STAGE REVIEW: The Lost Happy Endings @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (31.10.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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I imagine it’s not often the foyer at Northern Stage is dotted with witches of all ages. Yes, it was Hallowe’en, but these witches had gathered for another reason. Anyone familiar with the original short story The Lost Happy Endings by Carol Ann Duffy will have known that this tale contains a witch like no other. This witch has had her humanity kicked out of her by life as dancer Gwen Berwick conveys with such compassion and artistry. Her movements enthralled me: those feet that slithered off pointe and that body that melted into the ground were mesmerising.

In fact, let’s start there. With the movement. This is a ballet after all. Each of these bodies moved in exactly the right way for the character/animal they embodied. The range of technique was breath-taking. The stage was inhabited with bears and wolves, a stick insect, a bat, an elephant, a gorilla…the stuff of dreams and fairy tales, creatures that moved like the creatures themselves. Liv Lorent’s captivating choreography is what won me over. Yes, the costumes were stunning, the set was incredible, the score perfect for the storyline – but in bringing the tale alive in such a memorable way, it was this charismatic company of dancers that drew the audience into the dreamscape so effectively.

Costume designer Nasir Mazhar appears to have had so much fun in creating this range of fantastical costumes for this production: the various textures, colours, fabrics and patterns combined functionality with cool, edgy design. I wanted in on this dream so bad!

Even before Jub appeared on stage, Neil Murray’s set had prepared the scene. The magical trees silhouetted in the light of the moon created a hush of expectation. The use of ladders created height in the set, so that the action took place as much vertically as it did horizontally. From the aerial acrobatics of the bat to the witch sliding out from under a ridge to ribbons of sparkling light depicting the happy endings, the whole space was alive with movement and sound.

Joanna Lumley’s familiar silky voice provided the narrative scaffolding for this surreal ballet, retelling Duffy’s quirky tale in this adaptation for stage. For a family ballet, the audience surprisingly comprised mostly of adults and I wonder how many (younger) children could engage with this sophisticated and stylish (rather sinister and disturbing) adaptation. Half of the dancers on stage were children from the Newcastle Community Cast – amazing children who fitted seamlessly into the performance, fulfilling their roles with dedication, discipline and evident talent.

Leaving Northern Stage with an imagination opened wide to the possibilities of alternative happy endings that empower the dispossessed and those with no voice is half the story for me. I also witnessed a rare beauty in this performance that touched my heart, so gratitude to balletLORENT.

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