If there’s a funny smell in Jesmond Dene this weekend, it could be Mr Stink. David Walliams’s popular children’s story is one of this year’s touring shows from Heartbreak Productions.
Heartbreak has been coming to the Newcastle beauty spot since 2004, performing plays on Coleman’s Field next to Pets’ Corner. Previously they had set up their stage at Blackfriars in the city centre but were drawn to the Dene’s pleasant greenery.
Company founder Peter Mimmack spent the first seven years of his life in Gosforth, Newcastle, where his father was a Methodist minister.
The family moved away but Peter returned to study geography at Newcastle University in the 1980s and got bitten by the acting bug. He joined the theatre society and saw Jeremy Irons in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Winter’s Tale.
After graduating he worked in surveying for a while but decided a theatrical life was for him. After signing up for an acting course, he established Heartbreak Productions in 1991.
It is still based in Leamington Spa where he runs it with his actress wife, Maddy Kerr. Every summer they orchestrate a complex system of touring theatre, with different productions snaking across the country to perform at various outdoor locations.
This summer the company has revamped its production of Emma, based on Jane Austen’s novel, and created a new musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Shakespeare play, setting it in an Oxford college.
Both of these, to be performed by the same company of six actors, sound like fairly traditional fare for a company which finds many of its audiences at heritage sites.
They will, in fact, be staged at Gibside, the National Trust property near Rowlands Gill, and Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Northumberland, in August and also in Jesmond Dene in July.
But Mr Stink, with a different cast of five, is new. It is an adaptation of the Walliams tale, first published in 2009, telling of the friendship between a young girl, Chloe Crumb, and Mr Stink, a “stinky gentleman” with a dirty dog called Duchess.
Peter says he directed Peter Pan for the company last year and took time to scrutinise audiences around the country.
“It was interesting to see the number of grandparents who had brought their grandchildren, perhaps thinking that this was something they remembered from their childhood.
“Like Alice in Wonderland, it’s a nice Edwardian tale with magic and elaborate costumes. But it got me wondering what we could do to get the parents, or the whole family, to come.
“I thought David Walliams is popular and has written some really great books for kids – and the illustrations (by Quentin Blake) are the same as appear in the Roald Dahl books which are what I grew up with.”
Deciding it would be tricky to get the rights to Roald Dahl, he approached Walliams and the result is Heartbreak Productions’ new stage version of Mr Stink.
Peter says it has been doing very well, particularly in the city locations, but accepts there are some venues on the outdoor theatre circuit that might turn up their noses.
Mr Stink will be performed in Jesmond Dene on Friday, June 19, at 6.30pm; on Saturday, June 20, at 2pm and 6.30pm; and on Sunday, June 21, at 6.30pm. Book tickets via www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk .
You can also see it at Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, on July 31 (7pm) and The Alnwick Garden on August 23 (6.30pm).
Here is a full list of shows coming to the region this summer from outdoor theatre specialists Heartbreak Productions and Lincoln-based Chapterhouse Theatre Company (www.chapterhouse.org)
Mr Stink (Heartbreak Productions)
Jesmond Dene, Newcastle: June 19, 6.30pm; June 20, 2pm and 6.30pm; June 21, 6.30pm (www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk)
Warkworth Castle, Northumberland: July 31, 7pm (0870 3331183)
The Alnwick Garden: August 23, 6.30pm (01665 511350, option 2)
Guisborough Forest and Walkway, Redcar and Cleveland, 7pm (01287 631132)
Emma (Heartbreak Productions)
Jesmond Dene, Newcastle: July 2-5, all 7.30pm but 6.30pm on the Sunday and with a 2.30pm matinee on the Saturday (www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk)
Gibside, National Trust, near Rowlands Gill: August 19, 7pm (01207 541820)
Love’s Labour’s Lost (Heartbreak Productions)
Jesmond Dene, Newcastle: July 9-11, 7.30pm plus a 2.30pm matinee on the Saturday (www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk)
Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens, August 6, 7pm (0870 3331183)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chapterhouse)
Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens, near Ponteland: August 19, 7pm (0370 3331181)
Doxford Hall Hotel & Spa, Chathill, Alnwick: August 21, 6.30pm (01665 589700)
The Secret Garden (Chapterhouse)
Gibside, National Trust, near Rowlands Gill: July 23, 7pm (01207 541820)
The Alnwick Garden: August 5, 6.30pm (01665 511350)
Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, 6pm (01388743226)
Pride and Prejudice (Chapterhouse)
Empire Theatre, Consett (indoor performance): July 1, 7.30pm (01207 218171)
Stewart Park, The Grove, Marton, Middlesbrough: August 16, 4pm (01642 815181)
Scar Top, Barnard Castle, County Durham: August 18, 7pm (0370 3331181)
Warkworth Castle, Northumberland: August 20, 7.30pm (0370 3331181)
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (Chapterhouse)
Stewart Park, The Grove, Marton, Middlesbrough: July 8, 6.30pm (01642 815181)
Warkworth Castle, Northumberland: August 7, 7.30pm (0370 3331181)
Jane Eyre (Chapterhouse)
Gala Theatre, Durham (indoor performance): July 8, 7.30pm (03000 266600)
Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens, near Ponteland: August 14, 7pm (0370 3331181)