STAGE REVIEW: Mycelial @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (24.10.23) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Michelle Huirama and Lexi Clare in Mycelial – set and costume design by Amanda Mascarenhas by Von Fox Promotions

When the title of the play itself is a word you only have a vague understanding of, the performance programme depicts an angry, shouting headshot and contains a glossary of terms, opening with ‘the Nordic Model’, you could have reason to feel some trepidation.

But fear not. This is Catrina McHugh and Laura Lindow, and this is Open Clasp, so you’re in safe hands. No one listens to real women, often marginalised and unheard in their everyday experience, like Catrina McHugh does. Open Clasp always tackles the toughest of issues – on this occasion, the need to take the criminalisation and stigma out of sex work – with a light touch: not dismissive, but compassionate, simply human.

And as you take your seat, take a moment to enjoy Amanda Mascarenhas’ delightful set: different levels, different spaces, each lovingly created to reflect the woman who inhabits each room. For each of these women is so much more than their job, living out their daily lives with humour, compassion, courage and warmth, waiting for a delivery that never comes from the Ever Given wedged in the Suez Canal.

As these amazing actors from New Zealand, Ireland, London and the North East take turns to come alive, we hear the voices of the sex worker activists Catrina McHugh has listened to and co-created this piece of theatre with. Not just in straight monologues, but introducing the visual impact of sinking into a large bath, ‘Poster and Shiny Things’ appearing via a TV screen and Rocket Girl’s heartwarming dialogue with her talking black cat Mo.

Starting out in separate rooms, separate countries, separate continents, the walls come down as the women reach out across the divide to connect, to listen, to advise, to move in unison, to whisper support, to form a network… for even with their widely different experiences in sex work, these voices are connected in their struggles for justice. This is the mycelial network at work – an underground community of sex workers connected by invisible threads (a concept taken from the natural world of the amazing connections of fungal threads beneath our feet – if you’ve played/seen The Last Of Us you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about).

I love how these women develop and grow before our eyes, growing together in confidence and developing the power and strength to stand up for what is right. Finding their voices to speak out for truth and justice. Because “The Mycelial is you, me and us” and it’s empowering to feel a part of this amazing network of activists who show us how to dare to care.

Mycelial runs at Northern Stage until Saturday 28th October.

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