NORTHERN spirit captures the mood of a Newcastle theatre’s new spring season which features the return of North East classic Close the Coalhouse Door.
The new production of Alan Plater’s 44-year-old play, which sees Newcastle writer Lee Hall team up with actor-director Samuel West, is a highlight of the newly-announced Northern Stage season.
In a co-production with Live Theatre which is being billed as the theatre event of 2012, Hall, author of such stage successes as The Pitmen Painters and Billy Elliot, is writing a new ending and a new song for the musical drama which celebrates the spirit and determination of Northern miners.
When Close the Coalhouse Door made its debut in 1968, it was an instant hit with audiences who connected with the history of strikes and ensuing victories and disappointments in a tale based on short stories by Sid Chaplin and featuring songs by Alex Glasgow.
Its creators are all now dead and it’s falling to Hall – who will be working closely with West, star of film Howards End and current ITV1 fantasy drama series Eternal Law – to revisit their work and include the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike.
He said: “This is a very important play and Samuel’s involvement ensures that this will be an explosive and thrilling piece of theatre.”
West added: “Above all, I want it to be a good night out for the people of Newcastle. It’s an honour to be working in this great city on the work of one of our best-loved writers.”
Their joint production is to preview on April 13 at Northern Stage where it will run until May 5 before heading off on a national tour.
Its run follows an energetic start to the spring season which launches this evening with Radikal Works, a poetry performance showcase starring Kate Fox and Ray Antrobus with music by Simma, and goes on to feature both local and international talent in a mix of drama, comedy, contemporary dance, children’s shows and physical theatre.
And the latter will certainly feature, alongside dazzling visuals such as floating scenes, in Missing from March 8-10, a bizarre tale about a missing girl and research into human souls by theatre company Gecko which often uses physicality, such as mime, dance and clowning, in place of words.
Offering the other side of the coin is Found from March 21-24: a show by North East-based intercultural theatre company Zendeh combining a modern tragedy with uplifting stories from a Jewish grandmother rescued during the war by an Iranian diplomat.
Also ticking the international box is a visit by Belarus Free Theatre from June 8-9 who were exiled from their own country for their political views and artistic statements.
They’re bringing Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker as a lament for a once-beautiful city.
Then comes an international and bloody take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth by those who experienced first-hand last January’s turmoil in Tunis. Questioning what the playwright would have written had he faced the Arab Spring, Macbeth: Leila and Ben – A Bloody History, from July 12-14, combines text and film to examine leadership and power.
The play forms part of the theatre’s role in this summer’s World Shakespeare Festival which will also see thought-provoking company dreamthinkspeak come up with a site-specific deconstruction of Hamlet in The Rest is Silence, running from June 26-30; and an immersive work for children called In a Pickle, from June 27-30, which is inspired by the Bard’s landscapes and imagination and presented by Oily Cart and the RSC.
Erica Whyman, chief executive of Northern Stage, said the plays from Belarus and Tunisia are a real international coup for the region.
“I am extremely proud of our latest season of work, which truly has something for everyone,” she said, adding: “In economic turbulent and political times we need great thought- provoking theatre, and great heart-warming entertainment more than ever, and this season Northern Stage is firing on all cylinders to bring both to our audiences.”
Among the home-grown talent on show will be comedian Chris Ramsey from February 21-22 (Chris Addison picks up the comedy baton on March 14) and Love, Life, Longing and Laughter, four quirky new plays from March 16-17 by such writers as Lee Mattinson and Wire in the Blood author Val McDermid.
Dance performances come courtesy of Blanca Li Dance Company with Elektro Kif, a mix of urban street and contemporary dance and theatre from February 21-22; and Phoenix Dance Theatre with its four-piece programme Crossing Points on May 31.
Meanwhile, other dramas will include race-clash play Mogadishu, aimed at young audiences, from March 20-24; Tender Naplam, Philip Ridley’s explosive portrait of love in the face of catastrophe, from May 16-17; and Mary Shelley, based on the life story of the Frankenstein author, from May 22-26.
To see details of the whole programme – which includes National Theatre Connections festival; Sarah Kane’s Crave; Best in the World by Gateshead-based Unfolding Theatre; and storytelling from The Crick Crack Club – visit www.northernstage.co.uk. Buy tickets online or from 0191 230 5151.