30th October 2012
Finding myself at the Customs House, South Shields to actually watch a performance is now an oddity, as mentioned in the last review I’m more often than not to be found backstage helping with the trials and tribulations of the Amateur set. Trying to locate the prop or trying to remember their lines. So when Michael offered me this opportunity I took it gladly. Also having heard of the reputation of the shows writers Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, I was eager to see it having missed out on seeing some of their others. Also for those of you who have never been to the Customs House to see a show get yourself there.
The play itself; told through the eyes of Grace Armstrong’s father, we are told the story of Hollywood coming to the North East, and Grace Armstrong goes onto make a film about the her idol Grace Darling (and for those who don’t know Grace Darling was a local/national hero, after she and her father; a lighthouse keeper save nine survivors from a shipwreck of the SS Forfarshire) and having checked a few different reviews of the play, a bad idea maybe but it did confirm that it was going to be a good night.
What I liked about the play itself was that as the writers mentioned in the program itself, was that obviously it would be difficult to stage, purely and simply because of the rescue and furthermore the rescue was one incident in Darling’s life, after which she went into hiding, and then died, but the effective outer story of film makers sticking to the real story, posed great interest, which a wonderful twist at the end which was devastatingly heartbreaking.
The first thing one noticed when walking into the theatre was that Northumbrian folk music was being played into the auditorium, and I found this really evocative, really setting up the piece, and obviously pointing at the connections to the main plot. Also the other thing one noticed was that it was an open set, and I always find this intriguing, I like to take it in and get a feeling for how the play is going to pan out.
The set itself consisted of a screen upstage (which was put to great effect during the performance) and throughout my drama days at University I do believe this is an element of Brecht, in that it’s bringing “new” technologies into the theatre space, what the screen provided the backdrops as it were, and although I’ve not really seen this technique put into practice in any other shows bar one, but this was by far the better.
I think one thing that brought the whole “set” as little as it was (mainly just large prop pieces) was the fact that the action took place within a circle, because although the Customs House stage is by no means huge, it’s not exactly a church hall either, and what this circle did was narrow the focus down to the actors and it made it more intimate.
Catherine Dryden; who portrayed our Heroine, was captivating, because what she created on stage was something that I personally recognize as a North East trait, that searing brutality of honesty. Fully forgetting that Catherine was indeed acting in this piece, Grace Armstrong is a fiery passionate young girl, who bright eyed wants to bring this tale of tragic heroism to the world and make it work. Catherine was passionate, and brilliant and near the end when she was furious with Barry Charlton for betraying her I was almost egging her on when she gave him her just deserts, and when the ending came it was indeed heartbreaking because Catherine had made it so easy to fall in love with this character.
Sean Wildey gave another brilliant performance throughout the piece, and I am not sure if it was writers or actors intention to make the character such a prat that you wanted to punch him in the face but that is certainly how I felt. He perfectly epitomized the and the word I noted down was “yuppie” director, a bit of a conceited know it all who lacks anything but interesting in making money, and while I’m sure that Sean himself is of course never like this, he certainly provided us with a character we could all dislike.
Trevor Cuthbertson the third member of the cast played two (or three) different characters, the loving and rather grumpy father of Grace Armstrong, who openly disliked Barry Charlton, and wanted to protect his daughter from getting hurt, which he did, he often provided quite a lot of the comedy in the play for example when acting in “Amazing Grace” is lurking in the background and when asked what he is doing he replies “I can’t find the hoover, it says that I hoover in the background” (correct me if I’m wrong here but i didn’t note the exact line) when it really says hover. Also as the drunken Howard De Winter, he gives us a comical version of a failing actor that is no longer (maybe never was) any good.
I realize that I’ve been talking a lot about this play but there are so many things to notice, in short to sum up the actors were all brilliant in bringing this piece to life. The writers have written a play that is enjoyable, and yet unusual in that it not totally realistic, it is a story framed within a story. The designer also deserves to be applauded for her simple yet very effective set, that worked brilliantly. The play was thoroughly enjoyable and championed the North East and was brimming with humour andheartache.
Well Done Guys.
Richard “Dickie” Briggs