Preview: The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff. Northern Stage

Preview: The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff. Northern Stage

A new theatrical version of The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff performed by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Winners, The Young’uns opens Northern Stage’s 50th anniversary season this February. Directed by Lorne Campbell, The Young’uns, Northern Stage and Harbourfront Centre Toronto present a musical celebration of northern working-class activism, following the smash-hit success of The Last Ship, with songs from the original album alongside new material and stunning animation.

2. Northern Stage new theatrical production - photo Pamela Raith Photography
Image: Pamela Raith

It is the true story of one man’s journey from poverty and unemployment in Stockton-on -Tees, through the Hunger Marches of the 1930s, the Mass Trespass movement and the Battle of Cable Street, to fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. In a timely, touching and hilarious musical adventure, this new production follows the footsteps of a working-class hero who chose not to look the other way when the world needed his help, and took part in some of the most momentous events of the 1930s.

It is the last production Lorne Campbell directs at Northern Stage before taking us his new role as Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales. Lorne said: “The Young’uns have created something both traditional and utterly contemporary with The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff. This story of a young man from the North-East, forced to leave his home town to find work – and undergoing a profound political awakening as he fights for social justice, opposes fascism, racism and the vested interests of a global capitalist system run amok, could as easily be set today as in the run up to the Second World War. Johnny’s story reminds us emphatically that change always rises up from ordinary people. This is the perfect show to encapsulate Northern Stage as the first show of our 50th anniversary. Local in its context, global in its ambition, accessible in its form, innovative in its style. Just like the North-East.”

10. BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners the Young'uns credit Pamela Raith Photography
Image: Pamela Raith

Sean Cooney from Teesside folk trio The Young’uns has been profoundly moved by the Johnny Longstaff story: “When Duncan Longstaff told us the incredible story of his Dad’s life, we knew we had been given something very special.  Deciding how best to share this remarkable gift might be a life’s work. Five years on from our meeting with Duncan, this new fully staged theatre version of The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is the culmination of our journey together and our big chance to share Johnny with the world he fought so hard to raise at the time it needs him most.”

Johnny Longstaff’s son, Duncan added: “The success of The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff has been truly remarkable, more than anything I could have imagined when I first made contact with The Young’uns. I wish Mum and Dad could have seen the show, as it is a real tribute to Johnny.”

Longstaff’s life was about trying to right wrongs. In a time when the same evils once more abound, this stage production is a rousing reminder that we should do the same.

The creative team includes designer Kai Fischer, best known for his long-standing relationship with Vanishing Point and work with National Theatre Scotland, animation by Scott Turnbull (Where Do All the Dead Pigeons Go?/ Northern Stage at Summerhall) and Aaron Brady. The sound design is by composer, performer, DJ and improviser Mariam Rezaei.

After its run in Newcastle, the show will tour to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (27-29 February), Hull Truck Theatre (21-24 April), Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse (14-16 May) and Harbourfront Centre Toronto in the autumn.

Colin Petch

February 2020