DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Elevator Festival: Last Seen Bensham Road / Redcoat – Live Theatre, Newcastle

Reviewer: Chris Collett

Last Seen Bensham Road

Writer and performer: Samantha Neale

Director Holly Gallagher

 

Redcoat

Writer and performer: Lewis Jobson

Director: Melanie Rashbrooke

 

Now in its fifth year, Live Theatre’s Elevator Festival offers emerging dramatists a platform for their nascent work. This year the festival includes seven new plays including solo shows Last Seen Bensham Road and Redcoat, presented here as a double bill.

Written and performed by Samantha Neale, Last Seen Bensham Road tells the story of Tanya, a struggling single mother, tortured by her perceived inadequacy as a parent. Scruffy, skint and unable to calm her screaming son on the school run, Tanya longs to hide away from the judging stares of the school gate yummy mummies. She wishes she could just disappear until one day, she literally does. What starts as a Ken Loach-style gritty drama takes a turn into It’s a Wonderful Life territory as Tanya is given the chance to review her life from a celestial perspective.

Neale’s writing and performance are both passionate and heartfelt; Tanya’s struggles are real and relevant. But she does feel a little one-dimensional and doesn’t exist much beyond her daily battle for survival. If this show has a life after the festival, it would benefit from the fleshing out of Tanya’s character.

Although not explicitly stated, Redcoat appears to be an autobiographical piece, recounting writer and performer Lewis Jobson’s experiences working at as Butlin’s entertainer in Bognor Regis.

You can certainly see why Jobson was given a job at the holiday camp. He radiates energy and charm as he takes the audience on a frantic whistle stop tour of endless 16-hour days spent dancing with the Skyline gang, giving directions to the toilet and escorting Barney the Dinosaur around the resort. There are some excellent set pieces of physical comedy and there’s a particularly entertaining episode in which Jobson forgets the lines to Walking on Sunshine while singing on stage.

The show is less successful in its depiction of the downside of Redcoat life; the mental toll the loneliness, exhaustion and hangovers eventually take. While Jobson touches on his struggles, it’s not explored in any depth and he’s clearly much more comfortable showing off his dance moves than baring his soul. But then again, they are very good moves.

Runs until 14th March 2020   

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