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Friday, November 03, 2017

The Austerity Playbook @ Northern Stage - November 1

(Review by Russell)
Stage 3 at Northern Stage was, at one time, the foyer bar of the then University Theatre. Back then on this very spot on Sunday mornings, the legendary Newcastle Big Band played to full houses. On the very same spot, a then-unknown bass player, Gordon Sumner, played with the big band and an all-conquering Last Exit. Sumner, already known to all by his nickname, headed for the bright lights of London. The rest, as they say, is history. Sting was about to hit the big time.
Fast forward five minutes, in truth several decades. In this Age of Austerity, two academics working at Durham University and Newcastle University have developed a new musical. The Economic and  Social Research Council provided support and as part of Freedom City 2017 – commemorating the visit of Martin Luther King to Newcastle University – the Austerity Playbook took to the stage.
Doors opened on time. On entering the space it was as if time had stood still. Not quite déjà vu, but right there playing Have You Met Miss Jones?  was pianist Andrea Vicari and two familiar figures –  Andy Champion, double bass, and drummer Russ Morgan. Right there, where Cormac Loane and Nigel Stanger once stood, and Andy Hudson and Gerry Richardson, and Sting. The trio, wearing a natty line in bowlers, was at work, the music the soundtrack to the Austerity Playbook.

A cast of five, comic, politically incisive, at times a little too obvious in its message. What message? The Stage 3 audience didn’t need any help in appreciating the harmful effects of ‘austerity’ and the fictitious northern city of Burnside could represent just about anywhere you care to name. Andrea, Andy and Russ, bowlered throughout, went into Song for My Father. Audience seated, the sparse stage set, the Austerity Playbook’s pages turned introducing a cast of familiar characters; harassed council leader, dedicated librarian, disillusioned PCSO, affable immigrant. Andrea Vicari wrote the music and the trio played on throughout much of the action. Sheet music stretched across stands, any non-jazz fans present could well be persuaded to attend a local jazz gig. Musicianship of the highest order, the acting talents of the cast of the Austerity Playbook spoke to the converted.
The Austerity Playbook was written by Mark O’Thomas, directed by André Punk, music by Andrea Vicari. Professor Laurence Ferry, Durham University and Professor Ileana Steccoloini, Newcastle University researched material on poverty, its challenges and how to challenge it.
Russell                                      

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