Sunderland students stage series of top dramas

Sunfest is coming to Washington Arts Centre
Sunfest is coming to Washington Arts Centre
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DRAMA students are staging a series of critically-acclaimed plays at Arts Centre Washington as part of an annual month-long festival in May.

The University of Sunderland students will bring seven plays to life at the venue, featuring the work of some of UK’s greatest playwrights, presenting some unforgettable nights of drama.

The series is part of the Sunfest creative partnership, organised by the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, in which students run their own programme of theatre, dance and visual arts during the entire month of May.

For the last three years the university has worked in partnership with the Customs House in South Shields to stage this popular season of events, with Arts Centre Washington joining the Sunfest initiative last year.

The Sunfest venture was launched to offer something diverse and exciting to regular theatre goers, it was the first time such a venture had been trialed in the North East. It also offers all the students involved the practical experience to work in an established organisation and take what they’re learning in higher education to a live audience.

Graeme Thompson, Dean of Arts, Design and Media at the University of Sunderland, said: “Sunfest gives our students the experience of planning, producing and performing shows for a paying audience. It’s an invaluable experience and a tremendous platform to showcase their skills.

“I am grateful to our friends at Arts Centre Washington and the Customs House for providing this unique opportunity for our students.”

Helen Green, Creative Director at Arts Centre Washington, said: “At Arts Centre Washington we are passionate about working with young people; supporting new and emerging talent in Sunderland and the development of high quality theatre experiences for all.

“We are, therefore, delighted to be able to merge all three of these priorities in the Sunfest partnership with the University of Sunderland. Arts Centre Washington’s growing reputation for original and innovative theatre makes it an ideal base for the drama students where they can gain a real insight into the workings of a small-scale touring venue.”

There are a number of thought-provoking plays from Shakespeare to Ibsen, however, there may be some strong language and adult content during some of the performances at Arts Centre Washington, in Fatfield.

Tickets for the shows are £6.50 or £5 concession from Tel.219 3455 or book online at

Arts festival performances include:

•Vinegar Tom on Thursday May 8 at 7.30pm

Set in 17th century England which takes us back to a time of superstition, magic and fear, it is a play about witchcraft, persecution and prejudice, which asks us to look at the world we live in now, and question if we have really changed so much in the way that we treat one another.

•Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth on Saturday May 10 at 7.30pm

On St George’s Day, the morning of the local county fair, Johnny Byron is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his son wants his dad to take him to the fair, and a motley crew of mates want his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.

•The Chambermaids on Thursday May 15 at 7.30pm

This adaptation of Kathleen McCreery play tells the true story of a group of Grosvenor House Hotel chambermaids who, in 1979, took on Trust House Forte when their Jarrow-born shop steward was unfairly suspended, and they were sacked and evicted. Divided by race, language, religion and culture, the maids found common cause in struggling for their rights as workers, as women, as immigrants and as trade unionists.

•The Dolls House on Saturday, May 17 at 7.30pm

Henrick Ibsen’s play may have been written more than 100 years ago, but the story still has plenty of relevance today. The story of Nora’s escape from a suffocating marriage is both anguished and honest – it provided an honest view of the status of women in European society.

•A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Thursday May 22 at 7.30pm

This version of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and fantastical plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream is transported into the modern, twisted world of Steampunk. Focusing on the two different worlds and the bizarre confusion of love, the adaptation aims to deliver a riotous display of both comedy and tragedy and prove that the course of love never did run smooth.

•Twelfth Night on Saturday May 24 at 7.30pm

The play explores the theme of love and its impact on human behaviour. It takes place in the kingdom of Illyria, and centres on a story of mistaken identity, involving a Duke, a beautiful young woman, a cantankerous steward and an apparently indistinguishable brother and sister.

•Shopping and F***ing on Thursday May 29 at 7.30pm

Shopping and F***ing is a witty and shocking look at consumerism, sex and modern youth culture. The play opened at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1996 and is central to the Nineties movement sometimes called ‘in-yer-face theatre’.