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Curtain up on new spring season for Newcastle's Live Theatre

ONE of the key players in the cultural life of the region enters its 40th year determined to remain true to its principles in uncertain times.

Live Theatre CEO Jim Beirne
Live Theatre CEO Jim Beirne

ONE of the key players in the cultural life of the region enters its 40th year determined to remain true to its principles in uncertain times.

These were firmly laid out at yesterday’s Live Theatre spring season launch by Max Roberts, who has been artistic director since 1985.

In an impassioned speech he compared the attitude of the current Government to that of Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s when “Live Theatre hung on by the skin of its teeth because theatre was really under attack”.

He said: “We’re under threat once again and we’re going to keep fighting like we kept fighting in the 1980s and we’re going to move forward.”

Mr Roberts, who has directed many Live Theatre productions (including Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters which is to embark on another national tour, bringing it to the Theatre Royal in July), spoke of his mentor CP Taylor, the late Tyneside playwright who worked in Live’s education department.

“He taught me that a commitment to the place that you actually live and work in is a really important component of what will make a theatre company survive. That’s why we’re here, because we’ve always provided a platform for the region’s finest talent, whether writers, actors, technicians or even people involved in marketing.

“We are basically passionate about the place we live and work in and we are interested in its political, social and cultural history, which has informed so many of our plays.”

Despite proposed Newcastle City Council arts funding cuts which could cost Live Theatre £85,000 per year by 2015, the company looks better equipped to withstand external pressures than it did in the 1980s.

As well as plays and events announced yesterday, chief executive Jim Beirne led a tour of the old schoolhouse, adjacent to the Live Theatre complex, which has been transformed.

The Schoolhouse was built as a free school by a seafarers’ guild in 1712 and rebuilt in 1753. The future Admiral Lord Collingwood was a pupil there.

But the building has been empty for several years. Bought for £400,000 and restored by Brims Construction at similar cost, it will now be a revenue generator for Live Theatre as it looks to survive in a world of reduced public subsidy.

“The Schoolhouse creative hub is a further social enterprise for Live Theatre following the launch of www.beaplaywright.com and the opening of The Broad Chare gastro pub with Terry Laybourne in 2011,” Mr Beirne said.

Another fillip for the company is that Port of Tyne has agreed to support Live Theatre’s work through what promises to be a memorable anniversary year.

Max Roberts said the book Tyne View, which arose out of Michael Chaplin’s spell as writer-in-residence at Port of Tyne and was serialised in The Journal, is to be the inspiration for a play later in the year looking at Live’s 40th anniversary and the River Tyne which flows nearby. Andrew Moffat, chief executive of Port of Tyne, said: “We are delighted to be helping Live Theatre celebrate 40 years of discovering, developing and nurturing the talent and creativity that continues to be such a vital factor in ensuring our region is a good place to live, work, visit, invest and do business in.”

On stage there are many new productions to look forward to, including a play written by a Newcastle 12-year-old, an innovative drama by a playwright from Iran and two plays by 25-year-old rising star Alistair McDowall who grew up near Middlesbrough.

MICHAELA’S MISTAKE: Excelsior Academy pupil Chelsey Cleminson, from Scotswood, joins some exalted ranks by having her play – written when she was just 12 – professionally staged and premiered in Live’s Studio Theatre in April before embarking on a tour of schools. Actor Natalie Jamieson performed an excerpt from the play which warns of the dangers of internet dating. Chelsey, now 13, wrote her play as part of Live Theatre’s young writers’ initiative, Write Stuff.

WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT: Actors, writers and comedians closely associated with Live Theatre will return to the venue in February and March to perform in the play by young Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour. They include Chris Connel, Charlie Hardwick, John Hodgkinson, Shaun Prendergast, Sarah Millican and Patrick Monahan – but they will only be on stage one at a time. In this most challenging of productions, each performer will only receive the script – a different one for men and women – just before they step on stage. Nassim, a jovial character who appeared at yesterday’s launch via Skype, said the play came to him via a nightmare.

CAPTAIN AMAZING: Alistair McDowall, based in Manchester, said his play, to be staged in April, arose out of his idea of a superhero who gatecrashes live comedy nights to do stand-up. It was developed further after the idea won a special bursary from Live Theatre and will transfer to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A second McDowall play, Brilliant Adventures, set on a Middlesbrough housing estate, is a co-production between Live Theatre and Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Company and is to be performed in Newcastle in May and June.

LIVE WITNESS: The Live Theatre building and its nooks and crannies are characters in this celebration conceived by Stella Duffy. Annie Rigby and Amy Golding, two of the region’s most innovative theatre directors, spoke of a production which seemed in danger of being sabotaged by a building reluctant to confront its forthcoming birthday. Lights kept going off and doors slamming. Not, we hope, a portent of budget disasters to come. The show takes place in May. Details are in the new February-May Live Theatre brochure which has information about the company’s new Friends scheme.


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