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South Shields theatre director Jackie Fielding dies after collapsing at play

People have been paying tribute to popular South Shields theatre director Jackie Fielding who has died aged 47

Jackie Fielding, actor and director
Jackie Fielding, actor and director

Tributes have been paid to director Jackie Fielding, one of the most respected figures on the North East theatre scene, who has died after collapsing during the run of her latest production.

Jackie, who was 47, was in intensive care at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary after suffering a brain aneurysm.

She was taken ill suddenly last Wednesday just as the second performance of The Man and the Donkey had started at the Customs House theatre in South Shields, where she lived.

The writer Tom Kelly, who knew her well and attended last Tuesday’s first performance, said she had just given her final ‘notes’ to the actors ahead of the Wednesday show when she collapsed.

The play went ahead, with cast and audience unaware, while Customs House staff called for an ambulance. Jackie was taken to South Tyneside District Hospital before being transferred to the RVI.

The Man and the Donkey, by Tyneside writer Valerie Laws, commemorates the life of local hero John Simpson Kirkpatrick who rescued many of his fallen comrades at Gallipoli.

Originally staged in 2011, when also directed by Jackie, it was revived to mark the centenary of the stretcher bearer’s death on May 19, 1915.

Valerie Laws said Jackie had risen “brilliantly and with total commitment” to the challenges posed by her play.

She said: “On the first night she and I talked of how moving it was opening the play on the centenary of Simpson’s early death at Gallipoli with no idea of what would happen 24 hours later.

“She will be a very sad loss to the theatre and all who worked with her and became her friends. I’m glad she at least saw the first night of the play she’d put so much work, skill and love into staging.”

Jackie Fielding was also well known as an actress. She appeared in TV shows including Coronation Street, Casualty, Emmerdale and Tracy Beaker, and also in pantomime at the Customs House.

But it was her skills as a director that would have kept her busy for the rest of the year.

Tom Kelly, who lives in Blaydon, said he first met Jackie when they worked on a South Tyneside community play called Tyne Songs in 1998.

Recently they had been working together on a new show called Geordie: The Musical, incorporating Northumbrian songs and music, which is scheduled to open at the Customs House in August.

Tom said he and his wife, Linda, visited Jackie at the RVI on Tuesday, shortly before she died, although no words had passed between them.

He said: “It’s really sad because, to my mind, this was the time when she was pushing ahead and I believe she would have developed even further.

“She was devoted to being a director. It was her vocation.

“She was very full on and very demanding of you as a writer but that was because she always wanted the best from a production.”

This was echoed by another writer, Peter Mortimer, who engaged Jackie last year to direct a play for his Cullercoats-based Cloud Nine Theatre Company.

This was Death at Dawn, based on the real case of a young North Shields soldier executed in France for desertion in 1916.

It helped to win the British Theatre Guide’s director of the year award for Jackie and a revival was planned for later this year.

“We had big arguments and would swear at each other over the play and I suppose you would put it down to creative differences,” said Peter.

“Jackie didn’t suffer fools gladly but we both had faith in what we were doing. She did several plays for Cloud Nine and I always had great respect for her as a director.”

Jackie was also involved in a new stage production of Catherine Cookson’s The Cinder Path for South Tyneside-based ION Productions.

The Customs House, South Shields
The Customs House, South Shields

Customs House boss Ray Spencer, who worked with Jackie for many years, Tweeted on Wednesday morning: “The world lost a beautiful, gifted and talented person last night and we are the lesser for it.”

Later he acknowledged that she had always been “fiercely protective of the rehearsal room” but for the right reasons.

“Jackie was always proving that she was right to insist on things,” he said.

“She had a fantastic eye. The biggest thing about Jackie’s productions was how well they flowed. Places became other places and people became other people – there was none of this ‘go to black’ scene changing.”

Ray said Jackie had worked a lot with young people and people with learning disabilities.

“She had this capacity, this energy, this boundless ability to keep all the balls juggled in the air. To see that snuffed out is so, so cruel. We’ll miss her.”

Jackie was born in Barrow-in-Furness and studied drama at Manchester University and then the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

She worked for a host of theatre companies in the North East and further afield.

Ray Spencer said she came to the North East when her partner, Jeff Crowe, whom she had met at Pocket Theatre in Cumbria, got a job as a technician at the Customs House.

“They relocated to Jarrow. Jackie kind of adopted our community and our community adopted her.”

Jeff died a few years ago. Jackie leaves behind a brother, Geoff, who lives in Barrow-in-Furness.


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