STAGE REVIEW: The Filleting Machine | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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First commissioned by Live Theatre in the 1970’s, Blowin’ A Hooley Theatre’s revival of Tom Haddaway’s The Filleting Machine remains a relevant and timely voice in the debate over growing worker insecurity.

Set entirely around the dinner table of the Rutter Family, Davey is keen to follow in his Da’s footsteps in getting a job on the docks as a filleter. Da’s behind the idea, but Ma has different ideas, eager for Davey to get a foot on the ladder with the promise of a job interview at the town clerk’s, a job Da dismisses as worthless. Da’s own position though, seems not to be as sustainable as he might think. Meanwhile Davey’s younger sister Alice remains quiet, but comes into her own late in the play, unwittingly offering a glimmer of hope for her Ma and the potential route out of poverty for at least one of her children that she craves.

Set in the round, the audience are brought in close to the claustrophobic atmosphere – an effective move by director Catherine Scott, hampered slightly by the expansive though beautiful setting of the Wallsend Memorial Hall. I’d like to have seen the production in one of the tours other venues in which I’m sure the tight intimacy is able to play to full effect.

The script is a gem – a masterclass in economy of language reminiscent of Raymond Carver – and is carried through well with strong performances across the board. The tension within and between each character fizzes: William Wyn Davies’ ‘Davy’ bubbles and seethes while Ma battles to rule the roost, with Harriet Ghost’s portrayal bringing across her fiery defiance in the face of her own perceived hopelessness of her situation. Erin Mullen is reserved yet knowing as ‘Alice’ and crucially anchors the unspoken interplay between the family impressively in the smallest role of the piece dialogue wise.

It is Micky McGregor’s role as ‘Da’ that carries the piece though. Simultaneously a clued-in working class hero and an empty tin rattling, loud, desperate, humorous, loving and violent all at once, he is an immensely conflicted character and embodies many of the play’s themes of frustration anger at the idea of becoming obsolete. McGregor carries this across solidly, reaching the vulnerability as well as the volatile charisma of this self-styled family patriarch.

The company launched their tour with a performance in Meadow Well, previously the Ridges Estate, in which the play is set, with the intended and by all accounts achieved aim of bringing theatre to an audience who haven’t before engaged in the art form. They continue the tour until August 5th and plan to continue bringing North East voices to the stage. Long may they continue.

Get along and see this revived local classic, for a portrayal of timeless family dynamics as widely politically relevant now as it was at its conception.

The Filleting Machine is at The Byker and Heaton Union Club on Saturday 24th June before finishing at The Old Low Lights Heritage Centre on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th August.

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