Apples (after Richard Milward) Albany Theatre Deptford 16 June

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An image from the Apples microsite

The stalls in the Albany Theatre Deptford were about seven-eighths full by the time this show began;  the seats near me were mostly occupied by women with blonde highlights drinking pints of lager, and they had the right accent as well.

OK so this is an adaptation of the novel Apples by Richard Milward, and it’s about a group of school-age youngsters in Middlesbrough who experience what you might think of the cliched misfortunes of working-class youth:  parental violence, drug abuse, non-consensual sex, drunkenness, shoplifting, bullying, unplanned pregnancy, infanticide.  What I liked about the book–and which this show maintains–is the constant optimism and the ability to turn what could be grim cliches into something poetic, fresh and original.

There was a great deal that the blonde pint-drinking black-dress-wearing women (and I) enjoyed immensely, especially the unconsciously self-condemning descriptions of deficient sexual technique.  And as a dance show with dramatic or comic interludes it worked very well and also provoked a whole steelworks of nostalgia.

Another image from the same place

Unfortunately, it…er…wasn’t a play.  What happened happened because it was in the book rather than because it came out of the characters and their interactions.  There wasn’t enough nastiness to be redeemed by the music colour and poetry.  So there was no real conflict.  At the beginning, the effect of Eve finding out her mother has lung cancer and then going down the disco with her mates should be like being hit over the head, and here it wasn’t.  When Adam goes to The Grove pub here for the first time, he mentions the frightening steroid freaks in his narration to the audience–in fact, a lot of the show was narration to the audience–but you didn’t see them and so discounted them.

I didn’t think that either the script or Louis Roberts the actor captured the sheer inadequate viciousness of Gary–here he simply seemed confused.  As Eve, Therase Neve embodied the kind of attractive, friendly, open North Eastern girl that everyone knows, but unfortunately she also struck me as being far to sensible to see taking Ecstasy with a bunch of losers as the height of  happiness.  Similarly, Adam (Scott Turnbull) was simply not odd enough:  he’s supposed (I think) to be displaying OCD and probably a few other behavioural pathologies as well.  A love story between a realistically-damaged Adam and a realistically-damaged Eve would have been something extraordinary and, to be fair, Milward didn’t provide it in the first place.

The programme says:  We are especially excited when we find a story which speaks with love and honesty about the North East.  It was a good show, and it treated the characters and their situations with sympathy, understanding and some of the poetic transcendence of the original, but you didn’t really see enough of what it was necessary to be honest about.

The show is a co-production between Northern Stage and Company of Angels and will be touring various locations until the end of July, before spending most of September in Newcastle–details here.

I remember a long time ago telling some people at a conference that providing sexual health services for young people in Middlesbrough concentrated in a specific building was not a good idea because you might (for instance) need to go there because you might (for instance) need the morning-after pill and there might (for instance) be someone like (for instance) your boyfriend hanging around who would see you going there…

Update 22 June: Oxford Playhouse have a £5 ticket offer to see APPLES at the BT Studio this week. Call 01865 305305  and quote “£5 offer” when booking.

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