THE situation couldn’t be more different for Darlington’s Theatre Hullabaloo which has gone from being homeless five years ago to the eve of opening a children’s venue that will be one of Britain’s best.

“We are the phoenix from the ashes. I think it is a testament to tenacity and the power of a good idea, even in these days of austerity you can give people something to believe in, We have had a huge amount of people helping us along the way,” says the company’s creative producer Miranda Thain.

Bear and Butterfly was created two years ago and Theatre Hullabaloo has decided to revisit the production as its opening offering to Darlington’s family theatre fans.

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“It’s a beautiful show and, as with all these things, it’s lovely to return to them. It was the best show to open our new theatre and it would have been wrong to start with somebody else’s show. It’s a bit like our Nutcracker (a favourite ballet for re-opening venues or new seasons).”

How nervous is Thain about re-starting Theatre Hullabaloo’s relationship with the town in its own £1.5m purpose-built 150-seater venue?

“Some days I’m nervous and nervous is probably an understatement. Terrified some days. Exhilarated every day. I think we all feel a huge responsibility to get this right and some trepidation about whether we can because we’re doing it on very little money. We don’t feel like a poor relation to the Hippodrome next door because we have a very different offer.

“Through the journey we’ve gone on with Darlington Borough Council we have won all hearts and minds and, within the town itself, people know that it’s a wonderful offer we are going to make to children and young people and it is entirely unique. The Hippodrome will have a fabulous offer of its own and will be complementary rather than competitive,” says Thain about the many months of turning the old Fire Station in Borough Road into a theatre.

She’s confident that the side-by-side venues will continue to talk to each other about planning each season and have discussed the shared attractions of catering and the welcome to the building.

“We’re closely in conversation with The Hippodrome about the kind of programme that we are putting on and there is very much a mutual respect in that the other theatre needs us to bring that level of expertise to make sure that what we are doing is world class. So, we have been very much talking about how we can make this cooperation a success,” says Thain, who is excited about the level of bookings for The Hullabaloo’s first shows.

She also has the tricky task of deciding which productions will run for longer than the traditional one-night-only life of touring children’s work.

“The Hullabaloo will have about 20 visiting companies a year and they will be with us for varying periods of time because we do want to look beyond one hit wonders. It will be a mixture of productions where the work is absolutely excellent because we’ve seen it run around the world and it has a real track record. So, that means we know we can bring the best stuff to Darlington. It will also be companies that we think are interesting and they will come and be in residence with us for a number of weeks. As part of that, they will perform pieces of their current repertoire with us, but also be doing work in nurseries and schools in Darlington, bringing their expertise to those children and inspiring new work that we might make together.

“What is really fundamental to the vision for Theatre Hullabaloo is that this is the meeting point between artists, children and academic researchers and about making new work together. We are not just creating art, but making sure we are evidencing the impact because we want this to influence the policy of government concerning creativity... which is much overlooked at the moment. I think the venue has really important impacts to be made in the wider national conversation.”

What’s important to Thain is that the theatre is seen to serve all families and the company is in close conversation with Stockton’s Children’s Services Department “to go back where we started and talk about using the theatre as a welcoming place for those contact times that we need in a space that’s non-judgemental where there is a creative space”.

Theatre Hullabaloo is particularly interested in the 0 to 3 year age development of youngsters because creativity has such an important role to play in early brain development. “That’s the time when you can really influence children’s life chances and we want to make the building a welcoming place for all those families from appropriate agencies and let them know that this is the place for them,” says Thain.

The theatre’s biggest pressure is set to come from further budget cuts at schools and the on-going cuts in family spending power. “I’m really confident that teachers and all sorts of people who are stakeholders in childhood will see what an amazing asset this is and we have been getting daily phone calls from people asking how they can be partners or have a closer relationship,

“I think it is disappointing in a way for someone who has always been passionate about touring theatre and getting work to people that it does provide that visibility that is required to make people take children’s theatre as seriously as we do.”

Opening show cast:

Bear: Micky Cochrane; Butterfly: Robert Welling and Owl: Simon McCorry.

Directed by Dani Parr, Bear and Butterfly, based on an original story by Gordon Poad, is designed by Bek Palmer and composed by Simon McCorry.

  • Runs from December 11 until December 31. Tickets £7. Box Office: 01325-352004 or theatrehullabaloo.org.uk