South Tyneside play is a labour of love

EMOTIONAL MOMENT ...Bethan Carr and Paul Dunn feature in I Love South Tyneside at the Customs House, South Shields, next week.
EMOTIONAL MOMENT ...Bethan Carr and Paul Dunn feature in I Love South Tyneside at the Customs House, South Shields, next week.

IT could have literally had a cast of thousands.

As it is, two millennia of the borough’s past will be decanted by just 23 actors into a few brief but amazing hours on stage in South Shields next week.

I Love South Tyneside, at the town’s Customs House, is a celebration of the borough’s history, with walk-on parts featuring everyone from a Roman soldier and the Venerable Bede, to shipbuilder Charles Mark Palmer and fiery Jarrow MP Ellen Wilkinson.

There will be humour, drama and pathos.

But writer and director Peter Lathan admits that pulling it all together has been a challenge.

“It has been a long hard slog and the most difficult piece I have ever written,” he said.

“We had to look at how we would get 2,000 years of South Tyneside history into two hours, including an interval. It went through five different versions before we felt we had got it right.”

He started nearly a year ago to research the piece, consulting individuals and organisations, such as South Shields Local History Group, and The Shields Gazette.

The play was originally conceived as a sketch show.

“But it became clear that the whole thing didn’t hold together. There was no dramatic tension,” said Mr Lathan.

“Then we hit on the idea of creating a play about a group of actors creating a play about South Tyneside.

“We realised it needed a proper story, and that the tension would 
come from the personalities themselves.”

The play was developed through research into Celtic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon mythology and into modern characters who would be known to people who live in the area.

The central character is a mysterious tramp, played by Paul Dunn.

“What we wanted to do was find out what it was that lies at the heart of South Tyneside, what sets it apart from just its geographical location,” said Mr Lathan.

The cast, ranging in age from 11 to 71, includes five professionally trained actors, but also a nurse, a retired stage hypnotist, a bartender and a singer.

Many were part of last year’s Customs House play, The Mysteries.

It was originally planned for the play to take place in the new Harton Quays amphitheatre, being built near the Customs House, but whose construction is now on hold.

Instead it will be performed in the theatre’s community room, over three nights, beginning Friday, July 26, from 7.30pm.

“Although it wasn’t conceived for that space, I think it will work in there as it has a nice intimate atmosphere,” said Mr Lathan.

Twitter: @Just_JanisB