“What we make out of it may be different but we all need dough.”

“We’re not sure what to expect but we know it’s going to get messy!” says Julia, as she prepares to welcome this afternoon’s audience in her pinny.

“You’ve been involved in the development of this one, haven’t you?” I ask.

“Yes, I was lucky enough to be part of the commissioning process,” explains Julia, “and we’ve nurtured it and helped it along since then.”

It’s the beginning of half term and The Barn at Northorpe Hall is the venue for the premiere of Dough!, the latest family show in Creative Scene’s successful On Tour series.

For the last few years events manager Julia Robinson and her small team have welcomed touring shows to this elegant, historic barn and the adjoining child and family charity has become a valued partner for Creative Scene.

Part of Dough!’s development phase included sessions with the charity’s young carers group and with Create, an arts activity group of young people with learning disabilities.

“They all made beetroot bread in our kitchens,” says Julia, “and shared a meal together afterwards. Those sessions helped to inform this piece.”

As final technical checks are made and the cast grab a snack, I take the opportunity to put my tape recorder in front of writer and director, Olivia Furber.

“We’ve had a great relationship with Northorpe Hall,” she explains. “We met a lot of young people who were all very generous with their exploration with us: touching, making and smelling different things.

“They were an important part of our research and gave us a good understanding of what textures and smells really interested children. We had a lot of fun.”

Unlike previous ‘off the peg’ productions on the On Tour circuit, Dough! has been ‘home baked’ by Creative Scene. Last year, three production companies were invited to work up proposals that responded to North Kirklees in some way and London-based Olivia was subsequently crowned ‘Master Baker’.

“In North Kirklees I noticed that different communities were living side by side but it didn’t feel as if there was much mixing between them. It’s very multi-cultural where I grew up in London – and I know not perfect – but it feels more fluid and less segregated than here. So I wanted to say something about that in this piece.”

The barn is now full of parents, grandparents and dozens of excited children. As the lights go down Olivia sits amongst the kids on the cushions in the front row.

For the next 50 minutes the children – and their adults – are transfixed by the goings-on of baker Azed and delivery girl Frankie as their paths collide and, through lots of messy dough, they discover common interests.

Afterwards I chat to Jo who’s brought two of her pals from Huddersfield and their respective children. “We saw it advertised and thought we’d give it a try. Really good theatre and not expensive. The children have been totally engaged with it,” she says. “It’s amazing they sat through the whole thing.”

An evaluation session disguised as ‘messy play’ follows the performance as tiny hands are quickly covered in gooey flour and water.

“What was your favourite bit of the play?” asks ‘Frankie’.

“When you were making stuff,” says one five-year-old.

“When you were dancing,” shouts another.

“And what did you make of it all?” I ask Julia as the barn eventually empties.

“It’s been great, very enjoyable. And a good turnout. There have been lots of new faces who now know about the barn, about the charity and about the family shows we put on here. So everyone’s a winner.”

As I leave I do my best to avoid the trail of small doughy footprints that lead out into the car park.

Dough! rises again for the rest of this week: See the Creative Scene website for venues.

The rise and rise of Northorpe Hall Barn

“The site goes back to Tudor times,” explains Julia Robinson as we sit down at one of the large round tables in the Northorpe Hall Barn. “The whole place was left to our charity over 50 years ago by a woman called Audrey Barker ‘for the love of children’.”

cs_061016_030-editI have to get my head around this. I only know Northorpe Barn as one of the venues for Creative Scene’s half-termly family theatre tour. In a couple of weeks it will host an animal beauty contest featuring a walrus and a tree frog.

“The hall itself is home to Northorpe Hall Child and Family Trust, a charity that supports the mental and emotional health of young people,” explains Julia. “The beautiful barn is one of the charity’s biggest asset and we hire it out as an events space.” Got it.

The connection with the charity is the barn’s USP. “People hire us because they know the proceeds go to a young person’s charity. Mostly we host weddings – we’re pretty much booked up for the next 18 months – but since I started four years ago I’ve always seen the potential for small gigs, comedy, children’s theatre.

“Creative Scene has been a great opportunity for us. I was really excited when we were identified as one of the venues for the family circuit because it fits so well.”

cs_061016_013-editFor my benefit Julia has laid out all the promotional leaflets from the half dozen or so shows they’ve hosted. “This was the first,” – she says patting a flyer for The Real Mermaid’s Tale – “which was a lovely puppet show.

“I’m really keen to promote Northorpe Barn to a local audience. People don’t need to travel to Huddersfield or Leeds to see high quality children’s theatre. It’s here on the doorstep, and at a fraction of the cost.

“The Creative Scene model is an interesting one. There are five venues all within about eight miles, each playing the same show in the same week and for several of the shows, we’ve all sold out.”

“And they’re all very different venues,” I say, looking down the list on one of the flyers, “Batley Bulldogs Rugby Club, a couple of community centres. And all developing their own distinct audiences.”

“It’s an unusual model that other organisations around the country have shown interest in,” says Julia.

I can see the collaboration with Creative Scene is mutually beneficial. Both parties share the risk, and the ticket sales. Over time, as the audience grows, Northorpe is seen locally as a venue for high quality family theatre. “Creative Scene has given us the opportunity to test the market. Families now expect a show here during the half-terms. They look forward to it.”

cs_061016_031-edit cs_061016_026-editBut Northorpe is not just a touring venue. Julia and her young staff throw themselves into each performance by dressing up and organising fun activities around each show. And Creative Scene supplement Julia’s extensive experience – she’s managed theatres in the past – by involving her in what is now a commissioning process for new shows.

What, I wonder, happens post-Creative Scene. “Now you’ve built a reputation and an audience, can you see yourselves hosting theatre independently of Creative Scene?”

“It’s already happening,” she says. “At the weekend we’re hosting South Asian dance troupe, Manasamitra, doing their first performance of a show about bees. They’re hoping to take it the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival next month but they’re premiering at Northorpe!”

The Worried Walrus is at The Northorpe Barn on Wednesday, 24th October and at other North Kirklees venues throughout half term.