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Company History

In 1992 Barrie Rutter’s agent suggested he start his own company, and so he did.  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, he founded Northern Broadsides.

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.

Dean Clough

Richard III 1992

The Cracked Pot

King Lear 99

Northern Broadsides – Company Style
“Barrie’s northern accent, fast-action, factory floor Shakespeare is as far from elitism as can be, though it has never dumbed Shakespeare down. What you get is the text, the poetry, the real thing, but with a northern vigour.”  Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott

Language & The Northern Voice
Barrie Rutter’s distinctive approach to theatre is fuelled by his passion for language and his unceasing celebration of the richness and muscularity of the Northern voice.

Northern Broadsides is a company of Northern actors who perform in their natural voices and have an indisputable command of the language and poetry of classic drama. The result is performance that has a directness and immediacy which is liberating and invigorating, breaking the southern stranglehold on classical performance and making the audience hear the words afresh.

“Shakespeare sounds terrific in authentic northern voices”  Daily Telegraph

“The Northern voice, with its short blunt vowels and tactile concrete consonants, makes a sensual meal of language, quite unlike the icky snacking gone in for by some of the more clipped southern accents.”  The IndependentKing John

Richard III rehearsals

Maximum Impact, Minimum Paraphernalia
Northern Broadsides productions are unpretentious. Simple and stark, they make the audience focus on the language. Rutter’s directorial style can be characterised by the stripping down of all the paraphernalia of theatre, taking it down to its bare essential so that the audience’s imagination can run riot. Northern Broadsides has a reputation for performing in unconventional locations. These stark, non-velvet spaces with their absence of stage paraphernalia add a particular atmosphere to their work, and invite the mind to soar. An industrial atmosphere pervades many of the productions as sets and props are magically constructed out of the flotsam and jetsam of the underground Viaduct Theatre where they are based. The result is simple, brilliant, visceral theatre.

Northern Broadsides – a regional company with an international reputation.
Northern Broadsides’ repertoire consists mainly of Shakespeare and classical texts. These plays possess a timeless resonance and their universal explorations of the human condition have currency in any day and age, appealing directly to the soul, the emotions and the imagination.

From 1992, they have toured the UK and the world with their highly distinctive performance style, including Brazil, the USA, Greece, Cyprus, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, India and Denmark.

“This modern-dress production works spectacularly well…engrossing the audience and leaving them gasping.”
The New Haven Register (Antony & Cleopatra)

“an evening of rip-roaring laughter”.
The Sunday Tribune, India (The Merry Wives)

Broadsides Truck

Language not Psychology
The work of Northern Broadsides has sometimes been berated by critics as lacking in psychological depth, a criticism which Barrie Rutter sweeps aside. Of the ‘psychological investigation of the characters’, Rutter says: “All that rubbish has just been a fad for the last 150 years.”

Northern Broadsides’ work celebrates the language of the poetry, written at a time (whether Classic or Elizabethan) when the notion of character internalisation didn’t exist. The result is theatre that brings the language to life, and because of the brilliance of the poetry, resonates with all the universal appeal inherent within the text.

“I don’t believe in the word character. I think everything on the page is the poet’s imagination with characteristics. You play the characteristics. I don’t believe there is some psychological being somewhere up on the astral plane, and through the process of rehearsing, we climb up the umbilical cord towards them”  Barrie Rutter

What distinguishes a Northern Broadsides’ production is the rapport the actors strike up with audience.

“What I like about Northern Broadsides is the exuberance and obvious pleasure the actors have in what they are doing, and the way they communicate this without letting it come between the play and the audience.”  Audience Member

This charismatic cast of versatile performers, many of whom have been with Northern Broadsides for years, constitute a fine ensemble company, which is all too rare in today’s current arts climate. They are also talented singers and musicians whose infectious love for what they do is palpable. Their work is refreshing, popular and hugely accessible.


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