Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Preview: The Collector at Hexham Queens Hall

The Collector
Hexham Queens Hall
Friday 18th November 2016
By Henry Naylor
Directed by Michael Cabot

Born out of Henry Naylor’s own experiences of a visit to Bagram Airbase in 2003, The Collector is a compelling tale of murder, evil and betrayal set in occupied Iraq.

The Collector at York Theatre Royal.
Olivia Beardsley (Foster),
William Reay (Kasprowicz).
Photo Sheila Burnett PR
One of the most highly-acclaimed shows at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival, it won a Scotsman Fringe First Award, which was followed by a sold-out run at the Arcola Theatre in London.

2003. Mazrat Prison, Iraq. Previously one of Saddam’s most notorious torture houses, where more than 10,000 people died, it is now under Allied command.

Nassir works here, translating for the American interrogators. He’s local, pro-Western, determined to bring liberal values to his country and is about to get married to Zoya, his sweetheart. But when he is recognised by Faisal, new prisoner and psychotic supporter of the old regime, his life becomes a living hell.

An interview with writer Henry Naylor

What can you tell us about The Collector?
Henry Naylor
Photo: Rosalind Furlong PR
The Collector is a story about a group of guards who are running a prison out in post-war Iraq. They begin with very high-minded principles, hoping to bring liberalism to Iraq. Gradually, by responding to the insurgency, they become more and more like the people they came to replace. It’s heavily researched and based on the experiences of many real prison guards including, but certainly not limited to, some of the people who worked at Abu Ghraib.

You’re best known for your work as a political satirist and writer for such shows as Spitting Image, Headcases, Dead Ringers and Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression.  In the last three years, you’ve written three plays about the conflicts in the Middle East. What led you to focus on the violence in that region?
It all started when I was researching a programme I was doing for the BBC in 2001. I was writing for a radio show about the same time the war was on in Afghanistan. Obviously it’s hard to make that subject funny so I was watching the media intensely for any angles that I could use to write jokes. I was watching every news report and it dawned on me that they never showed any dead bodies. There was a war being committed in the country’s name but we were being shielded from the consequences of it. I looked into it and found that the BBC had this taste and decency policy not to show any of the victims of the war. Supposedly it was out of respect to the dead but I thought that it was indecent. I felt that it was disregarding the horrors of the war. It felt very immoral, like they were sanitizing the truth.
This idea that journalists have to sanitize the truth for public consumption gave me the idea for a comedy play called Finding Bin Laden. While I was working on that, there was this extraordinary incident on TV that involved a BBC journalist, called William Reid, who was reporting from Kabul just before the Northern Alliance swept into the city. He was saying “the forces are getting close. I don’t know if you can hear outside but there’re a lot of explosions going off…and oh…that was really quite close”. Then – live on air - he was blown off his feet. Already it was the most confronting thing I’d ever seen on television. Then what happened was my old flat mate ran in front of the camera yelling “Jesus Christ”. I was completely bewildered. It turned out my old flat mate, who I’d lost touch with, had become a cameraman for the BBC and he was out there reporting on the war.
The Collector at York Theatre Royal.
Anna Riding (Zoya), Olivia Beardsley (Foster),
William Reay (Kasprowicz) Photo Sheila Burnett PR
I got in touch with him after the invasion ended and told him about what I was writing. I said that I wanted to get my facts straight and get past the media’s representation of events. So he helped me organize things and I went out and spent 10 days in Afghanistan. It completely changed my life. Up until that point I had been a satirical writer sat at my desk at home sneering about events on the news. Actually living in a news event first hand transformed my writing. We went round refugee camps, saw landmine victims and got a real idea of the damage the war had done. From that moment I’ve been obsessed with the conflict in the Middle East. Every time something happens in the news I’m following it. I take cuttings out of the papers and keep them in a great big stack. It’s become the thing that I write about and it’s changed how I write. I still try to make things entertaining, but without trivializing it. I want to tell people what’s going on.
And The Collector was the first play you wrote with this more serious mindset?
Yes, exactly. Although I started it still thinking I was going to write a comedy. But the more I did the more I thought that what was interesting was seeing how ordinary people became monsters. I thought I had something to say about that. I wanted to explore that corruption and the tone of what I was writing became darker than what I’d written before.

Were you nervous about how it would be received?
I was absolutely terrified. I had no idea if it was any good. Waiting for the reviews was nerve-racking. But I think it’s important to scare yourself like that. Better than to write the same thing over and over. If you have no idea how a piece is going to be received then you’re doing something right. And of course the fear of looking an idiot makes you raise your game!

Since writing The Collector, you’ve written two more plays set in the region called Echoes and Angel. All three plays won awards at the Edinburgh Festival including two Fringe Firsts and one Spirit of the Fringe. Did you ever imagine you’d have such consistent success?
You can never count on these things but it’s an enormous boost to your confidence. I kept wanting to return to the region because there’s so much more to be said. What’s going on in the Middle East at the moment is always the biggest news in the world. I don’t think nearly enough British writers are engaging with it. I’m trying to make things entertaining, interesting, and tell people what’s going on, and good reviews make it so much easier to get my work out there.

Finally, how did you feel about the Chilcot Inquiry when it was finally published?
In the end I don’t think it said anything we didn’t know already. It kind of stopped short of outright condemning Blair but reading between the lines you get the feeling that Chilcot felt Blair had quite a lot to answer for. On the positive side, I suppose it’s become a bit harder for Blair to deny as much as he denied previously. And his voice became a little shriller.
Am I right in thinking you’ve known the director, Michael Cabot, for quite a while?
Yes, in fact Michael directed Andy Parsons and myself when we were students. We were about 20 and we were such arrogant cocky sods. We thought we knew everything about comedy in those days. We were doing something for the national student theatre company at Edinburgh. The guy who ran the company said we needed a director. We weren’t keen on someone telling us what to do but when Michael turned up he was utterly charming and directed us without us even realizing he was doing it. At the end of the day I’d think “how did he get me to do that thing I didn’t want to do?” It’s that sort of subtlety and intelligence that really brings out the best in actors in this kind of show.
Years later he came to see The Collector in Edinburgh. I asked him what he thought of it and he offered up a few ideas about how things could have been different: things I hadn’t thought about at all. So I asked him if he’d direct it if we staged it in London. He agreed and we sold out the entire run at the Arcola. He’s such an experienced theatre director, magnificent really, so I handed it over to him. It’s quite exciting really seeing a piece of my work on stage where I haven’t chosen the actors or shaped the performances. It’s such an intimate experience and I’ve really enjoyed watching this talented cast work with the piece.

The Collector is at the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham on Friday 18th November at 7.30pm. Tickets are £13.50 – £6.50 and are available from the Queen’s Hall Box Office 01434 652477 or online at 
Show Website: The Collector at QHA

Running Time: Running time: Approx 75 minutes without an interval.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Review: Jess and Joe Forever at Newcastle Live Theatre

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All Things Bright And Bootiful!

Jess and Joe Forever
Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Wednesday 26th October 2016

Presented by Farnham Maltings
Written by Zoe Cooper
Directed by Derek Bond

Zoe Cooper’s tale of two kids growing up is enchanting. The cast had chemistry on stage and hence it was easy to accept the story as the rollercoaster of life unfolded.

Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones appear as Jess and Joe, two very different children. At the start of the show she is 9 ¾ and on holiday for 2 weeks in Norfolk with her au-pair nanny. It isn’t her proper holiday, rather, it is a chance to enjoy the rough and tumble of a childhood. Her real holiday will start at the end of it when she joins her parents at their apartment in Italy. When we meet up with Jess in the second scene, it is 2 years later and she is getting ready to pack her trunk and head off to boarding school.

Joe is very much a Norfolk lad. He has never been further than Norfolk and speaks with a broad local accent. He lost his mother when he was younger. When we see him at the age of 9 he is playing with the other local lads, jumping off trees into local a tributary. By 11 Joe is planning to attend the local comprehensive and spends his summer holiday helping his Dad on their dairy farm.

The two-handed play reviews the fortnight each summer when they are together in the same small village. The local gossips include Joe’s male friends and the adult villagers. The morals of the village’s inhabitants are even discussed from the pulpit of the local church. The set appears simple and yet it was effective, the square tiles on the floor reminded me of the disco floor in a Pulp video and there was a mound of soil. The lighting, apparently changed by the actors’ remote control, helped flag up the change of scenes. 

What helps make the play sweet are the little details and discrepancies that one gets with pre-teens. Jess for example says she is vegetarian but she is very partial to a Scotch egg.   Nicola Coughlan is engaging as the girl who apparently has the world at her feet and understands what penultimate means. Rhys Isaac-Jones, likewise, does a great job as the loyal introvert who doesn’t mind helping his Dad out. 

We have enjoyed two of Zoe’s previous plays: Nativities and Petrficaiton (NETG Review link) however Jess and Joe Forever is her best to date. There is a greater coherence to the narrative and, coupled with the on-stage chemistry between the actors, you’re left with a rather special tale.

Review by Stephen Oliver (@panic_c_button)

Jess and Joe Forever is at Live Theatre,
Newcastle on Tuesday 25 October to Wednesday 26 October. Tickets cost £14-£12, over 60's concs £12, other concs £6. For more information or to book tickets visit or contact Live Theatre’s box office on (0191) 232 1232.
Suitable for ages 12+
DURATION: Approx. 55 mins

Preview: Coal at Durham Gala Theatre

COAL - the true story of an industry and a community’s fight for survival

Durham Gala Theatre
Thursday 10th & Friday 11th November 2016

The drama, the tragedy and the unbreakable spirit of a working class community fighting for its future comes to the Gala Theatre, Durham as Gary Clarke Company presents Coal.

Photo: Joe Armitage
Coal commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike and reflects award-winning choreographer and dancer Gary Clarke’s own experience of growing up in the Yorkshire coalfields.

Coal is a riveting dance theatre show that takes a nostalgic but honest look at the hard hitting realities of life at the coal face, the back breaking physical graft and the impact it makes on body and soul, both underground and on the surface.

Photo: Joe Armitage
Strong, powerful and emotive, Coal explores the darker underbelly of the mining industry, unearthing the true nature and body wrecking demands of a working class industry now almost completely forgotten.

It is based on years of personal research by Gary Clarke, including interviews with Anne Scargill, former wife of NUM president Arthur Scargill, and Betty Cook, the founders of Women Against Pit Closures.

Photo: Joe Armitage
He also spent time with Chris Skidmore of the National Union of Mineworkers, Bruce Wilson, author of Yorkshire’s Flying Pickets, Barnsley historian and author Brian Elliott and Paul Winter of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

Coal is a direct response to my upbringing in the working class mining village of Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire. It's about trying to capture a time in British history that is too easily forgotten. It is an attempt at keeping the memories of the mining industry alive, an industry that I believe shaped the fabric of our society and how we live our lives today. These communities are at the heart of COAL.”  Gary Clarke 2015.

Photo: Joe Armitage
Coal, which has received a Strategic Touring Grant from Arts Council England, now embarks on a national tour featuring 16 performers - seven professional contemporary dancers including TC Howard (acclaimed for her work with Vincent Dance Theatre and Wendy Houstoun), a live on stage brass quintet playing music originally devised for the internationally acclaimed Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band and four local community women, specially recruited at every venue.

Providing the distinctive voice of Margaret Thatcher is actor Steve Nallon, still best known for his many performances as the controversial Prime Minister in long-running cult TV satirical comedy hit Spitting Image.

Performers are pushed to physical and emotional extremes, with an evocative score of live brass classics organised by Musical Director Steven Roberts and a thunderous soundscape by Noise Artist Daniel Thomas.

Dramaturgy is by Lou Cope (well known for her work with award winning performers like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui), with costumes and set by nationally acclaimed designer Ryan Dawson Laight and lighting by Charles Webber.

Coal combines Gary Clarke’s vivid visual performance style and splintering physical language as it marks the 30th anniversary of the turbulent end of the Miners’ Strike.

Early responses to Coal
“Gritty and gutsy.” Metro
“One of the most exhilarating and moving experiences I have had for some time …” Victoria Firth, Director, Lawrence Batley Theatre
"Fabulous, politically spot on." Julia Armstrong, The Sheffield Star
“It was a privilege to be in the audience and hear and see the effect the piece had…” Ian Morley, Barnsley Civic Theatre
Coalis co-commissioned by DanceXchange, Cast Doncaster, The Place, Dance City, Dance4 with Nottingham Playhouse, The Civic Barnsley and Yorkshire Dance with additional funds from The National Lottery through Arts Council England, Individual Giving through kick-starter with support from The Northern School of Contemporary Dance and The NUM.
Gary Clarke Company dancers are: TC Howard, James Finnemore, Alistair Goldsmith, Nicolas Vendange, Joss Carter, Connor Quill and Eleanor Perry
Suitable for age 12 and upwards
On The Web:
Tickets available priced £12 - £15 online at  or by calling the Gala Theatre Box Office on 03000 266 600

Preview: Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing at Newcastle Live Theatre

A talented North East cast and creative team assembled for the World Premiere of Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing, a new play set in Tynemouth 1844 at Live Theatre, Newcastle 

A Live Theatre Production. World Premiere
Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing
Newcastle Live Theatre
Thursday 10th November to Saturday 3rd December 2016

Written by Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by Max Roberts
Designed by Alison Ashton
Music by The Unthanks
Choreography by Lee Proud

Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing, a new play set in Tynemouth 1844 written by Olivier Award-winning writer Shelagh Stephenson has its World Premiere at Live Theatre, Newcastle from Thursday 10 November to Saturday 3 December 2016.

The play, which is based on the time spent in Tynemouth in the 1840s of real life radical thinker, feminist and anti-slavery campaigner Harriet Martineau,  draws together a talented and experienced cast and creative team from across the region.

Playwright Shelagh Stephenson, was born in Whitley Bay, and has previously brought to life another historical figure Homer Winslow and his time with the artists’ community in Cullercoats in her previous play at Live Theatre, A Northern Odyssey. Shelagh has also written extensively for stage, film and TV including The Memory of Water for which she won an Olivier Award in 2000 for Best New Comedy, Five Kinds of Silence, and How Does That Make You Feel for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Music is provided Northumbrian folk group The Unthanks, who have re-arranged songs from their Mount the Air album. Tyneside based sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank also provided music for A Northern Odyssey and for Songs from the Shipyards, and were Mercury Music Prize nominees in 2008 and the only British folk representation in The Guardian and Uncut’s best Album of the decade.  

The play stars long-time Live Theatre collaborator Deka Walmsley who started his career in the Wallsend People’s Theatre also has appeared in Live Theatre’s The Pitmen Painters and A Northern Odyssey.  Also re-united from A Northern Odyssey cast are actors Lizzy McInnerny and Amy McAllister.  They are joined by Newcastle born Kate Okello originally from Gosforth who made her Live Theatre debut in The Savage earlier this year, Matt Jamie who has appeared in Lee Hall’s Live Screenplays, and Laura Jane Matthewson originally from Sunderland, attended Newcastle College’s Musical Theatre course and won the 2014 Evening Standard Award for Best Emerging Talent and Living North’s Promise and Potential Award 2015.

The play is directed by Live Theatre’s Artistic Director Max Roberts, who said:“I am delighted to welcome Shelagh Stephenson back to Live Theatre and thrilled that she has created another play set in Tynemouth where she grew up. Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing is a superbly witty and engaging story underpinned with a sharply focused feminist tract.  Although the action of the play is set in Tynemouth, 1844, the plays relevance to today’s post-Brexit Britain is remarkably salient. As with A Northern Odyssey the production includes music and dance inspired by the traditions of Northumberland.”

In the play Harriet Martineau seeks refuge from the claustrophobic demands of London society, with her needlepoint and a telescope in an attic room on Front Street, Tynemouth.  Instead of escape, Harriet finds an unequal world in need of her attention. This is a world of racial intolerance and gender imbalance, of eccentric scientific practices such as mesmerism and phrenology. A world where a negligent husband may die from a pig falling on his head in the street.

Following on from the critically acclaimed 2010 production of A Northern Odyssey (The Guardian), Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing is the second in Shelagh Stephenson’s trilogy of plays at Live Theatre exploring the contemporary relevance of Tyneside’s political and cultural heritage.

A series of free talks accompany the play, in Meet the Writer after the 2pm performance on Saturday 12 November writer Shelagh Stephenson discusses the making of the play. Phrenology, mesmersism and other Victorian beliefs mentioned in the play are discussed by researchers and academics from Newcastle University and Sunderland University in Harriet Martineau and Victorian Pseudoscience after the 4pm show on Sunday 20 November. And in Harriet Martineau In and Beyond Tynemouth after the performance at 7.30pm on Tuesday 22 November,  Dr Joe Hardwick, lecturer in History at Northumbria University and organiser of the Mapping Radical Tyneside website talks about Martineau’s significance for Victorian radicalism and the emergence of the professional woman writer. The talks are free but must be pre-booked.

Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing is at Live Theatre from Thursday 10 November to Saturday 3 December 2016. For more information and tickets which cost between £12-£26, concs from £10 ring Live Theatre’s box office on (0191) 232 1232 or see

DURATION: 2hrs 20mins, incl. an interval
PREVIEWS: Thurs 10 Nov, 7.30pm, Fri 11 Nov, 7.30pm, Sat 12 Nov, 2pm & 7.30pm
2PM MATINEES: Sat 12 Nov, Thurs 17 Nov, Sat 19 Nov, Thurs 24 Nov, Sat 26 Nov, Thurs 1 Dec & Sat 3 Dec.
4PM MATINEES: Sun 20 Nov & Sun 27 Nov
FRIENDS 241: Thurs 10 Nov, 7.30pm & Sat 12 Nov, 2pm,

BSL Wed 30 Nov, 7.30pm
Touch Tour Thurs 1 Dec, 6pm
Audio Described Thurs 1 Dec, 7.30pm
Captioned Sat 3 Dec, 2pm

FREE POST SHOW TALKS (Free booking essential):

Meet the Writer
Saturday 12 November (after the
2pm show)
Shelagh Stephenson discusses the writing of the play.
Harriet Martineau and Victorian Pseudoscience
Sunday 20 November (after the 4pm show so approx 6.30pm)
Harriet Martineau and Victorian beliefs in practices such as mesmerism and phrenology, are discussed by Dr Ella Dzelzainis, Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature at Newcastle University and co-author of Harriet Martineau: Authorship, Society and Empire (2010), Pat Beesley, PhD candidate in English Literature at Newcastle University and recent convener of The Pseudo/Sciences of the Long Nineteenth Century Research Group and Patrick Low, PhD student of History at Sunderland University researching Capital Punishment in the North East of England (1752-1878).

Harriet Martineau In and Beyond Tynemouth
Tuesday 22 November (after
7.30pm show so approx 10pm)
Dr. Joe Hardwick, lecturer in History at Northumbria University and organiser of the Mapping Radical Tyneside website talks about Martineau’s significance for Victorian radicalism and the emergence of the professional woman writer. The talk connects her domestic life in Tynemouth with the powerful voice that she developed on issues as wide ranging as slavery, empire, politics, economics and the rights of women.