STAGE REVIEW: Free School Meals @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (26.08.21) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Luke Waddington

It’s a bold move for Northern Stage to hand over the opening show of the first season in more than a year to a bunch of local school kids. It’s a statement of intent voiced by the only adult in the show, Alex Elliott, as he repeats over and over again “Are you listening? Are you listening? Are you listening?” Our children have witnessed how spectacularly wrong adults can get it and what a mess we’ve made of the world. Now it is our time to listen.

Inspired by Marcus Rashford’s campaign to end child food poverty, Free School Meals takes place in a relaxed café setting around small, intimate tables. The children invite the adults to sit back, relax and let them take charge. This café is The Future, a space where young people are empowered to realise their vision – until they are let down by those they rely on. The words are the children’s own: Artistic Director of Unfolding Theatre Annie Rigby takes their words to create a story that unravels before our eyes and then finds a resolution, much to the relief of each audience member. To see a child disappointed by those they trust and disheartened to the point of giving up is tough – and here’s a team of fifteen children with their nervous giggles and gentle prompts who draw you into their dream of a better future.

With a passion for inspiring young people to express themselves through music, rapper and musician Kay Greyson is a calming presence on stage, demonstrating an evident rapport with her fellow young performers while laying down a robust challenge to the adults in the room. With one in four of the children in the North East who are living below the poverty line not entitled to free school meals, we have a lot of catching up to do if we want these children to believe we actually care about their present and their future.

This heart-warming show is a great welcome back to live theatre, a safe space where the children have thought of everything to make you feel nurtured and held. Thank you, children of Byker Primary School. I wish all cafés were more like The Future.

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