The north bank show

To the rhythmic beating of drums, hundreds of people marched through the streets of Newcastle last night to launch the opening of a £9m arts centre.

Northern Stage opening night procession

To the rhythmic beating of drums, hundreds of people marched through the streets of Newcastle last night to launch the opening of a £9m arts centre.

The new home of Northern Stage has been billed as a cultural rival to the Sage Gateshead for the north of the river and bosses were last night determined to mark the occasion with a bang.

Performers stood on the top of Grey's Monument and lit torches before the base of the column was lit up with sparklers. More than 600 people clutching lanterns then followed drummers up Northumberland Street.

They arrived at the new building which at 10pm was illuminated with a spectacular light and fire display.

VIP guests were then treated to the building's first performance, La Nuit Intime by balletLorent, [CORR] while others were invited to wander through the building to see exhibits and attractions.

Giant screens outside beamed the performances out to onlookers.

The party then started and went on until the early hours, with the most hardy revellers offered breakfast this morning.

Northern Stage was housed at Newcastle Playhouse for 15 years and moved out in May 2004. It has been on Newcastle Quayside since then.

The company's new chief executive Erica Whyman [CORR] said the north end of the city needed a world-class arts venue to rival the Sage Gateshead.

"This is a really big development for Northern Stage and we are delighted that so many people have recognised that," she said. "This will give people the chance to see world-class work from across the North-East and the rest of the world and we will be doing our best to make people as welcome as possible.

"This will be something to rival the Sage - we will have as much impact, both with people being invited to perform themselves and with the performances on the stage.

"Tonight, we have 100 performers walking on the route. This is what the north of the city needs."

Free performances will continue today from 10.30am to 4pm. For more details on shows and to book, call (0191) 230-5151 or visit www.northernstage.co.uk

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