Ana Mendes

The Gateshead International Festival of Theatre (GIFT) is in its third year, and this one is the biggest to date. The four-day programme has a global focus with a local feel, with artists fetched from around the world performing across five quirky venues around Gateshead, including the Old Town Hall, a wedge-shaped pub (The Central) and the metro station. AYT’s Becky Brewis is spending the weekend at the festival, and reports back…

Yesterday I saw nine performances.

It is testimony to Festival Director Kate Craddock’s commitment to bringing innovative work together for audiences in the north east that these included dance, film, new writing and, perhaps surprisingly, rock music, sung by vampish Furies. This was Kindle Theatre, whose burlesque/ heavy metal/ Greek tragedy fusion promenade brought last night to an electrifying close.


The Furies. Image: Alex Brenner

But the day started with three performances from graduating and newly-graduated students as part of the GIFTed strand of the programme which gives young people the chance to showcase their work. First up was a documentary-style performance by Dutch artist Emma Berenstein, Ma Mere n’est pas toujours Ma Mere, which told the story of the artist’s relationship with her manic depressive mother, through a multi-media piece featuring film, audio, confessional storytelling and plenty of red peppers. While the film clips are playing, Emma is busily preparing a large salad, following her mother’s traditional recipe, which she serves up to the audience at the end of the show. The bustle of salad-making creates an interesting dynamic with the domestic footage (and it’s always nice to be given something to eat).

A short, devised piece by students in their third year at Northumbria University was next, followed by On Regret, Longing and Other Matters Concerning Life and Love in the 21st Century by R|L|P, which opened with a discussion about how to start the show, and ended with one of its two actors, dressed all in white, pouring a whole bottle of red wine over his head. In the intervening half hour, fragments of contemporary life – mainly texting and dancing – told a non-love story about the chances that pass us by.

Then it was a short stroll round the corner to the Old Town Hall for Brian Lobel’s Ruach (“spirit” in Hebrew), a dance class complete with corny Eurovision YouTube videos. Lobel, as he is keen to point out, is not just any old dance teacher but a “certified Israeli folk dance instructor”. The performance is a tongue-in-cheek lesson in Jewish traditions, but mainly it’s a chance to dance barefoot in circles learning the Hora, and it’s really good fun. Two other pieces yesterday also made innovative use of dance. A Pillow Over Your Ears by Surface Area Dance Theatre was a ten-minute one-woman piece inspired by sign language, while in Dance Play, Ana Mendes (from Portugal) used movement to explore immigration, in a poignant account of a journey from Afghanistan to Germany.

GIFTed Emma Berentsen Ma mere

Emma Berentsen in Ma Mere n’est pas toujours Ma Mere.

A real highlight for me was Petrification by telltale, a 30-minute play about two brothers, written by Zoe Cooper: Sean is a docker while Simon left the north east and became a palaeontologist. Reunited over a pint in a pub back in Gateshead, their relationship comes under new strain as they remember a childhood holiday in Whitby. The show took place in The Central, on bar stools, with real pints and a dart board. Seeing a play set in a pub in Gateshead take place in a pub in Gateshead was moving, and a real reminder of the power regional theatre has to harness its locality to speak to local audiences.

Just up the road at the Gateshead Interchange, was Platform 1, by South African company Hobbs/ Neustetter: The Trinity Session – a very different, though equally site-responsive, piece about the urban regeneration of the area. Films that have been made just over the past week, featured striking images of demolition in an analysis of housing and its relationship with the human body and social mobility.

Today – the last day of the festival – will no doubt offer just as much variety.

What’s fantastic is how GIFT manages to achieve a truly integrated programme of work by new and established artists. Young artists can learn – through the workshops that make up an important part of the programme – from established performers and, given the reasonably priced festival passes, it offers a real chance for emerging artists to see some of the wide range of work being produced by regional and international theatre-makers.

For details on the performances, visit the GIFT website.