Newcastle’s Theatrical Heritage

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by Conrad - 27 February 2015

Through his classic work As You Like It, iconic British playwright William Shakespeare once declared that “all the world’s a stage”. When we think of the world’s biggest stages, we’re usually drawn to the West End or Broadway rather than Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but the city does actually claim some of the UK’s greatest theatre venues.


With a big number of the world‘s best-known acting and performing talent originating from the Newcastle area, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that treading the boards is as timeless a Tyneside institution as John Lewis, Ant & Dec and Alan Shearer. Here we look at three of the city’s best theatre venues, their history, and what’s famously played there before.


Theatre Royal

Though the Grade I listed building, which houses the Theatre Royal, has been in use since 1837, records can be traced back to a venue further up the road on Mosley Street that was given Letters Patent by King George III in 1788.


The grand exterior was designed by brothers John and Benjamin Green as part of a city-wide facelift in the 1830s, but the interior was rebuilt by Frank Matcham in 1901 following a fire which gutted the theatre.


Today the Royal Shakespeare Company plays at the Theatre Royal, which it considers its home in the north of England, while other upcoming performances are as culturally diverse as La Triviata, The Marriage of Figaro and Shrek: The Muscial.


Northern Stage

Formerly known as Newcastle Playhouse, Northern Stage is housed in the University Theatre, built in 1970 to replace another theatre which was demolished to make way for a road-widening project.


With three stages devoted to staging local, national and international performances, the Playhouse was renovated in 2006 to the tune of almost £10million and the Northern Stage as a venue was born.


Most famously overseen by Alan Lyddiard between 1992 and 2005, the Northern Stage company is well-known for its George Orwell adaptations including Animal Farm and 1984, both of which have toured throughout Europe and, in the case of the latter, North America.


Tyne Theatre And Opera House

Only about 20 theatres in Britain are Grade I listed and Newcastle has at least two – the Tyne Theatre and Opera House being one, and located in the UNESCO-listed area surrrounding Hadrian’s Wall.


Opened in 1867, the venue found initial success as a showcase for local talent, but was able to mount more ambitious touring productions as the national railway system gained steam under Augustus Harris.


The theatre was sold on in 1917 and became a cinema for decades before the rise of television purchases during the 1960s almost closed it for good. It became a theatre again in 1976 following its lease to the Tyne Theatre Trust, whose past productions include Placido Domingo in Tosca.


All these prestigious venues and much more besides are easily reached by hiring a car here in Newcastle.