The QT

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Laurels unveils another fine season to get into

Premieres aplenty, ‘cheeky radgies’ and swapping out honey for hip-hop in 100-acre Wood. Sam Wonfor hears more about Laurels Theatre’s new season
Laurels Theatre 2024 season is open for bookings

When it comes to articulating the mission of Laurels Theatre, Jamie Eastlake is not messing about.

“We want to make and develop stories and artists in our region and help get them on that rocket ship into the wider world.”

And fresh from a week workshopping an under-the-radar project at the National Theatre (the National know about it, they didn’t sneak in), the co-founder and artistic director of the Whitley Bay fringe theatre – who has an Olivier Award for his producing efforts – is more than a little bit excited to unveil the new season, which will see audiences through to the end of the year.

“The National was great, the piece developed a lot and everyone worked really hard,” he says of the five days he spent in the London venue’s Studio Theatre with a cast of theatre makers he and Laurels co-founder, Steve Robertson had assembled to develop a new play alongside new producer John Hickman who co-wrote the piece with Jamie.

Funded by the National’s Generate Programme, most of those involved had been part of the Laurels story so far, including the cast of hit play, Gerry and Sewell (Dean Logan, Jack Robertson and Becky Clayburn) and writers Aimee Shields and Ian Smith.

Cast of Laurels at the National Theatre

“It feels like things are really starting to happen. We’ve been putting the foundations in place for the past couple of years, setting out our stall and ambitions. The new season represents the next gear change.”

The flagship production for 2024 is Sarah Bond’s Seagulls and Sad Sad Stories, which was announced as the winner of Laurels’ inaugural Richard Jenkinson Commission earlier this year.

Telling the story of three young lads from South Shields who run into trouble with a magical fortune telling Zoltar machine – and featuring ‘an array of 90s bangers, trackies, fish and chips and a proper ruthless seagull’, the play was chosen from 700 entries to the callout for ‘epic stories’, which offered a £10k cash prize, a full production at Laurels and a London transfer within 12 months.

Now in pre-production with a first draft in the bag, it will open on August 13 and run to September 3.

Sarah says: “Seagulls and Sad Sad Stories is a piece about being underestimated, overcoming stereotypes, and not letting a mystical Zoltar machine ruin your life!

Winner! Sarah Bond at Laurels Theatre in Whitley Bay

“It’s the perfect piece to bring to Laurels, not just because it’s set at the coast, but also because it’s a relatable story about how hard it is to believe you’re worth more, when everyone around you expects the worst.

“I’m really excited to bring this show to Whitley Bay and beyond and tell this magical, chaotic, fun and gritty story to the people it was written specifically for. “

In related news, three of the other shortlisted entries for the prize, which was named in honour of Jamie’s late business partner, have also made the new season cut.

All were earmarked for development funding and/or support by the judges and now audiences will get to see why.

Subterranea (September 10-28) from Peachplant Productions’ Lucy Curry and Carl Wylie is a story set in the tunnels under Newcastle where all the working classes live following a nuclear disaster.

The darkly comic Doomgate (October 29-November 2) will take audiences to Northumberland village, Mould-on-the-Wall to dig into its murky network of secrets.

Writers Hannah Sowerby, Jamie Mcleish and Lynne Patrick say: “We’re thrilled to be making the kind of show that we’d love to watch ourselves – dark comedy drama that has you on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next.

“We are super excited that Laurels have put our wonderful dark show on the bill.”

Last from the shortlist is Scrapper Reed’s Round the Houses, which promises ‘a comedic North Eastern tale looking at the effect of debt in local communities’ will play from November 19 to December 7.

Written by comedians, Gavin Webster and Si Beckwith, this will be the last production on the Laurels stage ahead of the theatre’s 2024 Christmas offering, which adorns the front of the new brochure.

It’s a re-telling of Winnie the Pooh – featuring shades of A Christmas Carol – and sounds like it will be marinated in the spirit of Laurels as much as anything festive.

Starring Metroland Comedy’s John Dole in the title role, the show is currently being written by Jamie.

“It’s going to be loads of fun,” he promises. “Winnie the Pooh wants to leave 100 Acre Wood to pursue a rap career in LA… and is visited by the Three Goats of Christmas to help him decide what to do. 

“It will be a completely alternative Christmas show. There’s goat puppets and all sorts.”

Running from December 9 to 23, there’ll be plenty of chances to catch it.

Other stand out entries for 2024 include a play written by the late David Whitaker and Arthur Mackenzie. Blackbird in the Snow (November 5-9) tells the story of a pair of elderly comedians who reunite in adjacent hospital beds after years of bitter separation.

Alison Stanley’s Tits Up follows the lives of three very different women facing breast cancer while vampire comedy horror, Stake Out by Laurels’ John Hickman and Stephen Roberston will surely pique the interest of many.

Winnie the Pooh wants to leave 100 Acre Wood to pursue a rap career in LA…

Jamie Eastlake on Laurels’ alternative Christmas show

Truly Madly Baldly (April 23 to May 4) brings North East theatre maker, Sam Macgregor home after a hit Edinburgh run. Created with real life stories of those who suffer from Alopecia, this two-hander focuses on the funny when it comes to being bald.

Sam says: “As a company that is emerging and makes new work, we are excited to perform our show at Laurels because it is a hub for emerging writing and champions early career artists.”

We couldn’t finish without mentioning A Play and a Pasty, which will see script in hand readings of new plays every Thursday lunchtime at 1pm from May 16 onwards. 

For £5 you can soak up a slice of North East talent, potentially see a big hit having its first outing and have a bite to eat as well. (If you want to submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected]).

For information about the whole season, visit the Laurels website.


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