In the Limelight: Newcastle's Theatrical History celebrated at the Discovery Museum

By Ben Miller | 28 February 2012
A photo of a grand theatre
© Courtesy Theatre Royal
Exhibition: In the Limelight: Newcastle’s Theatrical History, Discovery Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, until September 16 2012

The rather mean-spirited sounding 1737 Licensing Act was imposed to tighten state censorship of theatre, meaning that only certain venues (called Theatre Royals) were allowed to host dramatic performances.

It took 106 years for the Theatres Act to relax things and allow other theatres to shake their stuff without the consent of a letter patent, but during those restrictive years Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, housed in a spectacular grand building, was one of the chosen thespian temples.

Its patent is on display here as part of a special show celebrating both the 175th birthday of the theatre and the board-treading history of the city, positioned alongside an enlightening haul of exhibits including a souvenir playbill from the 1874 production of Dick Whittington (which, among other offers, advertises “opera glasses” from the box office) and a false beard and make-up put to fine effect by Norman Charlton when he played Aladdin baddie Abanazar in 1981, the first pantomime staged there for 62 years.

You can try the old seats – unmoved since the 1950s until they were replaced in 2011 – play with a metal hoop used to create thunder (the original cannonball, rolled along a trough to create the sound backstage, killed a stage carpenter in 1887) or read excerpts from notorious theatre critic Phil “Poison” Penfold’s reviews.

There are also programmes and animatronic costumes courtesy of Northern Stage, set designs and models of the People’s Theatre and a prop painting from the Pitmen Painters show which reopened the Live Theatre in 2007.

More pictures:
A photo of a grand city centre theatre at night
The Theatre Royal has been a Newcastle landmark for 175 years© Courtesy Theatre Royal
A photo of a group of dancers performing on a darkened indoor stage
Northern Stage strut their stuff© Courtesy Northern Stage
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