• Mon. May 27th, 2024

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North East actors cast in Somme experience at Gala Theatre

Luke MaddisonFour North East actors have been cast in a new production, transporting Gala Theatre visitors back to the Battlefields of the Somme.

1916: No Turning Back will see the Gala Theatre auditorium transformed as the stalls seats are removed and the auditorium turned into an exhibition-style set for this unique walkthrough ‘living-history’ experience which runs from Thursday 21 July to Sunday 28 August.

Visitors will follow in the footsteps of Second Lieutenant Simon Taylor as he signs up, trains and goes ‘over the top’. Visitors will also meet other characters along the way including Drill Sergeant Jack Cotton, a Durham postwoman, Sister Bailey (a nurse), and a young woman whose brother has been injured in the Somme.

Two teams of acting pairs have been cast in the roles: Luke Maddison, Samantha Neale, Lawrence Neale and Anna Nicholson will rotate throughout as there will be multiple performances each day.

Luke (22) hails from Sedgefield and has been working professionally since he graduated from Newcastle College with roles in film and television in addition to theatre and radio.

Previous credits include: Michael Cumisky in Geordie The Musical for The Customs House, Charlie in Rumpelstiltskin at the Jersey Opera House for The Stage and Production House and TV work includes the BBC's Inspector George Gently.

Samantha Neale (31) is originally from Gateshead and also trained at Newcastle College as well as at Northumbria University. Her acting career has seen her perform regularly at Live Theatre in productions including Iris, Write Stuff and The Big Society while TV credit include roles in Doctors, Holby City and Vera as well as several acting roles in adverts.

North Shields-born Lawrence Neale (28) trained at Northumbria University and his professional work includes The Pitmen Painters tour, Heaven Eyes with Hexham-based Theatre Sans Frontières, and TV work on Vera, George Gently and The Paradise as well as several roles with Tynemouth Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

Anna Nicholson (26), originally from Newcastle, trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and last year made her North East acting debut as Polly in the world premiere of Catherine Cookson’s The Cinder Path at The Customs House. Anna has recently finished her second run in satirical musical-comedy show NewsRevue (Canal Cafe Theatre, London), the world’s longest running live comedy sketch show. Her other credits include: Postcards from the Seaside – the musical (UK tours with MadCap Theatre Productions), KATE (Pleasance, New Diorama, Greenwich. Winner of NSDF Emerging Artist Award at Edinburgh Fringe 2014) and Tyne (Arts Theatre – West End).

The team of four will work in pairs to portray the various characters during the walkthrough experience which lasts approximately 40 minutes. Durham County Council’s service manager for place and experience, Robin Byers, said: “We are thrilled to have cast such a talented set of actors for these two roles and equally delighted that they are all native to the North East. We are telling the story of a Durham soldier, a fictional character, but very much based on the testimonies of so many who signed up with the DLI Pals regiment and went to fight on the front line with their friends and neighbours from communities all across County Durham.”

Nothing of the nature of 1916: No Turning Back has been done in the North East before and the concept of an experience somewhere between a play and an exhibition, offers an immersive opportunity to bring a piece of local history to life in a way that many people in the region will have never experienced before.

Robin added: “Visitors will learn about the life of a soldier, but 1916: No Turning Back is also an experience for all the senses with the sights, sounds and smells of war being brought into the auditorium.”

As a unique way of commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, it is hoped that 1916: No Turning Back will appeal to a wide range of visitors. Robin added: “This walkthrough experience has been produced with a meticulous eye on the historic details but also with a view to creating a piece that is both entertaining and engaging. We hope that families will enjoy bringing children young and old but that this will also appeal to those with personal connections to the events of the Somme and anyone who has an interest in local history.”


Each walkthrough experience lasts approximately 40 minutes and tickets priced £6.50 – £7.50 (£22 family ticket also available) can be booked at the Gala Theatre Box Office on 03000 266 600 or at www.galadurham.co.uk

By admin