This is Byker at Northern Stage

Yesterday was a very theatre day: I met someone from Alphabetti for coffee to talk about their exciting new season (somewhat ironically at Northern Stage – though not really, as in my experience all the theatre folk in Newcastle are very supportive of their competitors!). I was then off to Byker to chat to Northern Stage (and Common Wealth) folk about one of their upcoming shows, I have Met the Enemy (And the Enemy is Us) – before dashing off to meet my friend and fellow reviewer T off the train, as she is in town to have a short break from reviewing duty at Edinburgh Fringe! So, a LOT of theatre chat. I also picked up my membership pack – so started getting my drinks discount right away (honestly, I suspect they’ll lose money on this deal…)

I’ll be talking more nearer the time about Enemy, as it sounds a fascinating project – a co-production between Northern Stage and renowned working class theatre company Common Wealth, it examines Britain’s role in the arms trade through the lived experience of a Palestinian man, a former British solider and a female painter still based in the Middle East, as well as looking at how art can be a transformative power in people’s lives. It will be staged in Byker Community Centre, which I’m not familiar with, but, based on my visit yesterday, seems a vibrant community hub (when I was there, there seemed to be lots of activities going on, including arts and crafts activities for kids with it being the school holidays, and a ‘pay what you can’ produce market, that sells donated produce that would be otherwise be going to landfill, thereby cutting down food waste.) The Common Wealth project has been developed with input from local residents and will feature a community cast (and reduced ticket prices of ¬£2 for residents), and is part of Northern Stage’s ongoing engagement with the Byker community. (You can also go along early for some performances for a walking tour of the estate, or a lecture about its history as one of the country’s most famous examples of social housing – you can find details on how to sign up or buy tickets on the Northern Stage website.)

Part of this engagement was on show in the theatre itself, with their new exhibition This is Byker. My photos don’t do it justice – the light downstairs is hard on photos! – but it’s a series of beautifully intricate and delicate drawings of the Byker estate by long-term resident Steve Sheraton. This exhibition (which is on till 24th September) is part of a wider This is Byker project, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of what is now an iconic estate, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

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