2019 has been a comparatively quiet year theatrically in the region but there were some noteworthy news stories:
At the beginning of December, we learned that Northern Stage’s Artistic Director Lorne Campbell, who took over from the previous AD Erica Whyman in 2013 when she joined the RSC, is to move to National Theatre Wales in Cardiff in April 2020. A new appointment will be made at NS in the New Year.
Two NE theatres—the Customs House and Newcastle Theatre Royal—were successful in the Great British Panto Awards and Sunderland-born Berwick Kaler won a lifetime award for his years as Dame at York Theatre Royal.
Stockton-born director Robert Icke won the Evening Standard Award for Best Director for The Doctor and The Wild Duck at The Almeida in Islington. He began his theatrical career at ARC Stockton running his own youth theatre, Arden Theatre Company, producing mainly Shakespeare—from the age of 16!
The building of a new auditorium in Sunderland began towards the end of the year. The new 450-seater venue stands between The Old Fire Station and Sunderland Empire and is expected to be completed by 2021.
Ben Phillips, director of Sunderland Empire, left the theatre in September to take up a similar role at Bristol Hippodrome and ATG appointed Marie Nixon, who is Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland Students’ Union. Previously, she was Senior Advocacy and Communications Manager for Arts Council England North. She is a Trustee of both the MAC Trust and the Beamish Museum and was a Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme in 2011/12. She will take up the post in March.
South Shields’ Customs House had the most impressive home-grown programming during the year. It celebrated its 25th birthday in 2019 and the celebrations included no fewer than five South Shields-related productions, new and revived, as well as its usual panto, Snow White, a new version of the first panto ever presented at the theatre, and, as part of the Takeover Festival, the first full-length play by a 21-year-old writer, Elijah Young’s Isolation, which transferred to Alphabetti later in the year.
Celebrations also included a number of staff, trustees, panto actors and audience members taking part in a half-marathon, the Great North Run, inviting patrons to sponsor and dedicate a Heart (for £25, £50, £100, £250, £1000 or £2500 with all hearts being displayed in the foyer and bar), and turning the outside of the building into a sound and light spectacular. In addition, the venue saw increased funding for its work with young people when The Takeover youth arts festival, produced by, with and for young people to develop and showcase their leadership skills, featuring music, theatre, exhibitions and workshops, received a grant of £31,000 from the Scottish Power Foundation.
And a much-loved Customs House Christmas show for young children, Santa’s Naughty Elf, written and directed by (and starring) Wayne Miller, had its last run in 2019 after 11 years.
And two NE theatre directors, Lorne Campbell of Northern Stage and Ali Pritchard of Alphabetti, became fathers during the year. Congratulations to them!