TWO aspiring actors will star alongside the professionals in the summer season at Darlington Civic theatre.

James Wilkinson, aged 19, from Woodham, near Newton Aycliffe, and 20-year-old Donna Marie Young, from Darlington, won scholarships from producer Ian Dickens, and will learn about all aspects of theatre from stage design through to acting.

Said Mr Wilkinson: "It's a wonderful opportunity to work with professional actors and a proper company before I get to drama college."

The budding thespians will appear with Fenella Fielding in Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, which opens the repertory season on June 12-16.

The season continues over the following three weeks with Table Manners, the second self-contained play in Alan Ayckbourn's comic trilogy; Dangerous Obsessions, which sees a return to Darlington for Sophie Lawrence, also known as Diane Butcher from EastEenders; and former Hi-De-Hi star David Griffin and Brookside's Amanda Humphrey in Willy Russell's Educating Rita.

Drama highlights for the season also include the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing all 37 of the bard's plays in 97 minutes on May 23, and Alan Bleasdale's Having a Ball in early June, starring Sara Crowe.

The arts centre showcases a funny and poignant account of contemporary New Zealand life in Bare on May 16, and Letters Home, an account of Sylvia Plath's life based on the tragic poet's correspondence with her mother, on May 24. There are also modern adaptations of classics Frankenstein and Animal Farm.

The musical line-up blasts off at the Civic with a rollercoaster ride through the musicals and rock movies of the last three decades in What a Feeling on May 15-19. The show features ex-Rose Royce singer, Gwen Dickey, and former Kajagoogoo frontman, Limahl.

Mozart's The Magic Flute and Massenet's Manon are the opera highlights, and pop fans can see Paul Young stop off on his new tour on May 26. Colin Gold recreates the life and music of Billy Fury in Halfway to Paradise, aided by the original backing band of the "British Elvis". A tribute to The King himself comes in September.

There is also another chance to dress up and sing-along at the interactive screening of The Sound of Music, African music with Magic Box and a tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. The season draws to an end in September with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers which stars Sam Kane.

The arts centre opens with successful country singer-songwriter, Charlie Landsborough, on May 4 and the former keyboard-player from Newcastle's The Animals, Alan Price, leads an "anecdotal trek through the British Rock landscape" on June 5.

The diverse musical bill also features Urban Strawberry Lunch, whose instruments are all made from junk; Mella Faye's "jazz-funk fairytale"; Bristol band K-passa's fusion of Celtic folk and hard rock; plus tributes to Peggy Lee and Glenn Miller.

A strong blues season is headlined by Chicago's Byther Smith & the Nightriders, while Jazz Nights includes acclaimed Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith. Folk fans will be treated to a performance from two of the giants of the genre, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy.

Postman Pat opens the season for children on May 10-13 and popular company, The Singing Kettle, will be clowning around in new show The Silly Circus on May 29. A performance of The Borrowers is scheduled for July and there are numerous events for children at the arts centre.

Anyone in search of a laugh should look no further than Sheffield's "King of the Yamaha", John Shuttleworth. Graham Fellow's alter ego will be joined at the arts centre on May 18 by new comic character Brian Appleton, the "Forrest Gump of Rock n' Roll".

Further comedy comes in the shape of the "naughty but inoffensive" Billy Pearce, former Perrier Award-winner Jenny Eclair and the witty observations of Pam Ayres.

There is likely to be huge interest in Debbie McGee's ballet Phantom which has its premire at the Civic in September. Can Debbie and her husband, Paul Daniels, who provides special effects, bring some magic to the chilling opera-house tale?

The dance season starts with Arc's 15th birthday celebrations on May 8-9, and includes visits to the arts centre by Ricochet dance company and Zimbabwe's Black Umfolosi.

For full details of the programme and ticket information, contact the box office on 01325 486555.

Gavin McCafferty.