‘THIS is the first time I’ve been back since The Pitmen Painters played in Newcastle,” says Crook-born Brian Lonsdale, an original member of Lee Hall’s international hit, which was born out of Tyneside truth.

“We played twice at Live Theatre and did almost all the theatres in the area,” he says, laughing about the fact that I’d missed the last train home from Newcastle because the 2007 curtain-raiser had over-run... and been too good to leave early.

“I think it was two-and-a-half-hours at that point,” he says of the play about the Ashington Miners which has gone on to conquer the National Theatre, The West End, Broadway and, more recently, Canada and Spain.

Lonsdale is back on home turf due to the enduring success of award-winning comedy Noises Off, by Michael Frayn, which plays Northern Stage, Newcastle, until May 28. The 1982 farce gloriously features the final 24 hours to a performance of a play called Nothing On in a joint production between Northern Stage, Nottingham Playhouse and Nuffield, Southampton.

“I didn’t know the play before I started doing it and I’ve got to say that is it ridiculously funny and brilliantly set up. It’s no surprise that this play keeps on going and people keep wanting to do it. It’s just funny. This is there to make us laugh and you’re not asked to think deeply about anything. You know what kind of production you’re in because you get that instant reaction from the audience like nothing else I’ve ever done. Straight away you know or not if you’re doing it right,” he says.

Lonsdale says his comedy role of stage manager Tim Allgood is easier than the rest of the nine-strong cast because he only has one character to focus on.

“My role isn’t of an actor in the other play, but I can tell you that the others have struggled because the play messes with your head. There are three acts and in every act the play within a play is different, so the actors playing two actors have to learn it three times to get their cues right. But it’s still fun,” he says.

Lonsdale is impressed with the casting and how his co-performers managed to click into character. A search for information about the actor in The Northern Echo’s archive is somewhat more difficult. Eventually, it coughs up a small report, from 2000, which tells of Lonsdale heading off to London having been accepted by the world famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada). As a youngster, Lonsdale worked with County Durham’s Jack Drum Arts and rehearsed scripts in between serving customers at a local shoe shop. He was turned down by two drama schools, but impressed Rada and landed a place after one audition, when others took two or three.

“Do you know what, my mum still has that clipping on her wall and I remember seeing it in the newspaper. I’ve very lucky that I managed to find work over the following 16 years. The Geordie thing comes in handy. At auditions, and I think it happened with Noises Off, that although the casting people are not looking for a Geordie they sometimes hear the accent and say, ‘Oh, yes that really works for this’. I get a lot of gigs because of that.

“I don’t tend to work in the North-East very much. Max (Roberts, artistic director of Live Theatre) talked about a couple more projects I could have done, if I wasn’t doing other things. Those opportunities are few and far between because I live in London.”

Last year, Lonsdale finished a run in the popular West End production of War Horse and did indeed land his first role because the producers were looking for someone to play Geordie, who befriends the injured equine hero trapped by barbed wire.

“I played Geordie for a year and then went on to play David Taylor, who was Albert’s pal. I played this role as a cockney, although I don’t think I did the accent any favours. I was in the MTV Live performance of War Horse which went out to cinemas and it was great fun and a night that will stay with me. It was such a buzz knowing that we were appearing in all these cinemas up and down the country,” says Lonsdale, who also highlights the work of North-East songmen of Ben Murray and Bob Fox.

One audition that didn’t work out for the actor was when Sting came looking for Geordies to perform in his brilliant but Broadway doomed musical The Last Ship. “I think every North-Easterner going went down to London. I was rubbish because I can’t really sing. I was never going to get that job. The songs in it were beautiful. The Pitman Painters made us proud because it was a North-Easterner play, by a North-Eastern writer involving a North-East company. Would it have been such a success without us grounding ourselves in the North-East first and getting that bit of momentum? There was something special about performing in front of an audience from this region... and the last time we came back we must have already done the show 700 times. Something up here just brought it to life,” he says.

He recalls that a lot of the comedy in The Pitmen Painters was due to the characters’ strong accents, particularly when an Oxford-educated professor arrives to give them art appreciation lessons.

“There was an entrance for everybody. If you were a Geordie you could say, ‘That’s me’. If you weren’t then you can say, ‘I’m like Robert Lyon, who can’t quite understand them’. We had to slow it down for the first scene to let the audience attune to it, but it went down a storm in London and New York.”

n Noises Off runs until Saturday, May 28 at Northern Stage, Newcastle. Box Office: 0191-230-5151 or northernstage.co.uk