Even though I went to university in Newcastle, have lived there on and off for ten years and class myself as an honorary Geordie, I wouldn’t say I was an expert on the history of the city. I try and go to various events to find out more (my friend Bill has taught me a lot – he’s a proper expert) and I knew that I would certainly learn more about traditional Northumbrian songs, and hopefully have a laugh by watching Geordie The Musical.
You’re instantly transported back to the late 19th century (1890 to be precise) by the set – wooden barrels replace tables in the Wheatsheaf, a popular pub on the banks of the Tyne. Steel girders hang precariously above the stage, a visual reminder of the colossal presence of the booming coal, steel and shipbuilding industry (the Tyneside shipyards were one of the largest centres of shipbuilding in the world and built Japan’s entire navy from 1900 to 1910).
|There’s never a dull moment at the Wheatsheaf|
We meet the Melia family who run the pub – Landlord James (played by Dale Meeks) who was injured in the Trimdon Grange Pit Explosion of 1882, Bella (Viktoria Kay), the passionate and protective landlady and their spirited daughter Maggie (Eleanor Chaganis), who has ambitions to go and study at Durham University (women are to be admitted for the first time). The pub is the centre of the community and much-loved by regulars Robert (Phil Corbitt), songwriter Tommy Armstrong (Micky Cochrane), Oliver Hislop (Donald McBride) and Irishman Micky Cuminksy (Luke Maddison) for its warmth and live music (a violinist, double bass player and pianist are on stage throughout the show) with cast members also regularly showcasing their musical talents on guitar and percussion. You’re instantly captivated by the depth of the characters and the uplifting group numbers – ‘The Keel Row,’ Keep Your Feet Still Geordie Hinny and ‘The Landlord’s Daughter’ as well as the more sombre ones ‘The Trimdon Grange Explosion,’ and ‘Gan Te The Kye.’
Everything is gannin’ canny (see, I’m getting into it) until two outsiders turn up and threaten to rock the boat. John Thompson, a Cambridge academic arrives to conduct language tests on the natives (played by Adam Donaldson), who understandably becomes the butt of the regulars’ jokes until they get to know him better. A mysterious figure, Joshua Adams (played by James Hedley) begins to loiter around the Wheatsheaf, who doesn’t mix and quickly threatens the convivial atmosphere. You find yourself truly invested in the future of the pub and its regulars very quickly, which has a lot to do with writer Tom Kelly’s award-winning storytelling skills and excellent direction by Jamie Brown. There are too many highlights to mention – John and Maggie’s ill-fated trip to the coast, the craic between Robert and Micky on their breaks, Tommy’s moving rendition of ‘The Trimdon Explosion’ and Oliver’s cheeky one-liners.
It’s difficult to single out one thing that makes the show so heart-warming, but the inclusion of over a dozen traditional Geordie songs play a huge part. You’ll be clapping and singing along quickly (depending on where you’re from) and everyone can at least join in for the finale (if you can’t guess then shame on you). I left feeling warm inside after laughing, shedding a few tears, clapping, singing and being thoroughly entertained for over two hours.
Geordie The Musical is at Tyne Theatre and Opera House until Saturday 14th October. Book tickets here (Tickets £18 full price, £16 concessions).