The room is covered in confetti. There’s a huge wedding cake. Royal Northern Sinfonia make a superior wedding band. Guests are milling around in their finery – and suddenly start to sing the cabaret song by Britten that gives the show its title. Described as a “Tyneside love opera”, Tell Me the Truth About Love is ostensibly the story of Tina, a bridesmaid who has never been in love, played by accomplished mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, but it’s more than that. The majority of the singers and actors are from Streetwise Opera comprised of people who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness. They bring not technical excellence but rich experience to Up Where We Belong, a hit in 1982 for Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes; lines such as “The road is long / There are mountains in our way” become newly moving.
With songs ranging from Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely to Geordie standard Blaydon Races, a bawdy north-east wedding becomes a vehicle to deliver romantic and deeper truths. There is wonderful dialogue by Meriel Sheibani-Clare, sung and spoken, about outfits (“And nice knickers, in case you get hit by a bus”) and guests (“Shorty next door. Lovely bloke. Has his own garage.”) We learn we are 90% more likely to “meet someone” at a wedding, there’s a swipe at “tax-dodging millionaires” and the bride’s “mam” makes a shock confession about a long-lost lover.
Fun and frolics turn into a powerful wallop about the decline of the north-east shipyards and resulting social carnage, and there is a showstopping performance of Jimmy Nail’s Big River (“Everything they tried so hard to kill / We will rebuild”). It gets more schmaltzy towards the end as Tina – inevitably – finds love and the feelgood factor is ramped up for broad appeal. It is a tricky balance, but the stars are Streetwise Opera: the likes of Santino Tayler-Barrett, a crucifix tattoo creeping over his bridegroom’s suit, and Louise Webster, whose big heart fills the room as the bride. They and their talented co-stars are transforming their own lives and inspiring others.