STAGE REVIEW: Haddock & Chips @ Gosforth Civic Theatre, Newcastle (21.10.21) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Haddock & Chips, the heart-warming new play by Janet Plater, explores with a light touch what it is to pull together as a community when the situation calls for it.

The detailed set designed by Louis Price and built by Lee Ward at Hollow Productions places us firmly in Frankie’s chippie on the seafront at Whitley Bay. For us in the North East to watch a play about this well-loved corner of our region is wonderfully refreshing. Referencing local landmarks in Whitley Bay, Tynemouth and Cullercoats, the script is scattered with colloquialisms, local celebrities and nostalgia for times gone by.

Brenda and Bob, played by Phillippa Wilson and Joe Caffrey, are the glue that holds together the series of encounters with regulars and strangers just passing through. Having worked in Frankie’s since he was a lad, Bob now runs the place, but secretly yearns for more. He handles his camera lovingly as a symbol of what might have been. He’s a dad with responsibilities who struggles to afford to buy his lads all that they want. Brenda used to come in as a customer with her mam and is now facing a tricky situation with her own daughter. She loves the chat with the customers, sometimes crossing the line from inquisitiveness into inquisition! She cares for everyone, and has to be reminded by Bob that she’s not a social worker.

The two actors not only play Brenda and Bob, but all the other characters as well. As one goes offstage to reappear as a different colourful individual, the other talks directly to the audience or on the phone. The conceit works well initially in the hands of Director Jake Murray, but maintaining the flow and spontaneity for a full length play is a big ask. There are only so many reasons to keep dipping out the back, and keeping up the rhythm is a challenge. The audience are invited to embrace this device, the imaginary customers and the incongruity of the actors being called upon to play teenagers at times and to sit back and relish the outstanding performances from Phillippa Wilson and Joe Caffrey.

Despite the storyline of the disappearance of a little girl, this doesn’t dominate the play and there are plenty of laughs in this comedy. Much of the humour comes from the superb comic timing, telling looks and expressive body language of these talented performers and it’s great to hear the audience laughing out loud together, enjoying this escape from the everyday by entering fully into this extraordinary day in the life of this ordinary pair.

If you’re looking for a really upbeat night out with a taste of the seaside in the company of two likeable, ‘normal’ North East gems (and let’s face it, we could all do with some light relief right now!), then Haddock & Chips is the play for you. You’ll come out with a smile on your face and head straight for the chippy!

Haddock & Chips tours the North East until Saturday 13th November, check the website for dates

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