4words, Alnwick Playhouse, Friday, March 2.
THE four words that came to my mind after seeing this latest performance from Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) were funny, poignant, brilliant and stupid.
Funny, poignant and brilliant because the four short plays on show were by turns all of these.
And stupid, because, yet again, I cannot tell why the Arts Council feels that the provision of high-quality theatre such as this for the rural areas of Northumberland and beyond is not considered worthy of any funding.
4words is, in part, a showcase for the young actors of the InterACT scheme and the variety of style and tone between the four plays was admirable, allowing them to show off their versatility.
Each of the four plays related to one of four words – love, life, longing and laughter – but in reality, these were constant themes among all four.
In particular, I thought the order in which the plays were performed was exactly right, ending with what I think was my favourite, the hilarious Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, which, as well as being about laughter, was also about another ‘l’ word. You’ll have to watch it to find out what it is.
A one-room, one-scene performance about a hopelessly ill-suited woman hosting an Ann Summers party for her sisters and friends, it had the audience in stitches.
It was very funny with some great characters, including the brilliantly over-the-top couple played by James Laurence Hunter and Steven Jaan Pilman.
The piece, written by Lee Mattinson, also contained some very neat comic lines and a brilliant riff on the Marks and Spencer TV adverts.
The second play, Boiling Point, was brilliant too, built around an insightful and entertaining concept of the married life of a couple as told through four kettles.
The ‘spirits of kettles past’ were very funny representing different stereotypes of kettle from different eras.
There’s the staid, proper and traditional 1970s kettle, the much shorter-lived, cheap and cheerful 1990s version and the brand-new £75 appliance – a gleaming, advanced version of Teutonic efficiency – my favourite and very well-played by Georgina Hall.
But as well as the humour, Boiling Point was poignant, not overly emotional, but centred on the times in life when you just need a good brew.
Stranded, the first of the quartet, is an adaptation of extracts from the short story collection by Alnmouth-based crime writer Val McDermid.
Linked to the theme of longing, it started out quite disjointed and I wasn’t quite sure what direction it was taking.
However, the different strands gradually pulled together to form a coherent story of four murders tied together by ideas of love, longing and writing.
After the interval, the variety of tone continued with Not Some Kind of Side Show – the tale of a woman and her family coming to terms with losing a leg following an explosion in Afghanistan.
While the acting was still good, personally, it was my least favourite of the four.
I think the plays work best, particularly when they are shorter rather than full-length, with a mixture of light and shade and there wasn’t much light relief in this one.
Understandably so perhaps, as it was dealing with a difficult and delicate subject, but I’m not sure that it was the best fit with the other three.
The acting was great throughout with the younger actors – James Laurence Hunter, Steven Jaan Pilman, Georgina Hall and Nadia Emam – ably supported by NTC regulars Nigel Collins and Eleanor Dennison.
Of particular note is the staging and set design, which is always of a high standard in NTC productions, thanks to the hard work of Michelle Huitson.
No matter how good the acting and directing, without clever design, allowing six actors to perform four different plays in limited space, the whole concept would fall apart.
Happily, everything comes together to produce as enjoyable an evening as I have had at the theatre in a while, probably since I last saw the NTC.