Wednesday, May 4, 2011

4Play -Review- Customs House

Northumberland Touring Company
Customs House
3 May 2011

4Play is the fantastic result of scheme set up by InterACT, a 44 week mentored training course which included an active placement with NTC. Four new plays, four new writers, four new (to me) actors.
This series of plays is based upon the 'Absurdity of Life' and all that arc's from it.
On offer is 'Jailbait' written by Freddie Machin, 'The Plastic Chairs', by Clive Holland, 'Sunny' by Sally Torode and 'The Final Ballad Of Fanny Driver' by Alexander Clark

Jailbait is the story of a 14 year old girl, going through life changes. The broken home that many of today's families are experiencing, is explored in a somewhat grim setting. A new partner for her mother causes problems with the aura of the close set up between her female sibling. A shock discovery leads to murder, which will further the divide of harmony.

The Plastic Chairs is a contemporary tale of communication and what goes on in our hearts and soul when the simplest things are taken away from us. What do we do when our phone signal disappears? The phone stops working or that very important email can't be sent! Four young people meet regularly in a sterile room, sitting in the same chairs at the same table. Will life get back to normal when the service resumes?

Sunny has just been released from jail, he has a lot of choices in front of him - even before he puts his key in the front door. Will his fantasies take a hold of him, or will he lead the life that his girlfriend has mapped out for them? Easy decisions are sometimes the hardest to make.

The Final Ballad Of Fanny Driver is a very emotive tale. Fanny is still living at home with her mother, when suddenly and without any warning her mum dies. Fanny feels an enormous amount of guilt and blames herself for allowing this to happen, but why can't she show her feelings on the day of her funeral? Key memories come flooding back to her that sheds a light on the situation. Will Fanny be able to live her life as she wants to do without her parent? Will the remembered baggage be too much for her to bear?

The four actors on show tonight dealt brilliantly with the varying degrees of mood incorporated in the plays. Each performer put all they had into conveying exactly what the writer and director wanted the audience to see and witness.
The ensemble of talent that NTC has nurtured in its time is of a very high standard. Tonight's actors stepped up to the mark and nailed everything they did. Rachel Gray, Sarah Jane Gargett, Charlotte Higgins and Umar Ahmed all must have been missing when The Arts Council Funding Committee decided to withdrawn their funding from the 2012 season,. If any of the members were present tonight, then they would have seen what NTC have achieved and been thoroughly humbled by it.
With the performances taking place in The Studio of The Customs House, space could have been an issue, but NTC dealt with it in a brilliant minimalist fashion. All scenery was used to its full potential. The bed in Jailbait was used as a table in The Plastic Chairs with great effect for example.
If you have followed my reviews in the past then you will know that I am not a follower of the contemporary movement. I want to go to the theatre and be thrilled from start to finish, without having to think too much about what this, or what that means. NTC have employed great old school methods with a tinge of modern performance acting. At times I felt the audience were struggling to cope with 'the new' aspect, but settled immediately when reverted.
The production team in charge of the lighting and sound have done a very good good job in creating a vivid comfortable atmosphere. A great Asian fusion soundtrack accompanied the plays.
Rachel Oliver has been very fortunate to direct such a great bunch of actors, you could see her leadership shining through.
4Play might not be for everybody, but some great slices of theatre was present that the crowd lapped up.
For tour dates that include Washington, Blyth and a run at Newcastle's Northern Stage please visit the NTC website.

Michael Hunter


  1. Hello Michael,

    Thank you so much. It's great to get your feedback. I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

    Best Wishes,

    Rachel GAY, not Gray :)

  2. It will be a tragedy if InterACT can't continue to give great actors like this year's the start that they need.


  3. Ah I see, I thought your piece on stage regarding the error in the programme was part of the theatre see I don't always get this contemporary malarkey..haha.
    I did enjoy it and look forward to many more production from NTC, regardless of the ACE funding.
    I totally agree Lady Sue, without much needed funding InterACT, NTC and the many other companies will struggle to come up with the good,so to speak.

    Thank you both for your comments