Some people in cities think the countryside is a cultural desert, albeit one with lots of trees to admire. They obviously haven’t come across Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) – or the landlord of a certain County Durham pub.
The latest touring production from NTC is a four-hander, a quartet of new short plays by writers from around the country.
NTC director Gillian Hambleton, who sees no value in lights under bushels, sums up the current offer: “We’ve got six great actors, a fantastic set and four brilliant plays – a rural idyll, a Faustian pact, a haunting melody and an exaggerated lie, which all adds up to a fast-paced, thought-provoking and, most importantly, entertaining evening of theatre.”
She adds: “And, as ever, we’re taking our shows to the audiences in more out of the way places.”
Billed as 4Thoughts, the plays get their premiere at Alnwick Playhouse on Thursday and Friday and then hit the road.
On the itinerary next week is The Black Bull Inn at Frosterley, County Durham, where landlord Duncan Davis rules the roost.
Duncan is also an accomplished photographer who had an exhibition at The Gate in Newcastle a few years ago and also illustrated chef Terry Laybourne’s book, Quest for Taste.
But he is also a friend of NTC, explaining: “I used to live in Capheaton and when NTC advertised for people to put on their productions, we put them on in the village hall. They’re a really good company and I’ve been putting their shows on ever since.
“Ten years ago I moved to Weardale and in that time NTC has been really struggling (it lost its Arts Council funding a few years ago). But I’ve been putting things on at Christmas ever since I’ve been here.
“We’ve had story reading nights with Stewart Howson who wrote Quest for Taste and has also written a lot of plays for NTC. We’ve worked on collaborations for a long time.”
Last year this caused brief alarm. Having called for authentic props for an NTC show called Notes from the Front, someone obliged by walking in with a First World War shell – a dud, fortunately.
The Black Bull Inn will be a venue for 4Thoughts, with Duncan’s photographic studio transformed into a theatre space with room for 50 people who are being enticed with the prospect of a meal and a performance.
Duncan says: “All the Christmas shows have been really successful. It is a very intimate set-up but people seem to love it. There’s always a great atmosphere.”
NTC advertised widely for the plays for 4Thoughts and the winners were chosen from a total entry of 105.
The plays are Yan Tan Tethera by Alice Dobbs, who is studying scriptwriting at Northumbria University; Undercover by Patrick Hughes, a Liverpool-based playwright and performance poet; The Arrangement by Alan Bell, an actor from Colchester who is currently touring with The Lion King but has appeared in NTC shows; and Hedging Your Bets by Beccy Smith, who is based in Brighton and has worked in the theatre world for the past 10 years.
The cast of six includes two acting trainees – Helen Vinten, from Thirsk, and Laura Ayres, from Leeds. NTC has a long-established commitment to training.
* 4Thoughts is at Alnwick Playhouse (studio) on Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm (tel 01665 510785) and The Black Bull Inn, Frosterley, on March 3 and 4, 7pm (01388 527784). Full tour details at www.northumberlandtheatre.co.uk