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Northern Stage commission stage version of North East film Get Carter

Theatre company Northern Stage have commissioned a stage version of iconic North East film Get Carter

Playwright Torben Betts
Playwright Torben Betts

Get Carter, the most iconic of Tyneside films, seems destined to be one of the big attractions at the theatre in 2016.

Newcastle-based theatre company Northern Stage has commissioned a stage version of the tension-filled gangland tale from Berwick-based playwright Torben Betts.

The project is in its very early stages but Betts, whose new political play What Falls Apart is to premiere at Live Theatre in April, has said he is returning for inspiration to the book on which the film was based – although he would retain the film’s title and North East setting.

Jack’s Return Home, a novel by Ted Lewis, was published in 1969.

The action of the novel is set in Scunthorpe but it was transferred to Tyneside for the 1971 film directed by Mike Hodges.

The decision was vindicated when the film, starring Michael Caine as London-based Geordie gangster Jack Carter, back on home turf on a mission of vengeance, was released.

The gritty locations, including the now demolished Gateshead multi-storey carpark, contributed hugely to its appeal.

The film, although still hugely popular, can be viewed as a period piece but Lorne Campbell, Northern Stage’s artistic director, said he had been drawn to it for different reasons.

“It is an iconic story of the North East and commissioning and making this work will provide opportunities for actors from the North East to play brilliant roles on a massive stage.

“But I think the book is really interesting.

“Historically, it describes a moment when there’s great economic and political tension between North and South, which makes it a hugely relevant thing to be doing now.

“The book says a lot about the corrupting influence on society of money. The backdrop is the Gaming Act and the effort to control gambling and fruit machines.

“But now that economics has become the primary driver of our politics I think this will give us the opportunity to say something useful about that.”

He said the play would also enable the company to look at attitudes towards women.

“The film and the book are, in places, violently, terribly misogynistic and there is something very interesting in trying to get a handle on that.

“My first conversations with Torben have been about how you make that part of the subject of the play.

“Both book and film describe a violently possessive view of women.

“These were the daughters of the women who went through the Second World War and, after that freeing experience, had been pushed back into domestic positions.”

Lorne Campbell, artistic director of Northern Stage
Lorne Campbell, artistic director of Northern Stage

He said this was an area of interest now that the traditional masculinity of the workforce in many formerly industrial areas had been diminished through the loss of mass employment and the rising confidence of women.

“I’ve always been interested in trying to make work that I can get off the arts pages and onto the news pages,” said Lorne.

“This is one of those things that I hope people who don’t consider themselves theatre-goers will want to come and see.

“It will give us a chance to have a conversation with people.”

He said the play was likely to be produced in the first part of next year and while he didn’t even have a first draft yet, he envisaged it being a very musical production.

“I think the music of the time is very important, tracks such as The Animals’ We Gotta Get our of This Place.”

Torben Betts, who has made his name as playwright outside the region, despite having lived in Berwick for more than a decade, will see his first North East premiere when What Falls Apart opens at Live Theatre on Newcastle Quayside on April 22, tickets from www.live.org.uk or 0191 232 1232.

News of this latest commission suggests he has finally announced his presence in a very big way.

Northern Stage, meanwhile, is about to open its latest big co-production, Cyrano de Bergerac, in Northampton before it premieres in Newcastle on April 29. Call 0191 230 5151 or visit www.northernstage.co.uk for tickets.

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