From the winged Skelling and fire-eating McNulty to the webbed Heaven Eyes, David Almond has introduced us to some of the most memorable and compelling characters, and The Savage is no different. A vicious, man-eating brute who lives in a cave beneath the arches by the River Tyne, the Savage (or Savij as it’s misspelt) is created by the young Blue Baker in response to a story-writing assignment set by his school teacher. The story soon takes on a life of its own as Blue struggles to come to terms with the sudden death of his father and the abuse he is suffering at the hands of the class bully, Hopper.
I had high expectations for this production. Not only was it written by David Almond, an author I hugely admire, but it was produced by Live Theatre (who seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to new writing – just look at the recent Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) and directed by their Artistic Director Max Roberts. It surpassed my expectations.
The first thing that struck me was the set. The Live Theatre has an incredible performance space which is intimate and all-consuming, but also offers more space and comfort than your average theatre (increased leg room in the stalls and lounge tables to rest your glass of wine just in front of the stage), and the set utilised this space. Like an enchanted forest, it was made up of wooden platforms and ladders that effortlessly became Blue’s house, the school classroom and the banks of the Tyne and offered amble opportunity for the characters to leap around as energetic teenagers and savage beings.
The acting was equally superb. Between the four actors, they played a whole host of characters (Blue, his mum, dad, sister, school teacher, friends, the bully Hopper and of course the Savage) with complete ease. While at first it seems quite stark that three actors who are clearly the same age are playing mum, son and baby sister, you soon forget this and become absorbed in the narrative. Particular credit must go to Adam Welsh who managed to transition from Blue’s tragic, loving father to the hurtful Hopper with the change of a jumper and the twist of a lip. But Dean Bone stole the show, capturing pain, anger and anguish in the role of Blue Baker and his alterego the Savage, while maintaining that sparkle of boyish innocence, vulnerability and gut-wrenching hurt.
But the thing that completely and utterly stands out about this production is its plot. This is storytelling at its absolute finest. It is a fable about loss, suffering and coming to terms with death, about the power of literature and creativity, therapy, family and friendship. Like David Almond himself, Blue uses pen and paper as his weapons. Through the story Blue is able to play out his most vivid fantasies (including seeking his revenge on Hopper), reconcile his anger, take control over his disordered life and make sense of the world around him. It’s a lesson we could all learn from.
Whether you’re familiar with David Almond’s work or new to his stories, go and see The Savage, I implore you. It is both an incredible story and a fantastic piece of theatre.
The Savage will be performed at Live Theatre until Saturday 23 July. For more information or to book tickets visit www.live.org.uk