Tv star gives backing to theatre partnership

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SUNDERLAND-BORN actress Melanie Hill is supporting a creative partnership between the city’s university and a local theatre.

Students from the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Media (ADM) have taken over the Customs House, in South Shields, this month to stage a programme of theatre, dance and visual arts.

It is the first time in its history that the arts venue has handed over the reins of its whole entertainments schedule to another organisation for so long.

TV and film actress Melanie, who recently starred in the new BBC comedy drama Candy Cabs, has given her backing to the venture.

The Black Cats fan, who received an Honorary Fellowship from the university last year, was due at the event’s launch today alongside a host of other specially-invited guests.

They will have the chance to speak with the ADM staff and see a performance by third-year dance students.

“I am really looking forward to seeing the students take to the stage,” said Melanie.

“Sunderland is brimming with talented young people and I am sure they will enjoy a successful run at the Customs House.

“It’s a win-win situation. Students get to perform to a live audience in a wonderful, historic theatre and the public gets to fill their boots with everything from plays to dance, music to exhibitions and screenings.”

Successful Wearside band Frankie & the Heartstrings have also sent a message of support to the students.

Now making waves on the national and international music scene, band members Dave Harper and Frankie Francis are recent graduates of the university.

Drummer Dave said: “We’d like to wish the dance, drama, music and art students good luck for their month of activity at the Customs House.

“It’s a great venue with excellent facilities, and a varied and quality line-up throughout the year. It’s a brilliant opportunity for them to get involved and perform to an audience.”

Customs House executive director Ray Spencer said he was delighted Melanie was lending her support.

“We are delighted to be welcoming such an acclaimed actress to the Customs House.

“This venture gives us the opportunity to offer those in higher education a chance to apply their studies in an operational situation. It’s marrying theory to practice.”

Programme highlights include performances of Much Ado About Nothing, an Evening of Jazz, Broadway and West End dance.