Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Youngsters Summon Up the Old Blitz! Spirit; Lionel Bart's Blitz! Is Coming to a Hospital Theatre. DAVID WHETSTONE Sets the Scene

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Youngsters Summon Up the Old Blitz! Spirit; Lionel Bart's Blitz! Is Coming to a Hospital Theatre. DAVID WHETSTONE Sets the Scene

Article excerpt

THEY are summoning up the old 'blitz spirit' at one of the region's most energetic youth drama groups.

Yes, Lionel Bart's Blitz! is First Act Theatre's spring production and it will be performed with customary exuberance by a cast too young even to remember the Falklands conflict, let along the Second World War.

But First Acters can all sing, act and shake a leg.

Past members include Jill Halfpenny, Cheryl Cole and Ant and Dec, according to musical director John Dalziel who was a First Act Theatre member himself before going on to study drama and script writing at Northumbria University.

Having now graduated, he is working in a supermarket to pay the bills while gigging with folk quartet Gilded Thieves and supervising rehearsals of Blitz! on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and at weekends.

The director of this show is friend Callum Buchanan who is also among the First Act Theatre alumni.

First Act Theatre is based at St Nicholas Hospital, Gosforth, which boasts a stunning, if unlikely, example of a Victorian proscenium arch theatre.

It was completed in 1899 by architect John W Dyson and it boasts Doulton tiles by William James Neatby whose work can also be seen in the Harrod's food hall in London.

Until 1954 it was used by performers rehearsing for the annual panto at the Theatre Royal. Laurel and Hardy are among those said to have trodden the boards here in decades past.

The Jubilee Theatre - the hospital is on Jubilee Road - is now Grade IIlisted.

Since First Act Theatre, under founding director Barry Wilmot, relocated from the Tyne Theatre in 1992, a lot of work has been done to turn a stage in a big hall into a properly equipped theatre with lights and raked seating.

An agreement with the NHS means the premises are used during the day by the hospital and during rehearsal evenings by the First Acters.

The company has over 200 members aged seven to 19 and puts on three or four shows per year, including a revue.

"We haven't done a musical for quite a while," says John.

"We did Bugsy Malone when I joined as musical director but then we found ourselves doing more straight shows. …

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