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The Theatre heads outside for Summer

Outdoor theatre companies are entertaining in beautiful locations across the North East

It’s summer so who needs a roof over their head when they go to the theatre? David Whetstone looks at some of the outdoor drama productions coming our way.

The cry goes up: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” and it’s oddly reminiscent of that chap in the viral YouTube video yelling at four-legged Fenton who has set off in hot pursuit of a herd of deer.

But while there will be dog walkers in Jesmond Dene this weekend, this is blood-spattered Lady Macbeth’s famous sleepwalking utterance after the murder of Duncan rather than the chastising of a dog called Spot.

Ed Pinner as Macbeth in the Heartbreak production in Jesmond Dene

Shakespeare’s tragedy with a topical First World War setting – is being performed at the Newcastle beauty spot, next to Pets’ Corner, by the actors from Heartbreak Productions, which first set up their temporary summer camp here in 2004.

They will be helped out by singers from the Gosforth Community Choir.

Heartbreak Productions, based in Leamington Spa, was established in 1991 by Newcastle University graduate Peter Mimmack who recalls being inspired by seeing Jeremy Irons perform in the city with the Royal Shakespeare Company back in the 1980s and also by Roman Polanski’s film version of Macbeth.

Peter, who is the son of a Methodist minister and spent the first seven years of his life in Gosforth, Newcastle, spoke of the hazards of performing plays outdoors... mooching dogs, peacocks (they tend to join in with raised human voices, apparently), a cow on one occasion and, of course, rain.

Back in 2004, having promised that the show would go on whatever the weather, the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was called off after torrential rain turned a dream into a nightmare. The message to all people thinking of staging a play with no roof must be: don’t tempt fate!

Macbeth comes to the end of its short run on Saturday with performances at 2.15pm and 7.15pm. Then you can catch it at Brancepeth Castle, Durham, on Sunday at 7.30pm. It returns to Middlesbrough (the gardens at Mima, the art gallery) on August 27 at 7pm.

But the company, of which Peter is creative director and wife Maddy Kerr is executive director, will bring another of its productions, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, to Jesmond Dene next Tuesday to Thursday (performances at 6.15pm) and then The Alnwick Garden on Friday (6.30pm).

It’s an adventurous adaptation of the famous JM Barrie tale by Heartbreak writer-in-residence David Kerby-Kendall and features local performers and skateboards.

Some contemporary dance input was funded by Arts Council England. Peter describes it as “a modern rollicking feast of an event”.

The latest summer production from Heartbreak opened on Wednesday in Leamington Spa and hits the road this weekend.

Pride & Prejudice, another David Kerby-Kendall adaptation but this time directed by Maddy Kerr, sounds a like Jane Austen with a little bit extra. It will be performed in Jesmond Dene from August 14-16 with a matinee on the Saturday.

You can then catch the same production in the Customs House amphitheatre, South Shields, on August 20.

All timings and ticket details about Heartbreak’s 2014 summer programme can be found on their website, www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk , or tel. 01926 430307.

Meanwhile another busy outdoor theatre company, Lincoln-based Chapterhouse, is into its 15th year of taking plays to country houses, castles and heritage sites around the country.

The monkey bag snatch scene in the Chapterhouse adaptation of The Jungle Book

It is touring English Heritage properties in the region throughout the summer.

Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens in Northumberland has already provided a stunning backdrop for the company’s production of Wuthering Heights and next Thursday it’s the turn of The Jungle Book (also coming to Stewart Park, Middlesbrough, on August 30).

It is an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic by Laura Turner, Chapterhouse writer-in-residence and a past contributor to EastEnders.

On July 29 you can see the company’s production of Sense & Sensibility at Warkworth Castle (Austen, along with Shakespeare, is a staple of al fresco drama, as you can see), which is also the setting for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing on August 14.

Chapterhouse will be back at Belsay on August 8 with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes which follows on the heels of last year’s successful tour of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Again it’s the work of Laura Turner who said she was “really excited” to have been asked to write a follow-up to last year’s play.

“Deep in the beautiful Northumbrian countryside a terrifying mystery and a legendary nemesis await the arrival of the world’s greatest detective...” runs the company spiel.

“When the wife of Doctor Watson suddenly disappears, a desperate quest to find her begins.”

Chris Huntly-Turner dons the deerstalker as Holmes while Benjamin Darlington plays Watson.

For times and ticket details visit the Chapterhouse website on www.chapterhouse.org or tel. 01522 569222.


David Whetstone
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