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Dramatic Highlights for autumn tour of far-flung venues

There’s no place too small for a touring company with big ideas. Barbara Hodgson previews Highlights’ autumn plans to show off for local communities

Holmes and Watson, part of programme for Highlights touring theatre scheme
Holmes and Watson, part of programme for Highlights touring theatre scheme

Village halls and community centres across rural Northumberland are preparing for a bit of a song and dance in coming weeks as the Highlights Touring Scheme puts the finishing touches to scenery, costumes and props for its new season.

The popular company will be making its presence felt this autumn by hosting a range of shows in small communities scattered across areas that top-quality theatre can rarely reach.

The scheme brings under one umbrella work by some of the UK’s best touring theatre companies and makes it available in the heart of small communities.

And this autumn – up until December 23 – theatre-lovers will have plenty to choose from, with high drama, comedy, music and children’s entertainment in 18 village halls across the county.

The scheme is part of a National Rural Touring Forum and the autumn programme will launch on September 28, with a night of guitar, fiddle and song courtesy of Kit Holmes and Allan Greenwood at The Cheviot Centre in Wooler (call 01668 282406).

On October 3 and 4, Holmes & Watson – The Farewell Tour sees the crime-busters tackle a baffling, and hilarious, case at Bamburgh Pavilion (01668 214634) and Craster Memorial Hall (01665 576226) respectively.

Whetting the appetite at Whittingham Memorial Institute (01665 574964) on October 5 will be The Iranian Feast, set in modern-day Tehran, which is part-mystery, part-thriller and part-cookery lesson, so enjoy some Persian food as it’s prepared during the unfolding family-based story alongside song and dance.

Magic and mind-reading in Maudsley & Shoesmith: Devious Minds will showcase some wonders by the Magic Circle duo, so prepare to be impressed at Bardon Mill & Henshaw Village Hall (01434 344424) on October 11; New Hartley Memorial Hall (0191 237 2210) on October 12 and Amble Parish Hall (01670 760007) on October 13. And surely even the most demanding music-lover will be satisfied with a whistle-stop tour of 600 years of western musical history.

Blast from the Past: A Brief History of Music comes to Wark Town Hall & Mechanics Institute (01434 230180) on October 18, beginning in the Middle Ages and running up to the dawn of the 20th century. Expect fun, forgotten songs and sounds from more than 20 authentic instruments by acclaimed musicians Chris Green and Sophie Matthews.

Award-winning, comedy barbershop quartet Barbershopera will be reinventing the classic story of The Three Musketeers on October 19 at Corbridge Parish Hall (07891 011533), while the next night sees a change of tone with the 1834-set story of oppression and heroism in Tolpuddle; We Will be Free!, told with the help of powerful political cartoons, animation, puppetry and songs arranged by folk singer John Kirkpatrick. It comes to Newbrough Town Hall near Hexham (01434 674162).

Christine Tobin, part of programme for Highlights touring theatre scheme
Christine Tobin, part of programme for Highlights touring theatre scheme

Gypsey jazz from the North East’s own Djangologie sees the band capture the Hot Club sound of the swing era on October 25 at Holy Cross Church in Haltwhistle (01434 320437).

Children can enjoy Blown Away, an interactive show with puppets and live music for three to six-year-olds at BURC, formerly St Paul’s Church, in Main Street, Spittal, Berwick (07752 403409) on October 25; and at Ashington Children’s Centre on October 26 (01670 819 988).

Another North East favourite, Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra, will bring its mixed bag of original songs, old blues, and feelgood music played on a range of instruments to Bedlington Community Centre (01670 824141) on November 9 and BURC on November 10.

It’s the turn of A Thousand Kisses Deep, a celebration of the work of Leonard Cohen and starring award-winning singer Christine Tobin, on November 23 at Corbridge Parish Hall.

On November 29, Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – a black comedy – can be seen at Hepscott Parish Hall (01670 514031), while the same day sees the programme’s early festive mood set in at St Aiden’s Church in Bamburgh (01668 214634) with Blast from the Past: A Victorian Christmas.

This heartwarming exploration of the festive season at the time of Dickens and Hardy includes a cheery sing-along, and the show will be repeated on November 29 at Holy Cross Church in Haltwhistle (01434 320437).

Graffiti Classics will combine a classical concert with gypsy-folk romp, opera, comedy cabaret and dance – plus audience interaction – at Wark Town Hall & Mechanics Institute on December 5 (01434 230180) and at Middleton & Todridge Village Hall (01670 772600) on December 6.

Street theatre pioneers Avanti Display and Artizani will join forces on December 14 for Six Impossible Things! which is pretty much as described: six seemingly-impossible feats including, apparently, a magic carpet ride.

See how they do that at Whittingham Memorial Institute (01665 574964).

The programme will be rounded off in style with a production of classic tale Red Riding Hood for those aged four and over, who are promised great visuals, spooky moments and pantomime-style silliness at Stocksfield Community Centre on December 29 (01661 842346) and Seahouses Sports & Community Centre on December 30 (01665 721868).

For full details of the programme visit www.highlightsnorth.co.uk


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