I {Heart} ST

Which, being translated, means “I love South Tyneside” and was to be our second community production.


A history of South Tyneside is not the smallest undertaking, for the area has been continuously inhabited from pre-Roman Celtic times to the present day and quite a lot happened in that time!

“It should be no problem,” Ray Spencer said to me. “You did that history of South Tyneside for the Millennium Dome, didn’t you? You could just expand that a bit.”

I was forced to point out that that show was written for kids to perform, was 50% dance, needed a full orchestra and was just 20 minutes long.

“You can do it,” he said blithely—as is his wont!

We began by inviting potential actors and were pleased to find that the majority of those who were part of The Mysteries wanted to return and others joined them.

It was created in bits. I started by reading up as much as I could find on the area’s history and contacting the local history group who actually set aside a meeting so that we could discuss ideas together. I met with Tania Robinson, Head of Marketing and Communications for South Tyneside MBC. We held workshops exploring specific themes, both seriously and in comic fashion.

I shall long remember local Victorian heroine Dolly Peel hiding a man in danger of being press-ganged under her skirts, and him emerging with a slightly dazed look, having crouched between her legs! And the extremely bad taste racing commentary as the area’s pits vied for which would win the most deaths in one accident stakes.

Neither, incidentally (inevitably?), made it into the finished play!

Mind you, we did keep some comedy. The invading Scots were represented by the entire cast marching towards the audience, loudly singing “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more…”

It covered the history of the area from pre-Roman times to 2013 and was—and still is—the most complex piece I have ever written. Helen Dobson and I sat for hours in the Settle Down in Newcastle trying to sort out what to keep in and what to leave out, how to link everything together, whilst swilling gallons of tea and eating lots of cake, and workshops and discussions with cast members provided many more ideas. My name was on the programme as playwright but it definitely was a whole company effort.

Finding ways to link everything together took a great deal of thought, discussion and (perhaps more than anything else!) frustration, but even those links were complex. The first idea was comparatively easy; the setting would be a rehearsal / workshop for a play about (you guessed it!) the history of South Tyneside but with an obnoxious director (no comments, please) who wound everyone up the wrong way. That wasn’t quite enough, however, so eventually I devised The Tramp, who wasn’t a tramp at all but the “Genius Loci” of South Tyneside. The “Genius Loci” in Roman mythology was the protective spirit of a place, a sort of demigod (and therefore immortal) guardian who cannot leave his area and there are inscriptions invoking these figures all over Roman Britain.

It was intended to be performed in the amphitheatre which was being built outside the Customs House but that fell behind schedule and so we transferred the performances into the Community Room (as was), now Daltons Suite.

It really, really was the most complex piece I have ever written. There was even one scene partially in Latin—and very good Latin it was too! Well, Bede was the one who wrote it…

I have to say, it was very satisfying show to create.

And I really love one of the characters I created for this show and have used him since. He was the lecturer Mr Bernard Oring—and that name, I think, says it all!