Northern Broadsides’ Barrie Rutter to receive OBE for services to the arts

Barrie Rutter - photo by Nobby Clark

Barrie Rutter - photo by Nobby Clark - Credit: Nobby Clark Photographer

The start of a New Year is cause for many a celebration, but for actor Barrie Rutter he had more reasons than most to celebrate this year.

Barrie Rutter is an actor and founder of the Northern Broadsides theatre company. He was part of the Queen’s annual New Year’s honours when he was awarded an OBE for his services to the arts and quite deservedly so. But for Barrie the realisation that he had been awarded with this prestigious honour came much earlier. “I actually found out at the end of November that I was to be awarded with it and the hardest part was having to keep it from everyone until it was announced!”

Ironically Barrie will be unavailable to receive the award at the presentation as he will be on stage. “I’ve told them I can’t make that date, so I am hoping they can reschedule.”

As an actor, Barrie became increasingly frustrated when plays that he was due to appear in got cancelled and as a result he decided to start his own theatre company to maintain control. It was during a Tony Harrison play that was being performed at a mill in Saltaire that spurred Barrie to produce and perform a classic play with a Northern cast in, what he describes as, a ‘non-velvet’ way. “It was one idea. One play that I wanted to perform and it grew from there. That was twenty three years ago.”

During the time it was quite a revolutionary idea to form a theatre company, nobody had done it before. It took a lot of grit and determination to not only establish the company, but to make it successful. “I had to grab who I could to help out along the way. It was the help of others that got us through. From my home town of Hull which was holding its first ever festival, to a theatre in Bradford which gave me a theme to work with and the enthusiasm of Yorkshire Arts that gave me a grant.” The late Brian Glover appeared in the first ever Production and it was during rehearsals that he pulled Barrie to one side. “He told me of the great importance of what I was doing and that I would be doing it for a long time.”

Being the founder of his own theatre company meant that he could have control of what plays they perform, be it classic pieces or original work. “Conrad Nelson (Resident Director and Composer at Northern Broadsides) and I discuss what plays we would like to perform. Conrad is going to be directing ‘A Winter’s Tale’ in autumn which was his choice to put on.”

It was another colleague of Barrie’s, Jonathan Miller, who suggested they perform ‘King Lear’. Barrie was happy to go along with it. “It’s a play that Jonathan likes and knows really well, so I was happy to go with his suggestion.” Barrie will perform the lead role in ‘King Lear’ and I asked him what he does to prepare for a role such as this. “Listen to the director. It’s as simple as that. You could do all the research in the world for a part, but it is the director who has the knowledge and the experience, so you should listen to him.”

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The play opens at the Viaduct Theatre in Halifax on February 27th until March 7th before embarking on a small tour of the North. Barrie is hoping the weather won’t intervene with the enjoyment of the performance as the theatre is underground! The full tour of ‘King Lear’ is as follows: The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax (27 Feb-7 Mar) and then tour to Hull Truck Theatre (10-14 Mar) , Theatre Royal Bath (17-21 Mar), Everyman Theatre Cheltenham (24-28 Mar), West Yorkshire Playhouse (8-18 Apr), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (21-25 Apr), Liverpool Playhouse (28 Apr-2 May), The Lowry, Salford Quays (5-9 May), York International Shakespeare Festival (12-16 May), Rose Theatre, Kingston (19-23 May) and New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme (27 May-13 June).

With a three year funding secured in April, the future is certainly bright for Northern Broadsides. There are plans for a new space and refurbishment at the viaduct and for a new rehearsal room with the money from the Arts Council and they have a 3 year plan for work, as part of the terms for obtaining a grant. In 2017 Hull will be awarded as city of culture. It is where it all began for the company and also coincides with Northern Broadsides 25th anniversary, so they are hoping to link all three events together for a special celebration.

It has been 23 years in the making and a lot has certainly changed in that time. “Acting has changed. It changes with technology, verbally as well.” We went on to discuss the arts and the aim to generate more interest in the theatre, a subject in which Barrie shares the same passion as I. “Culture should be the last thing we get rid of as it is the imagination of the nation and we would become a desert if we don’t support Arts to flourish. It is the second biggest industry in terms of earnings in the country and I only wish the powers that be gave it more acknowledgement.”

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