Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Students Get a Taste of the Good Old Days

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Students Get a Taste of the Good Old Days

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

At the end of a labyrinth of corridors and tiny staircases, a door opens onto a sight of extraordinary showbusiness glitz and decadence.

There are sequins and feathers and tight-fitting costumes. And it's only just after 9am ( and I'm not dreaming.

A hard day of rehearsing is about to begin for 31 third-year students on the performance and music degree courses at Northumbria University.

Here in the studio ( hidden away, presumably, to test the keenness and initiative of would-be course members ( the final touches are being applied to a show called Olympia which opens to the public next week.

It's always tempting to think of history in black and white, a legacy of early TV and photography. But writer Ellen Phethean has conjured up a bygone world of vivid escapism, of the goings-on at a North-East music hall that stood on the site of the university's Newcastle Business School.

The show was first devised in 2000 to mark the turn of the millennium but has been revised and revived to give the students a chance to show off their performing skills.

"When I originally sat down to write it, I was supposed to be adapting Angela Carter's Nights At The Circus. Then I found we didn't have the rights to do it," says Ellen.

"Then, in a desperate plight, I was looking through some pictures of old Newcastle and I found a photograph of the Olympia, the old music hall, and it helped me to get into the Angela Carter mode, using some of the ideas she was about."

The Olympia, on Northumberland Road, opened in December 1893 under the stewardship of promoters H E Moss and Richard Thornton. Thornton, a character in Ellen's play, was also the driving force behind the Queen's and Empire theatres in South Shields and built the Sunderland Empire.

Early in the 20th Century, it became one of the region's first cinemas but then burned down in 1907 and that was that. …

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