UNEXPECTED TREAT: Jo Ferguson chats to Kate Fox at the Scarth Hall, Staindrop
UNEXPECTED TREAT: Jo Ferguson chats to Kate Fox at the Scarth Hall, Staindrop

THE Highlights autumn season is nearing its end here in Teesdale but if you’ve not yet ventured along to a rural touring event you might be conjuring up images of creaking chairs in a cold village hall, a cup of stewed tea at the interval, and a cosy rendition of an Agatha Christie play.
But you’d be very wrong. In reality, rural touring brings some of the UK’s brightest talent from the worlds of dance, theatre, music and comedy right to our doorstep with a rich programme providing as good a night out as you’d get at any big venue.
And these days some of the village halls could give those bigger venues a run for their money with their high-tech lighting and sound rigs albeit bedecked in homemade bunting. For the performers who venture over hill and dale to villages they’ve never heard of, the audiences they encounter are an equally diverse bunch of appreciative folk.
Many have grabbed their coat, a bottle of vino and walked along to their local village hall, but as the reputation of rural touring continues to grow, audiences are increasingly travelling from further afield. And in some cases, much further afield.
At a recent performance by The Bookshop Band, at Cotherstone Village Hall, a couple travelled over 60 miles from Carlisle to take their seats amongst the locals.
“We’ve always wanted to see The Bookshop Band live, so booked the tickets online instantly even though we weren’t entirely sure where Cotherstone was,” says Julie Rigby who describes herself as a “middle-aged groupie” along with husband Peter.
“We did get a bit lost in the dark but what an amazing thing to experience,” she says looking around a lively hall full of locals chatting over olives and cheese brought from home on tables bedecked with tealights and lanterns.
Lots are rural touring connoisseurs, regulars who buy a ticket for whatever their local Highlights promoter has chosen. Some are first-timers with no idea what to expect but decided the £10 ticket price made it worth the risk.
“I’ve been to lots of theatre and concerts in big venues but I’ve absolutely no experience at all of rural touring,” says Jo Ferguson, from Staindrop, whose curiosity brought her along to a show by stand-up poet and comedy performer Kate Fox.
“I had no idea what I was letting myself in for or what the quality was going to be like.
“But that meant that I could float into it with a massively open mind.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as I have in a very long time,” says Jo.
“Having the performer so close to you makes it feel like they’re doing a show in your front room. It was magical. Now I just want to go and find out what else is going on.”
Sadly for Jo, there is only one more performance remaining for this Highlights season, with a concert by one the world’s finest blues guitarists Martin Harley at Bowes and Gilmonby Parish Hall on Saturday, December 12, at 7.30pm.
For further information and to book tickets visit www.highlightsnorth.co.uk or call 01833 628343.
Amanda Astrop