The Rainy City
Through Sally Wainwright-land on our TransPennine we slid, from East to West. Coffees and chats and getting to know one another. Our Newcastle Team comprised Katie Hickman, 3 adventurous Trust staff members (Balsam, Lee-Ann and Michael) and me.
On reaching our bustling destination we forged our path to the hotel and then off to the venue for rehearsal. Manchester shops are big. The whole city feels big. And confident. Red brick. Trams. Building and expansion. And did I say big?
I could wander down a narrative cul-de-sac about the piece of Manchester grit (famously tenacious) that flew into my eye, my subsequent stoicism helped not a little by being bolstered by the most qualified travel mates possible, and the outcome of tears of laughter washing it away, but let’s take a tip from Katie’s Google-savvy navigation and get to the point.
Around a corner, down a street…the venue. Aviva Studios Factory International. Felt very Factory. Looked very International. Chrome and sleek and cavernous. Great loos. We were warmly greeted.
‘Are you Newcastle?’ ‘Yayyyyyy!’ we replied in spontaneous unison (where does this come from?!). ‘Welcome. You’re on at 2’.
We were shown into the dark auditorium. Hushed voices, cameras and bright stage lights. Stage Managers darting about with radio antennae and mic stands. Actors and musicians onstage walking through their lines and the central impressive silhouette (he is very tall) of Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, weaving the event together through the shadows like a conductor. Or magician. One hand in the air, the other on his emails (very busy) but exuding enthusiasm.
‘Who’s next? Newcastle?’
‘Yayy,’ we offered nervously through our surreptitious Pret. ‘You’re on.’
Michael’s piece is a neat sketch-format playlet of Michael Parkinson (played by Michael Shaeffer) interviewing none other than the 75-year-old NHS (which was to be voiced by audience members). Team Newcastle Hospitals were to show LAUGH and APPLAUSE placards at appropriate points. It’s such a gorgeous piece, and I had to concentrate not to drift into enjoyment as it played.
‘Just keep your eyes on me,’ our Parky said, ‘I’ll keep you right.’ Just as I imagined the real deal had been, reassuringly professional to the last.
Though the run through was brief and the room busy, organised chaos in fact, it felt so warm. Good humoured. Energised and exciting. And full of… I don’t know… heart.
Stand up. Hold a thing. Lift a thing. Then exit. Smile. Try not to trip. Got it.
‘Thanks Newcastle.’ ‘Yayy.’ we said.
It was hard to get a sense of the other work in the short rehearsal. Only to wonder at the scale of the operation… so to speak. How on earth would it play? Beautifully as it turned out.
The evening itself was packed and the atmosphere in the room hard to describe. The pieces were funny, moving, energetic, delicate, inspiring and insightful. And so many voices. One by one the trusts were introduced and whether live or on film the contributors and their passions and wisdoms just shone. The professional cast sang, performed, supported, and made space. Metal trolleys danced across the stage at one point, never lighter on their wheels in a piece about the sheets and uniforms, the colours and characters, and the care behind the care as photographs of linen services staff played out on a large screen. It was the overriding feeling of the evening and for me the project as a whole.
The invisible made visible in this vibrant and complex picture painted large.
And with the knowledge that in NHS hospitals and sites across the country the very work that prompted this dedication was continuing. Carried out by hands, busy and vital. On this evening, together, it was almost made manifest. If you closed your eyes you could imagine that you could hear its continuous chatter and hum. Its tenacity. Its exhaustion. Its laughs. Its tears.
And as with every portrait worth their paint, the knowledge that this one evening we had caught a glimpse of an angle, but that so many more were implied. And as with a portrait, it was all in the brushstrokes of the painters. Our National Health Service. 75 years. We see you. Now let us not look away.
We’ll hear more of the stories Laura Lindow has been writing alongside Newcastle Hospitals staff at Writing with Care, a special sharing event at Northern Stage on 25 April. Everyone welcome, tickets are free, but please book a place in advance. Full details here.