Oh all right, I'll do a review of the play as well, but mainly I want to get to the very exciting thing that happened during the play: The sort of thing that some people on my flist, especially those of a lowcultural persuasion, will be very jealous of; and some people, especially the Americans and other aliens, will stare at the screen blankly.
Mixed Up North is another piece of verbatim theatre (in which writers record interviews with real people, then edit them into a script) although writer Robin Soans and director Max Stafford-Clark don't go as far as Alecky Blythe, who gave her actors headphones onstage to listen to the original people speaking during the performance. The theme is racism and the setting is a youth club in Burnley, a town still dealing with the effects of the race riots there in 2001. The first half sees them attempt to do a dress rehearsal of the play they're putting on the next night, with the audience as invited observers. The dress rehearsal becomes a disaster, and in the second half we return the next night where instead of a performance they've had to put on a Q&A featuring a mixed-race couple who'd inspired their workshops.
It's lovely to see something at Wilton's Music Hall again, not least to know that the place is still standing and able to house shows. It's a bit of an odd match to have a modern play in a crumbling Victorian building, but designer Jonathan Fensom manages to make it work. There's good moments in the play and the cast are all very good (plus a couple of hotties in Tyrone Lopez and Kashif Khan - in keeping with a running theme chez this blog, the programme notes confirm they're both LAMDA boys) but all too often this play about community theatre seems to actually be a dodgy piece of community theatre. There's a lot of interesting things here about Burnley, including the idea that there's so little industry there that since 2001 creating problems and trying to solve them has become the closest thing to an industry and town identity they've got. But there's a lot of moments where the action stops so the characters can turn to the audience and give them a potted history of the town and how they relate to it, including some cringe-inducing linking dialogue. In the second half this feeling is even stronger as it's essentially just a recreation of a Q&A.
A lot of interesting ideas but they don't really feel fleshed out dramatically, despite many good moments along the way. On another note I found it funny that the poster photo shows a white boy chatting up an Asian girl, when the play has a running theme that the youth group's members are almost entirely white girls and Asian boys, and that mixed couples always seem to be that way round.
However there's something very exciting about this evening, and shows how sometimes by sheer luck you pick just the right seat: Celia Imrie plays Trish, the youth group leader. She's the first person to address the audience in their role as outside observers there to give their thoughts on the dress rehearsal, and says there's some cake on the way that they'll pass round. Then she says, tonight directly to me, "you could manage a slice of cake I'm sure." (I was tempted to be offended but the playtext programme means I could check that line was really there, and it wasn't a comment on my weight; she presumably has the seat I was in, at the middle of the second row, as her marker every night.) Then the really exciting thing: Later in the show a tin of cake does arrive, Trish says "I promised you a slice didn't I?" and gives me cake. Celia. Imrie. Gave. Me. Cake. MISS BABS + CAKE! I know! I said you'd be jealous. The whole two fronts rows got a slice, but after me Imrie passes the tin to another actress and asks her to pass it around, so although I wasn't the only one to get cake, I was the only one given it directly by Celia Imrie. Tonight, anyway. I KNOW!
Mixed Up North by Robin Soans is booking until the 5th of December at Wilton's Music Hall.