Irreverent romp duly delivers on its remit

The cast of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Durham: Viktoria Kay, Robert Hudson and Chris Connel.
The cast of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Durham: Viktoria Kay, Robert Hudson and Chris Connel.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Durham, Alnwick Playhouse, Thursday, July 12.

I was promised a fast-moving production that takes an irreverent romp through 1,400 years of the North East’s past and that and more was certainly delivered at the Playhouse on Friday night.

As the play, which was commissioned to tie in with the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the region, began, I wasn’t immediately convinced that I was going to enjoy it, but I soon settled into it and had a great laugh.

And judging by the response of the almost-full auditorium, I wasn’t the only one.

Written by North-East playwrights Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, the journey through the history of the Gospels is their follow-up to Amazing Grace, which also focused on a tale from Northumbrian history – Grace Darling and her rescue.

That production used a modern-day film-maker to frame the historical action and the pair used a similar trick here, having metafictional scenes featuring the ‘playwrights’ deciding how best to tell the tale.

The ideas that the real writers came up with scenes that referenced the Rolling Stones, Sherlock Holmes, Ikea, Sky Sports football coverage and more, all while following the Gospels on their journey and shot through with a distinctive North-Eastern sense of humour.

Much of this related to places, with anyone from Peterlee, Middlesbrough, Blyth or Hexham (among others) on the receiving end at the Alnwick performance.

On top of this, there were songs that were both humourous and educational as well as a love story. The information side of the play really impressed me as I came away having laughed a lot, but also having learnt something about this key period – the Golden Age of Northumbria.

Across all of the sketches that made up the play, around 40 different characters made an appearance. Amazingly, they were played by a cast of three – Chris Connel, Robert Hudson and Viktoria Kay – who all deserve plaudits, for playing Kings of England, saints, vikings, monks, a leper, a spin-doctor, the Easter bunny and Sherlock Holmes with aplomb.

If you missed it, I would heartily recommend trying to see it before the tour ends on Sunday. See www.ed