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The Crack Magazine

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Getting Medieval On Your Ass

Newcastle Castle isn’t just one of the top visitor attractions in the region, it’s also beginning to establish itself as a real cultural hub with live theatrical and musical performances, film screenings, workshops, party nights, talks and more.

The Great Hall inside Newcastle Castle once played host to Kings, Queens, Knights, Ladies and plenty of other top nobs of the period. Indeed, King Edward I spent Christmas there in 1292 (where he was reportedly in a grump because Fenwick’s Christmas window wasn’t up to much that year). But I often wonder what Edward would have made of the plethora of amazing stuff that is happening at the castle these days. The film program – for instance – is pure catnip for fans of cult movies (recent screenings have included The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General and Young Frankenstein). In September the Lord of the Rings trilogy is being screened over successive Fridays (2, 9 and 16 September) and I imagine Peter Jackson’s opus will feel even more grandiose in such a magnificent setting. And fans of comedy/horror are being well catered for with a screening of Joel Schumacher’s wildly entertaining The Lost Boys (30 September). Looking further ahead get set for much cross-dressing, Time Warping, high-jinx with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (8 October). And I’d particularly like to flag up Taste of Fear (16 October), a Hammer film that is not as well known as some of the studio’s other output, but it’s right up there with their very best. The 1961 chiller stars Susan Strasberg as a wheelchair user who returns to her father’s estate after ten years, and although she’s told he’s away, she keeps seeing his dead body on the estate. This genuinely creepy tale was, according to Christopher Lee (who appears in a supporting role), the “best film I was in that Hammer ever made.” I’m not arguing. Also in October there will be screenings of Hocus Pocus (the hit family comedy following a trio of witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy – 21 October), Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog’s remake of the silent classic is a masterpiece in its own right and just as unsettling as the original – amazing score by Popul Vuh, too – 22 October), and The Exorcist (the greatest horror film of all time? Many think so – 28 October).

On the theatrical side of things, an incredibly atmospheric version of Henry Purcell’s classic opera Dido and Aeneas is being performed by Harlekin Studio Opera (3 and 4 September). Based on Virgil’s epic poem ‘The Aeneid’, the opera documents the story of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Prince of Troy, Aeneas.

The Castle also lends the required atmosphere to the many talks that are held within its sturdy walls. Coming up in September are Sanctified with Blood: Conflict and Violence in the Age of the Crusades (Corey Lyddon-Hayes explores the bloodthirsty and turbulent age of the crusades – 6 September) and Living Autopsy (join award-winning pathologist Dr Suzy Lishman and find out more about what an autopsy involves (note: no dead bodies are used during this talk) – 23 September). Into October there will be The Resurrection Men: Body Snatchers in the 19th Century (exploring the way corpses were ‘acquired’ for medical education – 8 October), Dissection and Display of Bodies (looking at the display of bodies once they have been ‘acquired’… 15 October), and Reverse Witch-Trials and Making a Fortune: Witchcraft, Magic and Money in the Nineteenth-Century North East (examining the lingering belief in the supernatural that was still going on well into the 19th century – 22 October).

One of the most popular events held at the castle are the Medieval Tavern nights, which let you party like it’s 1399. Here you are entertained by storytellers, musicians and jesters and get to feast on authentic medieval tavern grub (vegetarian and vegan options available) and quaff their very own medieval ale – brewed by local luminaries Wylan Brewery (check website for details of the next event).

Among the forthcoming workshops is a Lord of the Rings inspired Tea Pot Making event (3 September). Held under the guidance of Muddy Fingers Pottery, here you will get the chance to make your very own teapot under their expert guidance.

If you’d just like a tour then Medieval Newcastle tours are held regularly (castle entry included) and there’s also a Kids’ Castle Adventure Tour, too. Oh – and with Halloween coming up, they’re also holding an All Hallow’s Eve Tour on, yep, 31 October, where the guide will regale you with tales of the Castle Keep’s gory past. Brrr…

Be sure to check out the website, below, for the full lowdown on all of the above and plenty more besides.

Newcastle Castle, The Black Gate, Castle Garth, newcastlecastle.co.uk

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