WITH memories of Sting and a monsoon, David Whetstone begins a series in which Culture team members reflect on their year.
STING’S embryonic musical, The Last Ship, brought a host of Broadway names - plus Jimmy Nail - to Live Theatre in February to gauge the reaction of a Tyneside audience.
The story tells of a group of shipyard workers whose yard is to close. Inspired by a local priest, they decide to build their own ship and sail it round the world.
Who will skipper it? Enter Gideon, played by sweet-voiced Broadway star Declan Bennett, who ran away to sea after problems at home and has returned like the prodigal son.
Good story, great music. Sting said he had been inspired by a newspaper article about men from a Polish shipyard who had harboured the same dream.
“I thought if I welded that inspiration to my story of my home town, we would have something that would be social history and an allegory,” the Wallsend-born star told me
Great entertainment, too, possibly. Could this be another big show born in Newcastle?
That car crash took place in an empty shop unit on the city’s Saville Row and it was part of the AV Festival whose theme was As Slow as Possible.
American artist Jonathan Schipper was brought to the city by Locus+ to stage one of his low speed collisions, propelling a white VW Golf towards a wall at seven millimetres an hour.
Sipping tea, the bearded New Yorker became mildly tongue-tied when asked why he condemned cars to crawling oblivion.
“To be honest, I don’t know exactly. But all my work relates to the notion of transformation from one state of existence to another,” he said.
The AV Festival was also responsible for my date with dates at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art where On Kawara’s One Million Years took place.
The artist, born in Tokyo but New York-based, had the idea for the two-part artwork in 1969. Past is a list of every year from 998,031BC to 1969; Future goes from 1996 to 1,001,995.
The work won’t be complete until all the dates have been read out and recorded. Myself and a friend, Jo Wilson, helped by reading a few pages of extremely long dates for 90 minutes in public.
You can’t imagine how tiring it was, like being back at school sitting a complicated exam.
One of my best nights at the theatre this year was at the People’s where the highly professional amateurs staged the North East premiere of Jez Butterworth’s feted Jerusalem.
Rude, raucous and hugely funny, the play tells of ‘Rooster’ Byron who lives in a caravan and flouts convention in colourful fashion.
Peter Harrison put in a great shift in a play which gets to the heart of what it means to be English. As for the People’s, this was another high water mark.
Speaking of which, another memorable play came on an extraordinary North East day.
Just after 2.30pm on June 29, I stepped into a dark room at Northern Stage to see The Rest Is Silence, a version of Macbeth by innovative company DreamThinkSpeak.
Staged as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, it had actors performing different scenes behind plastic glass on four sides of the standing audience.
Sections would light up as scenes took place around us.
Building up to the tragic drowning of Ophelia, we all became aware of a watery rumbling noise.
Emerging into daylight at the end, the world had changed. Northern Stage boss Erica Whyman was wielding a mop and muttering: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
That rumbling had been a monsoon. People spoke of the sky turning green. Somebody filmed lightning striking the Tyne Bridge.
Having missed it all, I walked back to the office through shell-shocked crowds serenaded by sirens. An award for best unintended sound effects must be in the offing.
Digital artist Kelly Richardson had a great year with summer exhibitions at three venues. Two were in galleries but one, an installation called Mariner 9, was at the Spanish City in August.
On a huge screen it imagined a future Mars with the still-twitching wreckage of past unmanned space probes. Children more used to Disney gawped at the apocalyptic landscape and so did I.
Other highlights there were in abundance: ~Flow on the Tyne, Opera North’s five-hour Die Walküre at the Sage and Mark Wallinger’s massive chequerboard of pebbles at Baltic to mark its 10th anniversary. Put together, you think: what rich cultural experiences the North East serves up.
Outdoors - and at night - I ventured to Dunstanburgh Castle to speak to actress Fiona Shaw amid the tented brilliance of Peace Camp and to Greenhead for the launch of Connecting Light, Zack Lieberman’s ribbon of communication balloons along Hadrian’s Wall.
They lit up when people sent messages, picking a point off the colour spectrum as they did so.
Priceless moment of the year: standing, high up on Walltown Crags, next to a very senior figure on the North East arts scene.
In the gloom we are waiting for a light show. Suddenly she exclaims and points to a snaking trail of red and white lights - the traffic on the A69. Undoubtedly beautiful in its way.
But what of the future? David Whetstone reflects on arts funding cuts in The Journal on Wednesday.