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Monday, 20 May 2019

REVIEW: Club Tropicana at Sunderland Empire

Mark Goucher & Gavin Kalin Present
Club Tropicana
Sunderland Empire
Monday 20th – Saturday 25th May 2019

Tickets available online from our affiliates ATG Tickets:  #Ad

Joe McElderry returns home this week with an 80s comedy that had the Sunderland Empire crowd laughing from the start.

A bride, Lorraine (Karina Hind) decides to call her groom Olly (Cellen Chugg Jones) on his huge mobile phone to say she has changed her mind. Her friends decide not to let the honeymoon tickets go to waste and three of them head off to Spain. But, just like a good farce, the groom's best man and his mate has a similar plan and they head off to the same resort.

After the story is quickly set up, local lad Joe McElderry makes his first appearance, much to the delight of the audience. Talking directly to the audience as Garry the hotel entertainments manager, he gets everyone on their feet for a quick dance routine.

The action then moves to the Spanish hotel run by long time friends Serena (Amelle Berrabah) and Robert (Neil McDermott) who are in the running for a local hotel competition that they are keen to win. They are expecting the arrival of an inspector and are on the look out. They quickly identify Christine (Emily Tierney) as a likely suspect as she seems to be asking a lot of questions about how the hotel is organised.

The audience tonight are up for a good night out. The script's humour is often wedged between 80s Carla Lane/ ITV sit-com and a Carry On film. Add in some great choices of opening lines ('Don't leave me this way') from the 80s songs and a large section of the crowd are getting regular laughs.

Yes, the storyline is predictable as it refuses to deviate from a well worn direction of travel but that's not the point. This isn't intended to be high drama, this is simply a good laugh.

Oddly enough, I didn't expect to find the show as funny  as I did. As a big fan of 80s music, I expected the songs to be a bigger part of the show. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of 80s hits in there but the main source of my enjoyment tonight were the jokes. The 21 songs supported the story rather than being included for inclusions sake only. Some, like The Lion Sleeps Tonight added comedy. Others like Take On Me and The Look Of Love supported the story.

This is the campest role I've seen Joe in and, along with the rest of cast, he seemed to enjoy the show and the audience reaction. The cast worked well together on stage. The dancing and singing was lively.

Special mention should go Kate Robbins, as cleaner Consuela. She was well cast as the lady with many impressions. She had a large share of the laughs and quickly established a rapport with the audience.

So, this isn't Shakespeare. You don't have to think too hard or have to explain the jokes to your companions afterwards – unless perhaps if they are still at school. Well paced, full of memorable songs - this was good light hearted fun. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Book by Michael Gyngell
Directed by Samuel Holmes & Nick Winston
Choreographed by Nick Winston
Set & Costume Design by Diego Pitarch
Lighting Design by Tim Deiling
Sound Design by Ben Harrison
Musical Director Charlie Ingles
Musical Supervision and Arrangements by Greg Arrowsmith

On The Web:
Facebook @SunderlandEmpire
Twitter @SundEmpire
Instagram @SundEmpire

Facebook @ClubTropicanaMusical
Twitter @ClubTropMusical
Instagram @ClubTropicanaMusical

Tickets available online from our affiliates ATG Tickets:   #Ad

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Preview: Bradley Wiggins at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

Sir Bradley Wiggins to delight fans with exclusive tales!
Bradley Wiggins: An Evening With
Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Saturday 28th September 2019
Tickets now available from the theatre and online from Eventim UK:

Join Britain’s most decorated Olympian Sir Bradley Wiggins as he brings his insightful and at times hilarious live show to Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle on Saturday 28th September 2019.

‘Bradley Wiggins: An Evening With’ provides a rare opportunity for fans to see the five-time Olympic Gold medallist and Tour De France winner share exclusive tales, prized memorabilia and career highlights in a unique and intimate live setting. The shows will be moderated by ITV cycling Matt Barbet, who will also be putting your questions to Wiggo on the night.

A British household name and undeniable national treasure, Bradley Wiggins holds the iconic track hour record and is the only cyclist who has won World and Olympic championships on both the track and the road along with winning the Tour De France.

His easy charm in front of the press is legendary and he won the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award (voted for by the public), helping cycling smash its way into the mainstream. 2013 brought further success, including the Tour of Britain title, and in 2014 Wiggins added the rainbow jersey to his collection by winning the World Time Trial Championships.

The Summer of 2016 saw Wiggins win his 5th gold medal at the Rio Olympics in the team pursuit and his eighth Olympic medal overall, making him Britain’s most decorated Olympian ever and rounding off one of the most impressive sporting careers the nation has ever witnessed.

Announcing his retirement from professional cycling at the end of 2016, Wiggins said, “2016 is the end of the road for this chapter, onwards and upwards, ‘feet on the ground, head in the clouds’ kids from Kilburn don’t win Olympic Golds and Tour de Frances! They do now.”

Wiggins’ latest release ‘Icons’ takes readers on an extraordinarily intimate journey through the sporting world, presenting key pieces from his never-before-seen collection of memorabilia. Bradley will reflect on the icons, races and moments that have fundamentally influenced him on both professional and personal levels. (Released 1st November and available at each live show on the tour)

Theatre Director Joanne Johnson said: "It’s an honour to welcome a genuine living legend to the Theatre – it’ll be the first time we’ve had an Olympian cyclist grace the stage! Sir Bradley Wiggins’ tales are bound to be fascinating – this show is a must, not just for cycling fans, but for sports fans in general.”

Tickets are priced: £32.50, £115 Meet & Greet tickets (limited availability, included meet & greet, photo opportunity and exclusive gift)
Tickets now available from the theatre and online from Eventim UK: #Ad

Preview: Frankenstein at Newcastle Peoples Theatre

by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley
Newcastle Peoples Theatre
Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 May 2019

Mary Shelley’s celebrated gothic novel Frankenstein may be over 200 years old, but her mythic fable of an obsessive scientist and his tragic creation has lost none of its power or appeal.

This humane and intelligent adaptation by Nick Dear took the National Theatre by storm when it was unleashed in 2011 starring Benedict Cumberbatch and we are delighted to stage the North East premiere.

For their production this week, Mark Danbury has created the Creature make-up and prosthetics. Starting with a discussion between Mark, Brian Green (director) and actor Colin Jeffrey, their jumping off point was the fact that Dear uses the term ‘The Creature’ in his playtext, not ‘Monster’ as in Shelley’s novel. He humanises him, and so they drew from Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of Vitruvian man, a perfectly proportioned human, a new Adam.

The make-up and prosthetics – which on first run-through took over two hours to apply but will get quicker! - reflects this image of something perfect but gone wrong. This is no zombie lookalike with bolts through the neck, but a shot at human perfection. The beautiful and the terrible in co-existence.

The team work hard to blend the prosthetics on the face, neck, chest and back into the skin, painstakingly creating bruising, blood and sutures, so the audience can never forget that there is a living, breathing human beneath the terrible visage.

Mark comments “We hope to help give the Creature a more realistic yet sympathetic look. My design uses small, delicate prosthetic appliances to show the medical work of Victor Frankenstein. I’m using the latest materials and techniques to help prolong the life of the make-up through what is a very physical performance by Colin.”

Photos by Paula Smart

Tickets:      £14 (Concessions £11.50)
Box office: 0191 265 5020 -

Preview: Spamalot at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Spamalot Honors 50 Years Of Monty Python

Newcastle Theatre Royal
Tuesday 28 May - Saturday 1 June 2019

Marking 50 years since the creation of Britain’s, silliest and most iconic comedy series, Newcastle Musical Theatre Company (NMTC) are staging Monty Python’s Spamalot at Newcastle Theatre Royal.

Adapted by Monty Python from their film The Holy Grail, Spamalot follows King Arthur of Camelot as he gathers together knights on his quest to find the Holy Grail.

The side-splitting show, which is famous for its French taunters, killer rabbits and a coconut, takes the audience on a magical journey of song and dance across the kingdom to fight foe, throw insults, fall in love and run away, a lot.

NMTC have performed at the renowned venue annually for more than 60 years, staging shows such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, West Side Story, Sister Act and Grease, and the 30 strong cast is led by an award-winning musical theatre team comprising Director Bea Atkinson, Choreographer Sandra Laidler and Musical Director Malcolm Moffat.

Tackling the role of the somewhat clueless King Arthur is Charles Doherty, whose professional musical theatre career has included Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company and Cameron Mackintosh International, and opposite him, the diva extraordinaire Lady of the Lake is played by former Capital FM presenter and radio personality, JoJo Hatfield.

Director Bea Atkinson said: “A Monty Python fan since my youth, I am thrilled to be directing Spamalot. I wanted to remain faithful to the iconic Python characters yet give the audience our own interpretation and rehearsals have been endlessly happy and vibrant, with gut busting laughter. The audience is sure to go home feeling lighter and happily singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’!”

Choreographer Sandra, who directed NMTC’s spectacular 2018 performance of CATS, has found this year’s show has brought a very different challenge:  “Spamalot is very much a comedy and a ‘micky-take’, and therefore the dance moves can be much more fun and not so technically challenging compared to my previous NMTC shows. Like those shows however, it will still be drilled to perfection before hitting the stage though!

The most enjoyable moments are putting what I have prepared on paper onto the dance floor. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work, but sometimes it’s better, and it’s been particularly great to see it materialise amongst the men playing knights, many of whom have a ‘unique’ style of dance!”

Musical Director Malcolm has also had to take a different approach to the witty lyrics and spirited score: “Timing and clarity is everything in a show like this or the humour is lost. Spamalot has a riotously fun score, with that big, brassy Broadway sound that just lifts and energises the comedy on stage. The songs are catchy and there are lots of snippets of tunes that the audience will recognise. The cast are working so hard to bring this music to life and we're excited to bring it to the Theatre Royal with a fantastic orchestra."

Rehearsal photos: Joe Costigan
SPAM® is a registered trademark of Hormel Foods LLC.

On The Web:
Facebook: /newcastlemusicaltheatrecompany
Twitter: NMTC_Official

Spamalot runs at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal from Tuesday 28 May to Saturday 1 June, with tickets priced from £13 and available at

Friday, 17 May 2019

REVIEW: Desert Queen at Newcastle Lit & Phil

Hands On presents
The Desert Queen
Newcastle Lit & Phil
Saturday 11 May 2019

Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell was born of a wealthy industrial family in the North East. Her achievements as an explorer, scholar, linguist, cartographer and influencer of world politics, would be exceptional in any age. That she lived in the misogynistic Victorian times and accomplished what she did is almost unimaginable. She was the first woman to achieve a first in modern history at Oxford. She was an influential helpmate to Lawrence of Arabia. She advised Winston Churchill and helped install Feisal as king of Iraq. She never married but clearly had a passionate, if chaste, heart. Hers is a tale worth telling.

The playwright David Farn has bravely set out to do that in a play lasting just under an hour. It seemed apt to be seeing that play in the esteemed Literary & Philosophical Society in Newcastle, where Gertrude herself once lectured.

The risk in reviewing this production is to spend hundreds of words retelling her story. For an erudite account of that life, I refer you to The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  There is too much to recount of her achievements here, which is also, in a way, the only problem with the play. There is so much to tell, all of it interesting.

Kylie-Ann Ford embodies Bell with charm, authority and wit. It would be impossible not to warm to her portrayal of this character, who chimes so well with our age of gender equality. Playing everybody else in her story is the highly-skilled Lawrence Neale. Beside her 3-dimensional portrayal of Gertrude, his many characterisations, which range from her French stepmother to Winston Churchill, are necessarily pencil sketches. But they are drawn with a sharp pencil, wielded by a keen eye, and they ring true.

The direction by Neil Armstrong brings out all the comedy of the multiple characterisations as well as moving the narrative along, respecting Gertrude’s significant achievements and highlighting the emotion of her, ultimately unfulfilled, emotional life.

This is a story worthy of a big-budget TV series. Let us hope somebody decides to make one. In the meantime, this ambitious production has opened my eyes, and I hope many others’, to a largely forgotten North Eastern hero.

Review by Jonathan Cash

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

News: Customs House Summer School

Open Auditions For The South Shields Customs House Summer School 

Is a starring role in a world-famous musical what you’ve been looking for?

The Customs House Summer School is working on a production of Disney’s High School Musical this year, with applications now open for those who wish to take part.

Auditions will take place on Tuesday 28 May at The CustomSpace in The Captains Row, South Shields, from 10am.

Children and young people aged between eight and 21 are eligible to take part.

Described as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, High School Musical was adapted for the stage shortly after making its debut as a Disney Channel original movie in 2006, starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens as two high school juniors from rival cliques.

Troy Bolton is captain of the basketball team and Gabriella Montez is a shy transfer student who excels in maths and science. When they try out for the lead parts in their high school musical, it causes division among all the school’s students.

The film’s premier was watched my 7.7 million people and more than three million copies of the soundtrack were sold, featuring the songs Start of Something New, Get’cha Head in the Game, What I’ve Been Looking For, Breaking Free and We’re All in this Together.

Gareth Hunter, of Ion Productions, who is The Customs House Summer School director, said: “The team are excited to be able to work on this fantastic upbeat musical. It features some great songs and high energy dance routines and we hope to see lots of familiar faces and new ones at the auditions.  It’s a great show with some really good parts and loads of songs for the ensemble to get involved in too.”

The Customs House Summer School is one of the only ones to have a full-scale production as its conclusion in one of the region’s top theatres.

The summer school runs at The Customs House from Monday 22 July to Sunday 11 August, between the hours of 10am and 5pm, concluding with five performances over three days. Some weekends and additional rehearsals will be needed for principal roles.

For more information and to download an application form, visit or e-mail Completed application forms must be returned no later than Monday, May 20.

Tickets for the performances, on August 9, 10 and 11, are priced from £10 and available from the box office on (0191) 454 212334 or online at

Thursday, 9 May 2019

REVIEW: Floorboards at Newcastle Alphabetti

‘If enough people walk over a floorboard, one day it will crack.’

ODDMANOUT, The Worriers and Alphabetti Theatre present:
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Until Saturday 18th May 2019

Newcastle’s Alphabetti Theatre is host to a well-crafted black comedy that is blessed with both Steve Byron’s sharply observed writing and a great cast. This wonderful nugget of theatre is available on the Pay What You Feel basis that the venue prides itself on proving that high quality theatre does not have to cost the earth.

The set comprises of a living room with bare floorboards. A rug is under the coffee table. The table, and floor, is covered in beer cans, take away containers and smoking paraphernalia. On the sofa are Nellist (Micky Cochrane) and his mate Hoggy (Malcolm Shields) watching the legendary Bob Ross on the television.

Did you ask who Bob Ross was? His programme The Joy Of Painting was a daytime classic for 11 years from 1983. He’d turn a blank canvas into an imaginative landscape using his oil paints. Fascinating stuff.

Indeed Bob has Nellist and Hoggy in rapture as he slaps the oils on. Then James (Steve Byron) appears having completed the night shift at a 24 hour petrol station. He is not happy with the sight before him, or the letter of complaint from his neighbours about the late night noise. After all it is his flat and whilst he has agreed for Nellist to stay there, it was only meant to be for one night – and that was 2 years ago. It is quickly apparent that Nellist is pushing his luck as he lives rent free, expecting James to keep him supplied in food and beer.

The play works well on at least 2 levels. The dialogue is believable. It feels like a natural conversation that you’d expect. You also relate to those on stage. It feels less like watching acting and more like a real situation. You feel empathy for James even when Nellist brings a former schoolmate Helen (Cheryl Marie Dixon) home and uses James’ flat as his own.

Director Katy Weir keeps the action feeling very natural, even when the local drug dealer Denise (Jacqueline Phillips) appears in quite dramatic fashion. Matthew Tuckey’s sound design worked well in this venue as you could tell when the music was coming from one end of the room or Bob’s voice from the other. Molly Barrett’s set comes into its own later on – but we’re not in the business of delivering spoilers here.

Whilst it is a dark piece with drug use, violence, swearing and bullying, it has a good number of humorous situations that had the Alphabetti audience reacting throughout. It had me laughing far move that the last so-called comedy that I saw at the cinema.

Steve Byron is able to get the audience onside as an ordinary bloke who is put on. This acceptance being crucial if the audience are going to enjoy the later stages of the story.

Micky Cochrane comes across as the dominant flatmate from hell in the same side. Malcolm Shields gets a number of laughs as his side-kick. The act of climbing down the “ladder” was such a great touch. Jacqueline Phillips has an air of business-like menace whilst Cheryl Marie Dixon’s Helen puts poor James in his place and yet is suffering inside. 

Running at about 2 hours plus an interval it is another example of high quality show that Alphabetti is building its reputation on. It just goes to show that you don’t need to blow a fortune on a good night at the theatre.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Steve Byron

Floorboards opens at Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre Tuesday 7th May 2019 and runs until Saturday 18th May (with no shows Sunday and Monday 12th/13th)

Show Begins: 7:30pm
Tickets: Pay What You Feel
Age Recommendation:14+
Running Time: 1 hour 30 mins, including interval

Theatre details: