Since being asked to blog for Live Theatre, my mobile phone has had a brilliant time. It flashes gleeful reminders at me: “put your boots on fella, there’s a path between the bar and a cabaret seat needs walking.”
And walk I did, into all kinds of exciting stuff.
Into shows by musicians I didn’t know but immediately admired. (Chastity Brown was great.) Into plays forged in the bright fires of grass roots theatre. (Allison Davies’ Weather To Fly.) Into the moment when a playwright of real substance made his voice heard. (Paddy Campbell’s Wet House obviously, where have you been?) And into a joyful encounter with an old theatrical pal. (Cooking With Elvis.)
There were a couple of detours. A debate about homelessness helped crystallise the lessons of my day job in housing. A discussion about cunnilingus, some dancing and finger flames made for a brilliant visit to a Cooking With Elvis rehearsal.
I was asked to blog for a month. It’s been nearly 3. If Elvis is the king of rock and roll, I’m the crown prince of stringing a good gig out. Oops, kind of doing it again now!
Phone shouts, boots on, back to business…
For my final blog I’m delighted to be talking about a Cooking With Elvis post show talk. From the moment I strode into Live’s main house last Wednesday, I knew this was the way to end things.
It wasn’t a massive crowd. Well, it was a quarter-to-ten kick off on a school night. But if you weren’t there you missed a doozy.
You missed Joe Caffrey’s fascinating memory nuggets and comic asides. He talked about playing Elvis the first time round, how the show snowballed from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1999, and what it was like working with Frank Skinner. Although, being a Geordie with a normal sized heed, he had to be reminded that the press called his Elvis a “career defining role”.
You also missed a revealing look inside the heads of Tracy Whitwell and Victoria Bewick. For Tracy, being Mam was like “becoming your favourite rock star”, a daunting task. For Victoria, playing Jill was a scary departure from her TV and film career. But one she fought to make. She was the last person through the audition door and stole the part.
Good job too! This post-show gathering was agreed; together Tracy and Victoria bring new meaning and emotion to the play, leaving indelible memories.
Riley Jones story is another thing you lost out on. Like Victoria, he’s local. Trained in Newcastle, he showed his talent early and worked his way onto the The Pitmen Painters tour before making a major contribution in Wet House. Talking without pretense about playing Stuart in Elvis, he showed what you can achieve if you put a shift in.
As I listened to Riley and the others I came over all emotional. Tried to hide it obviously. I’m a lad, don’t have feelings. I tightened a lace on my boot…and it struck me…
Cooking With Elvis, like Wet House, is a great piece of drama. Both are meaningful and socially relevant. Both were staged first in my backyard, with talent from my region. Not just the cast. Production designer Gary McCann and choreographer Lee Proud are also important contributors to North East theatre. Paddy Campbell works in Newcastle. And you only have to hear him rail against council cuts to know Lee Hall is one of ours.
Under Artistic Director Max Roberts, Live Theatre has panned theatrical gold from the debris of shipbuilding and coal mining over several decades. As Max told the post-show crowd, the driver of Live’s success has always been the next great play script. He’s sifting a pile of them on his desk right now.
He’s looking for one with something important to say, an inherent theatricality and lines that make him laugh. Take your lead from Cooking With Elvis.
Pride! That’s what I was feeling. Screw the lad thing. That’s a buzz no one should miss.
True, you get a buzz from watching the show itself. The emotional relationship between performer and viewer is the single greatest property of stage drama. But this post play discussion notched things up a level…it strengthened that connection between the Live Theatre company and its public.
That connection, that growing sense of pride, is not an added extra. It’s essential.
During the talk Max explained why he revived Cooking With Elvis. Live Theatre needed a banker for its 40th anniversary.
For as much as they need great writers and actors, theatres rely on people like those who walked from the bar to a seat in the main house last Wednesday. I don’t mean the post-show gang. I mean the punters who left at the curtain call. Those people willing to pay to see interesting stories.
That’s why this blog is the right one to end my tenure. ‘Cause I can do this…
…it is time for me to take off my boots and silence my mobile, but you have shoes right? A smartphone, or a diary of some description?
And you know where Live Theatre is? Just off the Quayside in Newcastle?
Yeah, you do. So stop reading this rambling nonsense and get down there!
See some plays. Admire some actors. Get connected. Buy your ticket and nurture some talent. That way you’ll never miss out. And you’ll always be proud.
By Ben Dickenson
Live Theatre’s Guest Blogger