Northern Stage: Life begins at 40.!

For most of us, turning 40 starts alarm bells ringing with the symptoms of a midlife crisis waiting to provide a sudden reality check and wakeup call… not at Northern Stage.

This November, the bricks and mortar of Northern Stage (formerly Newcastle Playhouse) celebrates four decades of bringing inventive, innovative and inspiring theatre to audiences, young and old.

To mark this momentous landmark, Northern Stage has taken the theme of 40 and fired it out of the stratosphere, by creating 40 memorable ‘global conversations’ around the theme of northernness.

This has included an atmospheric art installation by the Scandinavian pairing of Peter Norrman (filmmaker) and Leif Jordansson (composer); hilarious comedy by welsh funny man Hugh Hughes; a national tour of an award-winning play about the life and times of young people from Middlesbrough (Apples by Richard Milward and directed by John Retallack); newly penned poetry by T S Eliot Prize winner Sean O’Brien; and a Russian Shakespeare Exhibition by the Moscow Arts Theatre School.

The 40th anniversary also gave birth to a fascinating project called 40 Babies. This 3 year project has seen Northern Stage work with 40 newborn babies and their families. The aim of the primary year has been to capture hopes, fears and pearls of wisdom about the imminent arrival with new parents and create a ‘living book’ of the babies’ first year. It’s hoped the project will provide Northern Stage with the chance to research the possibilities of creating work with and for this very young audience (0-3 year olds).

The full annual programme surrounding northernness can be viewed by clicking the following website link: www.northernstages.co.uk/programme

A birthday just wouldn’t be a birthday without a party; and Northern Stage has the mother of all celebrations planned. The city centre venue has come up with the novel idea of inviting anyone in the North-East who’s also celebrating their 40th birthday – along to the ultimate knees up.

And in time honoured Northern Stage tradition, a new performance has been commissioned to bring the project back home and celebrate the North of England.  “Northern Spirit: A Pop Art Anthology about Growing Up in the North” directed by Chris Meads asks the questions “…how does it feel to grow up in the North?  What do we share? Which artists most express the youthful northern experience?”  A collage of great writing by youthful Northern voices from the last 40 years Northern Spirit is an entertaining and moving tribute to the North’s contribution to Britain’s pop-cultural landscape.

Northern Stage has been the springboard for aspiring actors, giving them their first taste of treading the boards in front a live audience. Down the years, the building has housed a collection of first-rate productions including Animal Farm (1993), A Clockwork Orange (1998), 1984 (2001), Our Friends in the North (2007) and A Doll’s House (2008).

A handful of named actors and writers to grace productions at Northern Stage include: Kevin Whately, Wendy Craig, Robson Green, Peter Flannery, Charlie Hardwick, Craig Conway, Tim Healy, Denise Welch, David Roper and Roger Lloyd Pack.

The venue prides itself in nurturing fresh, new theatrical talent and giving it a platform to be seen and heard (for example – this years’ new Title Pending Award).  Northern Stage also offers thousands of children and young people across the North-East the opportunity to make and enjoy theatre – providing them priceless access to creative practitioners and offering them unforgettable experiences.

Erica Whyman, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Northern Stage, said: “I am so very proud to be leading the company in its 40th year. Northern Stage has long been a beacon of theatrical creativity in the North East. After our ambitious redevelopment in 2006 the team here has worked tirelessly and inventively to breathe new life into our amazing building and introduce many new people to our work.

“The next few years will bring new challenges but I am confident we will continue to make and invite to the region the most exciting and relevant contemporary theatre for the audiences of the next 40 years. Happy Birthday to us!”

Overall, 2010 has been a wonderful year for Northern Stage with Apples winning a prestigious Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Fringe and Joan Littlewood’s Musical Entertainment Oh What A Lovely War directed by Erica Whyman and Sam Kenyon being nominated for two TMA (Theatrical Management Association) Awards in the categories of Best Musical Production’ and Best Performance in a Musical.

The forty staff at Northern Stage are getting ready to fill their lungs in preparation of blowing out the candle inferno on top of the birthday cake… a healthy quest that should be no problem to them as they walked 40 miles to raise money for the theatre earlier in the year.

The year will end with an enchanting portrayal of the classic “The Wind in the Willows” adapted for the stage by Alan Bennett and starring comedic actor Mark Benton as Mr Toad (29 November – 8 January) and directed by Erica Whyman.

Further information about the work of Northern Stage (formerly Newcastle Playhouse) can be found by visiting www.northernstage.co.uk