round about 2025, whilst the human stories begin some considerable time before the launch and culminate with it.
The company uses a number of different techniques to tell these stories. Voyager is a small model on the end of a stick, lit by hand-held torches and speaking to the audience over the PA. There’s direct addressing of the audience—a really entertaining opening from actor Jamie Tansley, for example. There are what I suppose you’d call normal scenes of dialogue. There’s physical theatre and choreographed movement, imaginative use of props (including a few pairs of shoes), well-chosen music of a variety of genres and illuminating visuals and the whole thing sweeps you along at a tremendous lick.
This is an ensemble—Jessica Dawson, Adam Gibson, Hannah Goudie, Lauren Hurwood, Caroline Liversidge, Robert Nicholson, Luca Rutherford and Jamie Tansley—which is at ease with each other and their material and their enthusiasm and playfulness turn what could so easily have been a somewhat dull lecture with a love story attached into a really enjoyable 80 minutes of theatre.
You, Me and Everything Else plays at the Customs House in South Shields on 30 September and 1 October and at The Maltings in Berwick on 2 and 3 October.