The theatres are closed. What now? Commissioned and co-curated by Greyscale, Imaginary Reviews is a series that invites critics and artists of all stripes to write about a fictional performance at their local theatre. The series continues with Wambui Hardcastle’s spirit-lifting show about love, unfolding in Byker’s grass ampitheatre.
Audio version by Nigel Barrett:
When I first started to write this review, I thought, with the right combination of words, I could write something that would make us forget.
Forget that for a moment that the only lights shining on the stages we love are ghosts.
Perhaps a midnight fairytale spun up for adults. One that apparated on to Newcastle’s Town Moors, with massive puppets, Emma Rice at the helm, and thousands of fairy lights strung about everywhere. There was no happily-ever-after wedding ending. In a modern twist, there was instead a mutually amicable divorce instead as dawn broke, and cars began to trundle down Ponteland Road.
But then, all I could think about was the on-site portaloos, starting to stink up this fantasy.
So I moved on. How about a show with an actual massive glass tank on stage filled with live fish and coral? That sounded like the start of a promising idea. But then the tank cracked, the fish flopped out, and everyone’s socks got wet.
And there were other grand ideas, but I just kept finding ways for these fantasies to fall apart. And truthfully, it’s because as much as I would like us to fantasise together about amazing, big-budget theatrical spectacles, it’s not their time. Right now, we’re in need of a different tonic.
So I’m going to review a show that I need to believe could actually exist. A show with an answer. And a pumping heart. And the belief that it can do more than tell a story, but lift as many people up as it can.
Answers. Community. Connection. Love.
That is what we need right now.
The show we need is “For The Love Of It All”.
And that’s the show I’m reviewing for you today.
Just off Headlam Street, right next to Byker Community Centre, sits St.Michael’s church. And in its grounds, there is a small outdoor amphitheatre, I am simply overjoyed to be sitting on its grassy seats. The amphitheatre looks over one of my favourite views in the world. Past the mosaic stage, through the hedgerow backdrop, you can see the Quayside. With the Bridges connecting the two cities, The Sage glistening in the sunshine, and the Tyne running through. It’s beautiful.
There is just enough space for the cast to run and dance through. But the smallness of space means you can see all the other faces making up the audience. And I make sure to look at every single person before it begins.
This show is about to embark on a national tour. It’ll hit the ground running at all the big theatres across the country. The aim is to build up momentum, before descending on London.
But why open in Byker? I’m told that at the start, it was because the Community Centre was one of the places they could rehearse in. But over the months, it became more than that. For the team, Byker Community Centre was a place of friendship and community. And they’d all been eyeing the small amphitheatre on the way in to rehearsal each day. So they added an extra date to open in the place they felt it was only right to start.
The tickets are all Pay-What-You-Feel. And the tickets will be PWYF at the other non-theatre venues they visit as part of their tour.
The team making the show are all “emerging”, whatever that means exactly isn’t quite defined, as it’s different for them all. After seeing the show today, I can’t help but wonder how long they’ll be emerging for. A couple have recently graduated from drama school. Others have been in a few regional productions over the years. And for one it is their first ever professional production. The director themselves is only a few years out of a RTYDS course. And the team of four writers are similar in having a range of experience underneath their belts. There’s also a BSL interpreter that will join the cast for every single performance.
And their team will only get bigger as they tour. There’s an eleventh role in the play, which is set aside for a different new actor in each new city. Tonight the eleventh role was played by a student from Newcastle College.
I managed to ask the director; “Why do that? It sounds like a bit of hassle.” The director replied “If we can create another space for someone else, why not? We’re in a position now where we can share opportunities so we will.”
They’ve been supported by companies and individuals across the North and further afield. There’s a whole page in the programme dedicated to people whose help they’re grateful for. And you can see their various influences pop out here and there through the show. Clearly, the belief in what this group could achieve was felt by many, even in its early days.
The ten-strong cast perform a work that’s part story, and part declaration of self. It’s based on their own lives, and you can hear it –the rawness of the fundamental truth it was based on – coming through in every line delivered. But everything links back to love, as they try their hardest to ask questions about love’s many forms.
Questions such as:
Why do we love an art form that can be so painfully uncertain? Is it because of its uncertainty?
Why do we fancy people that resemble our parents? God, why?!
Is the purest love we’ll ever receive come from our pet dog Gary?
One moment, I couldn’t breathe from laughing at a story about an unfortunate run-in with a cheese grater in the pursuit of love. And the next I felt like I was going to start hiccuping from the lump they’d put in my throat.
At the end of the show, they were all sweating from the exertion of pouring out all their love for us. There was no backstage. So they ran into the audience to hug their friends and families. Then they packed up and everyone walked back up together for a cup of tea and a biscuit in the Community Centre.
Was it the most polished show ever? No. But there was a beauty in its ruggedness.
This is one of those shows that remind you why we create theatre. Why we go see it. And why we can’t ever let go of it. And it’s potentially the start of doing things differently in the reckoning we are facing.
In a world so full of turmoil and pain, it’s good for the soul to see something that reminds why we carry on anyway. And I need to see something that provides an answer for once. Any answer. And there is one answer in this world that I believe can be guaranteed, and one I’ll never tire of hearing.
Why do we love?
Because we can’t help ourselves.