One of Durham's best-kept secrets is the City Theatre, a tiny 100-seater venue hidden away behind the market place. The City is home to the Durham Dramatic Society who perform at least five plays a year here, many featuring certain well-known faces from the local open mic scene. This year's New Writing Festival showcased three brand-new plays and offered a welcome alternative to the usual Thug Pub Babylon available elsewhere on a Friday night.
First up was 'Plan C', a gripping play by Alan Godfrey about a bungled Irish terror plot. This was a great idea for a drama and featured some interesting merging of music and acting, with the singing of the old Irish ballad 'Reynardine' every time someone was preparing to go out on a mission. On the downside, the mixing of comedy elements detracted from the seriousness of the theme, but with an expansion of the claustrophobic central scenes, this could be a real runner. And of course, black berets and mirror shades always look good on stage.
Chris Neville Smith's 'First Sign Of Madness' was the meat in the sandwich and featured the best performance of the night, from Nicki Doyle (portrait below by Janiece Spence) as the bereaved girlfriend reflecting on her lost love. It was written in the Alan Bennett monologue style and had some excellent observation and good use of sound effects. Those tweeting birds certainly gave me the first signs of madness after 20-odd minutes.
Last up was Chris Joby's 'Crossing The Line', a high-brow comedy about obsessive Dutch Modernist Piet Mondrian. For me, this was the best-written piece of the night, with some amusing exchanges between Mondrian and the other 'De Stijl' artists Theo van Doesburg and George Vantongerloo. Like the previous play, it was ultimately a bit of shaggy dog story, but the punch-line was a killer.
Three entertaining plays for a fiver means great value and with a bar in the venue, where you can meet the cast and writers afterwards, the City provides a much more involving experience than the offerings at the Gala. The next performance will be Dennis Potter's 'Blue Remembered Hills' starting November 27th and running until December 3rd. Make a date in your diary and be sure to support your local luvvies.