New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th July, 2015
The discovery of buried treasure now known as the Staffordshire Hoard is a fascinating story on its own but the ever-ambitious New Vic Theatre has gone further, unearthing a wealth of creativity and imagination in this festival inspired by the find.
There’s such a lot going on: exhibitions, installations, drama – there’s a dozen five-minute treats called ‘table plays’, where actors mingle in the bar (nothing innovative there!) and address small audiences with monologues and storytelling. I caught four of the twelve, each one a distinctive jewel. In Half A Horse by Isy Suttie, a woman (Paula James) searches for her lover who has left her with half of a horse-brooch as a token. It’s funny, down-to-earth and sweet. In The Foreigner by Lydia Adetunji, Suzanne Ahmet speaks a garnet’s point of view, recounting its ‘life story’ in a beautiful piece of writing, magnetically performed. David Semark and Johnson Willis perform a potted Beowulf but it’s getting too rowdy in the bar as playgoers continue to arrive. There’s no such problem with Out of the Dark: The Hoard Speaks, which takes place in an alcove behind a curtain. A cast of three (David Crellin, Perry Moore and Adam Morris) pore over runic symbols, their faces lit from below by candles. It’s mesmerising and intimate – the rich words by Alan Garner of Owl Service and Brisingamen fame. This one turns out to be my favourite (of the four I’ve seen); it’s like going back in time.
To the main business of the evening and the first of a double bill of plays.
THE THRONE by Frazer Flintham
The New Vic’s resident genius Theresa Heskins directs this present-day comedy, set in a Staffordshire pub. Landlord Sid (David Crellin) and best customer Cliff (David Nellist) play a practical joke on upper class Gordon (Adam Morris), a bit of a smoothie who claims to be a ‘ghost receiver’. He has a global following on the internet. The prank misfires and Gordon looks to be made even wealthier by what he finds buried in a field.
It’s a lot of fun, thanks to a likeable script that has more bathos than a Victoria Wood special, and the affectionate depiction of the characters. David Crellin is spot on as the affable landlord; Gwawr Loader makes a chirpy barmaid, and Elizabeth Elvin is monstrously funny as pretentious and catty Pam. There is amusing support from Perry Moore as a local news reporter with a dicky tummy.
Cliff has worked in the local toilet factory for 25 years and it falls to him to make the play’s key point: it’s not kings or trinkets that matter, it’s the working men and women who put the king on the throne, who crafted the jewels and fine objects. Without the working class, the upper class would be nowhere. It’s a powerful moment without labouring the point.
As Gordon, Adam Morris smarms and charms it up, playing to (web)camera. It’s traditional stuff: the lower orders making fun of the toffs, and it’s perfectly pitched and highly entertaining.
LARKSONG by Chris Bush
Set in the hoard’s Anglo-Saxon past, this piece is less immediately accessible. There is a clash of styles at work here. There is choric speaking where the language is lyrical and alliterative, much like Anglo-Saxon verse and there is some very (perhaps too) modern dialogue that doesn’t quite go with the period setting. The play would seem less fractured if it picked one style and ran with it.
It tells the story of a group who appropriate a load of valuables but don’t know what to do with it. It seems their every option will trigger conflict and bloodshed. It’s an interesting look at how the hoard might have come to be where it ended up but where it works best for me is with its reflections on an earlier bygone era. The end of the Roman civilisation plunged Europe into the dark ages, a kind of post-apocalyptic society, it seems.
As Lark, Crystal Condie sings beautifully and there is some pleasing interplay between the characters who are all named after creatures. Romayne Andrews is Mouse, Johnson Willis is Mole, a goldsmith, and Perry Moore is Weasel – I can’t help thinking of Wind in the Willows. What comes across is that although circumstances have changed, people essentially have not – and I think that’s the point of this festival as a whole. It’s not about the treasures, it’s about people and history and mortality. Larksong, directed by Gemma Fairlie, has some striking moments rather than being uniformly brilliant throughout.
I’m looking forward to going back to the New Vic soon and seeing some more.