Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing

A Live Theatre Production

Sunday 27th November 2016

@gerry0504 Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing. Copy Soundcloud links below for historical background, writer’s comments & audience discussion.#Gadgees recommend.

http://www.live.org.uk/node/3599#disqus_thread

@folkastro The North East is very lucky to have world class institutions like Baltic and Sage Gateshead on its doorstep- both established by European funding. Equally as important is Live Theatre consistently supported for 3 decades by Arts funding; and latterly by European money for this new venture.

This production — at over 2 hours long — was superb value. Presented in an intimate setting; it felt like it was a production to each person individually so close were we to the set. The quality of acting was first rate; with some superb established actors. The storyline set in Tyneside; but against a global background of racial and sexual inequality is very engaging.

The cast bring it to life in setting the scene of a world weary author; falling into helping out an unfortunate family with issues. Once this is done the humour starts with a male actor playing the ne”er do well idiot. Suffice it to say that once the laughter starts it continues unabounded; with momentary lapses to regain the story line.

The music throughout by the Unthanks evokes emotional response; and the subtext of dance explodes at the climax with a wonderful finale. This #Gadgee is proud to have Live Theatre representing the best of the arts from the North East.

@gerry0504 This #Gadgee can endorse that Live Theatre in Newcastle is now a vital cog in the cultural life of the city & the North East as a whole. Apart from Arts Council/European funding , Live Theatre has also generated its own development money through artistic & financial successes with Billy Elliot & The Pitmen Painters.

With a prelude & coda of stately dancing to the lovely melodies of The Unthanks, this play proceeds initially as a series of duets between Harriet Martineau ( Lizzy McInnerny) & the other characters: her Doctor/Brother-in-Law (Matt Jamie); her feisty maid, Jane (Laura Jane Matthewson); The delightfully barmy Impie (Amy McAllister); The Mid-Victorian Ukipper , Robbie Grey (Deka Walmsley). His adopted mixed race niece, Beulah Grey (Kate Okello) plays dumb as a silent protest. (What a strong cast!)

This allows playwright, Shelagh Stephenson to illuminate the audience on the advanced, radical, social, political, feminist,& abolitionist beliefs of Harriet Martineau during her self-imposed 5 years sickness sojourn in Tynemouth.(This play is based on actual events).

Although the single set nature of the play in one room in a seaside boarding house made it intimate, it also gave it a somewhat static two dimensional feel.

However, in the Second Act, the play opened up rather like a comedic quadrille with the character & predicament of the now- speaking Beulah & her treatment by the arch-villain, Robbie Grey allowing discussions on slavery, sexism & women’s rights. It made for uncomfortable comparison with today’s society and maybe how little has really changed in 150+ years. Particularly poignant was the discussion about slave transportation to the USA which immediately brought to mind the current refugee boat crisis in the Med.

The marvellously scatty Impie & Robbie the Rogue had all the best comedy lines, the former with her fondness for seals in her paintings & her husband’s sad demise via a defenestrating pig; the latter with his outrageously non-pc beliefs & his penchant for ignoring the ideas/comments of the women, then passing them off as his own.

There were some nice Victorian period touches with Harriet’s strategic use of an ear trumpet & discussions on the merits of phrenology & mesmerism which were in vogue at the time. Also there was some contradiction between Harriet’s modern beliefs & her total reliance on her maid, Jane, which was neatly resolved in the play & reality by them both going on to Cumbria.

This #Gadgee was totally enthralled by ‘Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing’ the middle of a trilogy by Shelagh Stephenson ( The 1st being ‘A Northern Odyssey’), all connected in the past to real events in the North East; and looks forward to the final play.

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