A Song for Ella Grey reconstructs the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the setting of the Ouseburn of Tyneside and in the ambience of the beaches of Northumberland. It’s very much a local story. Being part of a local audience, in a local theatre, there was a lot extra I was able to take from this production as well as all others in the theatre. From its beautifully poetic descriptions of the city to its familiar story of the coastlines, it was wholly relatable. However, this is also a story with the potential to transcend locality. Writer David Almond combines a coming-of-age story with ancient mythology perfectly: the entrance to the Underworld lies beneath the Cluny, a popular bar within the Ouseburn and the beaches at Bamburgh are re-imagined as Greece. In place of the Ancient Greek God, Orpheus, who charms the God of the underworld with his Lyre and Voice, Orpheus in A Song for Ella Grey is a brooding, mysterious Geordie lad with a voice of gold and extensive horizons. In place of Eurydice is Ella Grey, a young girl who falls in love with Orpheus entirely and follows him to the ends of the earth.
The core of A Song for Ella Grey is a tale of a teenage relationship, with all the powerful invitation and destructiveness that lies within that. This play is not “a simple tale of a girl and a boy falling in love”, the story goes beyond this, gently exploring a tale of ambiguous sexuality. It does so nearly, so very nearly, without feeling the need to explain, define or label, which was hugely refreshing to watch.
Claire, the story’s protagonist, is Ella’s childhood friend and speaks of the deep love that has always existed between them. Claire is the only character to appear live on stage and walks her way through the events of what happened between Ella and Orpheus. Amy Cameron as Claire is impressive, holding the audience’s attention throughout the 90 minutes in a role which demands poignancy, flippancy, dynamism and placidity. Which was especially impressive as the second act was in complete darkness. Perhaps the only aspect slightly lacking was the delivery at times was slightly rushed. However, for the most part her performance was entirely captivating.
Yet this production is not a one-woman show. Claire’s role as lead is supported by an ensemble comprised of young local actors from the Northern Stage Young Company programme of which I am a part of. As the show progresses, this chorus entices and pushes Claire to carry on with her story through the more painful exerts. At other times, we took on the character of teachers, school kids, Cerberus and Hades of Underworld. The Young Company was an integral part of the second act which relied wholly on aural stimulation. Being part of this show and process was massively inspiring and close to my heart. Getting to be in the audience, watching the full show was truly wonderful.
In many ways, this production has all the warmth and joy of community theatre. In his post show talk, Almond stated that the point of ancient stories is that they don’t happen in some other place or country, but here and now amongst us. He’s absolutely achieved this. Watching the show brought back many memories, both joyful and painful, of growing up. Falling in love with the right people, the wrong people, rejection, celebration, adulation – it’s all here. This is especially poignant for a local audience with the backdrop of a local story, in a local theatre.