2014: The Best in Stage | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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2014 has been a brilliant year for theatre in the region, so brilliant that it felt like an impossible task to whittle down the thirty shows I’ve seen to the best of the best. I can count on one hand the productions I wasn’t fussy on and even then I could probably put up a case for their brilliance. Here it is though, my favourite productions of 2014.

Whilst the weather was getting colder, the air in Live Theatre was heating up for the World Premier of Ron Hutchinson’s Flying into DaylightBased on Victoria Fischer’s true story, Flying into Daylight follows Virginia as she warms up her “cold English heart” in the tango capital of the world: Buenos Aires. Far from a show just about learning tango, Flying into Daylight follows a woman who is not afraid to give up her life to follow her dreams. Of course, the decision to follow your dreams would be made a bit easier if you knew a talented, passionate Argentinean tango instructor would be greeting you at the other side. Flying into Daylight transported me from a cold, dull night in England to a passionate, heat-filled life in Buenos Aires.

flying into daylight

Flying into Daylight transported me from a cold, dull night in England to a passionate, heat-filled life in Buenos Aires

2014 saw the launch of Sunderland Stages, a project which programmes theatre, dance and spoken word in a range of venues across the city, making theatre more accessible for the people of Sunderland. Productions were hosted at a variety of found spaces: The National Glass Centre, North Shore, Sunderland Museum and the Winter Gardens. A highlight for me so far has been balletLORENT’s The Night Ball, performed in The University of Sunderland’s Student’s Union, North Shore. The Night Ball is an immersive piece of dance theatre with all of the intimacy associated with social dance. The show is seventy minutes of pure athleticism and beauty finished off with audience members joining in with the dancing; either getting a one-to-one lesson with a pro or taking to the stage with their friends. The show is a perfect demonstration of the inclusivity of dance first you watch professionals push their bodies to the limits in a display of lyrical excellence then you are invited to join in, whatever your ability.

Devised by the women of HMP YOI Low Newton and written by Catrina McHugh, Key Change is an honest piece of theatre that explores the lives and histories of women serving prison sentences. Open Clasp theatre company really excelled themselves this time in giving the most marginalised women of society a voice; I feel privileged to have seen Key Change. The honesty of the women involved in the project is admirable; I wish more people in society could see Key Change to enable them to see that crime is not black and white and that there are thousands of shades of grey. Women featured had been victims of domestic violence and had shocking histories which drove them to alcohol and drugs. They are people’s mams, daughters and sisters. They are normal people who deserve a second chance in life, and in some cases a chance at all. Key Change was first performed in the prison the stories came from, they were then shown to male prisoners before coming to the stage at Live Theatre. Dilly Arts are continuing the project by producing animated films to the audio of the play and the men of HMP Frankland and HMP Durham will be creating response films.

Following its success in 2013, Weather to Fly returned to the North East at Customs House and Voodoo Café. Written by Allison Davies, Weather to Fly is a beautifully tragic piece of contemporary theatre which tackles big issues from the innocent eyes of a child. I’ve seen the show twice and each time I was left heart-broken. Davies has such an eloquent way with words, particularly with the child who is a victim of abuse, Debbie. Left in the care of her step-dad whilst her mother is in hospital – the one for people with broken heads, like clocks that have stopped” – Debbie’s innocence is utterly heart-breaking as the abuse becomes evident. Weather to Fly also flags up the homophobia still present in a supposedly equal society, ‘(“t’s supposed to be alright now, no discrimination”) but life still remains difficult for people like Debbie’s brother, Joe, who constantly live in fear.

spring awakening

It is sad that in a modern society young people still don’t get enough education around sex and relationships

Written by Anya Reiss and brought to Northern Stage by Headlong Theatre, Spring Awakening is a contemporary adaptation of the rock musical of the same name. The production follows the youngsters on a heart-breaking journey in a sexually oppressed nation. Spring Awakening tackles issues of sexual oppression in a head-on way not for the reserved, with scenes of an explicit sexual nature from the off. The original musical of Spring Awakening debuted on the stage a century ago, yet the themes are sadly still relevant today. The internet makes pornography more accessible than ever, forever giving young people unrealistic expectations. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the character of Wendla. Her lack of sex education becomes evident as she struggles to understand the difference between sex, love and violence. It is sad that in a modern society young people still don’t get enough education around sex and relationships; Spring Awakening highlighted the consequences of not educating people sufficiently in these areas.

Here’s to another great year of theatre in 2015 and an even more difficult job of picking my favourites!

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