A Song For Ella Grey is a retelling of the Orpheus myth, set in modern-day Tyneside and written for young people but just as relevant to adults; it’s a powerful story about the power of story, teenage friendships, human connection and choice.
Based on the book by Tyneside author David Almond, this adaptation for the stage was written by Newcastle University lecturer and playwright, Dr Zoe Cooper.
At times this play feels like we are eavesdropping on this group of teenage friends. We are listening to their conversations, but we are hearing their thoughts, their hopes and the intensity of their emotional lives as on the cusp of adulthood and independence, they are carving out who they want to be in this world as they are drawn towards another.
In many ways the titular Ella, the central character, is actually the least central and the least interesting. Distracted and wooed from the shadows by the mysterious, musical Orpheus, Ella’s falling in love and sudden death are over-shadowed by the reactions of her friends, the depths of their feelings, the expressions of their inner worlds and their actions moving them on in their outer worlds, in their changed worlds.
This place, this Tyneside
The landscape is touchable, palpable. The grassy banks outside The Cluny, the Ouseburn river, the rugged beaches of the Northumberland coastline, the grey light and the wind and the audience turns a virtual collar against the February cold. Place is important and this place, this Tyneside is important; the connection between people and place, their humour and their hardships, their humour and their resolve.
Music and song centred emotions and storytelling, fixing points and haunting voices, glueing bonds between characters and evoking archetypal memories, blending pasts and futures in time as Orpheus echoed from the ancients and down the Ouseburn in a universal darkness.
Striking were the young cast with strong and passionate performances, particularly Olivia Onyehara playing Claire and the strong but sensitive Amonik Melako as Sam and Beth Crame’s Angeline and her uncontainable her love of being on the stage.
A Song For Ella Grey runs at Northern Stage until 15 February.