I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Goth Weekend. The promo image (which has been popping up on beer mats across Newcastle over the past few weeks) shows a family of four huddled around a sofa in a distinctly average living room – but it was clear that this wasn’t going to be your typical drawing room drama.
The mother is dressed in full Goth get-up with boots, corset and flamboyant hat, while the father has polished brogues and a Seventies knitted jumper, the daughter (who uses a wheelchair) oozes teenage angst, and the son looks like the kind of character you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night. On paper they look like your ultimate cast of misfits, but these impressions do no justice to a powerful and emotive play that questions that very notion of identity.
The premise of Goth Weekend is a simple one. In the aftermath of his wife’s untimely death, Ken is encouraged by his 15-year-old daughter Anna to get back into dating. With her advice to ‘think George Clooney in a coffee ad’ ringing in his ears, he heads to the local pub to meet one of his wife’s former teaching colleagues and instead ends up embroiled in a whirlwind romance with the loud and proud Belinda – lead singer in the two-piece band Belle Epoque with her keyboard-playing son Simon (who prefers to be addressed as ‘Bram’, aka Bram Stoker). Needless to say, the two families don’t gel well.
The two-hour play then chronicles the lives of the foursome as they come to terms with each other and prepare for the ultimate Goth music experience: a slot on the main stage at Whitby’s Goth Weekend. But what is most interesting is watching each of the characters wrestle with their inner demons and learn to except themselves as well as each other.
Ken, played by Sean McKenzie, must learn how to open his heart to new relationships and finally let go of his grief at losing his wife – a challenge that is made all the more difficult by the fact that their marriage was less than rosy. That his turmoil is reflected by a brief, but decisive (and hilarious) foray into Goth and steampunk dressing, inverts our expectations about how adults and teenagers should behave.
Belinda, played by Jessica Johnson (who last wowed audiences in Open Clasp’s Key Change), has a similarly childish approach to addressing her insecurities – stomping and thrashing her way around the stage and running off at the first sign of trouble, until she is eventually forced to face her feelings head on.
But it was the performances by the two younger members of the cast that held the most resonance for me.
Simon, played by Gurjeet Singh, faces some of the most common, yet most divisive, childhood problems. While fighting to come to terms with his sexuality and the implications of coming out as gay, he is still hanging on to the hope that his estranged parents will reunite – something that I’m sure all children of divorced parents can relate to. His stifled and simmering performance expertly captured the plight of the someone who has lots to say, but no way to say it.
The stand-out performance for me was Amy Trigg in the role of the teenage daughter Anna. Anna was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. In other pieces of writing, this would have been the defining aspect of her character. But it is given nothing more than a fleeting mention – when Belinda tries to find common ground with someone else who has been subjected to sideward glances. Instead, Anna has the much more pressing matter of coming to terms with her mother’s death and her father’s new relationship – and Amy’s performance was poignant, funny and refined. I’m not one for public displays of emotion, but I couldn’t help shed a tear with her character at the end.
All in all, Goth Weekend is a terrific piece of writing with some really powerful performances. Catch it in Newcastle before it makes its way to bigger stages.
Goth Weekend runs at Live Theatre, Newcastle until 28 October. For more information or to book tickets visit www.live.org.uk