Artistic co-operation in Blandford Square

Peter Lathan

Two of Newcastle’s cultural venues based in Blandford Square—The Discovery Museum and its new neighbour across the road, Alphabetti Theatre—join forces to celebrate soldiers from the North of England.

Charge! The story of England’s Northern Cavalry is a new exhibition at The Discovery Museum which opens on 21 October. This new gallery brings the 300-year history of England's Northern Cavalry regiments to life, through historic artefacts, hands-on activities and displays, uniting the collections of the antecedent regiments of The Light Dragoons and telling the continuing story of the Northumberland Hussars since becoming the Command & Support squadron of the Queen’s Own Yeomanry. Both regiments, which are formally affiliated to each other, are the only cavalry divisions today which exclusively recruit from the North of England.

The exhibition charts the pivotal moments in the history of these regiments, from the capture of Napoleon’s carriage at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) to more recent reconnaissance missions in Bosnia (1993), Iraq (2004) and Afghanistan (2009), and honours the vital roles played by those born and bred in the north of England.

Then on 24 October, just across the Square on St James’ Boulevard, Alphabetti Theatre, which just opened on its new premises at the beginning of September, will produce a double bill of new plays focusing on northern soldiers during the Great War of 1914 to 1918.

Written by Steve Byron and Gary Kitching whose last double bill, Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers, proved a great hit in Alphabetti’s last venue in October last year, the two plays are Walter and Wilfred.

In Byron’s Walter, leaving his wife Rosie and daughter Ivy behind on Tyneside, Bob, a sugar boiler in a Byker toffee factory, enlists with the 9th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers and, after a short period of training, is posted to the Western Front, taking his precious champion homing pigeon Walter with him.

After a fierce fire fight lasting for days, Bob becomes pinned down, injured, with little chance of rescue. It is up to Walter to carry an important message across the trenches and the battlefields, above the mud and blood. The play tells the story from an animal’s point of view.

Walter is directed by Ali Pritchard and performed by Samantha Phyllis Morris and Emma Crowley-Bennett as a range of characters from Sir Lancelot Proud-Beak to Claude the truffle-searching pig.

Kitching’s Wilfred tells the story of a poet in a field hospital trying to come to terms with the horrors of war through his poetry. But it isn’t that Wilfred; this is Wilfred Wright, injured in the Battle of the Somme and a terrible poet. Through his conversations with nurse Mabel Syrup, we begin to understand the terror, fear, and heroism—and his poetic difficulties: “it's a shame horror is such a difficult word to rhyme with.”

The cast is Jack Lloyd and Megan Robson and Paula Penman directs.

Both plays run from 24 October to 3 November.

  • Walter
    Tuesday 24 October – Saturday 28 October at 4:00 and Wednesday 1 – Friday 3 November at 6:00.
    Age recommendation 8+
    Running time: 45 minutes

  • Wilfred
    Tuesday 24 October – Saturday 28 October at 7:30 and Wednesday 1 – Friday 3 November at 7:30.
    Age recommendation 16+
    Running time: 55 minutes

Tickets are £8 (£6 concessions) with £2 off for booking for both shows.