by Bryony Rae Taylor
Hi Bryony – what’s your accent?
I’m from Burnley in Lancashire.
Talk Propa claims to be aimed at Southerners, with the goal to reclaim the Northern brand as something other gravy-obsessed commoners who swim in tea and live down’t mines. But to bring a smattering of vanity to the proceedings, it feels aimed at me. As a fellow Northerner, I’m seated on the front row of the show by an enthusiastic Hannah Clifford. I don’t mind a bit of preferential treatment from time to time; I have my accent mocked at least once a week. I cannot say the word ‘cake’ without my flatmate’s boyfriend repeating it back to me. My vowels might go on for about half an hour longer than your average Southerner, but please, stop with the impressions.
Theatre company Shybairn created the show that’s a melting pot of comedy, poetry, a bit of cooking and tea-making. Clifford and her effervescent stage-mate Rebecca Charlton come armed with bags of charm, and a plethora of ideas. The duo tackle Northern stereotypes by diving head first into them. Quite literally – they fling a lot of UPSETTINGLY lumpy gravy around (give it a stir, luv).
The pair are not lacking in stage-presence; they’re a joy to watch. Their gorgeous Northern tones are welcome, and their show could be an absolute Northern powerhouse, but it needs some work on its foundations. The show runs at about 50 minutes, and in that time there’s too much of a tug-of-war between the hilarious and the poignant. The pace could easily be fixed by giving each section a bit of space to breathe, as every part has bundles of potential. There are lovely, spoken-word pieces which tie the ancestry of the north into the production. They make a couple of Northern audience members a cuppa, just the way they like it, and get them up for a chat.
However… I just want, on several occasions, to shout ‘GO FER IT!’. The concept is currently stronger than the content. Talk Propa makes its point immediately and with exceptional clarity: there’s an issue with the way that theatre represents Northerners, and there’s a lack of Northern accents on the stage. From this point, there needs to be more depth. It feels, sometimes, as though the show almost crosses a boundary whereby it suggests that being Northern is a minority position. This is dangerous territory, and I don’t think it intends to do this, so taking some time to delve deeper into its comment on regional identity feels essential.
I am so on-board with the idea of this show. With some development, it could sing.
Talk Propa runs through 13 February.
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