Tuesday, May 28

Turn & Face the Strange – Hull New Theatre

Having seen Turn & Face the Strange a while ago, in a smaller theatre, I was keen to see how the show would play out on the larger Hull New Theatre stage.

I wasn’t the only keen theatregoer on Friday evening – the place was jam-packed.

The stage setting was how I remembered it – huge images of rock legend and David Bowie sideman, Mick Ronson, with a giant video screen in the centre.

Turn & Face the Strange tells the story of Ronson’s early life, through to his premature death in 1993 at the age of 46

Ronson was born in Hull and, despite his global fame working with the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, John Mellencamp, and Morrissey to name just a few – had “Hull-ness” running through him like a stick of Bridlington rock.

But most will always associate him with his collaborations – musically and fashion-wise – with David Bowie.

I mention the fashion because the most often published photos of Ronson are when he is with Bowie’s backing group, The Spiders From Mars, resplendent in tight, satin breeches, chunky, heeled shoes and glittery everything else.

Unusually for a rock ’n’ roll show, the first minutes were ethereal, with the most beautiful music from an on-stage string quartet consisting of two violins (Chris Heron, Catherine Ackroyd), one viola (Rebecca Draper) and one cello (Emily Hanover).

Then the guitars, drums and keyboard kicked in, and wow, we were off on Ronson’s rock journey.

Lead guitarist, Keith “Ched” Cheesman played alongside Ronson in popular local group, The Rats, as did drummer John Cambridge, who was also a member of Bowie’s early group, The Hype. As well as playing on the night, they both shared their Ronson stories in very amusing anecdotes.

Writers and producers Garry Burnett and Rupert Creed narrated, taking it in turns to tell us all about Ronson’s early life on the city’s Greatfield Estate, through to his working life on a Co-op food van and his stint as a gardener for Hull Corporation; then onwards to his huge success in the music business – as a musician, singer and producer.

Kristian Eastwood did justice to well-known hits such as Life’s A River, The Man Who Sold The World, Jean Genie, All The Young Dudes et al.

At times I thought his voice, though tuneful and strong, was having to compete with the tremendous, yet loud, rock music being played by the superb talents he shared the stage with. In no way is this a criticism, as I loved his voice and the music; but it was nice to hear his vocals on a different level, such as in Lou Reed’s Perfect Day.

Incidentally, Ronson co-produced Perfect Day, arranged the strings and played piano on the original recording.

Throughout the show, we heard the voices of those who had met, worked with, been neighbours of Ronson, including his sister Maggi. And it was telling that no-one had a bad word to say about the likeable lad from Hull. All mentioned his generosity, his humble demeanour, kindness, strong work ethic – on and on the plaudits went.

The show radiated joy and laughter, and it was heart-warming to hear the ‘ull accents recount their Ronson stories and for me, Hull born and bred, to recognise every local place mentioned.

At certain times, thin shafts of white light beamed out into the audience – never blinding, just very effective – against the ever-changing screen showing Ronson’s face and even interviews with the man himself.

But we knew a happy ending wouldn’t be on the cards.

However, everyone on stage that night (space prevents me from naming them all), ensured it was a happy ending for us theatregoers, having done justice to the memory of Hull’s amazing Mick Ronson.

Running until Saturday, December 9th, 2023; 2pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost from £18.50. Call (01482) 300306 or visit www.hulltheatres.co.uk

Age guidance 12+

Reviewer: Jackie Foottit

Reviewed: 8th December 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.