One of the region’s best known actresses is hoping to pass on her love of the theatre after winning a rare off-stage role.
Jill Halfpenny believes age is no barrier to enjoying the theatre and is encouraging families to take children after being appointed as patron of the Friends of the Theatre Royal.
The award winning soap, TV and West End actress from Gateshead will spend 2014 meeting Friends of the historic Grade II listed building through a series of talks as well as being present at some of the theatre’s biggest events.
The London-based 38-year-old, who spent- Christmas with her mother at Leam Lane, said it was an honour to have been selected for the role.
She said: “The Theatre Royal was ‘the’ theatre when I was growing up. It stands alone and is very impressive and looking at it as a child it was something to behold so it’s very special to have been asked to become involved. It’s good to support what’s going on in the North East.”
Jill, a former St Edmund Campion RC School pupil, started her acting career in Byker Grove before going on to star in a number of popular TV series’ including Coronation Street, EastEnders, Peak Practice and Waterloo Road.
She is also a previous winner of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and has more recently starred in West End productions Chicago and Abigail’s Party and pantomimes, including the Theatre Royal’s past productions of Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.
The mother-of-one said: “I’ve brought my son Harvey to the theatre ever since he was young. It’s said that a lot of children can’t sit through shows but I don’t think so. I think that if something is engaging a child will sit through and be entranced.
“I remember I was. When I was four I was taken to see Annie in the West End in London and just sat in awe. The theatre can be a wonderful place for children.”
Earlier this year Jill was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Gateshead and became the 22nd person to receive the honour joining sportsmen Jonathan Edwards, Brendan Foster and Bob Moncur as well as businessman Sir John Hall and TV legend Mike Neville.
She said that she appreciates the support she’s had from people in the region more as she has got older and comes back to the North East to visit family whenever she isn’t working.
“Becoming a patron for me links the idea that people in the North East have always been really supportive with what I’ve done. You appreciate and are humbled by people wishing you well.
“It was lovely to be asked to become patron and it’s an honour and really lovely to be thought of as I’ve performed here.”
Her most memorable time at the Theatre Royal was her 2001 role in the Lee Hall play Cooking with Elvis alongside Charlie Hardwick and Joe Caffrey.
It was the play’s North East homecoming after a long stretch on the West End and on tour.
She said: “Cooking with Elvis was really special for me. At the time it was such a fresh piece of writing and I was very exciting. The playwright is from here and it was so special to come back. I adored playing the part of Jill in that, it was a fantastic role.”
As well as her new role as patron 2014 will also see her filming for Danny Boyle’s London Met police drama Babylon and a role in the BBC series In The Club about a group of couples who meet at a parenting class.
Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theatre Royal, said: “The Friends organisation is one of the biggest in the country with 6,000 members and they are great supporters of the theatre as a building and the productions.
“What we were looking for in a patron is someone who is friendly and supportive and the Friends were thrilled when Jill said yes.”