Captain Amazing by Alistair McDowall
Live Theatre, Newcastle
Wednesday 10 April
Review by Dean Forbes
Who is Captain Amazing? Is he the secret superhero at the centre of the Live Theatre’s latest bursary-winning play? Is he the actor Mark Weinman, who appears on stage as no less than eleven different characters? Or is he Middlesbrough playwright Alistair McDowall, the growing talent behind this challenging one-man show?
One thing’s for certain, this Captain Amazing is not a re-imagining of Greg Kinnear’s character in 1999’s Mystery Men. Disappointed? Thought not.
This intense comedy-drama showcases twenty-five year old Londoner Weinman in what he, unsurprisingly, calls his most challenging role to date. In order to bring the story of father-turned-superhero Captain Amazing to life, Weinman must inhabit a range of characters, including women, children and comic book legends. He is required to switch personalities and accents at breakneck speed to depict the hero’s bitter-sweet life, as seen through the imaginative eyes of his young daughter.
The coherence of Weinman’s delivery is a testament to Alistair McDowall’s script. There are threads of mental anguish, loneliness and inevitability running through the piece, yet it manages to switch between humour and poignancy faster than a speeding bullet, with minimal jarring.
Director Clive Judd has staged the play with a light touch, using the daughter’s illustrations to add colour and context. This works well, as do the multi-purpose cuboids, which get pushed around to add depth to the set.
Judd successfully keeps the focus on Weinman’s exhausting performance, but it gets clunky when the actor has to near-faint and stamp his feet to signpost changing scenes. I’m sure a tasteful sound effect and dimmed lighting might have felt less Legz Akimbo Theatre Company.
Of all the visuals in the play, I found Amazing’s lifeless red cape to be one of the most effective tragicomic touches. It represents both the fantasy world the father must inhabit and the pathetic domestic situation he struggles to face. Less is more does work here, but sometimes less becomes too little.
The 70-minute production hits Edinburgh Fringe festival in August. Critics can embrace McDowall’s retake on the superhero and dust off phrases like ‘tour-de-force’ in praise of Mark Weinman’s herculean efforts to prove he really has the range.
I’d commend Captain Amazing to lovers of minimalist theatre with a heavy message, but excitable superhero worshippers will have less to Marvel in.
Captain Amazing is at Live Theatre, Newcastle, until Saturday 13 April.
For more information go to: www.live.org.uk
Richard Herring’s Talking Cock: The Second Coming
Northern Stage, Newcastle
Review by The Bleed
If ever a show was aptly named it is Richard Herring’s Talking Cock.
Saying that, it isn’t a ventriloquist act, so don’t worry.
I simply meant that Talking Cock 2: The Second Coming is exactly the show you’d expect it to be.
Billed, somewhat misleadingly, as the male equivalent to The Vagina Monologues, Herring’s one-man show returned to the comedy circuit this year for a 10th Anniversary tour after first making its acclaimed debut in 2002 at the Edinburgh Festival.
Since then, the show has toured internationally and has been translated into several languages while Herring himself has published a book based on the show. He has also gone on to do several other one-man performances themed around similarly controversial topics, including Christianity, racism, turning 40, and even Hitler’s moustache.
Appearing at a sold-out Northern Stage in Newcastle, Herring walked confidently out in front of the audience, undaunted by a six-foot animated erection rising and falling on a screen behind him and the song ‘Evil Dick’ blasting out from the speaker system. He proceeded to set the tone (or so he claimed) for the rest of the night by listing every crude (and some quite clever) innuendo for a man’s bits and pieces he could think of. Not to say the show was low brow – it wasn’t. Well, not entirely anyway.
Talking Cock was generally funny, well-researched, interesting and occasionally eye-watering and was delivered through a combination of Herring’s subversive observations interspersed with real-life stories and statistics (newly updated for the 2013 tour) that were gathered anonymously via a questionnaire on the comedian’s own website.
Herring is arguably best known as one half of the comedy duo Lee and Herring (with comedian Stewart Lee) and for their successful TV shows Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard Not Judy. However, as a writer and comedian in his own right, he may argue he has built up a more impressive resume in the years since he left TV thanks to his run of live one-man shows such as Christ on a Bike and the aforementioned Hitler Moustache. It was this combined body of work, although chiefly his work with Stewart Lee, that has led to Herring being described as ‘one of the leading hidden masters of British comedy’ – high praise indeed.
On stage, Herring is a likeable and mischievous presence, although I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that he was ever so slightly bored. He is such an experienced stand-up comedian these days that you get the impression he could do any one of his shows in his sleep, although that’s not necessarily a good thing to let on to your audience. Herring may know his material off by heart, he may have performed it up and down the country a thousand times, but for some members of the audience it might have been the first time they had ever seen him live and I think a performer should never lose sight of that. I’m not saying Herring did this or that his enthusiasm for what he does has waned. There was just a sense that, at times, he was going through the motions. He even made a couple of obligatory jokes at the expense of Sunderland – not necessarily what you’d expect from one of the ‘masters of British comedy’. Other gags throughout the night, while mostly funny, also strayed into predictable territory and the occasional attempts at pathos felt flat altogether (replace ‘flat’ with ‘limp’ or ‘flaccid’ if you’re in need of a pun here), but overall the show had enough going on to keep the audience entertained.
Herring began the second half by running through the books and DVDs he would be selling afterwards in what was admittedly a slightly unusual (and strangely commercial) way to resume after the interval. The moment was sadly lacking in irony, but in spite of this, the next hour was as entertaining and interesting as the first and led to a generally satisfying climax (sorry). It’s easy to see why Talking Cock has been so successful since its original debut – sex sells after all – but crucially the show is, for the most part, funny and well-written, if a little predictable. Maybe Herring was going through the motions a bit in his performance - this is definitely a potential danger for comedians who return to old material - but if a comedy show makes you laugh, then it’s a job (mostly) well done surely. A solid show that delivers exactly what its title suggests.
For more information go to: www.richardherring.com
European Psychedelia: The Surreal Side of Cult
At The Star and Shadow Cinema, Stepney Bank, Newcastle
Until March 28
This is a season of rarely-shown Psychedelic Cult European Films, made between 1969 and 1981. The films are made by the most famous cult European directors (Tinto Brass, Jesús Franco, Lucio Fulci, Fernando Arrabal, Harry Kümel and Andrezj Żuławski), and all have elements of the surreal: from horror to 1970s LSD-fused trippy dreams. Expect vampires, lesbians, blood, cannibalism and other strange happenings…
Cult film screenings abound in the country at the moment, but we wanted to screen the more obscure cult films that a lot of people would not know about. Europe produced a lot of films on the verge of being classed as erotic/porn in the 1970s, and going to extreme levels of violence. This selection shows films that are also all infused with a sense of the surreal, typically marking the decade of “experiments” of the 1970s. A few pretty amazing psychedelic and prog-rocky soundtracks, especially in Nerosubianco, for which members of the band Procol Harum composed the music, and in Vampyros Lesbos – Quentin Tarantino is a big fan and used a track from that film for Jackie Brown.
Some of these films have not been shown on a big screen for a long time – Possession (which was shown at The Star and Shadown on Saturday March 2) was originally banned in the UK – its full-length version was only released in 1999 in this country.
This season is being curated by Dr Jamie Sexton, film lecturer at Northumbria University, and is supported by Northumbria University.
The remaining line up:
At the Star & Shadow Cinema, Stepney Bank, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 2NP
Tickets: £5 / £3.50 (conc)
The Star & Shadow Cinema is a Community Interest Company run entirely by volunteers in a non-hierarchical structure. Only 2 cinemas run this way in the UK: the Star & Shadow and the Cube Cinema in Bristol. Due to government cuts, all our funding is threatened to disappear, and it makes it all the more important for us to collaborate with such a great institution as Northumbria University on this project.
For more information go to: www.starandshadow.org.uk
Alice in Bed by Susan Sontag,
A Tender Buttons production, The Stephenson Works, Newcastle
Review by Vicky Blacklock
Based on the life and diaries of Alice James (1848-92) Alice in Bed is a completely unique production, so much so that theatre company Tender Buttons was established with the purpose of bringing Susan Sontag’s play to a whole new audience after capturing the imagination of co-founder Tess Denman-Cleaver.
What immediately strikes you on seeing this production is the distinctive choice of venue - The Stephenson Works in Newcastle and one of the most historically signficant buildings in the city. This disused Victorian warehouse lent itself well to showcasing the era in which the play was set, however at times the freezing temperature did prove distracting.
On reflection, perhaps this was a conscious decision on the part of director Tess Denman-Cleaver to further reinforce the theme of death which was prevalent throughout.
The set design team, including sound and lighting, was offered a fantastic opportunity for creativity with the location and they certainly delivered. The eerie lighting, sparse furniture and sound effects really brought the set to life and encouraged you to ask your imagination to add its own interpretation to what was happening.
Considerable credit must go to artist Ben Jeans Houghton for the clever and innovative set design, which transformed The Stephenson Works into a playful and immersive environment and the visual reflection of Alice’s mind.
The non-traditional theatre setting, where the audience could stand for all or part of the production, led to an organic interaction between audience, set and performers. Actors often weaved between the audience which led to an intimate and relaxed atmosphere.
The central performance by Tessa Parr was outstanding. She really captured the childlike, yet intelligent, essence of Alice and her ‘Rome’ speech was particularly worthy of mention.
Although the narrative structure, and loose interpretation of what is real and what is imagined, sometimes made this a rather challenging theatre experience, the same cannot be said for the engaging and accessible work of the cast and performers who were clearly incredibly passionate about Sontag’s work.
Alice in Bed is a play about possibility and individuality. It asks a lot of its audience, but if you are willing to be swept along with Alice’s imagination you are rewarded with a thought-provoking production which could mark the start of a new era of theatre for the North East.
Tender Buttons was created in 2010 by Tess Denman-Cleaver and Nicola Singh in August 2010. Alice in Bed is Tender Buttons first major production.
Photo credit to Keith Pattison.
For more information go to: www.tenderbuttons.co.uk
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour
Review by Steve Erdal
Live Theatre, Newcastle, 21 Feb-17 March
Shaun Prendergast looks nervous. His likable features are fixed into a grin that is at least part-terror. There’s a “why me?” look in his eyes. It’s understandable – it‘s the first night of the play White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, and first nights must always be a little nervewracking, even for an established actor and writer like Prendergast. But he’s never had a first night like this before.
Prendergast is handed an envelope which contains his script, a script that he has never seen before. He will deliver Nassim Soleimanpour’s words with no set, no director (just an authoritative Scottish ladyvoice that rings out from the back if he goes wrong) and no idea what’s coming when he turns the page. And once he’s done it tonight, he’s never allowed to do it again. This is Prendergast’s first night and his last.
The play I saw at the Live Theatre will be incalculably different to the play you see (and let’s get this out of the way before we go any further – go and see this play. Go book it. Right now. I’ll wait.), and that’s a big part of Soleimanpour’s vision – the actor that walks onto the stage, and indeed the audience that files into the theatre, completely changes every aspect of the play. Given the lineup of actors, writers and performers that Live Theatre have persuaded to take the plunge and open the envelope, something very special is brewing down on the Quayside. This isn’t a run of a play, it’s 17 one-man-shows, each running for one night only.
Saying anything on the content of the play feels akin to “My favourite part was when Bruce Willis found out he was a ghost” – it’s far better to go and see it (did I mention you should go and see it? Go and see it.) with as few expectations as possible. Let’s just say that there are some extremely moving bits and some extremely silly bits. Soleimanpour has a playful sense of humour, and Prendergast, a man who came across as 60% funny bone, had a lot of fun living it. Hilarious asides, knowing glances, a Tommy Cooper impression a-pro-pos of absolutely nothing, Prendergast created a light-hearted, family atmosphere (it didn’t hurt that his entire family seemed to be in the front row).
But pain was always in the shadows, and the audience could feel the emotional blows coming even as they were laughing and heckling. When he had to, Prendergast delivered them, and we were silenced. How moving, and how silly, the play is, will depend on who you see perform. You could nitpick on the Prendergast version, parts he could have played straighter, but really all you can do is applaud an actor so far out of his comfort zone he can barely see it.
Prendergast also brought a uniquely North-East flavour to his performance, and it made White Rabbit Red Rabbit especially poignant. Nassim Soleimanpour is unable to leave Iran. He’s a prisoner between the borders of his homeland. But his words got out. And his words spent Thursday night playing with Prendergast, with the audience, and with all our preconceptions of what theatre is and what it can do. Live Theatre and Shaun Prendergast brought Nassim Soleimanpour to Newcastle, as surely as if they’d bought him a plane ticket, a counterfeit passport and a false moustache. That night, he was among us.
So go. Go watch someone else open the envelope, and in a totally different way, conjure up Nassim Soleimanpour in a city he’ll probably never see.
Talking Cock 2 by Richard Herring, @northernstage, Newcastle, Wednesday 6 March
Preview by Helen Taylor
“It’s an object of shame and pride; it can inspire laughter and fear; it’s a symbol of power, yet it’s incredibly fragile and weak; it can be a pound of flesh or an ounce of winkles, it can be used to express both love and hate; it creates life, it can condemn us to death… and it can do wees as well.”
Richard Herring brings ‘Talking Cock’, his sell-out Edinburgh Fringe show, to Northern Stage next month for a tenth anniversary update, ‘Talking Cock 2: The Second Coming’. Herring’s male equivalent to ‘The Vagina Monologues’, was written after surveying both men and women extensively, and he’ll be presenting his findings on issues such as:
Is size important? And if not, why are there no two-inch, pencil thin vibrators?
How can men cope when getting harder is getting harder?
Is masturbation exciting because it is sex with someone that you pity?
Where have men put their penises for fun?
Well known for his partnership with Stewart Lee, TV shows like ‘Fist of Fun’ and ‘This Morning with Richard Not Judy’, and his regular column in the Metro Newspaper; Herring’s latest stand up promises to be frank and funny in equal measure.
Wednesday 6 March, 7.30pm, Northern Stage, Newcastle, Tickets £15, Recommended age 18+
The final, exclusive preview from The Bleed Christmas Special - A Lost Chapter from the Life of Ezra Maas…
The opening paragraph to the story…
“A lonely figure, silhouetted by snow and framed by Christmas lights, moves forward, leaning into the wind, collar upturned and hands gripped around the base of the upturned tree that rests on his shoulder. Behind him, a tangle of trailing branches traces waves along the glittering white pavement like long black scratches. He stops at the stone steps, lifting his eyes to the children’s rooms above as he begins to climb, the flickering orange light from the windows giving them the appearance of painted squares against the blackened brickwork. His gloved hand knocks three times before he turns to walk away, a scarf pulled up over his face to conceal his identity. When the door opens, the figure is already at the far end of the street, a shadow swallowed up by the snow. The manager of the orphanage steps out into the cold, her curious eyes searching the night as her skirt twists around her legs in the wind, until she sees the Christmas tree lying on the ground before her like an offering. There is no note, no clue as to who has left it or why, just a man’s footprints disappearing into the darkness…”
Merry Christmas from The Bleed.
Look out for new issues of The Bleed as well as other exciting projects and collaborations from everyone involved with the magazine in 2013.
The Bleed Editor in his Christmas attire.
Fantastic artwork by The Bleed #2 cover artist Nicolas Willis. His partner in crime, talented photographer Danielle Free, also contributed to the Christmas Special before it was banned by The Maas Foundation.
More exclusive previews from The Bleed Christmas Special coming soon at www.thebleed.co.uk
“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Words from The Dead by James Joyce.
Beautiful artwork created especially for The Bleed Christmas Special by the talented Lauren Jane Forster.
More exclusive previews from The Bleed Christmas Special to come later in the evening. Keep checking: www.thebleed.co.uk
The Bleed may not be able to release its Christmas Special in full this December due to the censorship of The Maas Foundation, but that’s not going to stop us publishing its component parts this Christmas Eve, starting with the front cover… #legalloophole #freethebleed #christmaasiscoming
The front cover of The Bleed Christmas Special features stunning artwork by Nicolas Willis and Mike Barnes, with graphic design by the great Trevor Pill.
Keep checking back here at our website this Christmas Eve for more from The Bleed Christmas Special including exclusive artwork and even an excerpt from the story later this evening…
Christmaas is coming to: www.thebleed.co.uk
The Jar Family and Alabama 3 at Northumbria University Students’ Union
Review by Peter Whitfield
What’s this “Industrial Folk” then? Spoons scraping against washboards, harmonicas strapped to questionable orifices, empty brown ale bottles clanging harmoniously to heartfelt lyrics about the decline of the shipping trade? Or is it a state of mind, bound up in a vague but emotionally authentic feeling of regional identity and working class romance? Supporting Alabama 3’s Art of Theft tour for the final time at Northumbria University’s Domain, The Jar Family pulled no punches breaking these preconceptions down with a collection of instantly relatable gems that are as genuine as they are addictive.
Buried in top hats, bowlers, flat caps and enough instruments to crush lesser men, the six-piece collective from Hartlepool initially come across as more concerned than style and personality than substance. Chris Hooks, Max Biacno, Al Devon, Richie Docherty and Dali are the creative core of the group, each taking their fair share of singer-songwriter responsibility, while former Squeeze member Keith Wilkinson is the band’s bassist and producer. With such a wide range of vocals and musical styles mashed into a single entity however, the band’s strength lies in its variance. One minute you’re listening to The Pogues, the next you’re listening to Bob Dylan, Paulo Nutini, the Arctic Monkeys or Pete Doherty.
There’s a pointed overlap between everyday life and hedonism throughout the album, with a constant focus on drink, drugs, love, debt and inevitably more drink. The single ‘Broken Minded’ is an upbeat reminiscence on getting plastered, freely distributed at the gig, while the lingering ‘Live Your Life’ compares advice-giving to driving someone home too off their head to remember the way. Songs about lives destroyed by aggressive banking, songs about letting the past go and songs about not letting the world change who you are. It’s not surprising that ‘Poolie Strut’ is Radio Hartlepool’s most requested song of all time, defending local idiosyncrasies and a giving a polite ‘fuck off’ to anyone who disagrees.
If anything, The Jar Family has more to do with diversity, shared history and the lives of workers than coal mines and steelworks. While it’s easy to fall in love with a group that brands itself around the rich cultural heritage of the North, it’s even easier when the songs they produce are so utterly soulful, unique and grounded in life.
It’s just a shame they can’t tell the difference between a monkey and a Frenchman.
For more information check out www.thejarfamily.com
Trashed Organ’s Broken Christmas Cabaret
Wednesday 12 December, Live Theatre, Newcastle
Review by Steve Erdal
On the way to Newcastle’s Live Theatre, we saw a stag do, red leotards stretched across beer guts, and crotches adorned with tinsel, cowering from the sharp Geordie wind. It was Christmas on the Quayside and Trashed Organ were having everybody round to theirs.
As soon as you entered Live Theatre you realised that, in the loveliest way possible, the Broken Christmas Cabaret wasn’t going to live up to its name. There was just too much affection for Christmas in the hearts of those involved. Brussels on the tables, a Secret Santa Sack, paper-chains hanging from every nook and the Cuckoo Young Writers charming the Undercroft with their homemade Christmas rhymes: this was a classic Christmas scene, just not quite as we know it.
The show proper opened with the Noise Choir, looking for all the world like a rural community singing group, which made the backwards carols, messerschmitt screams, whirly-assisted harmonies and sex noises, which emanated from them an unlikely delight. Tim Turnbull followed, a laconic Northern poet in dapper suit and Boycie moustache who displayed a heart of flint and an uncommon knack for rhythm.
Jane Holman radiated Byker-granny commonsense in Paddy Campbell’s specially written monologue, which made her slowly unwrapped misanthropy as darkly delicious as a chocolate Cointreau. Monkey Junk kept the hidden depth theme going, as the burly affable lads gave us a blues performance straight out of the Mississippi Delta.
Christmas spirit permeated the usual hubbub of creativity which is a hallmark of the interval at a Trashed Organ show. Everybody had a chance to be a part of the show and it gave the event a lovely sense of camaraderie. It felt like everyone was chatting to strangers, the lady next to me expounding the virtues of fried lungs and trachea. A festive treat, apparently.
Alison Carr’s frustrated artiste and wannabe Mary opened the second act and just about stole the show, with a confessional slideshow and the funniest deployment of a baby Jesus in monologue history. Kate Fox then breezed onto the stage and unleashed her library of puns, which ranged from utterly cringy to hilarious to curiously touching. If Christmas was broken, Fox is the kind of person you’d ring up to fix it. And if the energy dipped a little for Matt Stalker & Fables’ wistful harmonising, then it was into the happy serenity you feel after a big Turkey dinner.
In the toe of the stocking lurked the comperes, by now a little woozy with festive cheer, to announce the Trashed laureate and unleash the last of the party poppers. Nothing was broken by the end of the night, Christmas spirit well and truly intact, but seen through the buzz of a city at ease with its identity and its creativity.
On the metro home I sat next to an unconscious man in a business suit and Santa hat. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
* Picture caption: Trashed Organ’s John Challis and Melanie Rashbrooke on stage at the Broken Christmas Cabaret with Rosie Kellagher and Gez Casey.
For more from Trashed Organ go to www.trashedorgan.co.uk
The Bleed Editor makes a surprise cameo appearance at this week’s Broken Christmas Cabaret, hosted by Trashed Organ at Live Theatre, Newcastle.