Reasons to be cheerful, Part 2: more North East theatre

The North East is blessed with a wealth of theatre (and arts) venues, so while Part 1 of my round-up was very focused on individual shows from three of my favourites – Northern Stage, Alphabetti and Live – Part 2 is a bit more freewheeling, looking both at venues and shows.

While Whitley Bay has the long-established Playhouse – which is still on my to-visit list – it tends to focus on touring shows, most of which are tribute bands and jukebox musicals. So, for original (and affordable) theatre, a better bet is relatively new entrant Laurels. A restaurant / bar / theatre / performance space, it impressed me both with its laidback vibe and commitment to new work – I was very taken with AD Jamie Eastlake’s adaptation of The Season Ticket, Gerry & Sewell last year. It also hosts regular events and comedy shows. The new season hasn’t been announced yet – though I have heard hints of some good stuff – so keep your eyes open and in the meantime, go buy a pint and support local venues…

Although getting to it from Newcastle is a bit of a bastard if you don’t have a car – curses on this Government’s attitude to public transport – ARC Stockton is another favourite of mine. As well as being a cinema, it hosts community events, music, comedy and performance poetry. Many events are Pay What You Can. There’s some really interesting sounding work coming up, including performance poet Luke Wright, comedy with Scott Turnbull and some fascinating sounding shows – As We Run We Become – in which you join artist Jennifer Jackson for a walk or a run – the participatory Ribbons, and riotous-sounding cabaret We The Queers. Installation piece We Are North also looks worth attention.

One often forgotten gem is Washington Arts Centre, another hybrid space, but one with a surprisingly nice theatre. It also hosts exhibitions, classes and touring shows – Elysium’s The Island looks one of the more promising visits, but it’s worth checking regularly to see what’s on.

Another Sunderland joy (yes, Washington is in Sunderland, I checked) is The Fire Station. A great space (with a nice restaurant next door), it’s already established itself as a music venue but also hosts comedy, dance and theatre – although the latter tends to be short-run visiting shows. It’s hosting the regional premiere of Sucker Punch this spring, which won a number of awards when it was first staged in London.

Another favourite of mine is South Shields Customs House. A cinema and performance space, its well-known for its annual panto, and though much of its theatre offering is focused on mainstream tours, it also does original work and local adaptations (I mentioned in a previous post The Wasp – which I missed last year but hope comes back). The Metros are back on to South Shields now, too, which makes getting there a lot more manageable!

And of course, over on the Gateshead side, The Central pub hosts regular and very affordable theatre nights, with Squiggle Productions New Play nights a great chance to catch talent on the rise…

If you are feeling flush, there are of course the ‘big’ theatres, Newcastle’s Theatre Royal and Sunderland Empire. Although financial constraints mean these are likely an occasional treat rather than a regular outing, both theatres offer mainstream ‘big’ shows, (albeit generally at mainstream big prices).

I have already booked tickets for the fantastic Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of) which is on in January (I saw this when it was at Northern Stage and have been dying for a repeat visit) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’m quite tempted by The Mousetrap, too, since I just watched a documentary about Agatha Christie, and Heathers: The Musical. Let’s see how the pennies work out…

There are also host of venues I am less familiar with but hoping to visit this year, including The People’s Theatre, The Exchange North Shields and Gosforth Civic Centre. Did I miss anywhere? Let me know!

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