Caught on a Wave of History: The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

A beautiful, touching blend of contemporary folk, animation, and the disembodied voice of a long-dead local hero.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff sees acclaimed Stockton On Tees contemporary folk trio the Youn’uns team up with outgoing Northern Stage Artistic Director Lorne Campbell to port their remarkable 2018 album of the same name to the stage.

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

A celebration of northern working-class activism – specifically in this case a celebration of the heart and soul of the working-class man – an incredibly broad range of influences come roaring to bear in a show that sits as a neat companion-piece to Campbell’s stellarly successful The Last Ship.

a torch song for a lost age of an idealism

While the soaring visuals mix propaganda, Picasso and agitprop with a fat dash of Terry Gilliam, the brass-lunged central trio are effortlessly charismatic throughout as they effortlessly relay what transpires to be an utterly gripping tale of a young man caught on a wave of history. 

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

With the near-annihilation of Labour recently – their worst election result since 1935 compounded by sharp criticism that they have abandoned their working-class roots – this tale of an extraordinary life plays like a hit-list of some of the defining moments of working-class struggle in the first half of the last century and feels crashingly relevant; a love-letter to a worldwide community forged through class struggle and the fight against fascism, and a torch song for a lost age of an idealism accessible to all.

Leigh Venus at Northern Stage, 12 February 2020

Originally published at Narc Magazine Online

Photos: Pamela Raith

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