Gripping tale of the past

Keepers of the Flame Live Theatre, Newcastle, until Nov 30

Tickets: (0191) 232 1232

The first full-work collaboration between the Live Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company sits as a fitting precursor to the RSC season proper about to envelop the city.

It works well in the intimate surroundings of the Live and is a dark tale about past demons catching up with the present.

So intimate, in fact, that at times you feel you are right there in the thick of the action.

Local playwright Sean O'Brien's work has you gripped from the start, and is backed by a tour de force of performances from every cast member.

The play opens in 1987, with the once famous right-wing poet Richard Jameson living in a remote house, inherited from his late wife's family, on the Northumberland coast.

He is visited by Rebecca Stone, an academic with an interest in both his past and his poetry, and this leads Jameson to revisit the terrible events which continue to haunt him more than 40 years later.

The flashback scenes merge smoothly with the present as the scale of the playwright's involvement with Henry Exton's Fascist party during the 1920s and 1930s is slowly revealed.

There are few laughs here, and the relevance of the rise of right-wing politics currently gripping parts of this country only add to the play's immediacy and makes for uneasy watching at times.

Alan Howard, as Jameson, is spell-binding, holding court for the majority of the play. He brings total believability to the character.

Live Theatre stalwarts Trevor Fox, Donald McBride, Deka Walmsley and Joe Caffrey are in as fine form as ever.

A better debut between the Live and RSC you couldn't get. An undoubted triumph.

Gordon Barr

The Evening Chronicle, 6.11.03.

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