Review: Protest at Northern Stage
Protest by Hannah Lavery
Northern Stage 2nd May 2023
Before I talk about this production, I would like to talk about the venue. I have been to Northern Stage many times, and I’ve even performed on one of the stages a few years ago, and I am always very impressed with everything from the foyer to the technical aspects of this impressive building. The staff are extremely welcoming and tonight was no different. Set in the heart of the main campus of Newcastle University, Northern Stage presents a professional and modern feel with a well-stocked bar and a lovely bistro area which offers classy sharing platters and some of the loveliest looking pizzas cooked freshly on the premises. It’s always nice when you can have a quick bite before a performance and you will always get a warm welcome at Northern Stage.
I read the synopsis of Protest before I arrived at the venue and it certainly intrigued me. What was presented to me was certainly not what I was expecting but in a very good way. This is a single act production performed by three very talented actors who present the carefully crafted words of the author with authenticity and great humour. It could easily have become bogged down by some of the weightier issues but this does not happen in a wonderful and wordy performance by the three characters.
The story concerns three intertwined but individual stories of three primary school girls who face various battles and anxieties including inequalities between the way the girls and boys are treated in terms of their athletic prowess, social anxiety, overt and covert racism and worries about climate change.
We are introduced to Alice (Kirsty MacLaren) first who is a keen runner and makes no bones about the fact that she can run faster than anyone else in her class including Rory and Craig who are the resident class jocks to use the American term. She is greatly frustrated that she is not chosen to anchor the relay team despite challenging and winning against all comers. Next comes classmate Jade (Tamara Fairbairn) who suffers the indignity of direct and indirect racism from various quarters throughout the piece. Finally, we meet sensitive and nature loving Chloe (Esme Kingdom) who likes nothing more than to be in the great outdoors in her hide, which her father built for her, observing the wildlife in the woods near to her home. She aspires to be the next Beatrix Potter and enjoys drawing all the birds, deer and other wildlife she encounters.
The themes of this delightful one act play are quite weighty at times but the skilful way Hannah Lavery negotiates the sensitive topics is such that the pitfalls of preachiness which could have held up this production are avoided. I never once felt that I was being preached at or that I should take away anything from the performance – I most certainly did but that is not the primary purpose of Protest. This is a story of three young girls taking on growing up with a joyous enthusiasm and making insightful commentary on the things that affect them on a day to day basis.
The set is beautifully colourful, innovative, clever and suggests a playground that you may see in any suburban park or school but the magic comes from the way that it is lit with some dramatic effects which complement the script and the action perfectly. Hats off to Ali Hunter for the lighting design and also to the sound technicians, Novasound and Phill Howarth who provided a soundscape that was incredibly evocative and audibly brought the action to life without overpowering the action.
The direction from Natalie Ibu is nothing short of exquisite and really brings out the playful, youthful nature of the young girls with an energy that bursts from the stage and you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement and naivety of the characters. For me there was a running undertone of caution about the way children are affected and moulded by the actions of their parents, grandparents and teachers which added another dimension to the script and performances.
Protest is a joyous, uplifting celebration of young people which by its very nature is delightful to watch. There are sub stories, back stories and even a deftly but innocently coming out story about an unseen brother which is quite beautifully told. There is something for everyone in this production which offers and delivers so much. Bravo to the cast, creatives and above all the writer.
Protest by Hannah Lavery plays at Stage 2 of Northern Stage until 6th May. Hope is indeed a super power.
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