DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Offing – Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Reviewer: Jonathan Cash

Writer: Benjamin Myers

Adaptor: Janice Okoh with additional material by Paul Robinson

Director: Paul Robinson

The Offing, a Live Theatre co-production with the Stephen Joseph Theatre, is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name. It tells the story of Robert (James Gladdon) a 16-year-old from a Durham mining village who sets out to wander down the country, as a prelude to inevitably settling down to work in the mine.

At Robin Hood’s Bay he encounters Dulcie (Cate Hamer) an eccentric, cultured older woman who sees a spark in him that leads her to introduce him to poetry and literature, ultimately encouraging him to become a writer.  Their developing friendship also brings her to confront the ghosts of her past in the shape of a German poet she has loved and lost.

The dialogue is intelligent and believable and the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic. Hamer’s performance is nuanced, literate, and always compelling. She shifts effortlessly from the present Dulcie to her younger self and her romance with Ingvild Lakou’s Romy is tender and touching. Lakou is a commanding and graceful presence, moving in and out of the action, convincingly evoking Romy’s mercurial temperament.

Gladdon’s naïve Robert develops credibly throughout and he is always engaging. His early dialogue is somewhat flowery for an ill-educated teenager but then it is this that makes Dulcie spot the writer within. It is perhaps a stretch to have him portray the 90-year-old Robert at the beginning and the end with only a jacket and scarf to signify his transformation. In a way this also seems superfluous, as the story seems complete in itself. No doubt, this is a nod to the way the story is told in the novel.

There are always difficulties in adapting a novel for the stage, particularly when so much of the story is about the inner lives of the characters and the writers must show in two hours what the novel can use many pages to illustrate, particularly the motivation for the characters to behave as they do.  For the most part, Janice Okoh and Paul Robinson have achieved this. However, the final resolution of Dulcie’s loss is movingly portrayed but does not seem entirely credible. Also, much of the tale seems to have been told by the end of the first half and the second, though entertaining throughout, holds less surprises.  Nevertheless, for an audience thoroughly invested in the characters, the absence of loose ends was, no doubt, satisfying.

Live Theatre is an intimate theatre which made for a real rapport between the audience and the actors but the playing space is necessarily limited, as is the scope to define different areas by lighting. The play moves frequently in space and time and the imposing set by Helen Goddard at times hampered this slightly by being so specific. Though credit must be given for the imaginative and amusing evocation of a car, conjured using a table and a 78 record.

In short, this is an entertaining evening, mixing laughter and tears and compellingly performed by a splendid cast.

Runs until 27th November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Entertaining Book Adaptation

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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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