DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

A Song For Ella Grey – Northern Stage, Newcastle

Reviewer: Lesley Oldfield

Writer: David Almond

Adaptor: Zoe Cooper

Director: Esther Richardson

The ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is at the heart of this tale of North East teenagers – firm friends since childhood and about to be hurled apart.

Newcastle author David Almond, most famous for Skellig, wrote the young adult novel A Song for Ella Grey and Zoe Cooper created this play from his work. Only those who have read it will know whether it is a faithful adaptation.

It is not giving too much away to say that tragedy befalls the friends as they navigate exams, their passions, their diverging paths and the demands of overprotective and intrusive parents as the youngsters struggle to assert their own identities. Into this heady mix is then added the otherworldly figure of Orpheus, who amplifies all their emotions and leads Ella Grey on her fateful path.

A cast of five inhabit the simple stage of cloud-like podiums and ever-changing projections, their only prop – that teenage essential – a duvet. The bare duvets are not just bedding, they are used to create waves or at one point a looming monster, and also suggest homelessness at this time of transition.

Grace Long as Ella is a gentle figure, Olivia Onyehara is convincingly distraught as her devoted friend Claire and Beth Crame as Angeline (and in other parts) never fails to deliver.

Amonik Melaco and Jonathan Iceton also put in strong performances as Sam and Jay – and when called on to become parents, teachers, or the fellow pupils who provide light relief.

There is a fair bit of narration in the play, which regularly jumps after six or seven words from character to character but this Greek chorus effect lent a slightly chaotic air to proceedings.

It is helpful to know the original myth to understand the second half of the show where the friends brave the underworld and must never look back if they are all to leave it. However, it could still be a little confusing.

As the title indicates, songs are important to the play. They include compositions by Emily Levy as well as traditional ballads like Keep Your Feet Still Geordie Hinny, which only in a drama would Year 13s be found enthusiastically singing around the campfire.

The whole production, by Pilot Theatre in association with Northern Stage and York Theatre Royal, is firmly rooted in the North East as the pals roam the region. And for those tempted to visit them, it seems only fair to warn you that Ouseburn’s Victoria Tunnels might well be the path to Hades.

Runs until 15 February 2024

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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