February 2020

26 February 2020

Exeter actor Amalia Vitale makes emotional return to Northcott stage as Chaplin years after performing in young company

Amalia Vitale is returning to Exeter playing Charlie Chaplin in a new play which is earning rave reviews from the critics.

When she steps onto the Northcott stage in March, it will be the first time since she performed in the theatre’s young company as a child during the late 90s and early noughties.

The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel shines a light on an unknown period in comic history when two maverick imaginations collided for a brief time.

The then unknown Chaplin and Laurel shared a cabin across the Atlantic before touring the United States together as part of Fred Karno’s famous music hall troupe.

One scene in the silent comedy sees Vitale plays the six-year-old Chaplin making his own theatrical debut – a special moment for an actor who began her career at a tender age in the city.

“It is going to be pretty mad doing that in Exeter,” she says,

“It couldn’t be more perfect to finish the show in the city where I grew up and it will be a real honour to be back in that space.”

Amalia now lives in London

Vitale, born to half-Italian parents who moved to Torbay to work in a hotel with shades of Fawlty Towers, played in a string of youth productions from the age of 11.

Under the tutelage of Rachel Vowles, she performed in Oliver Twist, Oh What a Lovely War, Tin Pan Ali and  Around the World in 80 Days, as well as the panto Mother Goose, alongside much-loved dame, Steve Bennett.

She cut her teeth as part of a cohort that went on to do great things: Alex Sharp won a Tony award for his Broadway hit the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Finn Irwin founded Exeter’s Bike Shed theatre.

“The Young Company productions were such massive endeavours and I felt like I spent my life at rehearsals,” she recalled.

“Some of the shows were as rigorous as those I am in now. It felt like a real company, I made a lot of friends and it kind of sealed the deal for me in choosing a career in acting. You start to understand how acting companies work, what’s required of you to become a performer. It was there that I went from being terrible as an actor to actually being quite good.”

There have been plenty of professional gigs since then for the 32 year-old graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire, who now lives in Tooting.

Then in 2018, Paul Hunter, Artistic Director of theatre company Told by an Idiot, spotted her playing a riotous dog in Tim Crouch’s acclaimed play Beginners.

He invited her to a workshop – which teased out the unusual relationship between Chaplin and Laurel – and asked her to take on the role of Chaplin.

“He messaged me a month later and asked me if I wanted to be Charlie – I said ‘yeah’ but of course I was terrified,” she admitted.

“It was the first time I have had such a prominent role, especially paying someone quite so iconic. But I welcomed the challenge.

She says inhabiting the persona of Chaplin has helped to shed light on the enigma at the heart of the production.

The 1920 tour launched two glittering careers: Stan Laurel returned home to Britain, later finding success with his soulmate Oliver Hardy, while Chaplin developed his Little Tramp character and within five years became one of the most famous figures in the world.

In Chaplin’s highly detailed autobiography Stan Laurel is never mentioned. Stan, however, talked about Charlie all his life.

“Charlie kept all his competition at a safe distance – it was not an accident that he never mentioned Stan,” Vitale adds.

“He came from nothing and had to provide for himself his whole life. He was always terrified of going back to where he came from, never really trusted anyone and certainly didn’t feel the need to share.

“Stan was quite in awe of Charlie and wanted to tell all the tales.

“It has really been a joy playing Charlie. I get to watch an awful lot of his films. There are 80-odd of them and so far I am about half-way through. Stan and Charlie are so different. Charlie’s work is quite sentimental and sometimes difficult to get into but once you do they become quite addictive.

“My mum told me when I was young that I should be a clown. I didn’t quite understand what she meant. Later in life I met my husband – a clown teacher – but I’ve never done outright slapstick until now, it’s great to have a job where I can explore that element.  And to finish the tour in Exeter, back on my old stomping ground, will be an amazing experience.”


24 February 2020

Warm tributes paid to former Northcott artistic director John Durnin

Tributes have been paid to John Durnin, the former artistic director of Exeter Northcott Theatre, who died last week after a short illness.

John, who died on Sunday (February 16), was also associate director at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre and had most recently been the artistic director at Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) from 2003-2017.

He worked at the Northcott from 1991 to 1998 and is credited with establishing the theatre’s annual tradition of Christmas pantomime.

John on his first day outside the old entrance to the Northcott (pic by Mike Alsford)

Exeter actor and regular panto dame Steve Bennett said: “I had the pleasure of working with John throughout his tenure at the Northcott.”

“He had the vision to bring us Shakespeare in the gardens which gave me the opportunity to play Bottom, Toby Belch and Touchstone among others.

“He also started the yearly tradition of the Northcott pantomime and he also gave David Sterne and myself a platform to produce both regional and national tours of The Man Who Would Be King.”

During his nine years in Exeter, John directed around 40 productions, including the premieres of Robert Shearman’s Breaking Bread Together, Victor Haltar’s Elephant Herd, Paul McClure’s A Curlew’s Cry, and Philip Osment’s Flesh and Blood.

He introduced the annual panto tradition with Cinderella in 1996, followed by Jack and The Beanstalk in 1997.

John with garden gnomes from Will Russell’s surburban comedy One for the Road (pic by Mike Alsford)

Summer performances of Shakespeare in the Gardens began with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in August 1995, a show which involved lining and intentionally flooding Rougemont Gardens.

Leading the tributes in Scotland was Elizabeth Newman, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Artistic Director, who said: “John was a wonderful man. He was incredibly supportive. It is a great loss to everyone at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. I am certain that this sense of loss felt at the Theatre will be shared throughout the arts industry in Scotland and the UK.”

During his 15 years in Highland Perthshire, John helped deliver some of the theatre’s biggest ever shows including a record-breaking production of High Society.

Other success stories he oversaw included Hello Dolly! (2013), Kiss Me Kate (2010), Whisky Galore (2009) and the 2011 production of My Fair Lady.

John in rehearsals at Pitlochry

He was also one of the key movers behind the return to the stage of Compton Mackenzie’s favourite Monarch of the Glen.

His swansong in Pitlochry was Singin’ In The Rain, which opened in December 2017.

At the time, he said he had taken the difficult decision to stand down. “It gives me the time and space to work out my next career move, though it will have to be something very special to rival my experiences at PFT,” he said.

“I will take with me many happy memories of this unique place, the vibrant working environment and the many wonderful productions we have created together.”

The theatre’s executive director Kris Bryce was also amongst those who paid tribute.

“John made a significant contribution over his 15 year tenure and, on behalf of everyone, I can say he was incredibly important to this special theatre,” she said.

“He was instrumental in creating a platform from which we can continue to thrive in the 21st century.”

“I am certain that this sense of loss felt at the theatre will be shared throughout the arts industry in Scotland and the UK.”

Local SNP member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) John Swinney shared his condolences on Twitter. He posted: “I am terribly saddened to hear this news. John made an outstanding contribution to Pitlochry Festival Theatre.”

A spokesman for PFT added: “At this very sad time, everyone at the Theatre extends their deepest condolences to John’s wife, Jacqueline, and his family and friends. He will remain very much in our thoughts.”




13 February 2020


We’ve hand-picked a selection of shows that are our ‘Ones to Watch’ this season. They’re exciting, they’re ground-breaking and they feature stellar up-and-coming and established performers and theatre companies that we hope you’ll love as much as we do.


BOOK 2 – SAVE 10%
BOOK 3 – SAVE 15%
BOOK 4 – SAVE 20%

Trojan Horse
Wed 19 February
Tickets: £18.50 – £14

Adapted from the real testimonies of those at the heart of the UK Government’s inquiry, acclaimed theatre-company LUNG investigate the story of a community torn apart by racial division, ‘British values’ and the culture of Prevent.


25 – 26 February
Tickets: £18.50 – £14

50 years after the release of George A. Romero’s politically charged zombie movie, imitating the dog and Leeds Playhouse create a love-song to the original 1960s film, retelling it as a searing story for now.


My Mother Said I Never Should
9 – 11 March
Tickets: £18.50 – £14

A moving and funny exploration of the lives of four generations of women in one family. Presented in British Sign Language and spoken English, this show captures the breadth of communication styles of the d/Deaf community using stunning visual storytelling.


a little space
Wed 18 March
Tickets: £18.50 – £14

What does it mean to you to have a little space? Following on from the international success of The Dreamer (2016), this show from Gecko combines their unique blend of theatre, choreography and stunning imagery with incredible performers from Mind the Gap.


Tom Rosenthal: Manhood
Sun 22 March
Tickets: £20

Let the beaky boy from Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4) and Plebs (ITV2) tell you the story of how he spent his life trying to avenge the theft of his foreskin. You might also have seen Tom on Drunk History (Comedy Central) or on Roast Battle (Comedy Central).


The War of the Worlds
9 – 10 June
Tickets: £18.50 – £14

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ sci-fi novel and Orson Welles’ classic radio play, this legendary science fiction thriller is playfully reimagined for our era of fake news and ‘alternative facts’, where widespread mistrust can make the truth a hard concept to identify.


*Available on selected shows. Discounts will be applied automatically at checkout. Discounts cannot be applied to tickets already purchased. Subject to availability.