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Theatre news + photos: cast & creative team for Natalie Ibu’s first show as Northern Stage Artistic Director

Road by Jim Cartwright

In the 35th anniversary of Jim Cartwright’s joyous and anarchic masterpiece, the residents of Road are relocated to the North East in the first show Artistic Director Natalie Ibu will direct for Northern Stage.

Im excited to be working with a brilliant cast and creative team to explore the intersectionality between race, class and gender and bring Jim Cartwrights vivid characters back to life, 2021 style.” – Natalie Ibu

Part of Northern Stage’s Housewarming season, audiences and artists will be welcomed back to the theatre’s main stage with a gritty, funny, riotous show about community and connection. Natalie says, “Road is the perfect post-pandemic celebration of community and resilience – the narrator introduces us to residents on the road, who then make their way out of their own houses to their local pub. In fact, all of our Housewarming season productions talk directly to the audience – breaking down the fourth wall to welcome people back, and re-connecting artists and audiences in a way that only live theatre can.

“Its the dream play for me to direct as my first show for Northern Stage – I directed a scene when I was at university and it has really stayed with me for 17 years. Its with Road that I found my vision as a director. It helped me articulate that I wanted to tell stories about the blood, sweat and tears it takes to live life, and that I wanted to fill stages with loud, vivid expressions of what it means to be alive. 

“Originally set in Lancashire, we’re relocating it to a North East working class community dealing with poverty, unemployment, disappointment and a desperation for change whilst also making the most of who and what they have. It’s about what itis to live, in all of its complexities – looking to the past to understand how we live now, telling forgotten stories about forgotten people. Theres an incredible resilience in this community, a charm; theyre a hoot to be around and I’m excited to be working with a brilliant cast and creative team to explore the intersectionality between race, class and gender and bring Jim Cartwright’s vivid characters back to life, 2021 style.”  

The cast are Michael Hodgson (The Pitmen Painters/Live Theatre/National Theatre/West End/Broadway, Get Carter/Northern Stage); Ike Bennett (Curfew/Sky TV with Adrian Lester and Sean Bean); Rosie Stancliffe (Leaving by Paddy Campbell/Curious Monkey); Ryan Nolan (Hyem/Theatre 503, Ryan made his feature film debut as Private Malky in Sam Mendes’ award winning 1917); Nicole Sawyerr (Those Who Trespass/Arts Ed & High Tide Festival, Boom/Theatre 503); Ruby Crepin-Glyne -making her professional theatre debut, Ruby graduated from The Oxford School of Drama in 2019 where she performed at the Sam Wanamaker Festival/The Globe, and The Royal Court in Mark Ravenhill’s Pool No WaterRohit Gokani (Silver Street/BBC Asian Network, A Living Myth/English National Opera, TV credits include Wire in the Blood with Robson Green); Shahbaaz Khan (a recent graduate from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts returning to his home region to make his professional stage debut, credits include Shakespeare in Love/Mountview and Looted/AmazonTV); Philip Harrison (recent credits include The Duke with Jim Broadbent, and Jekyll & Hyde/Northumberland Theatre Company); and Patricia Jones (West End Girls/Live Theatre, film credits include I, Daniel Blake).

The creative team are Set & Costume Designer Amelia Jane Hankin (One Under/Graeae, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads/Chichester Festival Theatre); Lighting Designer Zoe Spurr (Emilia/West End, Wuthering Heights/Royal Exchange Theatre); Sound Designer Jon McLeod (Macbeth/Shakespeare’s Globe, Collapsible/Bush Theatre); Assistant Director Natasha Haws (Familiar/Alphabetti Theatre); Movement Director Nadia Iftkhar who has made and collaborated on over 20 works at venues including Sadler’s Wells, Tramway Glasgow, Dance City Newcastle and Konzerthaus Wien; Intimacy Directors Yarit Dor (Death of a Salesman/Young Vic) and Enric Ortuno; Dialect Coaches Yvonne Morley-Chisholm (associate with the National Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe) and Tim Charrington (theatre credits include the West End, Old Vic, Donmar, Royal Court, Manchester Royal Exchange, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Sheffield Crucible, TV credits include 24); and Casting Director Nadine Rennie CDG (Olivier nominated Ivan and the Dogs by Hattie Naylor, God’s Property by Arinze Kene). 

As well as opening up the theatre to audiences, Artistic Director Natalie Ibu is creating more opportunities for more artists and creatives to work with Northern Stage, including open calls for casting and freelance roles on the creative team and new ways for local theatre makers to engage, such as open rehearsals and workshops. Natalie says, “Nadine Rennie has a wealth of experience, having worked with the likes of Roxana Silbert, Indhu Rubasingham, Rufus Norris and Roy Williams to name just a few, and has helped us to find a hugely talented and diverse cast; 10 actors play 37 roles, so getting the casting right was essential and I’m so excited to start work with them in rehearsals. The show has real moments of joy and celebration but also tackles more challenging topics and so I’m really pleased to be working with intimacy directors, Yarit Dor and Enric Ortuno, to empower actors and help create a process that is more conscious of boundaries, consent and self-care.

Northern Stage is committed to making its work as accessible as possible. As well as performances with BSL,  closed captions and audio description, the company continues to offer socially distanced shows and Northern Stage at Home allows audiences who aren’t yet ready or able to come to the theatre to watch Northern Stage productions online.

Road is at Northern Stage from 8 – 30 October. Tickets start from £10, book online at northernstage.co.uk or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.

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Northern Stage artistic director Natalie Ibu interview: “I want more dialogue and less monologue.”

Natalie Ibu

Northern Stage’s newish artistic director Natalie Ibu – who took up her post in the middle of the pandemic – has impressed with her inclusive strides since taking up post in November 2020; during the second national lockdown. 

It’s true that Ibu has undeniably put the work in. But for all she has already achieved in her first year, I sense she is only just getting started. It has, in this industry, been a challenging time. Is being an artistic director in a pandemic fulfilling? “I love artists, and I love being a facilitator,” she says simply.

“I enjoy being able to say ‘yes’ and making things happen. The pandemic has certainly been challenging to my confidence. You know, there’s something about going back into a room and reminding yourself you can still do your job – I am fortunate to be able to do this in such a creative and rich region.” 

Natalie Ibu photo credit Christopher Owens

She continues: “There’s something specific about joining in a historic pandemic; I don’t yet have a memory of this building; I don’t have a memory of these audiences.” 

Ibu has also announced further plans for Housewarming, the autumn season at the theatre, which includes neighbourhood events this month, a series of performances in pop-up venues in July and August and will see the building reopen on August 25 with a Northern Stage and Unfolding Theatre co-production, co-created with kids.

Natalie will direct a new production of Jim Cartwright’s Road for her first show as artistic director of Northern Stage. It is, she says, the “dream play” for her to direct as the inaugural show for Northern Stage. 

“It’s with Road that I found my vision as a director at university,” she says with a smile. “I love the fact this play will not be contained by a proscenium arch; it is sprawling, it spills out into the interval and pre-show. Road is about the stuff that matters, it’s about protest, community, living for the weekend and dreams, all things we have been reminded of that we have missed during this period.” 

It opens in October, and will be designed by Amelia Jane Hankin, with lighting by Zoe Spurr and movement by Nadia Iftkhar.

Paines Plough’s Roundabout will also pop up in Byker during August and will present the company’s touring programme alongside community and performance work from Northern Stage.

Furthermore, Northern Stage will continue digital access to work, and will programme socially distanced performances once full capacities are permitted, restoring audience confidence delicately expanding possibilities and audiences. 

Natalie Ibu photo credit: Christopher Owens

We are talking in the week of a four-week delay to the final stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England: Andrew Lloyd Webber recently backed down over his threat to reopen his theatres without social distancing after being warned his entire staff and the audience could have been fined hundreds of pounds each.

So, would she be prepared to break the law and risk arrest for theatre? “No,” she says firmly. “One: because I dislike breaking rules and two: we’re talking about people’s health here… I love theatre but it is certainly not worth people dying over.” 

The serious challenges facing arts freelancers leave a mixed picture for the future of British theatre. Looking ahead to two years from now, how does she want the industry to be different? “So much has been lost and cannot be regained,” she says with a sigh. “I want more dialogue and less monologue.”

She is also clear about what she wants to achieve: “I want to see a more front-footed approach to theatre being essential to people’s lives and I want a better understanding of our collective civic purpose, to acknowledge our role as civic players. I want us to fight for our audiences and our place on the cultural menu,” says Ibu. 

Ibu, who was previously artistic director of Tiata Fahodzi, a company dedicated to championing black British narratives, says she hopes we collectively “realise the need for new and different leaders that engage new and different workforces and artists that are able to speak to new and different audiences.” She seems like precisely the artist she wants to be, precisely making the art she wants to make, delivering it on precisely her own terms. 

The lack of diversity in the British theatre industry is an issue on which she is vocal. “The truth is, diversity just means difference,” is how Natalie puts it. “Difference is excellence and makes the pursuit of excellence richer, right?”

“Because diversity starts at the top, I am worried about how we look after those different leaders that we brought into these institutions in recent years and how they sustain their energy during this time. I am certainly worried about the unique set of challenges ahead for new artistic directors who are different, and as we rebuild and reopen,” says Ibu. 

She pauses then adds: “I am apprehensive about whether the sector will use this opportunity that it has been given decisively and properly.” 

Tickets for shows start from £10 and go on general sale from 1 July, with pre-sale tickets available to Northern Stage members and supporters from 24 June. 

For more details and full listings visit northernstage.co.uk