Last night, I attended Northern Stage’s press night for its production of A Song for Ella Grey, the stage adaptation of David Almond’s award-winning YA novel.
It was a unique, blistering and atmospheric performance from which I’m still reeling.
The story is brought to the stage in an unusual format. The audience was greeted by a stage packed with cardboard boxes neatly formed in a square. Projections of teenage faces – each blank, in uniform and with white headphones swinging from their ears – and videos of the same people messing around with each other towered above. A young woman, dressed plainly in grey, hovered in the background, strolling back and forth between the boxes and stage lighting. I assumed she was part of the production team, manoeuvring props into their allotted posts before the show began. Then she started to talk to us.
This young woman was Amy Cameron, the lead actor of the production. She was, in fact, the only actor to grace the stage and the only one it needed.
I can’t portray strongly enough the quality of Amy’s performance. As Claire, the best friend who recounts the strange events around Ella’s disappearance, she was raw and powerful. She looked directly at the audience – shooting her words straight into my soul when she caught my eye – and drove the play from start to finish. Her performance was ambitious and brave, her confidence never faltering despite the weight of the production on her shoulders. The final scene, in which she sat on a box at the front of the stage and emotionally closed the tale, was incredibly moving. I won’t patronise Amy by saying she’s an extraordinary performer for her age. She’s a spectacular actor full stop.
The supporting cast, known as the Chorus, aren’t on stage but their presence was hugely felt. Their images were projected onto a huge frame that Claire talked to and engaged with, and their voices echoed from the speakers to encourage her storytelling. The collective roar of teenage voices was hugely effective, simultaneously moving and eerily gothic.
The play became more bizarre as Claire’s story continued. It was difficult to determine what was real, where Claire’s oration ended and the truth began. As the story reached the circumstances of Ella’s disappearance, the room was plunged into darkness and we stayed there for almost 20 minutes. When I say darkness, I mean pitch black. Claire’s voiceover and chants from the Chorus made it a terrifying experience throughout which my imagination ran wild and my heart raced. The darkness went on for too long in my opinion; it was uncomfortable and prolonged but it was meant to be. However, I think I wanted the lights to come back on mainly to continue gazing at Amy’s expressive and captivating face.
A Song for Ella Grey was an outstanding and unique production. It retains the richness of Almond’s writing and tackles a hugely complex subject matter with precision and depth.
I would highly recommend watching this stunning production while it’s still running at Northern Stage.
Oh, and watch out for Amy Cameron. She’s a star of the future for sure.
A Song for Ella Grey is showing at Northern Stage until Saturday 16 September. Go here for tickets.