Home / Drama / Canary Gold – Northern Stage, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Canary Gold – Northern Stage, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Writer and director: Carlos Belda

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez


This production sang like a canary and shone like gold, but was it fool’s gold? The story begins in the 16th century, shifting back and forth to modern day. The song “What would you do with a drunken sailor, what would you do with a merchant banker” encapsulates much of the essence of the story. ‘Canary Gold’ is a highly prized sweet white wine from the Canaries, being a sweet classic Madeira grape, golden in colour, hence its name; known in England as Malmsey, it has been around a long time and always highly valued. Shakespeare refers to it in Henry IV part 2, Falstaff says “You have drunk too much Canneries, that’s a marvellous searching wine” and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night has a “cup of Canary”. The piece endeavours to relate the 500 years trade between the Canary Islands and the UK. It refers specifically to the pirates that stole it and to modern day speculators who use it purely as investment, to the point of deception. What is the difference between thieves, pirates or bankers? In the 16th century goods and wine were unloaded at Canary Wharf, which today is the international centre for banking and finance. “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies” said Thomas Jefferson, who features in the story. A rare bottle with “Th J “on the label appears for sale in London; can this have belonged to the USA president Thomas Jefferson when celebrating the Declaration of Independence, or is it a fake?

The cast of four play many characters spanning centuries. Sir Francis Drake alias Bob Drake (John Cobb) handles many lengthy monologues with ease, showing his theatrical expertise and experience; Jason Hawkins (Paddy Burton) portrays many characters and displays his musical talents. The two women are a good counterfoil, Milagros Alonso (Josefa Suarez) being the strongest Spanish contributor and Clemence de Lafayette (Sophie Millon) the French.

Live music, songs, frequent costume changes, varying from Elizabethan to modern and movement maintain an exuberant, youthful atmosphere, maintaining non-stop action. Exotic, outrageous characters, real and fictitious, meld together with the wine back and forth through the centuries. Some of the choreographed movement is very clever and witty, the mixture of languages and time frames well handled,

The set (Alison Ashton) facilitates a multitude of possibilities regarding all aspects of the production; comprising mainly of trucks and four tea chests which are adapted to form many locations; a very well designed set for a touring production. The lighting (Dimas Cedres) creates very atmospheric effects on the back cloth and drapes, together with sound effects which enhanced the action.

This is a co-production between the Hexham based Theatre Sans Frontiers and Teatro Tamaska from Tenerife, both formed nearly 24 years ago. Mainly in English, the Spanish and French have unobtrusive surtitles, which are often not required as the meaning is generally gathered from the action. A cross between a child’s pop-up story book and serious message with songs, all delivered with tongue in cheek, with a rather naive quality. While the themes were all connected and relevant, ‘Canary Gold’ is an over flowing glass quite suddenly drained with a song, making the show a little frantic, a lot of content indeed for 100 minutes! If you do not get a chance to see the show it is touring Tenerife in April, culture on holiday.

The full house took to this feast with relish showing their appreciation audibly. The Q&A with the company and offer of wine tasting after the show continued the personal feel of the evening, which was educational and entertaining.

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