The Theatre Upstairs
10th October 2017
Presented by The Billingham Players
Written by Liz Turner
Directed by Denise Philips
The Theatre Upstairs is a quirky little theatre on Billingham Green. A former dance hall, the auditorium has tiered seating but no stage which makes it feel like an indoor amphitheatre. it makes for a versatile and interesting performance space. It is the home of the Billingham Players, and from the moment you enter and climb the stairs there is a sense of community here. The walls are decorated hand painted theatrical images, and a stair lift waits patiently to help anyone who can't manage the climb. You are welcomed with a smile and a greeting at the desk, and counted for the all important visitor stats. Tonight there is a very pleasing buzz of conversation as people take their seats, calling greetings across the seats as obvious regulars arrive and spot friends in the audience. . The atmosphere is relaxed, warm and friendly.
As the house lights go down however, the chatter stops instantly and the show begins. The setting is a factory canteen, complete with plastic chairs, Formica tables, a service counter offering an array of snack food and a tea urn. The cast enter to the strains of "Here come the girls" - an ironic, yet apt musical choice as it very quickly becomes clear that these are no kick-ass girl-power divas, but downtrodden, bored factory workers. They have just had the joy of a lottery win, swiftly followed by the disappointment of the size of the pay-out. The women talk about what they will do with the money: Laura, the youngest, has already spent most of hers, the older women will save theirs and put it towards Christmas. The amount of the win is enough to make the present a little easier, but not enough to help them escape the drudgery of factory working. And as the play progresses we learn that they all have other reasons to want to escape, and for some, reasons why escape is unlikely.
This is a funny play. The women dream of a better life, they joke, and carp, and push boundaries, sometimes over stepping the mark, but never entirely falling out - until one of them does the unthinkable. The women spark off each other as only a close knit group can do. It reminds me of Shakers, and The Rag Trade.
For me the two stand out performances come from Hanna Smith and Carol Daley. Hanna as the youngster Laura, struggling to understand the older women, living for the moment, and refusing to see life beyond 30. The scene in the pub where she drinks herself almost under the table is classic. (Yet another example of convincing drunken acting, I am beginning to wonder if it is a speciality of North East amateur dramatics!) And Carol is completely convincing as the Lithuanian Halina, from the accent that never falters to the facial expressions and gestures, she is decidedly Eastern European!
This was my first time at the Theatre Upstairs, all in all it was an enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Theatre right on your doorstep, and they have a bar and ice creams. What more could you need?
Exit Routes plays until Saturday, tickets are just £11/£9 and you can pay on the door.