REVIEW: A Wife or the Gallows and other Telling Tales, Alnwick Playhouse

Northumberland Theatre Company's new production of A Wife or the Gallows
Northumberland Theatre Company's new production of A Wife or the Gallows

Five great stories, six amazing actors – seven if you include the stage manager – and one brilliant show. This must mean the Northumberland Theatre Company’s latest production is under way.

The title of the show almost gives the impression that it will be three hours of death and drama, but, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case, don’t prejudge a play until you’ve seen it.

The series of plays are based on a number of Northumbrian stories and some of John Mackay Wilson’s tales of the Borders.

The title play is based on Wilson’s The Wife or the Wuddy. This, interestingly, creates a holding form for the ‘other telling tales’ which are relayed in the production. This works very well as some of these tales will have been shared in the same way before being put on paper.

As the proud Will Harden (played by local actor David McCarthy) stands tall and refuses to marry Lord Murray’s daughter ‘Muckle Mouthed Meg’, he is given a day to decide his fate. So the hangmen decide to tell a few stories.

The mix of the four stories works very well to keep the audience entertained and they are extremely funny. I was actually quite surprised how each mini play manages to pack a punch and have such comedic value.

Northumberland Theatre Company's new production of A Wife or the Gallows

Northumberland Theatre Company's new production of A Wife or the Gallows

For me, the best thing about each play was the collective group of actors themselves. The confident Stewart Howson returns to a series of familiar roles and is rejoined by Eleanor Dennison, who would give Brenda Blethyn a run for her money.

Louis Roberts and Stephanie Bulter also return to the NTC show, and I was mightily impressed with their versatility. Note should also go to Alnwick’s David McCarthy, who brilliantly joins the cast, and I hope he will be a regular in future productions.

I think all the cast deserve praise because I have no idea how they manage to play at least five characters in the whole play.

My favourite story was the Northumbrian tale of Launcelot Errington and his Nephew Mark, which the poor assistant hangman (Louis Roberts) had to wait until the very end of the play to tell.

Northumberland Theatre Company's new production of A Wife or the Gallows

Northumberland Theatre Company's new production of A Wife or the Gallows

There was an hilarious moment where Launcelot (Stewart Howson) and Sargeant (David McCarthy) have an exchange where Launcelot struggles to understand the broad Northumbrian officer and I think everyone in the audience could relate to the hilarity of when someone not from Northumberland struggles to understand just quite what we’re saying.

On the production side, lighting and sound were superb, even if the stage manager was jumping on and off the stage to act as well. The costumes were also very impressive.

The tour continues until October 15. For further details, visit www.northumberlandtheatre.co.uk