ReviewsQueen of MarsLGBTI Theatre Festival 2017

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Theatre ReviewsQueen of MarsTheatre on Brunker, AdamstownEnds April 1JOHN Wood, the writer and director of Queen of Mars, has said that he used the style of English playwright Alan Ayckbourn who shows the reactions of people to events that affect their families and friends amusingly but with moving moments. That is certainly the case in this look at a young n woman who is chosen to be a member of a team who will travel to Mars but not return.
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The play’s first half shows the woman, Alicia (Amy Wilde), telling friends and family that she is in the final group of international applicants for the Mars venture, with the closing moments showing her receiving the news by phone that she has been selected. In the second half, Alicia’s parents give her what they call a surprise birthday party, even though her birthday is three months away, with other guests more realistically referring to it as a going-away party. The reminiscences about past events and acquaintances frequently lead to arguments, initially jovial but increasingly darker, about what actually happened.

John Wood and the actors make the changing moods of the people understandable. Mark (Andrew Black), her boyfriend for four years, is the first she breaks the news of her finalist status to, inviting him to dine with her at a very upmarket restaurant. He is naturally upset. So, too, is her mother, Michelle (Jan Hunt), who spends much of the going-away party in the kitchen to try to hide her feelings. Her father, Craig (Patrick O’Brien), is more receptive but his concerns about the Mars trek also come out at the celebration. Younger brother Jason (James Chapman), a keen television watcher who was aware of plans for the Mars excursion, offers his support. Longtime friend Lauren (Emily Daly) and Josie (Elissa Shand), a workmate at the firm where Alicia is a lawyer, are generally convivial, as is her employer Duncan (Carl Gregory), who jokingly refers to her as “Alicia, the alien”.

The writer includes habits that audience members will recognise, such as Craig and Jason watching a television cricket test match while the party guests are arriving. Likewise, the shifts in moods are very recognisable. And the joking actions are believable, with Jason showing his research ability and reflecting the habits of many young adults when he presents his sister with space food sticks, a type of food that was developed for use on space ships in the early years of space exploration, except that Jason’s, so he asserts, include pot.

This premiere production is well worth seeing, with designer Chris Bird’s mix of settings adding to the show’s enjoyable reality.

LGBTI Theatre Festival 2017Catapult Dance Studio, Newcastle – March 10THE eight acts in the inaugural Newcastle LGBTI Theatre Festival for the most part showed engagingly how people make the most of changing their sexual orientation and have others accept that.

The colourfully dressed Asia Pop, in her number Heart Sweet Home, and accompanied by the schoolgirlishly-clad Carmen Mayflower, movingly revealed the problems she had in winning acceptance in her country town, while guitar-playing Teddy (Theodore Devere), in With Love, warmly paid tribute to the acceptance he’d had from family and friends, declaring in the lyrics that “Home is where I want to be”. And 19-year-old Dixie Normous cheerfully showed how drag performances had helped him come out of a confining shell.

The dialogue-based sequences included a short play, Reflection, by now Paris-based former Newcastle resident Jimi Goninan, and directed by the festival producer, Chris Le Page. Actors Jacob Agius and Harrison Cater engagingly presented the story of a young man struggling with his inner demons and feeling adrift in a world where physical connections had replaced emotional ones. Two other actors, Cassie Hamilton and Chris Shanko, used dialogue and song through In My Words to reveal the challenges they had encountered when feeling different to colleagues while growing up, and ultimately discovering their own identity and finding a place in society.

There were attention-grabbing scenes from coming full-length Newcastle productions that include gay characters. Writer and director Riley McLean’s Do Your Parents Know You’re Straight?, which is being staged by Eclectic Productions in early May, has a world where the people are homosexual, with the central character, a straight boy called Casey, struggling for acceptance. The staged excerpts showed how well the writer-director has used humour to make entertaining comment on sexual attitudes in today’s world. And the festival performance ended with the bright and lively song Seasons of Love, delivered by the ensemble from Pantseat Performance Arts’ April production of the hit Broadway musical Rent, which looks at the lives of would-be actors in New York, some of whom are gay.

The only festival item that didn’t work well was the opening sequence, How much does your secret weigh?. Performer Vivienne Eliot stood in the middle of the performance space with dozens of pieces of black ribbons and strings on the floor in front of her, with audience members expected to tie one on her and share a secret before returning to their seats. Fewer than 20 pieces were tied on her arms and legs in a 25-minute period, with most attached swiftly by offstage production team members. The audience should have been told at the show’s opening what was expected of them, encouraging one person after another to come forward.