STAGE REVIEW: The Bounds @ Live Theatre, Newcastle (18.05.24) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A mist lies across the stage, where a grassy and muddy mound awaits. Early morning, the day of the Big Game, and we’ve been told that men will die today. We hear a folk song – or is it a football chant? – which sounds at once both modern and ancient, as Percy (played engagingly by Ryan Nolan) enters and takes up his position on the boundaries – the very far boundaries – of the massive pitch. Soon to be joined by his friend and fellow player Rowan (the excellent Lauren Waine) and later by the enigmatic Samuel (Soroosh Lavasani), these three characters are on stage throughout for this historic tale, set out in the wilds of Northumberland, and very much rooted in time, place and landscape.  

Live Theatre and the Royal Court have teamed up for this first showing of The Bounds, Stewart Pringle’s latest work, premiering first in Newcastle before going to London. It’s not often that us up North get to see something before it hits the Big Smoke, and for this piece set in Allendale – and featuring Northern characters, with Northern accents, it feels very suited to the stage at Live.

The first half sets the scene and whistles along with banter, humour and history. The writer’s use of language draws the audience in, using a mix of old and new that is engaging and relatable. Director Jack McNamara has great control over the pace, particularly in the first half. We care about Percy and Rowan and feel for them as underdogs – the players that are so rubbish that they are pushed to the very outer fringes of the pitch – where they will see no action, not know what’s going on, and have very little control over the course of the match – or anything else.

With the arrival of Samuel, tension develops – does Rowan really know who he is, what does he want, and why does he keep hanging around? The second half asks more questions than it answers, and is of a much darker tone. What are those strange marks on Rowan’s neck, and what has happened leading up to the day of the match? Suspicions and portents unsettle the atmosphere further, along with the arrival of a mysterious Boy (played by alternating child actors James Green and Nathaniel Campbell-Goodwin on the date of review) – part of the procession that are beating the Bounds. Percy’s sense of identity – and even reality – becomes disturbed, in scenes which reminded me of The Gallows Pole (another very Northern tale) as the play comments upon the arbitrary nature of orders from above, shifting of power, control (or lack of) over your own destiny and belongings and the nature of war and political upheaval. Throughout it all what shines through is the relationship between the two main characters, and it holds us steady in a shifting and increasingly bleak world. In a stand out moment of the play – one that sticks with me – we see them stand facing the world, holding hands triumphantly aloft as defiantly they say “right now, this minute, we are champions”. You won’t regret joining them on this journey, through mud, through laughter and through the darkness of the night into the morning.

The Bounds is on at Live Theatre until Saturday 8th June

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