Northern Broadsides embark on Merry Wives national tour

The Merry Wives by William Shakespeare Northern Broadsides & New Vic Theatre

The Merry Wives by William Shakespeare Northern Broadsides & New Vic Theatre - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

Rob Gemmell speaks to Barrie Rutter about a series of good news for Northern Broadsides

Life couldn’t be better for Barrie Rutter right now. He is celebrating the first anniversary of his OBE, his hometown of Hull are preparing for becoming the city of culture in 2017, his beloved Hull City Football Club are flying high at the top of the Championship and looking at promotion back into the Premier League and more recently his theatre company, Northern Broadsides, were awarded a much needed grant from the Arts Council.

The last time I spoke to Barrie Rutter, or should I say, Barrie Rutter OBE, he was preparing himself to receive a prestigious award for his services to drama. He was also preparing for a tour of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’. To his own admission, life hasn’t really changed that much in a year. “Maybe there is a little bit of ‘official’ difference,” Barrie admitted. “But not much else. It’s not something you could wear – not like a new scarf!” The OBE was a testament to the hard work, dedication and commitment that Barrie gives to the art and awards aside, it is easy to see why it was so deserved.

Having just finished touring ‘King Lear’, Northern Broadsides are again tackling Shakespeare, but for a reason. “We wanted to perform ‘Merry Wives’ to mark the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. It is a performance very rarely done outside of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is a great comedy with wonderful parts right across the spectrum. There are 16 actors all on stage with a decent amount to do.” Barrie will be both directing and performing in the play. I asked Barrie whether there were any complexities in directing such a large cast. “It’s not a challenge at all really. It’s fun. If the cast know what they are doing it becomes simpler to direct. There are lots of people to do lots of things.”

Barrie will be performing the role of Sir John Falstaff. A role that he is very familiar with having performed it twice already. “I love playing the character purely for the sheer folly of the role. He’s not the Falstaff of the Henry Fords, the white haired Satan as he was once referred. He was the one who would buy men to stand in front of a cannon to die which were how the Falstaff’s operated. No, this is a man who gets gulled three times into thinking women can love him and get money from him.”

Northern Broadsides will be celebrating their 25th anniversary next year, a year that coincides with Hull becoming the city of culture and what better way to prepare themselves for the celebration than receiving some great news from the Arts Council. The company have been based at Dean Clough in Halifax since 1992. It was there that Barrie discovered a below ground level space which he utilised transforming it into ‘The Viaduct Theatre’, an area they have used ever since. The venue needed much needed improvements, so recent news was welcomed by Barrie Rutter and the rest of Northern Broadsides when they were awarded an Arts Council grant which they will use to improve the venue in its continued longevity. The money will be used by installing an infra-red assisted listening system, provide safer audience access and spaces for wheelchair users. It will also concentrate on health and safety aspects needing attention and re-fit and extend the dressing rooms to create a habitable, multi-purpose space. Barrie explains: “This grant enables us to proceed with Phase One, which will segue seamlessly into the future planned development that is Phase Two; to create a newly renovated theatre that will enable greatly expanded content and programming not previously possible and develop a creative community within Dean Clough.”

And the good news doesn’t stop there. The company have also recently discovered that they finally received the rights to perform the famous Yorkshire comedy, ‘When We Were Married’. “Tom Priestley, who is J.B. Priestley’s son, was happy for us to have the rights to perform the show and we are delighted. We’ve been trying to secure the rights to perform this play for 15 years now!”

Life certainly won’t be slowing down for Barrie and the rest of the Northern Broadsides.

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‘Merry Wives’ is currently touring theatres around the country; some selected dates in the North of England:

Tue 1 – Sat 5 Mar at 7.30pm Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough, Halifax Box Office: 01422 255 266 or

Tue 8- Sat 12 Mar at 7.45pm (Mat: 12 Mar at 2pm) Hull Truck Theatre Box Office: 01482 323638 or

Tue 15 -Sat 19 Mar at 7.30pm (Mat: 16 Mar at 1.30pm & 19 Mar at 2pm) The Lowry, Salford Quays Box Office: 0843 2086000 or

Tue 5 – Sat 16 Apr at 7.30pm (Mat: 7 & 14 Apr at 1.30pm & 9 & 16 Apr at 2pm; Audio Described on 16 Apt at 2pm) West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Box Office: 0113 213 7700/

Tue 26 – Sat 30 Apr at 7.30pm (Mat: 23 Apr at 1.30pm) Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough Box Office: 01723 370541 /

Wed 4 – Sat 7 May at 7.30pm (Mat: 7 May at 2.30pm) Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield Box Office: 01484 430528

Tue 17 – Sat 21 May at 7.30pm (Mat 19 May at 2pm & 21 May 2.30pm) York Theatre Royal Box Office 01904 623568 or

Wed 24 -Sat 28 May at 7.30pm except 25 at 5.30pm (Mat: 26 May at 1.30pm & 28 May at 2pm) Liverpool Playhouse Box Office 0151 7094776 or