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Dramatic entrance for gritty first play

FORTUNE favours the brave, they say. So when a new North East theatre company makes its debut tomorrow, its founders will be hoping the audience doesn’t run for the exits.

WTS Productions, Christopher Strain, Kevin Thwaites, Jessica Johnson, Matthew Craig Wilson, Nicola Michelle Airey

FORTUNE favours the brave, they say. So when a new North East theatre company makes its debut tomorrow, its founders will be hoping the audience doesn’t run for the exits.

Their daring choice of inaugural production is East, by Steven Berkoff, whose style moved one critic to write: “At its best, this kind of theatre is so powerful, so visceral, that it forces audiences to react: either they feel like fleeing the building or they are suddenly convinced that it is the best thing they have ever seen, and want all their friends to see it too.”

WTS Productions, based in Bishop Auckland, is the brainchild of Matthew Wilson and Kevin Thwaites who, having worked on the technical aspect of stage shows, were keen to put on their own.

Matthew explains that WTS Productions is a new offshoot of Wicked Technical Services, a company set up by Kevin to do stage sound and lighting.

“Kevin and I spent a lot of time working together as technicians but we’d always wanted to put on our own shows.

“When we managed to get the funding together we decided to do East because it’s a show both of us had really wanted to do.”

Matthew was brought up in London but moved to the North East 20 years ago, when he was six. Kevin, who is also 26, is a Yorkshireman by birth but his family moved up here when he was 11.

The pair met at Darlington College of Arts and Technology. Kevin studied the technical aspects of theatre and eventually moved into that field professionally; Matthew trained as an actor but found a steady income as a technician.

Having worked hard to assemble a cast and interest a venue – the Customs House at South Shields – the pair are about to realise their dreams. They hope!

Matthew makes his professional debut as an actor, playing Mike in East.

The North East cast also includes Jessica Johnson (who you might remember for her role opposite Kelly Brook in North East film School for Seduction) as Mum, Christopher Strain as Les, Nicola Michelle Airey as Sylv and Steven Stobbs as Dad.

Kevin has stepped out from behind the lighting rigs to act as director.

Both Matthew and Kevin have ambitious, long-term plans for WTS Productions. “We are planning a schools tour of a Father Christmas show and we are hoping to do One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest next year,” says Matthew.

Both may prove easier to sell than Berkoff’s East, a tough play set in the East End of London.

As WTS’s own synopsis puts it: “Mike and Les are young, obnoxious and violent.

“Using fists, iron bars and razors to resolve problems, the two are prone to criminal acts and are deliberately sadistic, not afraid to cause hurt to those closest to them and to enact heinous deeds of violence and depravity.

“They hurtle along, acting out the day they met, their fantasies for motorbikes and their detestation of all things decent. We are also introduced to the sultry Sylv, neglected Mum and fascist Dad.”

That would sound like more than enough dramatic tension to last half an evening.

“We liked the play when we studied the works of Steven Berkoff at college,” says Matthew.

“I remember that in the first three pages there was violence and sex and lots and lots of swearing, so at 16 or 17 it was really fascinating.

“We thought it was a wonderfully vivid piece of theatre that would appeal to a young audience. Putting it on ourselves was something we just felt we had to achieve.”

They have achieved it and, although schools and colleges appear to have spurned their invitation to book lots of tickets, they hope young theatre-goers might find it to their taste. In any case, Matthew is thoroughly looking forward to stepping out on stage.

“I’m not the nervous type,” he says.

“In fact, I get more nervous in front of two or three people than I do in front of 200. I’ll love it.

“The pressure is more on Kevin as director.”

East runs at the Customs House, South Shields, from tomorrow until Saturday. For tickets, call the box office on (0191) 454 1234.

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