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Friday, 16 November 2018

Preview: don’t forget the birds at Newcastle Live Theatre

Open Clasp celebrates 20 years of changing the world one play at a time

An Open Clasp and Live Theatre co-production, commissioned by Queen’s Hall Arts:
don’t forget the birds

Tour dates include:

20-24 November, Live Theatre, Newcastle
28 Nov-1 Dec, Battersea Arts Centre, London

Written by Catrina McHugh MBE
Directed by Laura Lindow

Multi-award winning North East theatre company Open Clasp celebrate their 20 year anniversary this week.  Described by Lyn Gardner in the Guardian as “a remarkable company working with  disempowered women”, over the last two decades Open Clasp’s productions have reached over 100,000 people, and the company has worked with more than 100 community groups, universities, schools and theatre companies. 

Driven by a passionate belief that great theatre can bring about social change, Catrina McHugh cofounded the company in 1998. Originally from Liverpool but now based in the West End of       Newcastle-upon-Tyne, last year Catrina was awarded an MBE for outstanding services to disadvantaged women through theatre. Open Clasp collaborate with women on the margins of society to create exciting theatre for personal, social and political change.

Erica Whyman, Open Clasp Patron and Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said, “Open Clasp are a remarkable company, making small miracles happen which have wide and lasting impact. Their sensitive, impassioned commitment to telling the stories of the most      vulnerable women in our society and doing it with real theatrical skill and invention has meant that voices which are otherwise ignored are not only heard but remembered and valued.  I am very proud to be involved and sincerely hope they continue to change the world for the next 20 years.”

Their critically-acclaimed prison drama Key Change was created with women serving at HMP Low Newton in County Durham. It explored the experiences of women in prison and originally toured to male prisons. Open Clasp then took it to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 as part of the Northern Stage at Summerhall programme where it won the prestigious Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, which led to an off-Broadway run in New York and a New York Times Critics’ Pick before returning to the UK for a sell out tour in 2016. It was also performed for key decision- and policy-makers at the Houses of Parliament in partnership with the National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice,  CLiNKS and the Prison Reform Trust, and was screened globally to mark the UN campaign to end violence against women and girls in 2017.

Rattle Snake was created by Open Clasp and funded by Durham PCC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), to train 398 frontline officers in better responding to sexual and domestic violence – coinciding with the change of law making coercive control in relationships a crime in 2015. The project was based on research identifying gaps in police understanding of coercive control by Professor Nicole Westmarland and Kate Butterworth (Durham University) and the impact of arts-based research interventions by Professor Maggie O’Neill (University College Cork). 

This week, the company return home to Live Theatre in Newcastle with the follow up to Key Change. don’t forget the birds is the true story of what happened next for one of the women after release, told by real-life mother and daughter, Cheryl and Abigail Byron. Written by Catrina McHugh and directed by Laura Lindow, it opened at Queens Hall Hexham (13-14 November) before a national tour including Live Theatre Newcastle (20-24 November), Theatre Deli Sheffield (15   November), Middlesbrough Library (16 November) and Battersea Arts Centre (27 Nov - 1 Dec), as well as performances at community venues and schools.

Catrina McHugh MBE said, “Our work holds the voices of thousands of women and girls who are heroes in their own stories of survival. The majority have experienced discrimination, disadvantage, and are often marginalised. We’re celebrating two decades of creating theatre that changes lives, and I’m incredibly proud that in our 20th year our work is reaching audiences       regionally, nationally and internationally and is also being used to train and educate. Together, we’re making change happen.”

Creative Team
Writer Catrina McHugh MBE
Director Laura Lindow
Set & Costume Designer Verity Quinn
Lighting Designer Ali Hunter
Sound Designer Mariam Rezaei
Movement Director Mona McCarthy

Cheryl Byron
Abigail Byron

Photos: Keith Pattison

don’t forget the birds is written by Catrina McHugh MBE and directed by Laura Lindow.

It opens at Queens Hall Hexham (13-14 November) https://www.queenshall.co.uk/events/don%E2%80%99t-forget-birds

before a national tour including Live Theatre Newcastle (20-24 November) https://www.live.org.uk/whats-on/dont-forget-birds,

Theatre Deli Sheffield (15 November) https://www.theatredeli.co.uk/Event/dont-forget-the-birds

For more information or to book tickets visit www.openclasp.org.uk.
Recommended age: 13+

Thursday, 15 November 2018

NEWS: first anniversary of the opening of Darlington Hippodrome


Saturday 17 November marks the first anniversary of the opening of Darlington Hippodrome following a multi-million pound restoration.

As the famous song from the musical Rent assures us, there are 525,600 minutes in a year and Darlington Hippodrome has filled each and every one of those minutes in the last year amassing several large numbers of its own since the venue re-opened after an 18 month restoration project.

In the last 12 months a total of 358 performances have taken place on the Hippodrome stage with 162,851 tickets sold. In the various bars and the new Hippo Lounge there have been 16,179 coffees drunk, 2,535 locally baked scones devoured, 42,384 ice creams scoffed and 21,784 pints of beer/cider enjoyed.

The last year has also seen 6542 historical items catalogued as part of the on-going archiving of theatrical memorabilia such as posters, programmes and press cuttings dating back to the theatre’s original opening back in 1907.

A number of top-drawer theatrical stars have graced the Hippodrome stage in the last year including Lee Ryan, Phil Daniels, Jimmy Osmond, Stefanie Powers, Joe Pasquale, Susie Blake, Ruby Wax, Pam Ayres, Jane McDonald, Cannon & Ball, Belinda Laing and Ray Quinn with several more star names set to appear in the Spring 2019 season, starting with Louie Spence and Zoe Birkett in the festive family pantomime, Aladdin.

Drop in for yourselves to see what a difference a year can make. The Hippo Lounge is open from 10am every day serving drinks and snacks and also offers free Wi-Fi and charging sockets for phones and laptop computers.

For full information on all the shows at Darlington Hippodrome visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

News: New chair for Customs House


A leading light in the north east business sector has been appointed as Chair of the Board of Trustees at The Customs House – as the charity heads into a milestone year. Margaret Fay replaces outgoing chair Grahame Wright, who retired from the role in September this year after serving as a board member for 10 years.

The Customs House is a registered charity and the Board of Trustees are responsible for overseeing the running of the organisation and ensuring that it meets the needs of the community it serves.

Margaret Fay
Margaret said: “I was delighted to be invited to take on the Chair of the Board of Trustees at The Customs House. Having recently stood down after eight years as Deputy Chair of Sage Gateshead, I felt that I could bring that significant experience in support of my home town theatre.”

Margaret was managing director of Tyne Tees Television until 2003, when she became chairman of One North East, a position she held until 2010.  She is deputy chairman at the University of Sunderland, chair of South Tyneside Council’s Economic Regeneration Board, patron of Tees Valley Community Foundation and a Deputy Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear. 

Margaret’s appointment comes as The Customs House prepares to celebrate quarter of a century as the borough’s leading arts venue.  Ray Spencer MBE, executive director of The Customs House, said: “As we launch our 25th anniversary year, I am absolutely delighted to have such a well-respected regional business figure become Chair of The Customs House Trust.  I look forward to working with Margaret as we build firm foundations to drive The Customs House forward and secure our future for the next 25 years.”

Picture caption: Margaret Fay

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Preview: View From The Gods at Sunderland Empire

Sunderland Empire and Theatre Space North East CIC

A View From The Gods
Sunderland Empire
Monday 26 November 2018

Mystery is in the air at Sunderland Empire this month as the theatre gets set to host A View from the Gods Murder Mystery dining event on Monday 26 November.

Following on from the sell-out Faulty Towers dining experiences, prepare to add a whole new dimension to your visit to the iconic Grade 2 listed theatre and step back to the day, when all sorts of performers tread the boards at the Sunderland Empire, from acrobats, comedians and even Novelty painters!

But one performer got more than she bargained for. Nobody wants to die on stage, but Elsie Roby died before she even set foot on it!

Hosted in the Garden Place Bistro at Sunderland Empire, written by local author James Whitman and presented by Sunderland Empire and Theatre Space NE you’re invited to experience an evening like no other. Tour the Sunderland Empire, meet the players and enjoy a wonderful three course dining experience while you solve a century-old mystery and figure out who killed Elsie Roby.

Theatre Space and the writer James Whitman previously worked together to create '15 minutes of fame' for the city of culture launch as well as 'grafters gables' - a performance linking together a collection of street art murals in Hendon and a piece called 'strong for war, for helping tender' to celebrate the life of Capt. George Maling VC - Sunderland’s only first world war Victoria Cross winner.

The piece is inspired by the old show time/musical hall posters which can been seen in the Sunderland Empire to this day. Theatre Space North East CIC are the company behind the ever popular Plays in the Parks and have won several awards for their work.

With a highly engaging plot, that will keep you guessing at every twist and turn, a true blend of mystery, suspense and a unique theatrical script. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the Sunderland Empire like you’ve never seen it before.

Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022* or from ATG Tickets http://bit.ly/AViewFromTheGods #Ad
*calls cost up to 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

Preview: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Durham Gala

Cast announced for Durham Gala pantomime

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Durham Gala
22 November 2018 – 5 January 2019

Temperatures are set to soar this week but staff at the Gala Theatre are already thinking about Christmas.

Tickets for the 2018 pantomime are now on sale and this year it’s a family favourite, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the theatre from the 22 November. Following the success of last year’s show Robinson Crusoe, which was seen by over 31,000 people, the production will be written and directed by Neil Armstrong and Paul Hartley for the fourth year running.

Neil Armstrong, Lauren Waine and
 Paul Hartley outside of the Gala Theatre
“I know it’s only June but we are already well on the way with this year’s pantomime and can’t wait to get into rehearsals in the autumn,” said Neil, who plays evil Rupert Von Rottenchops. “Snow White is a much-loved classic but as usual we’ve added our own twist to keep audiences guessing and we’re confident we’ve got another success on our hands. Once again we’ve got a great cast lined up for this year and we look forward to welcoming back the Durham audiences in just a few months’ time!”

The story follows villagers in Fairyhill, where Rupert Von Rottenchops and his henchman Corporal Crosby (Pip Chamberlain) plan to cause chaos in the town and take all of the residents’ money.

Will Snow White (Lauren Waine), Chester the Jester (Paul Hartley) and their mam Dame Dolly Doodle (Paul Dunn) be able to stop the plan with the help of their seven little friends?

Tickets: Find out by booking tickets online at www.galadurham.co.uk or calling the box office on 03000 266 600.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Preview: The Mousetrap at Sunderland Empire


The Mousetrap
Sunderland Empire
28 February – 2 March 2019

The Mousetrap, the legendary whodunnit from Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie, today announces a major national tour opening in January 2019 starring Gwyneth Strong (Only Fools and Horses) as Mrs Boyle, directed by Gareth Armstrong.

This unstoppable West End hit has been delighting theatregoers for 67 years with its macabre murder mystery. Following a record-breaking 60th anniversary debut tour in 2012, this timeless thriller The Mousetrap returns by popular demand, opening at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on 29 January 2019 launching an extensive new tour that will travel the length and breadth of the country giving audiences all across the UK the opportunity to discover theatre’s best kept secret.

Following Guildford, The Mousetrap will tour to Northampton Royal & Derngate, Sheffield Lyceum, Colchester Mercury, Southport Theatre, Sunderland Empire, High Wycombe Swan, Bromley Churchill , Cheltenham Everyman, Oxford Playhouse, Crewe Lyceum, Coventry Belgrade, Crawley Hawth, Darlington Hippodrome, Exeter Northcott, Salford Lowry, York Grand Opera House, Edinburgh Playhouse, Liverpool Empire, Southend Palace, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Bristol Hippodrome, Stoke Regent, Brighton Theatre Royal, Norwich Theatre Royal, Malvern Festival, Bournemouth Pavilion, Dartford Orchard, Eastbourne Devonshire Park and Cardiff New Theatre. Further venues to be announced.

Gwyneth Strong will perform as Mrs Boyle for 24 weeks through to Norwich, with further star casting to be announced. The cast also includes David Alcock (Mr Paravacini), Geoff Arnold (Detective Sgt. Trotter), Nick Biadon (Giles Ralston), Lewis Chandler (Christopher Wren), John Griffiths (Major Metcalf), Harriett Hare (Mollie Ralston) and Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen (Miss Caswell).

Gwyneth Strong is best known for her role in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses in which she starred in the role of Cassandra. The role gained Gwyneth mainstream recognition and she appeared in the hit comedy show as well as several Christmas specials between 1989 and 2003. More recently, she joined the cast of EastEnders in the role of Geraldine Clough. Other television credits include The Great Train Robbery, Silent Witness, Casualty, Doctors and Murder in Suburbia. Gwyneth appeared in the UK tour of Our House, in which she played Kath Casey. Her stage credits also include Stand (Oxford Playhouse/Battersea Arts) Monkey Bars (Unicorn Theatre), A Round-Heeled Woman (Aldwych), When You Cure Me (Bush Theatre), Ancient Lights (Hampstead Theatre) and Care (Royal Court).

First seen in Nottingham in 1952 starring Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim, The Mousetrap went on to become the world’s longest running stage production following its West End transfer to The Ambassadors in 1952 and St Martins in 1973 where it has played ever since, continuing a record-breaking run with over 27,500 performances in London so far. The beloved murder mystery returns to the road following the success of the first ever UK tour in 2012.

The Mousetrap continues its open-ended run at St. Martin’s Theatre, London.

Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online from ATG Tickets http://bit.ly/MousetrapSund #Ad
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your plus your phone company's access charge. Booking and transaction fees may apply.

Preview: Ian McKellen on Stage at Newcastle Theatre Royal


Newcastle Theatre Royal will play host to Ian McKellen as he embarks upon a new solo show tour to celebrate his 8oth birthday.

Ian McKellen on Stage will play at 80 stages across the UK with proceeds from the Newcastle date going to support the Theatre Royal’s creative and development work with young people from the city and across the region.

This tour will see Ian – who last visited Newcastle Theatre Royal in 2016 when he played to packed out audiences in No Man’s Land - visit theatres large and small with which he has personal connections, including amateur groups he knew as a child and notable playhouses he has played in as a professional actor over the last half-century.

His intimate show is a mixture of anecdote and acting, including Tolkien, Shakespeare, others...and you the audience.
Ian McKellen says: “I’m celebrating my 80th birthday by touring a new solo show to theatres I know well and a few that I don’t. The show starts with Gandalf and will probably end with an invitation to act with me on stage. In-between there will be anecdotes and acting. I open at my local arts centre in January and end up by August in Orkney.

“Live theatre has always been thrilling to me, as an actor and in the audience. Growing up in Lancashire, I was grateful to those companies who toured beyond London and I’ve always enjoyed repaying that debt by touring up and down the country myself, with the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Prospect Theatre, the Actors’ Company, as well as with commercial productions. Sean Mathias, the director and I have worked together for stage and screen, many happy times.”

Having previously praised the Newcastle theatre as his favourite venue in the country, he added: “My first time at the Theatre Royal was 50 years ago as Richard II which I’ll reprise during my new solo show. I wanted to return not just because I have family in the area but because I have so many happy memories of playing in Grey Street. All profits will support the Theatre Royal’s work with young people from Newcastle and the North East.”

Philip Bernays, chief executive at Newcastle Theatre Royal said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Ian McKellen back to our stage with what is sure to be an extremely insightful and entertaining show. He has always been a keen and passionate supporter of what we are trying to do, not only on stage, but through our creative and development work with young people across North East region.”

Ambassador Theatre Group’s Executive Producer Adam Speers says: “ATG is proud to be presenting Ian McKellen on Stage and is committed to supporting regional touring. The UK’s regional venues are integral in supporting and developing artists and practitioners across all areas of the theatre, both on and off stage.

“All of us in this industry are united by a passion for the arts and love of what we do and this special show is a rare and excellent opportunity to celebrate what’s best in our industry while at the same time celebrating one of its greatest actors and raising vital funds to keep the lifeblood of theatre in this country flowing.” 

Ian McKellen on Stage plays Sunday 18 August 2019 at 7.30pm.  Tickets priced from £20.00 go on sale to Friends of the Theatre Royal at 9am on Sat 10 Nov and to the general public on Fri 16 Nov can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).