REVIEW: Dance Across The Tyne, The Customs House, South Shields, Until March 5

Dance Across The Tyne
Dance Across The Tyne
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Too young at the time for the events themselves to register, my memory of the episode is more nuanced.

There were the raised eyebrows, the knowing looks, the conversations between adults in tones they believe go over a child’s head but for which – sat under the table – you actually have a bat-like radar.

There had been ‘goings on,’ involving girls and sailors, goings on that were freighted with grown-up meaning, in the same way as that neon sign in the barbershop window. These were the buttoned­up 1950s; a stern parental look forbade questions.

Well, maybe not so buttoned­up. When, in 1959, crews of Venezuelan sailors descended on Shields, it was a recipe for mayhem. Girls lost their hearts in droves to these new, Latin lovers, creating a sexual tension that in some cases erupted in violence as local rivals sought to regain their ground.

Dance Across the Tyne is the story of one sailor, Gustavo, whose dalliances, before his ship sails away again, reverberate down the years, through two families.

It’s a nicely layered tale, about youthful exuberance; about ageing, and regrets, and, in the end, redemption.

A Customs House Community Production, it’s likeably home­grown; a couple of technical hitches and a certain unevenness in the second half aside, it boasts an impressive score, and several stand­out performances, among them Angela Hannon as the duplicitous Christine, and Natasha Haws as the confused and, at times lost, Maria.

Young and old Jenny (Annie Daisy Jeffels and Patricia Whale respectively) complement each other well; while Jack Robert Young is an accomplished Gustavo.

But there is a wider narrative here, you know.

Behind the action, at one point, the town and coast scroll past in old film and photographs – Frankie’s Ritz Café, the fairground etc ­ and I, at least, was struck by a sudden, warm sense of sisterhood with all those Shields lassies who, down the generations, have lost their hearts to a seafarer.

Whether in the days of sail or on the waltzer with a bag of chips, it’s an old, old story.