Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Review of the Year: Performance; BARBARA HODGSON Takes a Look Back over 2011

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Review of the Year: Performance; BARBARA HODGSON Takes a Look Back over 2011

Article excerpt

Byline: BARBARA HODGSON

FROM kings to miners, old classics to premieres, theatre in our region encompassed the great and the good and everything in between this year with a mixed box of delights.

Looking back at some of those which played a starring role in 2011, we're hard-pressed to select just a few productions but needs must so here goes with a selection of Culture's highlights.

First up is the performance by Stephen Tompkinson in the debut of Faith & Cold Reading at Live Theatre at the end of February.

The new play, a dark comedy by North Shields-born Shaun Prendergast, had a lengthy run at the quayside venue and saw the usually family-friendly Tompkinson, dressed like an undertaker, give the cast's stand-out performance and add a chill to the air as Tyneside gangster, Freddie the Suit.

We may be more used to seeing the locally-born actor on TV, but he had a stage presence we'd like to see more of.

Of course, we have to mention April's new production at Northern Stage of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which scored on all fronts.

A joint effort between the Newcastle theatre and Sheffield Theatres, the new take on Edward Albee's 1962 play was described on our Culture pages as possible the best thing Northern Stage has ever done.

Over two hours 40 minutes (and not one minute too long) the four-strong cast - starring Sian Thomas and Jasper Britton in the roles of Martha and George made famous by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1966 film version - played out a vicious dissection of two marriages in all its venomous glory.

All barbed digs and razor sharp wit melded with excellent performances, it was given epic treatment in the hands of director Erica Whyman.

Giving equally expert treatment to a now-well-honed play was the People's Theatre in June with the first-ever amateur performance of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters.

The playwright gave his old drama teacher - People's director Chris Heckels - special permission for the production to celebrate the Newcastle theatre's 100th birthday year. And what a way to celebrate. With the hit play's first amateur performance rights in their pocket, the cast - accompanied by live brass band - went all-out for a top-notch show to give the professionals, who have taken it to the West End and Broadway, a run for their money.

Pete McAndrew, as pitman turned painter Oliver Kilbourn, and Matthew Cummins, as art tutor Robert Lyon, led the cast in the now well-known warm, poignant (and true) North East story about the Ashington group of miners who found artistic fame in the 30s and 40s.

Also celebrating something of a birth, or rather re-birth, was the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, which marked its September re-opening - after a six-month pounds 4.9m refit to restore its auditorium and foyer to its original 1901 glory - with a suitably royal occasion. …

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