North East Theatre in 2016

Reporter: Peter Lathan

Dateline: 8th January, 2017

Receiving Houses

Of the region’s three large-scale receiving houses, two—the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and Sunderland Empire—continued, as always, presenting those kinds of touring shows which appeal to their respective audiences. For Sunderland this was mainly music theatre, from jukebox musicals like Save the Last Dance for Me, through evergreens like Joseph to bio shows like Sunny Afternoon and The Glenn Miller Story. Ellen Kent made her regular somewhat fleeting visits with well-known operas produced in Eastern Europe, as did the ever-popular Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The Theatre Royal’s programme is much more varied, featuring musicals, plays, a little contemporary dance (but much less than a few years ago) and the twice-yearly seasons from Opera North. Unfortunately the theatre still remains the only theatre in the country for which the BTG doesn’t get press tickets, because its management believes that online reviews don’t sell tickets.

We did, however, return to the theatre for the autumn Opera North season, but that was at the invitation of the company, not the theatre.

The third major receiving house, Darlington Civic, closed for major refurbishment in June and will re-open under its former name, Darlington Hippodrome, in late 2017 when its first major performance will be the panto Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, opening on 9 December.

Northern Stage and the other major producing house, Live Theatre, also act as receiving houses, bringing less middle-of-the-road, more experimental work to the city, although it was to Northern Stage that the RSC brought its A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation, which featured, as the Mechanicals, amateur actors from The People’s Theatre in Newcastle for some performances and from the Castle Players in Barnard Castle in others.

The smaller venues in the region, which are primarily receiving houses, present a range of small-scale plays, many of which do the rounds of venues from Stockton’s ARC in the south to The Maltings on the Scottish Border in the North, via the area’s westernmost venue, The Queen’s Hall in Hexham.

Many of these venues—and this group includes, among others, Alnwick Playhouse, the Customs House in South Shields, the Gala in Durham, Arts Centre Washington and Middlesbrough Theatre—present tribute bands, stand-up, amateur performances and children’s shows in addition to the plays. Some, like the Customs House and the Gala, present their own productions. The Customs House, indeed, for the second year running presented its own musical; this year it was The Dolly Mixtures. On the other hand some, like Hartlepool Town Hall and Bishop Auckland Town Hall Theatres, only rarely present professional work.

There are a few very small-scale venues, like the Whitham in Barnard Castle, the Phoenix in Blyth, Saltburn Arts Centre and a few others, which occasionally host visiting companies but focus mainly on a mixture of mainly amateur arts events.

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