BOWES PREMIERE: The cast of Joan and Jimmy, from left, Craig Haley, Stephanie Hackett, Lawrence Neale and Hayley Docherty
BOWES PREMIERE: The cast of Joan and Jimmy, from left, Craig Haley, Stephanie Hackett, Lawrence Neale and Hayley Docherty

A MAN of many hats is bringing a new theatre show to the dale later this month.

Mike Bettison is known to many as the man with the ukulele at Barnard Castle’s Singing for the Brain sessions and Music and Memories at Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Others have come across him due to his involvement with youth folk group Cream Tees and Music at the Heart of Teesdale.

Even more are familiar with Mr Bettison as chairman of Bowes Village Hall and Bowes Carnival.

However, it is in yet another role – that of director of Blaize, his own theatre company – that he is premiering a show at Bowes Village Hall on Thursday, February 28.

During the past few weeks, Mr Bettison has been rehearsing a visiting four-strong professional cast of actors for the forthcoming production of Joan and Jimmy.

The show is a musical drama, exploring the relationship between revolutionary theatre director Joan Littlewood and her one-time husband and partner Jimmy Miller (aka Ewan MacColl).

Known as “the mother of modern theatre”, Joan Littlewood devoted her life to community and political theatre and making it accessible to the people of the north in the 1950s and 60s.

Mr Bettison said: “In Joan and Jimmy, we see Joan Littlewood and Jimmy Miller, standing among the rubble of 1945 post war Britain.

“Jimmy Miller has changed his name to Ewan MacColl; and both are embarking on a career in radical political theatre, performing one-night stands across the north of England – early rural touring.”

They founded Theatre Workshop, in Kendal, with a travelling troupe of storytellers and outlaws committed to the overthrow of the established order where the rich got richer and the poor got austerity.

In 1952 they would part company – Joan heading to London with Theatre Workshop and Ewan moving on to the folk music world.

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Littlewood is famously quoted as saying: “I really do believe in the genius in every person. And I’ve heard that greatness come out of them, that great thing which is in people.”

Mr Bettison added: “She was a trailblazer for community theatre and an inspiration to many of today’s theatre practitioners.”

The script includes original music by writer and musician Jim Woodland, in a bid to echo the work of Jimmy Miller – famous for penning some of the folk world’s favourite songs, such as Dirty Old Town and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

Joan and Jimmy also boasts several other notable local connections.

Set director is Simon Pell, from Barnard Castle.

One of the actors, Lawrence Neale, featured in the recent North East production of Beyond the End of the Road, which visited The Witham and Mickleton Village Hall last year.

Residents may also recognise actor Craig Haley from his visit to Whorlton Village Hall with Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s Our Frances.

This time, Craig will be playing Jimmy Miller.

Mr Bettison said: “I’m thrilled that Joan and Jimmy will be opening in my home village of Bowes before it embarks on a busy tour of rural venues throughout the North of England during March.”

Show time for Joan and Jimmy is 7.30pm (doors and bar open at 7pm).

Tickets are £10 (adults); £9 (unwaged) and £5 (students) and are available by phoning Mr Bettison on 01833 628343 or by emailing bettison @bowes.onyxnet.co.uk.