Bunch Of Fives: Andy Smith | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Photo by Graeme Braidwood

Award-winning theatre-makers Andy Smith and Amund Sjølie Sveen bring their new collaboration COMMONISM to Northern Stage on 2nd November. Asking questions about the socio-political situation we currently find ourselves in, COMMONISM reflects on some of how we got here and then makes some suggestions for where we might be going. Andy lived in Newcastle (in Heaton) in the early nineties. Here he tells us what he thinks are five great things about the city.

I love coming into Newcastle and going across The Tyne on the train, looking down the river at all the bridges. Bridges are beautiful things – practical as well as metaphorical. When I got married a poem about bridges was one of the readings. When I lived in Newcastle I used to love the feeling of returning brought on by going across the river and seeing the bridges. And rail and industry and water feel so much of Tyneside’s history. Of course, the quay and the view have changed a lot over the years. There was no Sage in the early nineties or that bridge that looks like an eyelid that opens. There was a big boat that was a nightclub that I can’t remember the name of. And a couple of really great pubs down on the quay but nowhere near as many as there are now. Anyway, I’m looking forward to arriving on the train and seeing all the bridges when we come to do the show this time. 

I have to say that I love Northern Stage the best because that is where we are playing COMMONISM, but lots of the theatre buildings in Newcastle mean something to me. As a kid growing up at the other end of the A69 near Carlisle (a city that has fewer theatres), Newcastle was the go-to destination for me when I was a teenager. I remember going to Live Theatre and seeing early, key works in their history by writers like Lee Hall. I remember spending all day in the Theatre Royal watching the RSC do the whole of Nicholas Nickleby. When I lived there I did a lot of casual work in the South Shields Library that had a little theatre, and I remember a company called Bruvvers who used to come and play a lot (I think they had their offices in Byker somewhere). They used to start every show with the same sentence: ‘We are Bruvvers, and we tell stories’, a beautiful, comforting, comradely sentiment. All these things had a big effect on me, I reckon, and the work that I make. There is a rich history of work and drama and it is always a thrill for me to come back to Newcastle and be a part of that landscape again.

I am going to put Richard Dawson as number three on my list. At the moment I can’t stop listening to his new CD, ‘2020’. I’m listening to it now, as I type this. I think it’s amazing: devastating and uplifting and funny and sad all at the same time. I played the track ‘Freshers Ball’ to the students I teach at the University of Manchester the other day, and a few of us were welling up. There are many great things about Newcastle, and many great people that have come from the city, and I believe Richard Dawson to be one of them. Each time I get one of his CDs it surprises me. His work challenges and entertains. It always sounds like something that I’ve never heard before. 

The first house that I lived in when I lived in Newcastle was on Simonside Terrace in Heaton. There was a corner shop next door run by a woman called Tish who would give us stuff on tick if we were short (or waiting for a giro). And then directly opposite the house was the bus stop for the 1 or 1A into town. You could catch it back to Heaton from outside Northumbria University, or from outside a bar that I think was called Lucky’s. I once came home so drunk that I fell on the wooden floor of the bus in front of the driver, and the next morning when I woke up I had lines of dirt down my face. Does the number 1/1A bus still exist? I really hope that it does.

What I have always loved most about people in Newcastle is their seeming enthusiasm and passion to go all out for something, whatever it might be. There is such energy to the way that things are approached there. I don’t think that it’s any mistake that Eldon Square was the biggest shopping centre in the country (before the metro centre trumped it). I remember when I lived in the city Newcastle United won the league, and it felt like the whole town came out to celebrate. I am not a football fan but the mood was so great. There was just the most amazing atmosphere. But it’s not only the big stuff. A conversation at the bus stop with a stranger in Newcastle can contain that sort of investment and enthusiasm and interest. Maybe I am just romantic and nostalgic about it all, but I really feel that about the people of Newcastle. It’s the people that make a city, and passion and enthusiasm – sometimes in the face of difficulty or adversity – feels like one of the things that Newcastle does really well.

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