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20 years after starting theatre company, Tyneside playwright still on Cloud Nine; From someone's living room to the Sage Gateshead, and various venues in between, Peter Mortimer's plays have thrilled audiences across Tyneside.

Byline: Tony Henderson

Playwright, publisher and optimist Peter Mortimer has been on cloud nine for the last 20 years while enjoying what he does best.

And he is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the launch of his Cloud Nine Theatre Company.

In that time the company has staged around 100 plays, sketches and other performances, in venues ranging from theSage Gatesheadto people's living rooms, pubs and clubs, station platforms and the Tyne ferry.

A sell-out event at The Exchange in North Shields last Saturday night marked the anniversary with two plays from that 20-year backlist by Cullercoats writers -- the Battling Ettricks from Mary Pickin and Kitty Fitzgerald's Making Plans for Jessica.

The choice could just have easily been plays such as She's on Toast, An Excess of Overcoats, the Purple Pullover, Strangers on a Bus or Kat and the Pigeons.

Peter has a bit of a thing about clouds. One of his poems was used by the 1990 Gateshead National Garden Festival, with an iron frame suspended in a tree and sporting the illuminated words "Keep Both Feet Firmly in the Clouds".

After the festival, the sign was mounted for 12 years on the roof of Peter's home facingCullercoatsMetro station, where thousands of passengers daily read the message, although how many adopted it as a lifestyle choice is not known.

Peter started Cloud Nine in 1998, partly to take community plays to people who may not otherwise visit mainstream theatres.

He worked with an initial gathering of enthusiasts, who turned up to a meeting to write and present a play called The Trip, which told of five couples who set out from the seafront at Cullercoats on a mystery bus outing.

The five performances at Cullercoats Community Centre sold out. The next venture was The Clock Man, about a humble individual who looked after a town's public clock and reluctantly became mayor.

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He was corrupted by power which led to the clock being destroyed by a developer.

There has never been a dull moment. One play centred on the disappearance of a man down a plughole, which required actor Robbie Lee Hurst to deliver his entire performance sitting in a bath.

While the venue at the Low Lights Tavern onNorth Shields Fish Quaywas being readied, the bath was parked outside, where a real-life drama occurred as scrap merchants were seen loading the bath on to their truck.

This year, Cloud Nine went international, staging the play A Parcel for Mr Smith, performed by Peter's son Dylan, at a drama festival in Prague.

"None of the plays have been adaptations. All have been new works by northern writers," says Peter. "We have performed in unusual places, mostly to audiences who were not traditional theatre-goers."

One play, Bingo, was set in a social club and was aptly staged at Cullercoats Crescent Club.

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Cloud Nine has also tackled serious issues, such as Peter's play Riot, about the 1930 riot involving Yemeni seamen in South Shields, which saw him spend three weeks on a research trip to Yemen. Another play was based on the 1991 rioting at the Meadow Well estate in North Shields.

More recently, Death at Dawn, about young North Shields First World War soldier William Hunter who was executed by a British army firing squad in France, played at the Linskill Centre in North Shields, Wallsend Memorial Hall and Discovery Museum in Newcastle.

In April this year a drama about local artist Victor Noble Rainbird was staged at the Exchange.

"Cloud Nine was originally only going to be a one-off project but look how it turned out," says Peter. "But that's how the best things happen."

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Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Peter Mortimer
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Date:Nov 18, 2018
Words:639
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