November 2019

26 November 2019

Pay it Forward – 1,000 panto tickets given to familes thanks to a community partnership made in Devon

Thanks to the amazing generosity of our audiences and supporters we have been able to raise more than £8,000 to give ticket to families who would otherwise not be able to come to our panto.

The Pay it Forward campaign was launched by legend of stage and screen Sir Ian McKellen when he brought his one-man 80th birthday tour to the Northcott and shook the first bucket on stage back in July.

Since then, 1,500 people have donated, allowing us to give away 1,000 Beauty and the Beast tickets to the community via local charities, such as Live West, Devon Foster Families and Home Start.

Under the innovative scheme, every £1 donated matched by Exeter Northcott Theatre with the support of Salcombe Dairy.

The South Devon company identified the Northcott as a kindred spirit in terms of its commitment to communities and decided to sponsor the Christmas pantomime.

Salcombe co-owner Dan Bly says he is excited by the results of a partnership between two organisations that share the same values about giving something back to the public.

“I am in the business of doing things when it feels right – this is a great thing and it just feels good,” he added.

“Of course, we have to be commercial in many things but when it comes to rewarding community initiatives like this – if it feels like the right thing then you have got to just make it work.”

“Our businesses are so alike. We have a similar number of employees, we sell quality products to our audiences and we are rooted in a community. What has thrilled me about ‘pay it forward’ is that it has done two really important things: created opportunities for 1,000 people to come and see the show – we know what a big impact that is having but – but it has also created an opportunity for our audiences to play their part in making it happen. I have always been of the view that all of this stuff is circular so what you do in the community comes back around.”

The Northcott is by a dozen years the elder of the two Devon institutions, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017.

Salcombe Dairy began life in a small, stone-built shed at the bottom of Coronation Road after being founded in 1979.

Both are proud to operate under the “made in Devon” banner as they juggle commercial priorities with work to support local groups, a balancing act which is producing creative ways to bring business and arts performance together.

Artistic Director and Chief Executive Daniel Buckroyd said that with 90 per cent of the Northcott’s income earned from tickets sales and trading, it was important to be innovative.

“Compared to other theatres of our size we are more reliant on our trading activities,” he added.

“We are one of a number of arts organisations trying to do the balancing act between needing to rely on a really healthy trading life to pursue our charitable objectives. We are always exploring how to diversify those income streams and those partnerships even more. Our nature as a commercially-minded organisation really focuses on our charitable objectives around creating opportunities growing and diversifying our audiences, working with children and young people as well as talent development. The pay it forward initiative is a new model and that it has been fantastic for us to pilot it.”

Director of Marketing and Development at the Northcott Kelly Johnson said the Northcott worked with business to achieve shared objectives in lots of ways, often around networking and events.

She added: “We are really keen to work with businesses and see what their objectives are and sometimes that will be linking back to the community.

“Understanding the community and audiences and communicating much more effectively because of that understanding is something we are trying to do in a much more nuanced way. We have got a whole range of audience development objectives in terms of people we know don’t come to theatre, identifying the barriers, whether that be affordability of access, travelling to the space or disability.”

“Pay it forward’ has really unlocked the individual giving. Our audience really want to give to something and to feel that it is going somewhere and to see that donation doubled is just brilliant.

Dan Bly says there is an added personal benefit to giving something back.

“The nice part about working for a small regional business is that you very much feel part of the community,” he explained.

“I am a known character; in the region the business is known and because you are closer to the community you feel closer. People tell you what they think. The Northcott is the same: you will have people locally because they know what you do telling you about the show they went to see. You don’t get that in a large business. The Northcott has a community that works for you and with you and you feel and are responsible for them, driving this little force of people.

“The reason why we engage with any form kind of charity or club is because you know there are people in the community who are less fortunate so maybe if you can just help a little – well, they might not be a long term customer going forward but you are still providing a benefit, a product to people who can’t necessarily access it.”



25 November 2019

Date-night couple return to same Exeter Northcott Theatre seats to re-live first meeting 50 years ago

A romantic couple from Exeter who met as toddlers at a church crèche celebrated their fiftieth anniversary by repeating their first date at the Northcott.

Keith Rowbottom surprised his wife Christine by arranging a return trip to the theatre and sat in the same seats they had occupied as teenagers at the end of the 1960s.

This time the pair got VIP treatment and cheers from the audience at Exeter Northcott Theatre.

Keith and Christine get an ovation from the audience on Friday night

Keith, 68, first stepped out with future wife, Christine, 67, with a trip to the Northcott on November 22, 1969 – keen to impress with tickets to see Hamlet.

It clearly worked and the pair married in nearby Crediton five years later in 1974 – on the day that ABBA won the Eurovision song contest with the song Waterloo.

Now living in Lincolnshire, Keith wanted to surprise Christine with a repeat of their first outing so, back in January, he contacted the theatre to find out what was playing on November 22.

With this year’s Christmas pantomime Beauty and the Beast programmed for 30 November, there was a gap in the planner but only the possibility of a one-night show.

Moved by Keith’s touching plans, and the couple’s love for ABBA, Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd managed to programme the tribute band, Thank You for the Music, for the same night.

Theatre staff made a fuss of the pair with dinner, wine and complimentary tickets – in the same row L seats where they had sat a half century before – and even arranged for a shout-out from the band.

BBC Spotlight’s Johnny Rutherford filmed their visit

The singer paused the show to tell the audience, then dedicated the 1979 hit Does Your Mother Know? to the couple who were cheered by almost 400 people inside the Exeter auditorium.

Christine, a former nursery worker, said the experience had been “totally overwhelming”.

“I felt like the queen – the Dancing Queen,” she added. “I was thinking ‘this cannot be just for us’ because the warmth that we felt from the crowd was wonderful and quite moving.

“We are just so very thankful to have had 50 years together and I think I am more in love now than when I first met him – he is such a romantic and never forgets important dates.”

Keith, a semi-retired Methodist minister, said the pair always tried to do something special on birthdays so he had kept the trip under wraps until they arrived at the theatre.

“Methodist ministers don’t get paid huge amounts so we have never had lots of money to celebrate but we always try to do something special on birthdays and anniversaries,” he added.

“I knew most of what was planned but Christine only knew that we were going away. We had an amazing evening and the reaction of the audience was just overwhelming.”

Keith and Christine first met at the crèche held at Exeter’s St Thomas Methodist Church, becoming friends in the late 1960s.

Keith got up the courage to ask Christine out on a date and bought two tickets for Shakespeare’s classic, starring Yes Prime Minister star Derek Fowlds in the title role and John Nettles as Fortinbras.

The pair tied the knot on 6 April, 1974 – the day that ABBA shot to fame by winning Eurovision in Brighton.

Keith recalls turning on the TV at the hotel to see the then unknown Swedish pop group and switching the show straight off.

When the pop band became world famous, it became a running joke about them watching TV on a wedding night.

They went on to have two sons and now live in a village near Spalding.

Keith recalled he first grabbed hold of Christine’s hand as the pair left the tragic play fifty years ago and ran for the bus in the rain.

He added: “We always try to make the most of every opportunity. It was raining again on Friday as we left ABBA but this time we held hands all evening.”


06 November 2019

City centre visitors will see actors in rehearsal as theatre brings panto cast to the high street

Shoppers and city centre visitors will be able to watch a professional cast rehearse a Christmas pantomime after Exeter Northcott Theatre took over a prominent space.

Rehearsals get under way on Monday (11th) for Beauty and the Beast, which opens on 30 November.

It is the first ever staging by the Northcott of the classic story of a handsome prince who is transformed into a hideous beast and can only be saved by “true love’s kiss”.

For the first time, a cast, including Exeter’s best known panto star Steve Bennett, will be put through their paces in a new rehearsal space on Paris Street.

Every day except Sunday, screens at Make Tank will be rolled back between 3 and 4pm, giving passers by the chance to watch the nine-strong troupe at work.

Young peformers at Make Tank on Paris Street

Artistic Director and Chief Executive Daniel Buckroyd said: “I‘m a huge fan of pantomime – the drama, the music, the silly jokes, the theatrical magic – and I love the way it can bring families and friends together at Christmas – so I’m thrilled to be continuing the tradition of great Northcott pantos with Beauty and the Beast”.

“We are delighted to be able to put this new show together in the heart of the city and hope the public will enjoy catching a glimpse of how we go about it.”

The Northcott earned a reputation for home-grown Christmas pantomime until 2010, reviving the tradition again in 2017 with Dick Whittington and last year with Jack and the Beanstalk.

Daniel’s previous panto productions have won plaudits, with five nominations at last year’s Great British Panto Awards, including one for best script.

In July, Sir Ian McKellen helped launch the Northcott’s new Beauty and the Beast “pay it forward” campaign.

The scheme hit its ambitious target last week, giving away 1,000 panto tickets to people who would not otherwise be able to go to see the show.

The production follows the fortunes of Belle, the most beautiful girl in Paris, played by Sarah Moss, who appeared in Trevor Nunn’s West End production of The Lion in Winter.

Belle (Sarah Moss) and Prince Valentin (Samson Ajewole) at Exeter cathedral.

Playing Prince Valentin is Samson Ajewole, who has played roles in La Cage Aux Folles and The Comedy about a Bank Robbery in the West Endwhile Exeter favourite Steve Bennett returns to the Northcott stage for his 22nd professional pantomime, playing Belle’s father, Monsieur Marzipan.

Anna Stolli, who appeared in the West End production of Kinky Boots and toured internationally with Mamma Mia!, plays the evil enchantress, Nightshade.

Anna Stolli (Nightshade) and Dafydd Lansley (Cupid)

Martin Ramsdin, best known for his alter ego Bunny Galore, host of the cult film TV show Bunny Galore’s Movie Nightmares, plays Dame Betty Bonbon.

Belle’s sister Soufflé is played by Francesca Pim, who appeared in the UK tours of Alice in Wonderland and Salad Days.

Cupid is played by Dafydd Lansley, whose theatre work includes Annie Get Your Gun an international tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Sebastian Rasmussen, a dancer in Mamma Mia 2 – Here We Go Again, and Hollie Nelson, a singer and dancer in Sherlock Holmes – the Musical, appear as the male and female understudies.

The show opens on 30 November and runs until January 5.

Read about the show and book tickets here.