On July 25, it will be 200 years since George Stephenson’s landmark locomotive Blucher took to the rails. Built at the back of his Killingworth cottage where he lived with his young son Robert, the travelling engine put George on course to be the “father of the railways”, so who would argue that this is an anniversary worth celebrating?
Thanks to a grant of almost £55,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, North Tyneside Council and its partners and community groups are well on track to mark the occasion with a variety of projects and events.
One of these is Stephenson 200, a community play which also happens to feature actors who have found success on Broadway and in the West End.
It has been written by Janet Plater, is directed by Bob Webb and stars Pitmen Painters actors Chris Connel, who reprises his role as George, and Catherine Dryden, who counts herself as a bona fide descendant of the great man himself.
They are joined by actress Zoe Hakin and a supporting cast of schoolchildren, who appropriately hail from George Stephenson High School, and members of the wider local community. The production will also feature music from the Backworth Colliery Brass Band.
“I had written a few short pieces about Stephenson,” says Janet, who is the daughter of the late great TV and theatre writer, Alan Plater. “He is arguably the most famous Geordie of all time. The play is about his childhood, his family and the circumstances that led to him creating a ‘travelling engine’ in Killingworth. He is such a fascinating character and there are so many little stories to tell.
“I really wanted to explore what kind of a man he was, as well as the amazing things he achieved. By all accounts he was a character – often pig-headed but loyal to his friends and family and he never forgot where he came from.”
And so, as well as seeing George develop the idea for Blucher, and put it into practice, we will also see him at home, inspiring son Robert... and driving his sister Nellie to distraction with his determination to bring his work home – arriving with a pig’s bladder filled with gas under his arm would be a fine example.
“It’s been a fantastic project and it’s fitting that it will be performed so close to where Blucher was first put on the tracks,” says Janet.
Stephenson 200 is on from July 15-19 at George Stephenson High School, Killingworth. For tickets – £6 (£4 concs) – visit eventbrite.co.uk Tickets are also available on the door. For more, follow @Stephensonplay on Twitter or find Stephenson200 on Facebook.