Our Friends in the North @ Northern Stage

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.

Drumming gorillas and Phil Collins?

It’s the latest advert to cause a buzz in the world of marketing, picked up and posted on YouTube and the subject of much debate and discussion.

First aired in a plum slot on UK TV during the Big Brother final, it depicts a man in a very convincing gorilla suit sitting behind a drumkit and launching into an enthusiastic rendition of the Phil Collins drum solo from In the Air Tonight.

And that’s it. That’s all. No pack shot, no company reference, no strapline, no musical sting, no web address. None of those things that countless textbooks on marketing recommend.

So how do you know what it’s trying to sell? Well there are clues of course. Catch the very start of the ad and you’ll see it’s made by A Glass And A Half Full Productions, and the wall behind the drumming gorilla is a particular shade of purple. I got the association pretty much straightaway, but whether that’s due to the strength of brand association or my over-familiarity with its product – I’ll leave you to decide.

But I wonder how many times “drumming gorilla” was entered as a Google search term before the advert was shown? And how many more afterwards?

Will it sell any more product? Or help restore the feel good factor of a brand that’s taken some knocks? We’ll have to wait and see. But it’s certainly got people talking.

And if you’re still wondering what the heck I’m blathering on about, see for yourself.