Best known as a landmark TV series, it’s been several years since this story has been performed in its original stage form.
But like the Shakespeare histories that inspired writer Peter Flannery’s script, it retains that ability to hold up a mirror to the themes of politics and friendship, then and now.
Wide in scope, Our Friends in the North tells the story of four friends and their lives through the turbulent times of the 60s and 70s, reflecting the politics of the day. It’s also a story about corruption; about the small deceits that ultimately lead to larger betrayals of values, beliefs and even countries.
The action takes place in a series of short scenes, moving from the back streets of Newcastle to the seedy lanes of Soho and out beyond to the fields of what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
The play is expertly performed by a large cast who take on multiple roles, including those of scene shifters.
It takes some mental effort to keep up and to piece together these brief glimpses of multiple lives which defy traditional narrative. But the effort is worth it. For, as slowly, inexorably the layers of corruption are revealed, our four friends are altered, changed and drawn apart.
Just as the TV series introduced us to a select band of great actors from the North East and elsewhere, the stage production brings a wealth of talented Geordies back home.
Neil Armstrong (known to many from Byker Grove) is Tosker, married to Mary, played by Sonia Beinroth who also takes on the key female role of Rusty.
Joe Renton plays Nicky, the idealist caught up in local government and dodgy housing deals, and Craig Conway is Geordie, the straight-up canny-lad who falls into the sleazy world of Soho porn barons, drugs and gangsters.
These are four fine, fine performances in a cast full of fine perfomances. They give this piece its heart and soul and centre.