The Hope Theatre is an example of one of the great smaller venues in London dedicated to opportunities for new writing and allowing creatives to get off the ground – its 50-seat black box space is available to productions for runs varying from a week to up to four, and also for productions like Another Northern Man. Here for only four nights in total and taking up the Hope’s Sunday-Monday slots, it is, for whatever reason, not quite ready for a full run just yet.
In this case, I feel that Another Northern Man has received the chance it deserves at this point, and that with more energy devoted to it by its playwright, Paul Kelly, it might in turn deserve more. One tense session between a psychiatrist and a client with a shared past, both brief and complicated, is played out in a proximity that makes for an unpleasant experience, which is the point. Kelly’s script takes in mental health and suicide amongst men, class and the divide between north and south, the British healthcare system, fatherhood and grief, which might seem a lot to take on for an hour-long play, but theatre is capable of a lot and the right script would have no problem handling all of this.
Andrew Murton as Noel and Justin Stahley as Phillip (psychiatric and client respectively) are strong actors with clear focus and the production suits the venue to uncomfortable effect. However, I found myself coming up against the very dramatic quality of the script itself; the way the characters talk to each other is ostentatious and almost too neat, and information is revealed in a very artificial way (Noel has the upper hand and tells us what he knows, Phillip rebuffs him with what Noel doesn’t know, Noel replies with what Phillip doesn’t know and et cetera) which altogether is at odds with the realism of the premise, the serious subject matter and the acting.
Another Northern Man has some lines that I really enjoyed – “raspberry ripple!” – and I cared about where it went, which is an achievement, but I think the play would perhaps benefit from some restructuring, in this way allowing Kelly to more effectively dwell on some of the themes he was correct to point to in this story, which is an arresting one. The uncertainty we’re left on is welcome and in here, somewhere, is a piece with an even more powerful sense of paranoid guilt and the ambiguity of what ‘care’ actually looks like.
Another Northern Man played at The Hope Theatre until September 18 2017.
Photo: The Hope Theatre