Spring forward, Northern Stage style
Northern Stage are lighting the touch-paper on their spring season with a real barnstormer in the shape of Wonderland (27 February-9 March - pictured). A spirited and uplifting drama written by Beth Steel we’re back in 1983 with two 16-year-olds waiting nervously at the pithead. On hand is a veteran miner who is set to introduce them to the brotherhood and banter of the Welbeck Colliery. Meanwhile in London, The Butcher has been brought in to reform King Coal. Pits close and a strike is called. A Tory MP tussles with his leader’s hard-line ideology, while an eccentric dandy is sent undercover to break up the strike. Steel is the daughter of a miner and she brings real tension and dark humour to this powerful piece which has already scooped rave reviews from the likes of the Guardian (“A big play, full of heart”) and The Stage (“Powerful, pertinent drama”).
Also set during the 1980s is Transporting (5-9 March). Irvine Welsh’s no-holds-barred tale of the Edinburgh heroin scene is brought kicking and screaming to life in this electric stage version which recaptures the humour, passion and controversy of Welsh’s novel. Expect nudity, strong language, violence, drug use and lots and lots of mess.
Other stand-outs in March include Stupid (after a sell-out preview in 2017, Stupid is back as part of International Women’s Week, a “not-just-me-then” tale of one woman figuring life out – 7 March); Where There’s Muck There’s Bras (a comic and thought-provoking show about the hidden histories of northern female writers, scientists, sportswomen and more from Kate Fox and Joanna Holden – 13 March); Bouncers (John Godber’s evergreen smash hit comedy – 19-23 March); and BalletBoyz (back with two brand new works, both set to original scores by world-class composers – 22 & 23 March).
April kicks off in truly startling style with a bold re-telling of Heart of Darkness (2 & 3 April). Written more than 100 years ago, Joseph Conrad’s classic is a tale of lies and brutal greed and of the dark heart which beats within us all. Now re-sited in a forsaken Europe, lost to the destructive lust for power, it emerges as a tale absolutely for our time. A visually rich, multi-layered work, which fuses live performance with digital technology, the story will unfold like an animated Cinemascope graphic novel and is being billed as Apocalypse Now meets The Road meets Double Indemnity. Sold!
If you’re looking for some therapy you can dance to then you need Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: The Ginger Snapped in your life (6 April). Ru Paul’s Drag Race favourite Jinkx Monsoon and lyrical genius Major Scales return to showcase new music from their upcoming album – however Jinkx worries that her best years are behind her. In order to avoid a breakdown of diva proportions Major must act as both pianist and therapist to the manic Miss Monsoon. Music and mental health collide in this witty, biting look at the dark side of drag fame.
Both poignant and gripping is Rain Man (8-13 April), which is based on the Oscar-winning film starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It concerns self-centred salesman Charlie Babbitt who discovers that he has a long-lost older brother, Raymond, who has inherited the family multimillion dollar fortune. As he sets out to get his half he discovers Raymond is an autistic savant and has a remarkable memory and a genius for numbers. Determined to get his hands on the money, Charlie ‘borrows’ Raymond from the institution where he has spent most of his life. As the two brothers embark on a trip across America, Charlie soon discovers that Raymond is worth more than he ever could have imagined.
Another real biggie arrives in the shape of Equus (30 April-4 May). Inspired by a true story, Peter Shaffer’s gripping psychological thriller explores the complex relationships between devotion, myth and sexuality. The story? When Alan Strang’s pathological fascination leads him to blind six horses in a Hampshire stable, psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart is tasked with uncovering the motive behind the boy’s violent act. As Dysart delves into Alan’s world of twisted spirituality, passion and sexuality, he begins to question his own sanity and motivations in a world driven by consumerism.
And we simply must find room to flag up A Thousand Splendid Suns (30 May-15 June), the UK stage premiere of Khaled Hossini’s best-selling novel. Set in an Afghanistan ravaged by war, an orphaned Laila is left alone in an increasingly threatening world. Her older neighbour Rasheed is quick to open his home to her, but his true intentions soon become clear when he takes Laila as his second wife. Rasheed’s first wife Mariam is a captive to her husband’s whim. She has no choice but to accept her younger, and now pregnant, rival. The war rages on and as the years pass the country grows most oppressive, and so does Rasheed. But as Laila’s daughter Aziza grows up, the three women develop a bond that may offer their only escape.
We only have space here to mention a mere handful of our favourites, in a programme that is overflowing with the good stuff, so be sure to check their website for the full lowdown.Northern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle. northernstage.co.uk