Barrie Rutter OBE
Born in 1946, the son of a Hull fishworker, Rutter grew up in a two-up two-down on the Hessle Road, the fishdock area of Hull, around the corner from Tom Courtney.
At school, an English teacher frogmarched him into the school play because he had “the gob for it”, and feeling at home on stage, Rutter chose his future direction. There followed a period at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama and many years in the National Youth Theatre culminating in The Apprentices’ by Peter Tierson – a role specially written for him, a practice to be repeated later in his career.
Seasons at the RSC in Stratford, London and Europe completed the 1970s. In 1980 he joined the National Theatre, a formative period. He met and worked closely with a poet who was to become his guru, Tony Harrison. Rutter performed in all three of Harrison’s adaptations, all written for the Northern voice: The Mysteries, The Orestia, and The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus. In Trackers, the part of Silenus was written especially for Rutter. It was this experience of performing in the northern voice that germinated the idea for Northern Broadsides.
Trackers toured to a wool-combing shed in Salts Mill, three miles north of Bradford. This was to be Rutter’s ‘Damascus’. He was deeply affected by the raw emotion of speaking to a northern audience in a northern voice in a classical play.
Northern Broadsides officially began when two projects in which he was to star – a major TV series and world tour of the Tony Harrison play – bit the dust. His agent suggested Rutter start his own company, and so he did. In 1992, he assembled some of the cast of Trackers and created Northern Broadsides, thanks to a grant of £15K from Hull City Council and Yorkshire and Humberside Arts, office space in Halifax at a nominal rate from entrepreneur Sir Ernest Hall, free rehearsal space from fellow entrepreneur Jonathan Silver at his Salts Mill, and free administrative support from the Bradford Alhambra.
The company’s aesthetic, as Rutter explained, was “Northern voices, doing classical work in non-velvet spaces”. Wherever they performed, this radical new aesthetic excited the critics.
The first production, Richard III, took the company to a variety of unusual venues including the Marina Boatshed in Hull, West Yorkshire Transport Museum in Bradford and Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire. Since that first production, Northern Broadsides has continued to tour to unusual spaces across the world, for example – the Rose Garden in Chandigarh, India, a Roman amphitheatre in Austria (where they performed with live bears and lions on stage!), and the Tower of London!
With the company’s success has come invitations from theatres and spaces nationwide. Northern Broadsides will perform anywhere from proscenium and in-the-round to castles, churches, cattle markets, train sheds, post-industrial mills and riding stables across the UK.
The company’s home base remains in Halifax. Their performance and rehearsal space is a subterranean viaduct beneath what was Crossley’s carpet mill. Renamed Dean Clough, this large old Victorian mill is now a thriving arts and enterprise centre owned by Sir Ernest Hall.
When Rutter first encountered the dark arches and rough hewn floors under Dean Clough, the space sparked his imagination. Where everyone saw a dank, dirty basement fit only for car-parking, Rutter saw a theatre. Christened The Viaduct, it has thrilled audiences and critics alike with its post-industrial character and unique atmosphere. All Northern Broadsides productions now open at The Viaduct and London critics make the arduous physical and mental journey north of Watford to review Northern Broadsides productions.
Since the company’s humble beginnings in 1992, it has gone from strength to strength, from surviving hand-to-mouth on a shoestring budget for years, to winning numerous awards, culminating in the country’s largest and most lucrative arts prize – Creative Briton 2000 – awarded to Rutter with a cheque for £100,000 to spend on his company.
His theatre work includes:~
For the Royal Shakespeare Company:~ Henry IV, Henry V, Coriolanus and The Taming of the Shrew.
For the Royal National Theatre:~ The Mysteries, The Crucible, Guys and Dolls, The Oresteia, The Rivals, Animal Farm, Martine and The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus .