FEATURE: Out On The Toon | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Tubtime Unplugged – Rachel Stockdale

The next phase of Northern Stage’s re-emergence from lockdown commences this month, as Out On The Toon aims to reconnect audiences and artists.

While its title may be slightly misleading (given that events take place across the region, not just in Newcastle), the free to access month-long series of productions promises a wealth of theatrical talent, as 10 North East theatre makers present work in nine local authority areas. As with their previous programme This Is Us, which took theatre and spoken word directly into audience’s homes via online productions, Out On The Toon seeks out its audience on their very doorsteps, presenting immersive live performance, dance, story trails, short stories, films, live music and spoken word to neighbourhoods throughout the North East.

Artistic Director Natalie Ibu explains: “At Northern Stage, we’re nothing without independent artists and makers so they’re at the heart of our programme as we go Out on the Toon to meet audiences where they are as many of us step out of our bubbles back into public life. The region offers the most exciting stage in the North East – a diverse range of places and spaces from the many green parks in Newcastle and Gateshead to the residential suburbs of Sunderland and North Tyneside, from rural County Durham and Northumberland to the beautiful beaches in South Shields – and our Neighbourhood artist commissions take their inspiration from those very spaces. We want audiences to know they can rely on Northern Stage to bring them stories, no matter what.”

The region offers the most exciting stage in the North East – a diverse range of places and spaces

Themes covered within the programme are both universal and close to home. In Mam Tackles The Climate Crisis, taking place in Consett and written and directed by Tracy Gillman, Jackie Lye performs a solo monologue about her attempts to recycle everything, including her relationship with her daughter; audiences are invited to get up close and personal with Rachel Stockdale as she performs an intimate piece of theatre tailor-made for 12 households in North Tyneside – Tub Time: Unplugged is directed by Jake Smith and created in response to Rachel’s favourite past-time – FaceTiming in the bath! Award-winning playwright Lee Mattinson teams up with director Mark Maughan to encourage audiences to consider what we’ve missed most during the pandemic, and what we’d change to make our futures better – in their audio work The Weebles the 22 statues that make up Juan Muñoz’s Conversation Piece on Littlehaven Beach in South Shields tell all about what they’ve learned from a year of watching moments of harmony, horror, joy, catastrophe, love and death. Amid the residential streets of Heaton, ‘a case in point’ celebrates the strength and resilience of local women in a dance duet performed with the women of Heaton and created, choreographed and performed by What’s That Dance Company – serving to highlight some shocking statistics around the increased inequality women have faced due to the pandemic (livestream/recording by Meta4 Dance Company).

In Sunderland, Theatre Space NE and Sunderland-based writer James Whitman’s Thanks For The Chat crystallises a moment in time, just before the first lockdown, in the form of short films and audio stories tied to relevant locations in the city and available to download to view on location or watch at home. Georgina Lance’s movement-based visual performance Black Femme Priority is inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests, and focuses on the relationship of Black Womxn with nature and movement as a medium for healing and liberation, taking place in Newcastle. In Stockton, award-winning actor Scott Turnbull tells a semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in Chewin’ On A Brick, in which hand-made animations and dark humour is shot through with a sense of magic realism; while Verto, created by Teesside-based Queer arts group Bordello Collective, weaves together spoken word, ritual and song in a series of site-specific theatrical interventions along the three main rivers of the North East, and taking place in Hexham, Middlesbrough and Durham. Younger audiences are also catered for in Kitchen Zoo’s Adventure On Your Doorstep story trail in Gateshead; and Orville the Owl nervously embarks on his first flight at Bill Quay Farm.

Out On The Toon takes place across various locations in the North East from Tuesday 1st-Wednesday 30th June. Check the Northern Stage website for further details on locations and dates

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