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Northern Stage unveils 2021 season, the first for artistic director Natalie Ibu

The season kicks off in January

Natalie Ibu
© Pamela Raith

Artistic director Natalie Ibu has unveiled her first season at Northern Stage.

Explaining how it feels to be both joining an organisation and debuting a first season during a pandemic, Ibu stated: "But – whilst a surprise twist – it's provided a brilliant opportunity to hit the ground running, collaborating with artists, with place, with the personal and the political to meet audiences wherever they are and then lead them back to our building when it's safe to do so."

As part of the season, a special series of micro-stories will be told, titled Can We Come In?. Available on-demand from 27 January, the programme will commence with Scroll (about the nature of "doom-scrolling"), featuring work from Adam Lenson, Bridget Minamore, Chris Sonnex, Daniel Bye, Daniel York Loh, Leo Skilbeck, Tabby Lamb, Sampira and Uproot Productions.

In collaboration with Actors Touring Company, six writers have written letters of hope – providing optimism during uncertain times. These will be streamed for free from 22 February. Ameera Conrad's letter will be performed by Ameet Chana (EastEnders), Eve Leigh's letter will be performed by Ann Akin (I May Destroy You), Satinder Chohan's letter will be performed by Melissa Johns (LIFE), Nemo Martin's letter will be performed by Kenya Sterling (I Am), Hannah Khalil's letter will be performed by Diaana Babnicova (Jingle Jangle) and Chiméne Suleyman's letter will be performed by Vera Chok (Chimerica).

The venue will adapt Gareth Farr's Shandyland to suit the pandemic with a Pint Size riff on the original piece, while Fevered Sleep will work with Northern Stage on Grief Gatherings on 9 and 23 February.

As part of the Out on the Toon scheme, a variety of outdoor performances will take place, featuring work by Milk Presents, John McIlduff and Brian Irvine, Northern Stage's Young Company as well as a special Doorstep Music event on the Byker Estate.

Across February, the venue will stream shows including Le Gateau Chocolat's Duckie, Fevered Sleep's Brilliant and Gecko's hit piece The Wedding.

The venue hopes to re-open with a new adaptation of H G Wells' The Invisible Man in April, penned by Phil Correia and directed by Anna Girvan. The piece will then tour to rural venues across the North East, restrictions permitting. It runs from 26 April to 8 May.

She said: "This Is Us is about radical diversity of stories, characters, lives, forms, locations and times to remind us who we are but also reminding audiences about what we do best – facilitating stories that reach beyond the ordinary. It's about the collective and connection. From tiny stories that provide alternative distractions to doom-scrolling in Scroll, or epic tales on your Smart TV to gather your support bubble around in the comfort of your own home, to using the city as a canvas in Street Art Opera before inviting you to warm our house when we reopen the theatre with a homegrown adaptation of The Invisible Man."

Northern Stage is working with Vici Wreford-Sinnot from disabled-led theatre company Little Cog to make the new programme as accessible as possible. This will include captions, audio description, BSL at live events, content warnings and relaxed approaches to the programme and time frames for workshops. Vici says, "It's vital that theatre companies and venues take creative experimentation to their hearts as we navigate unknown territories in the future of theatre, and that we think about everyone in our audiences. Northern Stage's bold programme is an exciting, rich adventure into what is possible when we include everyone. I'm delighted to work with them, as we let them come into our homes, as accessibly as possible."