RATHER than surrender to gloom and despondency, they came out fighting at Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) after learning in March that they will lose their regular Arts Council funding from 2012.
Moral support came from far and wide and the company vowed to continue to serve its village hall audiences across the country.
This they will be doing from September 2 with a revival of writer Stewart Howson’s sparkling adaptation of Tartuffe, last seen about nine years ago.
The play, by French playwright Molière, was premiered in 1664 and promptly banned by Louis XIV. Tartuffe is a fraud and a scallywag, but a plausible one. The king feared his less bright subjects might not get it.
NTC reckon everyone will get it. Director Gillian Hambleton says: “It’s full of bawdy humour which is very Carry On. The writing is very funny anyway but Stewart’s adaptation is wonderful and full of current references.”
In the title role is Middlesbrough-born actor Louis Roberts who has been having a ball during rehearsals in Alnwick.
“It’s a really nice cast and we’ve all worked together before so we all get on well and know how each other works,” he enthuses.
“That helps when you’ve got a show as complicated as this. There are a lot of different elements to it and it’s very physical and energetic. It’s also in rhyme as well so there’s very little room for ad libbing.”
The players all carry masks on sticks but not to help them create a character, explains Louis. Rather, as each character speaks, he or she drops the mask - much like a spotlight falling on each speaker.
“It is very much in the style of the Carry On films with lots of storylines coming together in the last few scenes,” says Louis.
“There’s one particular scene that includes a very famous comic set piece. Let’s just say the table scene was very interesting to rehearse.”
Louis, a 27-year-old master of understatement, says he had never thought of becoming an actor. There was none of it in the family. His mum’s a florist and his dad a courier for Grattan.
“It was a kind of accident. I did drama for AS level, somebody saw me in the drama exam and asked if I wanted to be in a theatre-in-education show at the Arc in Stockton.”
He then got a place on the InterACT training course run by NTC which organises on-the-job training for young people interested in a career in the professional theatre.
“I was 19 and didn’t really know what to expect because it was only in its second year. But it sounded fantastic. Actually, for me it was a year growing up.
“You had to audition as if for a theatre school but instead of being told the sort of things you would encounter in the theatre you were actually thrown into the deep end.
“I’d never lived away from home before but I had placements in Ipswich and Southampton before coming home to Cleveland Theatre Company.
“We also had masterclasses from theatre companies like Knee High and Trestle.”
Sadly, InterACT, which since 2002 has helped to build up a pool of young theatre professionals, will end after this year’s intake graduate because of the funding cut.
Louis, who is not the only InterACT graduate in the Tartuffe cast, says: “We are all backing the company 110%. We don’t want it to come to an end because of, in my opinion, a bad decision by the Arts Council.
“NTC do produce top notch theatre and everyone here is adamant that the company will go forward in some capacity, albeit with different funding.”
In the meantime Louis is looking forward to opening with Tartuffe at Alnwick Playhouse on September 2 and 3 before an exhaustive tour of Scotland and England, taking the cast as far as Wick in the north and down to Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in the Midlands.
“Touring is brilliant, although Wick is a long way to go on a tour bus. It’s hard work, particularly the one-nighters where you have to put up the set and take it down again, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Louis says he is particularly looking forward to performing on home turf, at The Crypt, Middlesbrough, on September 14. But the play is also due to call in at a host of small venues and village halls across the North East before the tour closes in the Borders on Bonfire Night.
Gillian Hambleton echoes Louis’s determination that NTC will continue, saying an application has been made to the Arts Council for one-off project funding, after which trusts and foundations will be targeted.
But after the current five InterACT students pass through, that will be it for this unique training scheme and a blow for young people with an eye on a theatrical career.
“We are still committed to the ethos of training, as we always have been, but it’s a case of priorities at the moment,” says Gillian.
“The priority now is to take our work out to rural communities because those are the ones most likely to miss out on professional theatre come next year.”
For Tartuffe tickets and tour details, visit www.northumberlandtheatre.co.uk