Music, theatre, dance and workshops have come to rural venues across the North as the Highlights Rural Tourism scheme returned this spring for its 25th anniversary.

2022’s spring season began in February and will continue across Northumberland, County Durham and Cumbria until the middle of May.

It is the company’s first spring tour since 2019, when the pandemic brought its regional tours to an abrupt halt, though it did make a comeback with an autumn season in 2021.

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The company’s mission is to take professional performances to areas that theatre doesn’t usually reach, and its packed spring programme is heading to venues and village halls in the likes of Tarset, Wooler and Allendale in Northumberland; and Hamsterley, Edmundbyers and Barnard Castle in County Durham.

Six Feet, Three Shoes, who are playing in Mickleton, Felton and Allendale in May

Events include the apocalyptic Last Quiz Night on Earth; a fusion of flamenco, Scottish and contemporary dance in 6 Feet, 3 Shoes; and Tickbox, which follows a Pakistani woman’s journey from middle-class life in Pakistan to Govan in Glasgow.

Heather Askew from the Highlights Team said: “It’s a wonderful community night out. You can see some brilliant events on at your local venue. It’s not just about the art though, it’s about that community event and having the chance to come together.”

It offers something different for acts too, especially those who are used to playing in urban theatres and arts centres.

Heather continued: “Some acts have a real history of doing rural touring, so they’re really well versed. However, some of them aren’t, and it’s a really new experience. What all of them say is that it’s different to performing in a big venue and it’s really intimate with the audience.”

One of those acts is Ruth E. Cockburn, whose show Miss Nobodies takes place at Whittingham Memorial Institute near Alnwick on March 26. She has played at several rural touring schemes across the country, but this time is her first in Northumberland.

Ruth Cockburn, whose show Miss Nobodies is on at Whittingham Memorial Institute in the Highlights Rural Touring Scheme

Ruth Cockburn, whose show Miss Nobodies is on at Whittingham Memorial Institute in the Highlights Rural Touring Scheme

Ruth said: “It feels almost as if you’re going into the audience’s living room. They’re inviting you in. Instead of turning up to a theatre where there are set theatre rules, there are set community rules and I like that difference.”

The comedian, writer and performer’s latest show with comedy partner Keith Carter explores the post-industrial town of Great Harwood through sketches and stories, as well as poetry from one of the UK’s first working class woman to publish a novel, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.

She continued: “Not everybody can get to cities. Watching TV saved us during lockdown, but when you’ve got something in your local community that’s a collective experience, collective joy, we need that as human beings.

“We’re social animals and going to experience something that you don’t have to drive an hour to get to spend a lot of money to get to a theatre, which is lovely, but not everyone has access to that.

“We need to experience something together. You’re sat in an audience where everybody’s feeling the same feeling, whether that’s laughing all together or feeling a bit emotional, if everyone’s feeling that, there’s something really powerful in that.”

For more information on the Rural Highlights Touring Scheme, visit the website.

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