As Theatre Hullabaloo prepares to mark a year since its opening, Nick Gullon finds out why the first 12 months have exceeded expectations.

WHEN a new multi-million pound venue specially designed to entertain children and young people in Darlington and beyond opened almost a year ago, bosses pledged it would eventually bring productions from around the world to the town.

As Theatre Hullabaloo prepares to celebrate 12 months since its opening, those responsible for the building have revealed today that ambition has been fulfilled ahead of schedule, with productions from as far as Australia taking to the stage.

Any new entertainment venue built next door to an historic theatre would always be faced with comparison questions, but the Hullabaloo has more than held its own alongside Darlington Hippodrome.

"You walk through the doors here and you see people having such a wonderful time with their children," Miranda Thain, artistic producer at the theatre, said.

"It makes you think gosh there should be one of these in every town, but we are the only building of our type north of London.

"This is the opportunity for children in our local area to see the quality of national and international work that we put on stage."

Some of Miranda's highlights in the theatre's first 12 months include their shows for children and young people with severe autism, and their work with babies and toddlers.

"We have really shown the power of the arts and the importance of the arts as an organisation," said Laura Case, executive director.

"The cuts over the years in arts but also in education have made the moments showcasing the power of arts even more evident.

"There has been moments of children who are non verbal speaking for the first time, moments of children walking for the first time, moments of children relaxing when sometimes they feel quite stressed in various environments and were then feeling really calm and therefore their parents are feeling really calm.

"That shows arts can have a real impact, not just in enjoying the moment, obviously we want the magic to happen and we want them to have a really magical experience, but it is also about their development."

Miranda and Laura said the theatre has worked hard to make sure ticket prices are as affordable as possible for families and the communities which they serve.

"The reason play is at the heart of the building is because people wanted play at the heart of the building," said Laura.

"It was important that it was free and the best type and the best quality for children and young people.

"It has been really important for the engagement that there isn’t a cost, you can come into the building and feel no pressure to spend money.

"You can spend half an hour in that space or you can spend all day. The conversations we have with our audience are quite different to traditional theatre, because that’s not what we are. We have a theatre in the building but we are much more than that."

The theatre realised they had to be much more than that, as they battle against children's growing use of technology as their main form of entertainment.

The perception is theatre for children is struggling in the modern age. But is that the case?

"There is a uniquely special experience about being with other people, which essentially when families used to sit around the television, they got it in a small way," said Miranda.


"Live performance is an entirely different thing and now that we consume our entertainment in isolation so much, the role of live performance when you sit in a room with a lot of other people, you share stories and ideas and images that will just blow your mind if you are a child.

"That is the uniquely brilliant thing and it is something human beings have done fantastically well since we could sit around a camp fire and shared stories.

"I was one of those kids who went to the theatre and had my mind blown by something magical, and I still get those moments, it is about exposing kids to ideas and the opportunity to discuss them.

"And we do live in an increasingly complicated world particular if you are trying to negotiate it as a young person, who you are or what you want to be, who you want to live alongside, they are all really important issues for our time, and artists are still probably the best people to give us access points to those ideas."

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