Monthly archives: December 2012

In praise of . . . Newcastle

The sight of the bridges across the Tyne seen from an East Coast train carriage will never fail to impress. The curving green, regimental blue and criss-cross browns stretch out towards a kink in the river for some brief seconds before jackets are pulled on to face the Geordie chill. It’s Newcastle all over really – the sublime quickly succeeded by a firm and familiar slap on the back.

We spent two weeks there with Simon Stephen’s London, and the staff at the Live Theatre treated us very well indeed. Cast and crew spent their free time exploring the town and peripheries, so we thought we’d put a list together of where they went and where they’d have gone given more time.

Just after we left, the news broke that Newcastle City Council will be making some pretty drastic cuts to the arts budget. Paines Plough’s stance will no doubt be obvious (read Lee Hall’s impassioned but ultimately doomed manifesto we re-tweeted). Instead, this is a blog to celebrate what is already great about the city, rather than lamenting an uncertain future.

So here’s where Paines Plough would send you, given half the chance . . .

The Quayside

There will always be a chorus role for stag and hen does in Newcastle. They descend every weekend to spend amounts rivalling even what the capital might take. And though you probably don’t have them on your cultural bucket list, it’s more than likely you’ll experience it all through osmosis. Breathe in the air of the Quayside on a Saturday night and you’ll have effectively sunk four Bacardi’s chased by a generously-measured Jagerbomb before you’ve spotted the next cheesy-chip stained mini-skirt.

Even by day the Quayside is a heady experience. It has undergone some remarkable regeneration over recent years which have slowly erased the few traces that stood from the days of ship-building. Amidst the anodyne high-rise flats that now puncture the horizon, prized possessions of the Newcastle trendies and Geordie Shore ‘actors’, you also have the magnificent Baltic Flower Mill, The Sage and the Millennium Bridge. The first is home to most of town’s contemporary art, the second a wood-panelled acoustic phenomenon, housing world-class concerts every day of the week, and the last a ‘blinking bridge’ – probably the most photographed structure in Newcastle.

There is, of course, the Live Theatre. It’s a theatre whose trajectory charts a building proving itself through quality and determination, rather than nostalgia and Noel Coward. We’ve just played there with London and look forward to returning soon. And whatever you end up seeing on stage, you’d be denser than a Maccum walking alone through central Newcastle on a derby weekend not to try one of the Broad Chare’s scotch eggs afterwards. Pure bliss.

Pink Triangle

The gay quarter of Newcastle is quite something. With bars as gregarious as the spray-tanned clientele they attract, there are also slightly more demure establishments. Like most bars in Newcastle, they change their name as quickly as pints change hands with the bartenders, but there are plenty worth a visit.

Though not strictly within the Triangle, just over the road there is The Forth. That’s the place to go for a trendy pint and just opposite is the Jazz Café. It looks shut most of the time but push the door open and you’ll more often than not find a friendly crowd. It’s known for the live jazz, but the salsa night has something to say for itself too.

This part of town is also the place to go for late night music – regardless of whether you like boys, girls, or both. Head of Steam often has live gigs, and if your ears are not ringing when you spend a night on the tiles at Digital, you’ve probably been there too often. And for those who can hack it, a final fling on the Powerhouse dancefloor is an experience to be remembered. Like most other superclubs, the building has been handled by many a grubby owner, but the size and fun factor keeps them coming back, whoever is profiteering from the overpriced drinks.

Oh and there’s also the Discovery Museum and the Centre for Life in the same area, which are both museums worth a visit – but take those how you will.

The coast

Ask any Geordie residing somewhere other than their home town what they miss, and one of the first things they will mention is the sea. The stretch of coast that is no further than a twenty minute metro ride from the centre is worth the £3 or so it will cost you to get there.

And there’s fierce contest for the bonniest beach. Some might say the forerunner is Tynemouth, but those from south of the river will probably direct you to South Shields or even Marsden. Go there in the summer and you’ve practically saved yourself a flight to Spain (sort of). But whatever the season, combine some a fish & chips with a Minchella’s ice cream, and you’re laughing.

You’ll also be able to spot the numerous ships on the horizon, both recreational and mercantile, reminding you of Newcastle’s recent past. Though few and far between nowadays, the ride to and from the town will whisk you past the remnants of the shipyards that once thrived all along the Tyne.

Night at the dogs

There’s a line in a well-known Geordie play that goes something along the lines of if you’re coming to the region and you’re not into whippets or leeks, then you’re stuffed. Granted, they’re talking about a town outside central Newcastle without libraries or other such distractions, but with the way thing are going perhaps it bears repeating.

Whether the libraries stay or go, dogs will remain a central preoccupation to many. Although televised in the bookies up and down the country, nothing beats the real thing. Pie and ale in hand, for just a few quid you can soak in the atmosphere and howl at your newly sponsored friend for the evening.

Grainger Market

It’s probably the smell of the place that is its distinguishing feature. The covered market is far from being reduced to sepia-induced instant nostalgia just yet. That’s probably because of the range of goods (counterfeit or otherwise) that can still be bought there. Whether you’re replacing a smashed phone screen, or you’re in need of a cut – of either the meat or mop variety, Grainger Market will no doubt do it for you. At a decent price too.

Ouseburn valley

If your idea of a night out is sweaty bump-grinding to Rihanna, then this part of town is not for you. We have nothing against her, or her obnoxious base lines, but the Ouseburn valley offers something of a respite to the traditional Newcastle scene.

First and foremost it is the green so near the centre of the city that will keep you coming back for more. The Town Moor offers this too (maybe not for much longer . . .) but there are few other distractions that are found in such abundance as down the Ouseburn. The Cluny’s reputation precedes it and deservedly so. It nurtures local music talent and has a food and drinks menu to cater for everyone. The atmosphere is second to none, as is the ale selection.

Finally, if you’re not taken by what’s on at the multiplex, The Star and Shadow cinema is an arts venue running film, art and music catering for a huge range of tastes. The whole outfit is volunteer run so definitely deserves your support.

So that’s it really . . . 

Find an ale of your liking, go to the stadium if that’s your wish, but most of all enjoy Newcastle and send it our regards. Until we return.


New KId

I’m the newbie to the Paines Plough team, on a producing placement from the National Theatre Step Change program.

I’m Dan Daw and making the transition from performer to producer, I’ll be working mainly alongside Tara in helping her to deliver the very exciting new play JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS by Tom Wells about a working class five a side gay football team

In preparation, I’ve been doing a lot of research and watching plenty of good (and not so good) gay cinema from Beautiful Thing to Weekend. I’ve come to the stage now of being able to articulate that film, theatre, and indeed, the writing itself, needs to leave me caring for the characters, and I feel for me, that a brilliant piece of work should leave me days after wondering about how the characters are fairing.  
It could be said that things seen are easier to forget than things felt – I guess I’d like to make an attempt at carrying this forward into the work I produce in the future.

This is my first week in the office, and I’ve been getting well acquainted with the server and some very fine plays. In my mind, I have many plot lines circling around in my head, and yes, I do have a favourite.

Well, with a box of Celebrations behind me, and Heal The World (Don’t You Know It’s Christmas Time) playing in the background, I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a beautiful start to 2013.

Programme 2012 in numbers…

As Noddy Holder once screeched… It’s CHRIIIISTMAAAAS.

Here at PPHQ we’re decking the halls with boughs of holly and gearing up for our Christmas party tomorrow, which promises the exchange of some highly inappropriate Secret Santa presents, some eating, a little imbibing, and much merriment.

We’ve had a great year, so we’ve much to celebrate, and lots of people to toast.

Here’s our round-up of Programme 2012 in numbers…

11 productions toured to 46 places from Edinburgh to The Isle Of Wight racking up a total of 239 performances. This year 40,660 people saw a Paines Plough production, up 65% on last year. We produced the work of 33 playwrights from Olivier Award winners Mike Bartlett and Simon Stephens to first-time playwright Kate Tempest.

We co-produced with 22 companies, festivals and theatres and were hosted by 32 theatres as a visiting company.

We worked with 30 actors, 5 directors, 6 designers, 8 lighting designers, 5 sound designers, 2 video designers, 2 composers, 1 choreographer, 1 musical director, 3 assistant directors, 12 stage managers and a host of brilliant production managers and venue technicians everywhere we’ve performed.

548 people attended a Paines Plough workshop on writing, directing, acting, producing and more. We saw 426 actors through our Open Auditions and read and responded to 459 unsolicited scripts.

As of today, 8,618 people follow our ramblings on Twitter and we’re friends with 3,921 lovely people on Facebook. 57,137 people from 148 countries around the world have visited our website.


Here at Paines Plough we never work alone, and we want to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone we’ve collaborated with this year and everyone who has shared our passion for touring new plays to as many places as humanly possible.

And we want to thank you, dear blog readers, for following our progress, sending us nice messages, coming to see our shows and generally making all the hard work worthwile.

Happy Christmas everyone. We’ll see you on the other side, and promise a whole lot more fireworks in 2013.


In praise of… Manchester

Our autumn tour of Simon Stephens’ LONDON closed in Manchester last month at the Royal Exchange Studio, our home from home in the North West. Having grown up just south of Manchester, our AD George lists his top tips if you’re visiting the city (having promised us they won’t all be pubs). 

The Northern Quarter

Amidst an increasing and rather thinly-veiled marketing trend to brand areas of cities ‘quarters’ (and increasingly ‘neighbourhoods’) , the Northern Quarter stands out as an exception. Independent shops, bars and restaurants cluster around Affleck’s Palace, just south of Ancoats and Picadilly station and before you reach Market Street and the Triangle. Importantly the area is home to  around 500 residents – it serves, and is supported by, a local community. Beautiful flats sit atop the shop fronts in converted warehouses and factories. Creative industries populate office block conversions. It’s telling that the area doubled as New York Village in the film remake of Alfie.

The Craft and Design Centre

Over 30 years old, and with a seal of approval from Elbow’s Guy Garvey, The Craft and Design Centre is home to around 30 photographers, potters, jewellery-makers, clothes designers and more who all sell their wares direct from their on-site workshops. A guaranteed one-stop shop for your Christmas list.

The Squares and Gardens

As you walk through the city centre, it’s not long before the street opens on to one of Manchester’s ten squares and three gardens. They’re at their best at this time of year when the ever-expanding Christmas markets take over their every square inch and become truly communal spaces. Manchester International Festival turn Albert Square in to their festival bar every two years.

The full list is Albert Square, St Peter’s Square, St Ann’s Square, Motor Street Square, Catalan Square, Stephenson Square, Exchange Square, Shambles Square, Crown Square, Great Northern Square, Cathedral Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens and Parsonage Gardens.

The Kings Arms, Salford

Whilst not technically in Manchester, a quick nip over the canal brings you to one of our favourite watering holes in the whole of the UK (come on – there was bound to be a pub sooner or later). We’ve written about The Kings Arms before. Aside from being owned by the legendary Paul Heaton, it serves as the setting for a large proportion of Fresh Meat who arrive to film on location on a weekly basis.

Grill on the Alley / Grill on New York Street

Admittedly part of a (nonetheless independently owned) chain, these are still two of the best restaurants in Manchester, as long as you are a meat-lover. Essentially upmarket diners, they serve beef from cows that for their life-spans have been consistently massaged and fed on beer. Call us suckers for a gimmick but if I’m going to eat cow I want it to have lived the kind of life I aspire to.

Beetham Tower

A brave piece of design, engineering and town planning, this hotel, restaurant and apartment block dwarfs the rest of the Manchester sky-line. The sheer scale and height of the tower in comparison to everything around it is awesome. Costing £150 million, it’s the highest building in Manchester, the tallest residential building in Europe and the 7th tallest building in England standing at 168.87 metres high, with a total of 47 floors and home to the Manchester Hilton Hotel, 219 luxury apartments and 16 penthouses. The café/bar  Cloud 23 is only half way up yet on a clear day offers panoramic views of Greater Manchester and beyond to the Peak District. They’ll tell you it books months ahead for afternoon tea but with a little bit of charm you can talk your way up there for a quick look around. It’s well worth the effort. The tower is used to beautiful metaphorical effect in Sarah McDonald Hughes’ COME TO WHERE I’M FROM, which you can listen to here.

Metroshuttle Free City Centre Bus Service

I don’t quite remember when this arrived on the scene but it is brilliant and every city should have one. Three routes get you to any corner of the city in under 10 minutes. For free. ‘Nuff said.

The Oast House

According to their website, “Oast Houses have their roots steeped in the traditions of beer making. Warm air from fired on the ground floor would rise through the building drying the hops scattered across the floors above ready for the Master Brewers to then begin their work”. The difference with this one is that it sits in the middle of the ultra-modern and ultra-sleek Spinningfields development and not a German field.

Old Trafford

As a United fan I’m biased, but this stadium is incredible.

A playwright’s guide to Cumbria

It seems like only yesterday that we were in Kendal listening to plays, sampling their mint-based produce and checking out local hotspots (we’d recommend keeping all southern accents on the hush during last orders at Dickie Doodles) for Come to Where I’m From Cumbria.

The playwrights whom we had the pleasure of meeting were Lee Mattinson, Zosia Wand, Joe Harbot, Ann Wilson and Louise Gallagher.

Afterwards, we asked them to tell us about their favourite places in Cumbria so we could compile this for you. So, here is a playwright’s guide to Cumbria…

Ann Wilson

The first photo is outside Rydal Mount in Ambleside.  It’s also known as Wordsworth’s house.  One of my closest friends got married there this summer and it was a perfect venue for her, she’s a great poet and advocate of literature events. The house and gardens are stunning. I fell in love with this place and could imagine Wordsworth strolling around and writing there. This is my loved one Rana in the photo and really my home is wherever she is, she’s just perfect.

The next photo is at Roanhead, I think it’s the best beach in Barrow-in-Furness, it’s got great sand dunes, the rare natterjack toads and it’s a brilliant place to walk our dog Barbara.  There’s lots of gorgeous places around Barrow, sometimes people forget and it gets overshadowed by BAE systems and the poverty in the town. It means the beach doesn’t get overcrowded though.

The final photo is Ravenglass, on the West Coast of Cumbria famous for it’s minature steam railway.  I love this little town, it’s so peaceful and I always feel calm as soon as I get there.  I like imagining living in all the different houses.

Zosia Wand

Hoad Hill

Easily be seen from miles around by the beacon that stands at its peak.  It looks like a lighthouse, but is in fact a folly, built in memory of Sir John Barrow.   From this peak you can see the Lakeland hills and out across the magical sands of Morecambe Bay.  It really is amazing.

The Train from Lancaster.

The best way to reach Ulverston is by train across the sands of the bay and the best time is at sunset, when the sky is on fire and the colours reflect in the water and set the carriage alight.  It’s the most spectacular experience and never fails to silence everyone on the train.  Nothing else matters when you’re captured in the midst of that sort of beauty.

Gillam’s Tea Room

At the bottom of Market Street.  A traditional Victorian tea room complete with wood burning stove.  It serves excellent teas and vegetarian dishes but if you’re more of a meat eater and coffee lover then head for:

Ford Park Café and Bistro

This is a five minute walk from the centre of town, through Ford Park, at the bottom of Hoad Hill.  The café is situated in a Victorian Coach House adjacent to Ford Park House which is now a community centre.  There is a fantastic adventure playground and nature trail in the park to keep children occupied.

The Market Cross

This is at the top of Market Street, slap bang in the centre of town.  I love this spot because it’s where all the town’s wonderful festivals culminate.  This is where the Town Band plays, where various community groups perform, where the Christmas tree stands and is lit during the Dickensian Festival every year, where street entertainer and local legend, Garry Gifford, takes the mickey out of the invisible fireworks lost in the November fog, where George slays the ridiculous cartoon dragon every April, where the Morris Dancers keep us entertained, where the rivers of light that make up the September Lantern Festival meet, and where you can look down during the first two weeks of May and see a cascade of handmade, individual silk banners flapping in the breeze in front of every shop.

Lee Mattinson


Around the corner from the house I grew up in were some creepy woods and an expanse of grass known as ‘The Mansions.’  There were some swings, a slide and a big random rock which as a child I was convinced was Darth Vadar sent to systematically slay me.  A sixth form folklore project later, I discovered it was ‘The Devil’s Stone’ which, if you pranced round on Halloween would vomit forth into the world the actual and original devil.  Anyhow, the woods and surrounding fields were an exhilarating playground for me and my brother’s growing up, remain chocked full of happy memories and allowed us to spy on the posh kids who played tennis in the adjoining club.  It was well into my teens that my Grandma disclosed ‘The Mansions’ was the original site of a grand mansion house where she used to shine up silver for a few bob.


Ripped to shit and reinvented as a Dorothy Perkins, Superdrug and Evans, The Rendezvous was the kind of cinema Dawson Leery would cream his slack for; an old school and vintage architectural feat.  This place held/holds a special place in my heart for being the first cinema I ever went to catch a breath-taking screening of Teen Wolf which a quick Google of has just informed me was released in 1985 which means I was five.  Looking back, I’m not sure Teen Wolf is appropriate for a five year old, given its glamorisation of van-surfing and raping girls in cupboards, but I remember loving it all the same and scranning my entire bag of Jelly Tots before the trailers had even started.


A Saturday jaunt round town was never complete without a trip to Mark Taylor’s which must’ve been the precursor to the likes of Selfridges because they had absolutely everything you’d ever want, and more, at low low prices.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t full of shit, but rather an Aladdin’s cave filled floor to ceiling with top quality gear.  The basement housed enough toys to restock every Toys ‘R’ Us thrice over and had a wild array of them old school ‘trick’ things; bloody finger, fart gas, spider in an ice cube and the like.  The ground floor was mainly sweets (ten Irun Bru bars for £1), crafts and the Mark Taylor Rayleigh bike shop.  The stairs up to the first floor had a colourful box you could sit in and, for only 20p, watch a Tom and Jerry Cartoon.  And the top floor was half book shop where I purchased my first ever book – George’s Marvellous Medicine – and half The Penny Farthing Café where you could feed a family of fifteen for £2.75.  I might very well start a petition to bring it back…

Joe Harbot

Here are three things.

1.  Meaburn, the village I grew up in.

2.  Theatre by the Lake, where I went to Youth Theatre.

3. This is not really a place.  This is just a video of my teachers dancing.  I don’t know why this was made.

Louise Gallagher  

1-The view from Arnside Knott and the rock in the shape of a sofa part way up. Every time you see Morecambe Bay from this angle it’s different, and stunning.

2-The Sun Inn, Kirkby Lonsdale it’s for brillaint food, friendly service and staff who really care – Avanti comes a close second for atmosphere.

3-Kirkby Lonsdale churchyard on a snowy night – magical.

A playwright’s guide to Cheltenham and Stroud

Halfway up Leckhampton Hill

You’re on your way to the Devil’s Chimney, a beautiful pinnacle of rock. You haven’t yet had to brave the steep climb, but are already rewarded by a great view of Cheltenham nestled into the valley, with the Malverns Hills behind. It’s a place that lets you see how small Cheltenham really is – only a tiny town between two sets of hills.

The End of the Honeybourne Line

The honeybourne line is a footpath tracing the path of a now unused railway line. You access it from the railway station and find yourself sunken underneath streets moving towards the centre of town, and then moving over them, walking amongst the rooftops. After about a mile, the path, suddenly, comes to an end – a railway tunnel stands boarded up in front of you, entangled by blackberry bushes. It feels like the world’s end. The only thing to do, is turn back on yourself, never knowing what actually lies beyond.

Junction 10, M5

For a while, I lived right by the junction to the motorway, just outside Cheltenham. The place where I was living was peculiar – a set of chalets surrounding a lake. I was in transition – between homes due to working on a short term contract. I liked the metaphor of living on the cusp of the motorway – knowing that I might be leaving very soon. Three years later, I still enjoy winding onto the M5 at that junction 10 and reliving that sense of leaving, having now made Cheltenham my home.

The Museum in the Park

A cultural hotbed hidden in Stratford Park, which many people only associate with the Leisure Centre.

The Slad Valley

Breathtakingly beautiful and surprising, especially when you discover how to avoid walking along the main road.

Winstones have been selling their fantastic ice cream directly from their factory on Rodborough Common since 1925.  For a perfect small outing, have a good walk on the Common and then stop for an ice cream and sit out on the grass admiring the amazing views across the Stroud Valleys.  I don’t even like ice cream that much but I always enjoy the Winstones experience.  If you’re local you’ll always meet someone at the ice cream factory who you know.

My area has wonderful independent bookshops.  The Stroud Bookshop in the High Street is small but perfectly formed with an interesting selection of books and great service.  So much better than buying books from the internet.  Just round the corner, and under the same ownership, is the Children’s Bookshop.  A great place to take children to remind them that not everything interesting is on a screen.  Tetbury and Nailworth also have lovely bookshops which are both under the same ownership and are called The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops.  The staff of these shops also organise a small but perfect literary festival each year.

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway runs from Cheltenham Race Course to Toddington on selected days.  The train is run by volunteer train enthusiasts and moves at a satisfyingly slow pace so you can see everything along the line.  Particularly highly recommended is The Cheltenham Fryer – which comes complete with fish and chips en route.  An ideal small outing particularly in winter if there is a frost.

“Keep Calm and Eat Cake”

Our super amazing volunteer Annabel talks about her time at PP HQ:

Well it’s been eight months since I started volunteering at Paines Plough and I can hardly believe how quickly the time has flown by.  I’ve loved every minute of it and couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.

It has been a busy time for the amazing PP team, yes I am biased, but bear with me on this as I can back it up with some pretty impressive statistics.  In the past eight months there has been Wasted, Love, Love, Love, The 8th, Smithereens, Good With People, the Roundabout Auditorium at Shoreditch Town Hall (with One Day When We Were Young, Lungs and The Sound of Heavy Rain) and London.  Can you understand my awe with the sheer enthusiasm and energy here at 43 Aldwych?

I was recently asked by a friend how Paines Plough manage to be so prolific.  My rather flippant answer was ‘cake’.  Possibly inspired by the poster on the wall in the production office that says “Keep Calm and Eat Cake” but actually in a way my answer was very appropriate.  PP is a team that supports each other, care passionately about the work they are creating, work incredibly hard and are always happy to eat cake.

Thank you team PP for a life changing experience.

In praise of…Salisbury

This autumn our production of LONDON by Simon Stephens opened it’s national tour in Salisbury. As part of our regular blog series, our AD George sings the city’s praises. (PP ED: Is there a theme emerging here…?)

There’s no doubt that the Cathedral is the head-liner  but there are many more gems to be found in the nooks and crannies of this beautiful Wiltshire city.

The River Avon

Meandering through the heart of the city and out to its suburbs, you can’t beat an autumnal river-side stroll along this stretch of the Avon.

Summer Lightening Ale

Brewed by Hop Back in Salisbury since 1986, this superb golden ale is available in most good pubs in the local area.

The Haunch of Venison

If you can nab the snug, bar-side ‘horse box’ seating area before the German tourists beat you to it, a visit to this beautiful old pub is a must. Aside from the barmaids’ tales of Churchill’s clandestine cabals, a severed hand still holding the card he was caught cheating with found stuffed up the chimney and secret tunnels to what used to be an upstairs brothel, they serve a superb selection of locally brewed ales, including Ringwood’s superb FortyNiner and, of course, Hop Back’s Summer Lightning.

Boston Tea Party

A tiny high street shop front opens out to labyrinthine staircases and huge ceilinged refurbishment of an inn dating back to 1314 serving excellent coffee and delicious pulled pork wraps.


You can’t go to Salisbury and not visit Stonehenge – even if the last time you went there was on a rainy school trip in the 80s. You can’t get as close as you used to be able to (unless you’re a Druid, goes the rumour) but it’s still pretty impressive, as collections of big rocks go.

The Cosy Club

Once we found this place it became a daily regular with its excellently priced and very tasty dishes, free wifi and friendly staff. Cary Crankson says: “The Ham hock – get it down ya.”

The Chough

Tiny up front but huge inside, this became a Sunday haunt due to the pub quiz. We never won. But we had fun.

We’re back in Salisbury next year, so if there’s anywhere we’ve missed off our list that we should make a must-see next time we’re local let us know by posting a comment below or by tweeting us @painesplough.