A Night at the Theatre – Blithe Spirit

Escape into another world with Noel Coward’s comedy classic, Blithe Spirit running this week at Middlesbrough Theatre. Enter the country house set of the early twentieth century, a world of faltering servants, clipped accents, cocktails and it is formal dress code for dinner parties. It is all frightfully correct but there are frightening things bubbling beneath the surface. This particular dinner party thrown by socialite and novelist Charles and his wife Ruth serves up far, far more than the hosts bargained for with hilarious consequences.

Charles is researching for his latest book and decides to invite the marvellously over the top medium Madame Arcati over to conduct a séance. Maybe he ought to have thought twice before the flamboyant spiritualist asked if there was anyone there. Charles’ troublesome first wife Elvira seemed only too keen to return and cause all sorts of trouble and mayhem between Charles and second wife Ruth.

We are so lucky to have Middlesbrough Theatre. The unassuming post-war theatre sits amongst the foliage of leafy Linthorpe. The theatre has so many pluses, from the ample car parking right outside to the attentive staff. There are the home comforts of proper theatre seats and the rake affords superb viewing. Yet it has that intimacy of a small theatre but with a stage big enough to allow the elaborate country house set. In fact the last time I attended a play here we were all actually seated in the round on the stage itself.

Blithe Spirit is regarded as one of Noel Coward’s masterpieces, breaking all records for a West End run with nearly 2000 performances through the 1940s, records then smashed by The Mousetrap. Yet Coward went out of fashion, his plays about upper class England were something of an anathema to the aspiring post war generations. Latterly we fell in love with Noel Coward all over again as he made notable appearances on the screen, who can forget him as the criminal godfather, Mr Bridger, in The Italian Job.

This show is co-presented with Less is More Productions. They are a local company aiming to create theatre in Tees Valley area. Less is More like to work with and nurture emerging artists from Middlesbrough and the north east. That is certainly the case with the actress fulfilling the role of the ghostly presence of Elvira. South Shields Natasha Haws still known to many as the ridiculously talented teenage singer songwriter. She is also a ridiculously talented actor on the stage.

Only Charles can see Natasha/Elvira’s ghostly presence but while the results are hilarious for us they are certainly no laughing matter for the hen pecked husband. He is suddenly trapped between his high maintenance first wife Elvira and equally domineering second spouse, Ruth. Charles doesn’t know which way to turn. Maybe he could enjoy the best of both worlds. Yet secretly and certainly not silently Elvira is plotting, plotting, plotting.

Really funny, superb acting and a great opportunity to revel in a real treasure of 20th century theatre.

You can see Blithe Spirit – Friday and Saturday evening 7.30pm

£14/ Concessions £12

Middlesbrough Theatre, The Avenue, Middlesbrough, TS5 6SA.
T. 01642 81 51 81 | Website: www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk

Blithe Spirit poster


New Writing at Middlesbrough Theatre

Middlesbrough Theatre is the venue this week for the public sharing and caring of New Writing Festival. Local writers have written plays that will in parts provoke the grey matter but also hugely entertain fellow Teessiders and their friends from parts beyond.

Last night I was part of an audience seated on the main stage for three plays performed in the round and tonight there is second opportunity to view them. So, I am spreading the word as it was gripping entertainment for a tenner.

new writingFences is the first ever full length play by Scarlet Pink. Scarlet won a festival last year at Redcar’s Tuned In and from that short she has developed a fully fledged drama around the lives of best mates Titch and Tommo and the woodland that is their retreat from lives spiralling out of control at home. But when the fences go up and some of the trees are torn down their escape into nature is blocked. Their childhood memories and fantasies could suddenly be ended and they might now be caged in to face the music in their family homes.

Numbered – by Julie Hogg is set on the rooftop retreat of stats obsessed twin, Lola, she can celebrate all the landmarks of Teesside. Her sister Leila might not share her love of heights but certainly is not short of brains either, destined soon to fly the nest to Cambridge University. It is late at night on summer solstice and this is a night of gradual unwrapping of revelations under the twinkling stars. High up above Teesside the sisters and the two flatmates from downstairs share confessions and piece together constellations of stars and patterns of their lives.

The final play is The Last Caretaker by Michele Plews, theatre maker, film producer and teacher. This is a scary, sci fi unreality where a pestilence or infestation has swept the earth and human kind is on the brink of total annihilation.

In a basement an aged woman, The Last Caretaker, holds the destiny of humanity on drip feeds, the final three children left in the world. As she gets weaker she is faced with moral dilemmas to keep herself alive. She has to play God to decide who lives and dies and to shape the survivors of a future order for when the all clear message finally reaches the lonely basement. But has she overstepped the mark?

Three fascinating plays. Superbly well scripted and brilliantly acted. What talent we have amongst us. Great to see the theatre used in this way, achieving real intimacy without sacrificing the lighting and professionalism of the facility.

Switch off your tv and tune in instead to New Writing Festival tonight. Tomorrow night a fiver will let you see a brand new play written by collaborators starting and finishing on the day. First play starts at 7pm.


Best in the World

Photo by Tracy Hyman

What does it take to be best in the world? Best in the World arrived at Stockton Arc recently to provide a few insights drawn from the world of darts of what it takes to reach for the stars.

As an audience we are asked to give our best. At the door we are provided with an emergency banana just in case at any point of the evening we feel we are flagging. On closer inspection each banana carries an inspirational motto, mine said “In The Zone,” can I deliver I thought when it matters and truly get into that special area of athletic prowess… in the audience.. for this big live performance.

Our host for the evening, Alex, tells us some stirring stories from the world of darts. Alex reveals to us some of the secrets behing great players like Phil “The Power” Taylor, Eric Bristow and the late Jocky Wilson. He often delves into the story behind the stories. But Alex also recounts big moments from his own life. Big decisions that we all must face and take, for better or for worse. They could perhaps be our 180 moments in life.

Ordinarily I dread the words “audience participation” but in Best in the World there is a real fun involvement for all those watching. And of course we have pledged to give our best. There is also the motivation that we should try and be better than last night’s crowd. In our case Harrogate. Harrogate! Come on if you can’t beat Harrogate!! That would be bad news.

After the show we all got to play darts for the prize of a t-shirt and am glad to say that our team saw off the challenge of Kate Fox, comic, poet, actress and her gang.

It may not quite have been “magic darts” but we were the best in the Arc on Tuesday 15th May.

All in all it was a hugely enjoyable evening with more than a few points to reflect on what personal achievements are all about.

Best in the World is off to Latitude Festival and then a full run through the Edinburgh Festival.