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22/09/2021

REVIEW: Blood Brothers at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 Blood Brothers

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 25th September 2021

Lyn Paul was billed as returning for her farewell tour in the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone, however tonight was a night that showed that the show must go on. Indeed, the understudies did a brilliant job in the opening night of Blood Brothers, which appears this week at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.

The roles of Mrs Johnstone, Mrs Lyons, Donna Marie and Mickey were all performed by understudies and you'd never have guessed if you had not noticed the sign as you went in. Each one did a fine job and it just goes to show that there is a wealth of talent in this very strong ensemble.


Written by award-winning playwright Willy Russell, this epic tale of Liverpool life started as a play, performed at a Liverpool comprehensive school in 1981, before opening at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983. It is a tale of two brothers, Mickey (Josh Capper) and Eddie (Joel Benedict), who are separated at birth and follow different paths. The show has charm, comedy and a strong message as Russell's script moves from emotional moments to some real laughs.

Now Lyn Paul was my first Mrs Johnstone when I saw the show in the West End back in the 90s so I was looking forward to seeing her. But Paula Tappenden stepped into the shoes and commanded the stage from the opener Marilyn Monroe through to the the heartbreaking Tell Me It's Not True.


Likewise there was the necessary onstage chemistry between Josh Capper, Joel Benedict and Danielle Corlass as central core of Mickey, Eddie and Linda. We watch them grow up from 7 (and nearly 8) year olds and through their teens into their adult relationships. It is important that the audience feel that they have close spoken and unspoken ties for the show to work.

There are also the almost ever present Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) and the fringe supporting characters including Eddie's Mother, Mrs Lyons (Grace Galloway) and Mickey's brother Sammy (Daniel Taylor) who need to have good timing to keep the action flowing. Directors Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright have used Andy Walmsey's set to ensure that there is no interruption to the action. Another aspect of the show that could be easily overlooked in making the sequences segue smoothly is Nick Richings lighting design that guide the audience to concentrate on one area or another.


The show also features a live band under Musical Director Matt Malone. The arrangements and choice of drum sounds gives the show an early to mid-80s feel. The use of live musicians helps with the energy of the production.

It was fantastic to see a show at this theatre with a full crowd. The audience even up in the Gods at the top. It is also pleasing to see a large number of younger audience members. Some school trips were in the crowd and the school teachers should be congratulated for giving the evening up to show their young charges that theatre is not just there for panto. At the curtain call the audience rose to their feet to congratulate the cast on a job well done.

I have lost count how many times I have seen this musical. So how does this cast compare? It was up there with the best. The understudies having a point to prove and delivering a great night at the theatre.


Review: Stephen Oliver

Tickets:

Blood Brothers plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 September 2021. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


14/09/2021

Preview: Blood Brothers at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 

Multi-Award Winning Blood Brothers Returns to Newcastle Theatre Royal

 

Blood Brothers

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 21st – Saturday 25th September 2021

 

Bill Kenwright's legendary production of the international smash hit musical Blood Brothers returns to Newcastle Theatre Royal for one week following its spectacular sell-out run in 2017.

Lyn Paul returns for her farewell tour in the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone, which she first made her own in London’s West End.

Completing the cast is: Hannah Barr (Brenda), Joel Benedict (Eddie), Josh Capper (Neighbour), Tim Churchill (Mr Lyons), Danielle Corlass (Linda), Grace Galloway (Donna Marie/Miss Jones), Andy Owens (Perkins), Alex Patmore (Mickey), Robbie Scotcher (Narrator), Paula Tappenden (Mrs Lyons) and Danny Taylor (Sammy).


Blood Brothers
tells the captivating and moving tale of twins separated at birth, who grow up on the opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with tragic consequences.

When Mrs Johnstone, a young mother, is deserted by her husband and left to her own devices to provide for seven hungry children she takes a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet. It is not long before her brittle world crashes around her when she discovers herself to be pregnant yet again - this time with twins! In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer which leads inexorably to the show's shattering climax.

This epic tale of Liverpool life started as a play, performed at a Liverpool comprehensive school in 1981, before opening at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983. The musical has since triumphed across the globe, completing sell out seasons in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan, and scooping up four awards for Best Musical in London and seven Tony Award nominations on Broadway.

The superb score includes A Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged hit Tell Me It's Not True.

Lyn Paul first rose to fame in the early 1970s as a member of the New Seekers, whose hit ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ sold over 20 million copies and remains one of the 100 best-selling UK singles of all time.  Lyn also featured as the lead vocalist on the 1974 number-one hit ‘You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me’.  

Written by award-winning playwright Willy Russell, few musicals have been received with such acclaim as the multi-award-winning Blood Brothers. Considered 'one of the best musicals ever written' (Sunday Times), Bill Kenwright’s production surpassed 10,000 performances in London’s West End, one of only three musicals ever to achieve that milestone.  It has been affectionately christened the ‘Standing Ovation Musical’, as inevitably it “brings the audience cheering to its feet and roaring its approval” (Daily Mail).

Tickets:

Blood Brothers plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tue 21 – Sat 25 Sep 2021. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

13/09/2021

REVIEW: Educating Rita at Newcastle Theatre Royal


Educating Rita

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 18 September 2021.


The 41-year old play has lost none of its power as it has been revived and brought to Newcastle for the final leg of a UK Tour. Starring two of the regions leading actors, it raises issues about cultural capital that still resonate today. 

Of course the Royal Shakespeare Company's commission, written by Willy Russel was adapted by Russell for a 1983 film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. However this was, first and foremost, a two hander play situated in the office of a university lecturer.

Stephen Tompkinson appears as Frank, a university lecturer of English Literature, with a drink problem. The show opens with him trying to remember which books hide the bottle of scotch that will provide his next drink. He is staying late tonight as he needs extra income in order to fund his alcohol habit. Such funds are going to be raised by tutoring an Open University student. When she arrives the new undergraduate is clearly from a different background to his usual cohort. This is not someone full of self-confidence bordering on arrogance. This is going to be someone who reads mass circulation fiction and who has never been to the theatre. In short, there is a large cultural gap.

But that is not to suggest that Susan, who wants to be known at Rita, is not keen to learn. She may be a hairdresser but she is desperate to level up her knowledge and understanding to that of the "regular" students so that she passes exams. Alas her initial impression of classic fiction is that it is "crap". However she is able to persuade Frank to take her on. 

Jessica Johnson does a fantastic job of conveying the circumstance of a working class wife who has an unsupportive husband with a degree of Northern working class humour. The emotions in a scene can quickly change from laughs, due to the flippant answers to her work, to compassion, as she explores life beyond the office walls with adroit flexibility.  Russell's writing gives both characters a three dimensional aspect that quickly makes the audience root for them. 

This is a perfect marriage between well written and poignant material with two highly respected actors who have always added an element of class in any production that we have seen them in. Director Max Roberts, formally of Live Theatre, appears to have kept a light hand on the tiller in allowing these two performers explore the material. The show runs for 90 minutes without interval and this helps keep the momentum flowing. 

We have been awaiting a chance to catch this show and it did not disappoint. 



Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Nobby Clark

Tickets:

Educating Rita plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 13 – Saturday 18 September 2021. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).

12/09/2021

PREVIEW: Jonathan Pie: Fake News (The Corona Remix) at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

 Jonathan Pie: Fake News (The Corona Remix)

Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House

Saturday 11th September 2021


Fourth time lucky, the internet sensation finally appears at the Toon’s premier variety theatre and he did not disappoint. Supported by the very capable Jojo Sutherland the packed venue was presented with a real comedy treat.


Opening the show was the experienced Jojo Sutherland. We had not seen her live before but she had entertained us a number of times on the Stand’s Saturday online shows that had helped keep us sane during the lockdowns. She is naturally funny and engaging and was able to warm the crowd well with her tales of raising children whilst still having a life.


During the interval, the screen at the back of the stage was showing the work of the artist @Fokawolf. Plenty of people around us were laughing at the various memes that were often based upon familiar advertisements. 


Our seats were at the edge of the grand circle and we had a great view of the stage - that is not always the case with these older theatres. We could also see people taking their seats up in the Gallery and that shows how popular tonight’s headliner is. It is wonderful to be in a full venue sharing a live comedy act. As great as the online shows were, they were no substitute for a real live show.


Some comedy acts appear as themselves, others appear in character. Nationally successful character acts include Al Murray as “The Pub Landlord” and, for some reason, Brendan O’Carroll wins awards as “Mrs Brown” (was it really the greatest sitcom on tv?). 


Jonathan Pie is another comedy character. He was created by actor Tom Walker when the question was posed: “what happens when the news reporter goes off the air.” The first appearance online was in 2015 when reporting on the reaction to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. SInce then Pie has commentated on the rise and fall of May, Trump and now Johnson. The character is a socialist who has plenty to say about the populist right wing leaders and their handling of the media. The result is a satirical view for the current times that follows in the footsteps of shows like Spitting Image in the 1980s.


The show begins with the headline that the newspaper Jonathan Pie has been sacked by the news programme that employed him after an incident on the air. All will be revealed by the end of the show, but first Pie needs to get the last two years off his chest. The analysis of the crisis starts with Matt Hancock. Clearly the audience are on the same page given their positive reaction to Pie’s character assasignation. 


Jonathan Pie is not here to discuss the United States or Brexit. There is no need. A news reporter has much more to chew on than that. Clearly the show has had a complete rewrite since whatever was proposed in the original show that was going on tour early in 2020.


But there is more to the show than government bashing. The performance of the opposition, and more crucially the lack of any willingness to debate with the other side, also gets picked off. You cannot win battles if you don’t engage or try to understand the other viewpoint. Thus Pie shows how broken our political system is as it seems to only give two options to any issue.


This is a comedy show. Tom Walker was able to keep the laughs coming throughout the 80 minute performance. There was as much energy in the show as he captures in the short YouTube clips. He points out the issues and allows the audience to make their own mind up. There was a well deserved standing ovation afterwards. As someone I did not know exclaimed outside to me in the bar afterwards: “Brilliant, wasn’t it?” Our group agreed and we plan to see him again on the next tour.


Review by Stephen Oliver


Advertisement:

Tickets are available for a number of comedy shows at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House.

Simon Amstell: Spirit Hole - Sat 2 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/3EcA1hh 

Jimmy Carr – A Terribly Funny Book Tour - Mon 4 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/2V6CwiW 

Paul Zerdin: Hands Free - Sun 10 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/3EkNW51 

Adam Buxton Rambles… - Weds 13 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/3hpjSvc 

John Bishop – Warm Up - Thurs 14 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/3hqPfp0 

Milton Jones in Milton: Impossible - Weds 20 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/2XkBEsz 

Jimeoin – Turn it Up - Fri 22 Oct 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/2XadX6l



Nina Conti – The Dating Show - Sat 6 Nov 2021 - Tickets: https://tidd.ly/3Ear1cw





11/09/2021

News: Chance To Play ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Opposite Britain’s Got Talent Winner Matt Pagan From Collabro In this year’s panto at Tyne Theatre & Opera House

 

Your Chance To Play ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Opposite Britain’s Got Talent Winner Matt Pagan From Collabro 

In this year’s panto at Newcastle's Tyne Theatre & Opera House

 

The search is on to find a talented local actress to play the lead role of ‘Princess’ in this year’s magical family pantomime Sleeping Beauty at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House.

Panto producers Enchanted Entertainment are on the lookout for a female aged 18+ from the North East to star alongside Britain’s Got Talent Winner and singing sensation – Collabro’s Matt Pagan, who is playing ‘Prince’ in Sleeping Beauty, as well as hilarious Geordie comics Charlie Richmond as ‘Jester’ and Lewis Denny as ‘Dame’.

Female performers aged 18+ need to attend the auditions taking place on Thursday 23rd September at 3pm at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House, with recalls taking place on Tuesday 28th September.

Producer Guy Pascall said: “It's going to be a fantastic Christmas production and what an amazing opportunity for a local actress to gain valuable professional experience in the panto and to start them off on their own glittering career”.

Hopefuls need to bring a song of their choice with a backing track to sing to the audition panel. They will then be given some acting sections from the script of Sleeping Beauty to perform in front of the pantomime’s creative team.

The successful candidate must be available from 20th November – 2nd December for rehearsals and then from 3rd December – 3rd January for the actual performances. The role is contracted, meaning the performer will be paid for their work on the show.

Enchanted Entertainment will be bringing 54 spellbinding performances of Sleeping Beauty to the Tyne Theatre and Opera House from 3rd December 2021 – 3rd January 2022. The pantomime will feature a fantastic live band and for the first time ever in a Tyne Theatre panto: amazing 3D especially designed for children in the audience. As always, the show will be packed with a host of top stars, including Britain’s Got Talent Winner – Collabro’s Matt Pagan as ‘Prince’, the return of hilarious North East panto comic Charlie Richmond as the silly ‘Jester’ as well as Karen The Mam’s Lewis Denny back as ‘Dame’.

Musical Director Jezz Weatherall said: The Princess in Sleeping Beauty is one of the best pantomime parts for an actress to play and we'll be looking for someone that can sing, dance and act to a very high standard. As well as a fantastic cast, the panto will also include a brilliant live band for our successful actress to sing with in the show”.

Enchanted Entertainment are assembling an amazing cast and planning some spectacular pantomime magic to ensure Sleeping Beauty will be a wonderful family panto with plenty of audience participation, fantastic sets and costumes, and of course jokes galore for all the family!

 

Tickets:

#ad Tickets are on sale now and are available from the theatre and Eventim UK: https://tinyurl.com/TynePanto2021

09/09/2021

Preview: Tales & Scales at North Shields Exchange

Tales & Scales: Stories and Songs Celebrating North Shields

Tales & Scales

North Shields Exchange Theatre

in partnership with CaroleW Productions

Saturday 18th September 2021

This is the first of three such evenings of theatre and music leading up to a community play in early summer 2023 for which writer Steve Byron will be seeking out stories of those who have lived and worked and passed through the commercial centre of North Shields.  The shows are part of the North Shields Heritage Action Zone project which will culminate in a piece of musical theatre to celebrate its past, present and future.

For this launch event, music will be provided by Celia Bryce and Colin Bradshaw, George Welch and Christine Jeans & Jamie Brown. 

The three short plays on offer will be by Cloud Nine Theatre, Blowin’ a Hooley and The Worriers, details of which are below.

 

The Filleting “App”

Written by Alex Oates

Presented by Blowin’ a Hooley

Performed by Harriet Ghost & Micky McGregor

 

A loving answer to Tom Hadaway’s classic ‘The Filleting Machine’ first written almost 50 years ago. The play finds the same family living and working in North Shields today and asks what, if, anything has changed for ‘Ma’ and ‘Da’ in the intervening years.

 

Fire and Water – The Thomas Brown Story (begins)

Written by Peter Mortimer

Presented by Cloud Nine Theatre

Performed by Anthony Broderick, Anna Marie Davis & Eleanor Beck

Directed by Neil Armstrong

 

The opening scenes of the remarkable true story of a 15-year-old North Shields lad whose heroic action in helping salvage vital Enigma Code documents from a sinking German U-Boat helped shorten World War II. Full production coming in November.

 

Preaching to the Bottom of the Glass

Written by Steve Byron

Presented by The Worriers

Performed by Karen Traynor & Jack Lloyd

 

Onto streets soaked in beer and bounty from the sea comes a saviour, following in the footsteps of Wesley, to save the folk of Shields with no wish to be saved.


If you have your own reminiscences or stories to tell don’t hesitate to contact the team at tales@theexchange.live 

REVIEW: Heathers the Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 Heathers the Musical

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 September 2021


Heathers finally makes it to the North East this week after a successful run in the West End. Based upon the 1989 movie, it is a black comedy about surviving High School.

The show opens with 17 year old Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) taking the audience with an introduction to the various tribes and cliques that form in school by the student’s mid-teens. This includes members of the football team, Kurt (Liam Doyle) and Ram (Rory Phelan), as well as her friend from her Kindergarten days Martha (Mhairi Angus). In alpha position are three girls called Heather whose personalities follow certain personality traits: so we are presented with weak-willed Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker), petty Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah), and the leader of the pack Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth). 

Initially an outsider, Veronica is invited to join the Heathers - along with a makeover - after she gets them off detention by forging a hall pass. Once she joins them she gets noticed by her other classmates but is expected to be cruel to her long term friend Martha. Veronica's head is turned when new lad Jason 'J.D.' Duke (Simon Gordon) appears and puts both Kurt and Ram physically in their place.

Whilst the story initially goes over familiar teen movie territory - with a party after school - it soon takes a number of darker turns as J.D.'s relationship with Veronica develops.

This is very much a dark comedy with book, music and lyrics from Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy. There are some big ensemble numbers, a number of duets between Veronica and J.D. that Rebecca Wickes and Simon Gordon handle well ,plus some solo spots. The lyrics work well with the plot and help push the emotions of the characters across, which is a good job given the nature of some of the subject matter.

It is worth flagging up a trigger warning at this point as the show covers a number of dark issues, including bulimia, bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault, homophobia and school violence. The way in which you might handle such issues is different today compared to the 1980s. As a result the story gets caught at times dealing with a number of serious issues in a trivial/lighthearted way which may cause issues for some. For others, there are a number of serious talking points to consider after the show. In balance my companion and I feel the show managed to handle the difficult stuff right by the end.

There were some great solo spots, in particular for me, Lizzy Parker really shines during Lifeboat. Mhairi Angus also got the audience on side during Kindergarten Boyfriend.

Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan worked well as the comedy duo. Their timing added a number of laughs to the action. In fact the show breaks the forth wall occasionally - even to the extent of calling out one member of the audience.

The set design (David Shields) helped keep the action flowing and it was noticeable that the clever lighting design (Ben Cracknell) not only highlighted the action but was happy to colour code the Heathers. It was wonderful to hear a live band, under musical director Phil Cornwell, for the first time this year. All other shows that we've seen so far have used pre-recorded music. Dan Samson's sound design ensured that we could hear everything at the back of the venue - and as regular readers will note - that was not always the case in some of those 2019/2020 shows we reviewed just before lockdown.

The show went down well with the audience - the stalls were up on the feet applauding at the end. It is a entertaining musical that does more than the average teen movie. My companion even went as far to say that they preferred it to the movie. For those of you wanting to see a new musical that has good execution then this one is a decent adaptation.

Potentially, given the subject matter, this could have been really bad, but they missed the bullet and created an entertaining night at the theatre.


Review by Stephen Oliver

Photos of the West End Cast: Pamela Raith Photography

Tickets:

Heathers the Musical plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 September 2021. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).