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A Song for Ella Grey review at Northern Stage, Newcastle-upon-Tyne – ‘a mesmerising performance’

Amy Cameron in A Song For Ella Grey at Northern Stage. Photo: Pamela Raith Amy Cameron in A Song For Ella Grey at Northern Stage. Photo: Pamela Raith

Adapted from his award-winning young adult novel, David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey re-imagines the Orpheus myth in contemporary Newcastle and coastal Northumberland.

In this one woman show, teenager Claire reluctantly tells the tale of her best friend Ella who falls for the mellifluous Orpheus with tragic consequences.

Claire is joined by a virtual chorus, made up of around 20 young local performers, who appear on pre-recorded film and audio to both illuminate her narrative, as well as to coax and cajole her to continue the story when she finds it too painful to go on.

Almond’s play is spellbinding; the power of his story telling comes from his ability to mix magic with the mundane and poetry with the prosaic. Amy Cameron does his words justice, giving a visceral and mesmerising performance as Claire.

For the most part Kris Deedigan’s hypnotic film sequences complement Cameron, and director Lorne Campbell does a good job of balancing and blending the production’s live and pre-recorded elements.

He is, however, less successful at manoeuvring Cameron around her physical surroundings. This is largely due Jen McGinley’s set design of cardboard boxes and stones, which impedes rather than facilitates the action.

The scene in the Underworld feels overly long. At first, Orphesus’ descent into Hades, performed in complete darkness and accompanied by Mariam Rezaei’s unsettling soundscape, is genuinely scary. But after 15 minutes this becomes tedious and created a lull in what is an otherwise engrossing piece of theatre.

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The Orpheus myth brought vividly to life in 21st century Newcastle