Rural Touring: Highlights North, at Allendale Village Hall

In what must be a truly remarkable tour de force, a one-person show arrives at Allendale Village Hall this evening, courtesy of Highlights North, the Rural Touring facilitator which contributes a great variety of arts and culture to remote village halls throughout Cumbria, Co Durham and Northumberland.

Allendale Village Hall has hosted a good number of these shows over the past two years (the offerings come in two seasons, and each hall participating in the scheme gets to choose two productions out of the seasonal list of a dozen or so). The lively dance shows have been particularly popular, especially if they come with workshops for young dancers. The shows themselves are picked up by the Rural Touring promoter (Highlights North among dozens of similar promoters throughout the country) based on showcases (eg at the Edinburgh Fringe) or by opportune pitches from agencies or theatrical companies themselves. I remember weeping through one such showcase as an actor friend manipulated tiny puppets in a Day of the Dead play, while sitting beside a Highlights promoter acquaintance. She didn’t pick up the play, to my chagrin. But I felt very moved.

Although we tried, in the early days when I helped to take care of the hall, to engage with Highlights productions, we could never make the formula work. Audiences were consistently too small, and the percentage too high in favour of the promoter. But if, as seems to be the case nowadays, the local host can entice a sufficient crowd through the doors, then it’s a little bit of extra revenue for the hall. So kudos to the hall’s publicity efforts!

Written and performed by Peter Macqueen, the evening looks particularly stimulating. Remember a few years ago, when the television series ‘Dickensian’ was aired? That too was an intriguing take on the milieu of Charles Dickens’ London. So intrigued was I by the approach that I sat myself down and tried to write a full-length pantomime script called something like ‘Aliendalia’, or maybe it was ‘Allendalien’ . Unfortunately for moi, the manuscript was quietly placed in the round file and will never be seen again. Apparently, the Drama Group were not quite that desperate for a script! Never mind, the experience only served to heighten my appreciation for the incredible effort and perspicacity that must have been involved in creating and devising a comprehensive re-assessment of the beloved novel that, effectively, started the Christmas celebrations we know today. And then, to go on and perform a one-hander throughout the north!

So a tumultuous, barn-storming performance of ‘The Scrooge Diaries’ appears tonight, for one performance only at 7:30, and, with plenty of ripostes due from an embittered Scrooge, seeking his vengeance on that charlatan Dickens, it’s guaranteed to ruin Christmas as you know it. Or maybe, if you can keep your sides from splitting, it will provide a delightful leavening to all the saccharine niceness of the festive season. Bah, humbug!

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