Spine Review

I’m of the age when you used to get black, newsprint fingers from playing ‘Pass-The-Parcel’ at parties. The big lumpy parcel was layer upon layer of old newspapers, wrapped around a prize. Not a very exciting one at that. Usually a pack of crayons, or a colouring book – never both!

Spine, a critically acclaimed play – about the growing connection between teenager Amy and pensioner Glenda, tours 13 theatres in the UK this autumn. It is like the huge parcel above, each layer is revealed to the audience, bit by bit over the hour’s production. As ‘The Scotsman’ stated, it’s …“Sharp and sassy.” Indeed, alliterative phrases are peppered about the play, while the use of similes and metaphors embellish the tale. In fact, you could say Clara Brennan the writer, a rising star in playwright circles, has used graphic, and subtle, imagery in abundance throughout. Having won the ‘Fringe First’ and ‘Herald Angel’ awards in 2014, up at the Edinburgh ‘Fringe’, plus numerous ‘Four Stars’ from the ‘Stage’ to the ‘Guardian’ … then Spine has already won over the critics.       

The talented Rosie Wyatt plays the lead role Amy, who takes us on a series of flashbacks. Off-stage Rosie is diminutive; on-stage – Amy is definitely a sassy teenager – fierce and funny. Could it be because she sports the latest hi-top trainers; skinny fit dungarees; hoop earrings and high pony tail? Or is it the blue East End language, rhythmically tumbling out? Or her colourful back story? Like any rounded character in a narrative; it’s a combination. The director, Bethany Pitts, and the designers of the set, lighting and music, have done a masterly job. Amy’s tall tales and bravado don’t fool frail Glenda though, as confessions and vulnerabilities spill out too. Spine has a heart of gold and a back bone to match.

I spoke to Rosie after the play and she revealed the play was a 15 min short, back in 2012, with Theatre Uncut, a theatre set up in response to austerity cuts. Clara, the playwright, had used a newspaper article about the closing of a library in London, as the impetus. Due to local outrage and campaigns, the council had carried it out stealthily… at 2am. Sneaky! Bethany Pitts, later on encouraged Clara to extend the short, and with Soho Theatre, London, this show is now on the road.

Libraries are close to my heart. My two grown up children enrolled at the age of two and often cleared the shelves at our local library, of their latest interests. Gez Casey, Live Theatre’s Literary Manager, said the play will resonate with lots of people today in the North East, affected by cuts and closures. The commitment to young people shines through, as Bethany leads free drama workshops in libraries around the country alongside the tour.

Of course Spine doesn’t just allude to such austere measures. The layers go deeper. And as the soft lighting that imbues from the stage changes to stark spotlights, the tall vertical bookshelves become golden pillars of society. The spines of the books illuminating… for us all to see.

Wendy Errington

Live Theatre Blogger, September

Spine (#spinetheplay) is on tour throughout September to November, at various theatres, presented by Soho Theatre (@sohotheatre) and Francesca Moody. See here for tour dates. (Suitability: 16+). The play was at Live Theatre, Newcastle on Tuesday 20 September and tonight Wednesday 21 September, 2016. Newcastle Central Library was the venue for the free drama workshop, with Bethany Pitts, for young people.

Book tickets for tonight’s performance at http://www.live.org.uk/whats-on-book/spine