Wednesday evening saw me tackling the city centre traffic in
Newcastle with my son, for our first visit to the Live Theatre. This is a little diamond hidden away on the quayside – very friendly and welcoming, with loads of character: a fitting venue for what turned out to be a gem of a production!
The Heights, written Lisa McGee, directed by Phil Hoffmann, and performed by members of the Live Youth Theatre, is a gritty drama about teenage life on a typical run down estate. If you think this means we were in for a depiction of grim stereotypes you’d be mistaken. It follows the activity – or lack of it – of a group of teenagers on the estate, as observed by Lillie Lee (Michaela Forbes). Lillie is confined to her bedroom because of an illness – we are never told what exactly the illness is though the local gang have a theory. Living with an overly protective mother, unable to leave her room and not allowed visitors for fear she might “catch something” Lillie occupies her time by watching the passers by and making up stories. As time passes she craves contact and finds ways to befriend people and share her stories with them. First she befriends Jacob (Niek Versteeg), something of an outsider himself, who narrates the story for us, and then Dara. Dara and she become firm friends watching the estate and making up stories together. But Lillie is a jealous friend and there is uneasiness and a darkness in their friendship.
Lillie’s first story is an allegory for her life illustrating her frustration at not being allowed to take part in life, but also showing the potential danger that Lillie poses to those who love her.
At first it is easy to distinguish the stories from real life, but as the play progresses it becomes more difficult to know which is story and which is real. Scenes are played and replayed, the stories growing more and more sinister, until at the end you are left wondering what really did happen, and what did Lillie Lee invent.
This was a great production with fine performances from all 11 of the cast. In particular, Emma Crowley Bennett who plays Dara, Niek Versteeg as the narrator, (and chief stage hand!) and Michaela – who I remember from The Crucible at the People’s Theatre – who seems to excel at speaking out into the audience! Special mention I think must also go to Grant and Arron Gair as Matt and Pat, who provided the excellent comic element – we were very glad not to be in the front seats to share their hobnob!
The whole production was very slick and professional, the monotony of life on the estate heightened (pardon the pun) by the background music which was at times jarring, and at others hauntingly atmospheric. The only criticism I have would be that the stage layout meant we could not see the some to the action that happened in Lillie’s room. However it was clear from the dialogue what was happening so it did not detract too much from the experience.
The play ran from 3rd - 5th April and I understand it was a sell out – certainly Wednesday night’s performance was. I would definitely recommend a visit to this theatre, in particular for a production by the Youth Theatre. Well done to all involved!