Tuesday 14 to Saturday 25 May.
Theatre intimidates ‘ordinary’ people.
It does, you know. It scares them.
It makes them feel that they must wear their Sunday best, fork out (terrible pun) for a posh meal, sit up straight without fidgeting, and not chew their sweets too loudly during the performance.
Theatre is artistic, abstract, high-brow culture, isn’t it? It isn’t commonly thought of as the domain of the working-class.
I don’t have the brain power for high-brow tonight. Especially not after rushing home from work and discovering that Otis the puppy has peed all over the new Ottoman. And I certainly don’t have the energy for a promenade performance. I’m feeling vulnerable (largely due to the Otis and the Ottoman incident).
I’m not ready for the actors to acknowledge my presence, to – gulp! – make eye contact with me, and – heaven forbid – invite me to participate.
I want to sit in the darkness, unacknowledged, with my bag of raspberry ruffles.
Of course I soon change my mind (as I often to do whenever there’s a Geordie involved).
Live Witness does what Newcastle Folk do best. It drags you in with an honest story and a self-deprecating twinkle in the eye. From the earnest energy of the Mischief Makers in the bar, to the charming humility of Jane Holman’s stories in her dressing room, I am fully won over by the entire cast.
The theatre’s 40th birthday show aims not to alienate, but to invite in, not to show off, but simply to story-tell. The style of the piece epitomises the very essence of Newcastle’s Live Theatre: it is theatre by ‘ordinary’ people, for ‘ordinary’ people. ‘This is your home,’ Jane says during one of her stove-side tales. ‘This is your home.’
And the piece reinforces that ethos right the way through. The chosen party food would not be out of place in a working-man’s club: pasties and cheese-on-sticks. Similarly, the decorations are disarmingly simple and charmingly retro: balloons and bunting. From the get go, Live Witness wants you to know that you – yes, you, the one whose granddad was a miner – are welcome here.
The warm hospitality continues. We’re invited to sit on 40 different seats from 40 different shows. The stage itself is unusually shaped, and, perhaps to remain in keeping with the political standpoint of the theatre, is offset a little to the left…
Only a Geordie theatre company would have the bare-faced cheek and the sheer faith in the human spirit to ask its audience to step outside in the wind and the rain and sing with them. But of course because the company has that distinctly Geordie charm, we do.
Out in the fairy-lit courtyard with the Tyne behind and a sea of balloons in front, Jane strums her guitar and sturdy harmonies echo around the period flagstones. I forget all about the pee stain that awaits me at home and enjoy a rare, goosepimply, hair-standing-on-end moment.
Like a ukulele night at the Cumberland Arms, or a rockabilly gig at the Cluny, like hearing Lindisfarne lead an audience of hundreds in ‘Run for Home’ at the City Hall to commemorate Sammy Johnson, Live Witness will make you proud to be a Geordie. Or make you want to marry one if you’re not.
You have until Saturday 25 May to go and see this lovely, warm, humble, honest piece of story-telling: as comforting and satisfying as a ham and pease-pudding stottie from Grainger Market.
(Oh, and if you still aren’t sold, the lovely, cheeky Gary Kitching is in it too. I mean, what would happen if he wasn’t in it? Leaving Gary out of the line-up of a North-East cast is like mentioning the Scottish Play by its proper name: it just isn’t done.)
Go see and enjoy!
May’s Guest Blogger