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The Letter Room - No Miracles Here

Dancing can save your life. Just ask The Letter Room, the loose-knit collective of all singing, all dancing twenty-somethings behind No Miracles Here, which kick-starts the day in a show that takes in the highs of Northern Soul nights and the lows of 1930s dance marathons in a musical that squares up to the ultimate downer of depression.

“At it's heart it's a story about endurance,” says The Letter Room's Alice Blundell, one of five actor-musicians who appear in a show that began with the discovery that the suicide rate for men in the UK is highest in the north east of England. “It's about how even though life can set you back quite a lot sometimes, you've got to keep on keeping on. ”

This is done through the figure of Ray, a man at the end of his tether who struggles to keep faith with himself, but eventually manages to step onto the floor and back into life.

“We become his band,” says Blundell. “We're called Ray and the Raylettes, and we play this mix of Northern Soul and Motown, both of which are really joyous. Northern Soul is a release and an escape that's really celebratory. Having that northern voice is really important to us, because we're all from the north east, but then we started looking at the 1930s dance marathons that happened during the depression,and they were these really gruelling things. These two things became really interesting parallels for what we wanted to explore, because dancing is a cure for depression. It's energising and its euphoric, and it really does get you out of yourself in this really transcendent way.”

The Letter Room are bringing No Miracles Here to Edinburgh as part of the Newcastle based Northern Stage company's now annual programme at Summerhall. Given that it was visual artist Nathan Coley's light-based installation, There Will Be No Miracles Here, housed in the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, that gifted the play its title, this is a home-coming of sorts. The company's parents, however, are those behind Northern Stage, without whom The Letter Room wouldn't exist at all.

“We always say we're like the S Club 7 of the theatre world,” jokes Blundell of the company's semi manufactured origins. The Letter Room were formed in 2013 out of Northern Stage's NORTH initiative, which aimed to develop a new generation of theatre makers. In the case of Blundell and co, this threw together a disparate bunch of actor-musician all-sorts, who, unlike S Club, have stayed together for five years and three shows of off-kilter musical theatre, with No Miracles Here their fourth outing.

“Northern Stage can't quite believe we've carried on working together as a company,” says Blundell of the Frankenstein's monster that was spawned by NORTH. “Sometimes we can't believe it either, but we've developed real friendships as an ensemble, and we work really well together as a band.”

The hybrid of talents to be found within the group has seen them develop a fan-base in the north east that taps into a younger audience not overly concerned with genre definitions.

“We've always been hailed either as musical theatre, music theatre or gig theatre,” says Blundell, casting up theatre's latest buzz-phrase, “but we don't really fit in to any of those categories. At times this feels like a musical, but at others it's like a gig, and then we have scenes, so I suppose we're our own brand of musical theatre.”

The company wrote No Miracles Here using a How to Write A Musical style hand-book, and, with the company a mix of singers, actors and musicians, are learning new instruments as they go, “developing our musical skill set”, as Blundell puts it. “As well as Northern Soul and Motown, we've also got tango and voguing in the show.

With support from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the New Wolsey Theatre and Shoreditch Town Hall, The Letter Room plan to take No Miracles Here out on tour, with dates already lined up in Shoreditch and at the Lowry in Salford. For all the fun the company are clearly having, they have no wish to undermine the show's serious side.

“One of the members of our company suffers from depression,” says Blundell, “and a doctor said to them, what if there's no solution, and there's only you? They left totally enraged, but then through that rage they started to find that idea really empowering. It's like, okay, here are no miracles here, but there is hope.

“The show comes from a very personal place in that way, but we've tried to make it universal. It's about realising that you're not alone, and that even through the terrible times there can be joy, and to do that you have to keep talking to each other, and you have to dance, and to keep on dancing through it all come what may.”

No Miracles Here, Summerhall, Edinburgh, August 5-26.

The Herald, August 24th 2017



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