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Review: The Wardrobe at Newcastle Peoples Theatre

An entertaining journey of several lifetimes.

 The Wardrobe

Newcastle Peoples Theatre 

21st Feb 2014 (Until 22nd Feb 2014 before transfer to Northern Stage 22nd April)

Play written by Sam Holcroft
Directors: Sean Burnside and Sarah McLane

A journey through 9 eras in the life of a large wardrobe is the Sam Holcroft’s play which is one of 10 specially commissioned by the National Theatre for and about young people. Around the country 230 youth theatre groups will be performing these plays at 26 regional theatres such as Newcastle’s Northern Stage.

The play opens up in 1485 with Elizabeth of York worrying about marrying Henry VII who killed her uncle King Richard III and hence uniting the warring factions. Her sister, Cicley tries to talk it through as they hide in the wardrobe. Grace Dekker and Grace Dickson are dressed in fine costumes and set up the play well in their short scene of sisterly love.

The problems with religious intolerance are then explored by the entertaining Jessica Smith and Maeve Thorpe. They explore Hebrew, decorating cups with nasal emissions and the arrival of strange exotic fruit. Despite the gravity of the underlying theme, religious persecution, the young pairing also deliver a number of light hearted moments.

1644 brings with it war and the wardrobe is a place of refuge for the characters played by Rheanne Boothroyd, Natalie Storr, Simon Stuart and Arthur Thorpe. The tension is palpable as drastic action is necessary to keep their cover.  The plague then haunts Eva Petrovic, Romaana Shakir and Jessica Smith in 1665 as dreams of becoming an actress are halted by the worries of the disease which is killing the doctors. In these time zones the audience are likely to forget the youthfulness of the cast and be drawn into the serious issues of the time.

It is a challenge to appear on stage – let alone to do so speaking another language and Arthur Thorpe and Megan Watt demonstrate self-defence 1720 style.  Jack The Ripper’s gruesome acts are recounted from the newspaper in the next sketch as Steven Findlay, Thomas Knight, Dylan Knights and Simon Stuart are horrified by the Spittlefields murder. The wardrobe continues to hide and usually protect its youthful occupants.

Come 1916 and a young couple played by Nathan Hussain and Nuala Schweppe consider settling down despite a call up to fight in the war.  Once again the uncertainty of the future is portrayed in a believable yet entertaining way. The set, designed by Sands Dobson, continues to be effectively used and the sound design by Michael Cornish helps maintain the pace as we change scenarios.

Fewer worries seem to exist in 1965 Maeve Thorpe sets up a story in the wardrobe for Amber Usher. The then fifteen year old story by CS Lewis is given an entertaining twist with icing sugar. Finally cyber bullying and the issues facing modern day teenagers are explored by Michael Critchlow and Jessica Rootham who take refuge in what has now become a museum exhibit.

One can forget that this is an amateur production performed by the Young Peoples Theatre and enjoy the story as it unfolds. The costumes designed by Dianne Edwards and Carole Shepherd were exquisite, the storyline believable and well acted with no weak link in the company. All in all it is an entertaining production.

 This limited two-night run finishes on Saturday 22ndFebruary at Newcastle’s Peoples Theatre before its transfer to Northern Stage for an additional performance on Tuesday 22nd April.


DATE:             Friday 21 – Saturday 22 March 2014
TIME:               7.00pm
VENUE:           The Studio Upstairs, The People’s Theatre, Stephenson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne,
TICKETS:        £9 (Concessions £5)
TELE:              0191 265 5020


A launch of 6 careers – Review Young People’s First in 3

Review: Young People’s First in 3

Northern Stage 19/2/2014

Northern Stage aim to showcase ideas in the intimate surroundings of stage 3.The first opportunity for the 16-25 age group to explore their creative ideas was last October during the Juice Festival. Today’s show of 6 acts appears to now be part of a twice a year event. A variety of art forms were on show and a lot of raw creative talent was apparent. Whilst some acts are closer to a final show than others, each act has something worth developing. As an evening of entertainment it is a real pick and mix. To that end – each member of the audience will have their own highlight.

Emily Nicholson’s film “Dancing Dream” followed the monotony of an office job to the dreams of dancing. The music was in time with the tapping of the keyboard as the dream sequence moved outside. Dancing with the wheelie bins in the snow let smiles on the faces of the audience.

Northern Stage wanted the audience to leave feedback on notes on a wall throughout the show. One such note about the Ingenius Ensemble’s performance of Rachel Lynn Brady’s Ace In The Hole suggested it would have worked best as a radio play. Perhaps it would work in such a format but there are a number of ideas that could make a great show for either adults, or with reworking, for families. The skit involved a hologram / computer interface trying to support a departure from a planet. It echoed in feel the recent production of Mission To Mars which came to Stage 2 of northern Stage.  The company aim to support the creation and writing of new work for young women but as “GRACIE” wished the crew “Happy Moving Day” it was probably the younger male members of the audience that were getting the most from it. Both cast and storyline have potential.

John Hamilton May gave a confident spoken word performance in his piece entitled “The Jumble Male”. His understanding of language was exploited on themes as diverse as men who seek underage girls, male mental illness and finding new love in Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Even the list of gifts for his 61 year old father had linguistic resonance.

The musical interlude came from Lauren Hickins “Role of a Lifetime” in which she recalled a number of performces she has made in her short career to date and some roles that she’d like to cover in the future. The singing was delightful and a titular lead role in any revival of Carrie The Musical could easily be considered for Lauren.

After the interval came one of the highlights of a diverse evening as Sisley Henning performed a stand up comedy routine for only the second time publicly. Her timing was spot on as she gave many of the acts at The Stand a run for their money. Her delivery of topics such as confusion over her name, hair and keeping fit was confident and natural. The audience laughed as Sisley explained that it is said that you might not be able to buy happiness but you can buy pizza.

Hindsight is wonderful and perhaps the preparation for the multimedia presentation of Kindness Kontagious by Sian Armstrong could have started in the half hour before the show began rather than in the interval. The audience were asked to be filmed to reveal moments of kindness and, after editing, the film was played back. It was a brave attempt to involve the audience and one which was worth waiting for.

Live productions with inexperienced performers can be an opportunity for problems but tonight’s show favoured the brave and the audience were rewarded. Good luck for the future to each and every one of the young team that put the evening together.


Preview: National Theatre Connections - The Wardrobe at Newcastle People's Theatre

Preview: National Theatre Connections - The Wardrobe at Newcastle People's Theatre

The Young People’s Theatre will be performing Sam Holcroft's "The Wardrobe" at The People’s Theatre on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd February as part of National Theatre Connections – a nationwide celebration of new plays for young people.

Connections is produced by the National Theatre and supported by a number of individuals, trusts and foundations. Each year new plays are commissioned for and about young people from some of the best contemporary playwrights, for performance by schools and youth theatres all over the UK and Ireland, making Connections one of the world’s largest celebrations of youth theatre.

This newly-written piece features a cast of over 20 young actors aged between 13 and 18, and takes audiences through over 500 years of history in under 50 minutes.  Combining both light-hearted and deeply moving moments, The Wardrobe sees a range of characters taking refuge in the same wardrobe in order to seek shelter from the dangers of their time. 

The cast is delighted to be presenting material which gives the opportunity to portray such a diverse range of experiences, but which they feel will have a profound resonance with modern audiences.  Additionally, there is always the excitement of knowing that of the 230 groups taking part nationwide, 10 will be selected to take their production to be performed at the National Theatre in London.

The entire process has been an educational experience for all concerned, with the directorial team having had the opportunity to attend National Theatre workshops in order to help deliver techniques and skills from the world of professional theatre-makers to develop the skill and talent of Young People’s Theatre members.

This limited two-night run precedes its transfer to Northern Stage for an additional performance on Tuesday 22nd April.


DATE:             Friday 21 – Saturday 22 March 2014
TIME:               7.00pm
VENUE:           The Studio Upstairs, The People’s Theatre, Stephenson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne,
TICKETS:        £9 (Concessions £5)
TELE:              0191 265 5020


I’m a dog too! - Mr Peabody and Sherman film review

I’m a dog too!

 Mr Peabody and Sherman

Dreamworks 2014 release

It’s the February half term release and the cinemas will be hoping it fills that gap that is entertaining for the children and not too bad for their supervising adults.

Rob Minkoff directs this animation which features a dog called Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) who, in addition to being a Noble Prize winning genius, adopts a human child called Sherman (Max Charles). Using his time travelling WABAC machine he teaches his son everything he thinks he needs to know. Unfortunately when he starts at school he faces Penny (Ariel Winter) who isn’t keen on the smart child.  Mr Peabody decides to invite the family around in order to smooth things over and then the fun begins.

A story about time travel or indeed about meeting yourself isn’t new. However for the generation this film is aimed at it will be less of a re-tread whilst their parents nod towards Bill & Ted. The pace is good and the quality of the animation very good. We saw it in 2D and did not feel that we were missing out in any way. The music helps keep the tension going. Most of the jokes put a smile on my face even if I didn’t find myself laughing – certainly they were a lot better than the Harry Hill film that we saw in the last holiday.

All in all it is not a bad way to spend a cold February afternoon with the family.


How to be Immortal - A preview

How to be Immortal - A preview

Penny Dreadful Theatre present a brand new show about love, death and science:

How to be Immortal
By Mira Dovreni

Comes to Live Theatre Newcastle Friday 21 & Saturday 22 February, 7.30pm

Directed by Kirsty Housley
Created with the Cast: Clare Perkins, Anna‐Helena McLean and John McKeever
And with scientists Gareth Ackland (UCL), Anna Gutierrez‐del‐Arroyo (UCL) and
Duncan Wilson (Manchester)
Designed by Angela Simpson
Lighting Design by Matt Haskins
Music and Sound Design by Barnaby Race
Animation Artist: Gemma Burditt
From the creators of highly acclaimed, innovative shows including The Bitches Box, The Missionary’s Position and Penny Dreadful’s Etherdome, comes a new show exploring one of the great moments in scientific discovery – the eternal human cancer cells.
In Penny Dreadful Theatre’s new show, How to be Immortal, writer Mira Dovreni weaves together two different stories contemplating immortality. They are set in different centuries: the true story of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cancer cells in the 1950s, and a young couple in the present who derive a smidgen of hope from her story.  A third story explores one of the most extraordinary advances in science: the mapping of DNA.
Created in collaboration with scientists from UCL and Manchester University and with original music based on a sound code interpreting DNA, this show blends science and human emotion in a unique exploration of the theme of coping with life after losing a loved one.
Rosa has fallen in love with Mick the decorator. She plays the cello, he plays the squeezebox – an unlikely combination but they sound great together. Trouble is she’s pregnant and he’s about to die.
Henrietta Lacks died in West Virginia in 1951, but her cells are still alive, dividing endlessly in laboratories all over the world.  It’s taken Deborah years to come to terms with her mother’s death.  Now she’s got to deal with her immortality.
If we didn’t have bodies would we live forever?  Its 1950 and Doctor George Gey and his wife Margaret are about to make a mind‐bending discovery using homemade apparatus and some calves liver puree. All they need is the right biopsy…
Writer Mira Dovreni is one of the founders of Penny Dreadful Theatre and her extensive performing credits include The Bitches Ball and The Missionary’s Position. This is her debut as a playwright.  Actor Clare Perkins has just finished season in EastEnders, playing the popular character Ava Hartman. Director Kirsty Housley’s extensive credits in theatre include working on the recent international tour with Complicite.
Penny Dreadful Theatre’s past productions have achieved critical acclaim and sold‐out houses. The company explore forgotten figures from history, telling stories that are more complex and fascinating and definitely stranger than fiction.
For more information or to buy tickets for How to be Immortal visit or contact the box office on (0191) 232 1232.

DATES: Fri 21 & Sat 22 Feb, 7.30pm
LOCATION: Main Theatre
DURATION: 90 mins
TICKETS: £14-£10, £12-£8 over 60s, £5 concs

Tyne - Live Theatre Summer 2013


Created and edited by Michael Chaplin with contributions from Sid Chaplin, Tom Hadaway, Alan Plater and Julia Darling.
Directed by Max Roberts.        Musical Director: Kathryn Tickell

Live Theatre – until 20th July 2013.

Live Theatre reaches 40 and still continues to produce new theatre which both entertains and makes one think. This production has two parallel themes: the Tyne and family life.

The stories about life on the Tyne capture the spirit of the region and its identity. They cover the coal, shipbuilding and other manufacturing industries. Without getting party political the rise, fall and rebirth of the black river are traced. There is nod to the emigration into the area and the feed that they brought with them. Stories of the people who worked on the Tyne are intertwined with short scenes written by Sid Chaplin, Tom Hadaway, Alan Plater and Julia Darling. These apparent detours add rather than detract to the thrust of the production which flows well under the direction of Max Roberts. Live music is played by 4 talented multi-instrumentalists who also perform the roles of over 30 supporting characters.

The story of family is not unique to the region and will resonate with all audiences. No family is ideal and they all have their own stories to tell, and they have the stories that they’d rather keep quiet about. The show starts on the banks of the Tyne at a former ferry jetty. We have brother and sister Kate (Victoria Elliott) and Mark (Paul Dodds) who are mourning the death of their father Ralph (George Irving). The distance between siblings has led to a difference of opinion about the role of their father in their life.  As their family story is revealed there is resonance with our own imperfect family lives.

The set is well designed and featured sensible use of projections to add to but not distract from the story. The music by the likes of Kathryn Tickell, Jimmy Nail and Sting add further local flavour.

Tonight the audience listened, laughed, empathised and then applauded enthusiastically. This production go from strength to strength on its run until the 20th June.

30 years after the strike - the miners are remembered.

Brassed Off

York Theatre Royal 15/2/14

Touring Consortium Theatre Company /York Theatre Royal / Bolton Octagon Theatre Production

When Mark Herman wrote and directed the film Brassed Off few could have predicted how the film would become a part of British culture. It was one of the standout British movies of the mid-90s with memorable portrayals by the lovers Ewan McGregor & Tara Fitzgerald, and especially by father and son pairing Pete Postlethwaite and Stephen Tompkinson. It was therefore only natural that the story would end up on stage.

In a production which marries the issues of the pit closure programme, some 10 years after the mines strike, with the brass bands that were associated with the pits, it becomes necessary to find actors who have playing brass instruments amongst their many talents. As in the film the music becomes as much a star as any one performer.

Beyond the political background to the story there are two stories running through the play. The colliery band, led by Danny (John McArdle), is struggling to survive as the ballot to close the pit is being organised. His son Phil (Andrew Dunn) wants to remain loyal to his Dad and his band but is struggling to keep his family together. Meanwhile Andy (James Robinson) reunites with an old flame, the flugelhorn-playing Gloria (Clara Darcy) when she returns to Grimley after years away studying to be a surveyor.

Paul Allen’s adaptation of the Mark Herman screenplay has kept the balance of raw emotion and good humour and hence the audience are put through a spectrum of feelings. Each character seems to have an opportunity to make us laugh at some point in the story. The laugh out loud moments are not over the top and the sad scenes are not over played either. The set, by Splinter, enabled the action to flow and keep the pace up. But just like the film, it is the music gels the show together. Clara Darcy does an amazing job nailing the solo part Joaquín Rodrigo’s "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor" – aka “Concierto d'Orange Juice”. One also feels empathy for the wives trying to both run their families and keep the pit open whilst praying that their husbands come home.

This is a very entertaining evening in the theatre.

Brassed off has frequently use of bad language and features some adult situations which may be unsuitable for children. Having said that my son just laughed when he saw the naked bottoms in the shower scene! The play continues at the York Theatre Royal (box office 01904 623 568, website until Saturday 1st March 2014 and then on tour as follows:

Tuesday 4 – Saturday 8 March 2014
Theatre Royal
Box Office 0115 989 5555
Tuesday 11 – Saturday 15 March 2014
Alhambra Theatre
Box Office 01274 432000
Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 March 2014
Civic Theatre
Box Office 01325 486555
Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 March 2014
Everyman Theatre
Box Office 01242 572573
Tuesday 1 April – Saturday 5 April 2014
Orchard Theatre
Box Office 01322 220000
Tuesday 8– Saturday 12 April 2014
Grand Theatre
Box Office 01902 42 92 12
Tuesday 15 – Saturday 19 April 2014
Grand Theatre
Box Office 01902 42 92 12
Wednesday 23– Saturday 26 April 2014
Belgrade Theatre
Box Office  024 7655 3055
Tuesday 29 April – Saturday 3 May 2014
King's Theatre
Box Office 0131 529 6000
Wednesday 7 – Saturday 10 May 2014
Lyceum Theatre
Box Office 0114 249 6000


Dracula finds fresh blood. Dracula Hexham 1st Feb 2014

Hexham Queens Hall
1st February 2014.

Dracula finds fresh blood.

Beautiful girls with mysterious puncture wounds in their necks? Count Dracula must be in town!

Dracula has been a part of modern culture for over a hundred years. It has been the subject of countless films and plays through its clear imagery. The Blackeyed Theatre Company aim to produce honest touring plays that will attract audiences around the mid-sized venues. In their interpretation we have a fast paced play in which the 5 extremely hard working actors succeed in covering a variety of roles in this highly efficient and entertaining production.

Jonathan Harker (Will Bryant) has passed his law exams and has been sent to Transylvania to sort out the personal affairs of Count Dracula (Paul Kevin-Taylor). His fiancé Mina (Rachel Winters) agrees to get married beforehand and decides to visit her romantic friend Lucy (Katrina Gibson) in Whitby. Meanwhile Doctor Seward (Gareth Cooper) studies his inmates, including Renfield (also Will Bryant) at the asylum near to the new house that the Count plans to buy.

Once the scenario is set up the play unfolds at a rapid pace. The ensemble occasionally turn musicians and we are entertained to a number of songs and a musical journey through Europe for our intrepid Harker.   John Ginman’s script remains faithful to the Bram Stoker text. The sometimes brutal Victorian turn of phrase producing the occasional laugh from the audience. Eliot Giuralarocca’s direction is in a style that we imagine to be contemporary to its story. Keeping pace on stage is a challenge for any play and the flow is helped by Victoria Spearing’s set design and Charlotte McClelland’s lighting.

Act 2 brings a return of the story to England and Professor Van Helsing, also played by Paul Kevin-Taylor, seeks to solve the mystery of Lucy’s health problems and the disappearing children. The audience, who are used to computerised special effects on the screen gasped as the previously empty coffin suddenly had a body on it. More special effects were to come as Lucy had had head cut off resulting in applause from the appreciative crowd.

After two hours of pure theatre the five highly skilled actors took their well deserved curtain call, as they had carried us through the whirlwind of a story without any cynicism.  Too often is theatre seen as been too elitist and removed. This production won over the folk of Hexham and at just £10 a ticket it was brilliant value.  Final mention goes to Paul Kevin-Taylor’s Dracula who managed to freak out the audience at the end. He had everyone in his grasp and produced a memorable finale.

The tour continues:

Arts Centre Swindon     February 4
Courtyard Hereford    February 5- 6
Cornerstone, Didcot February 7
Bedford Theatre Bedford     February 8
ArlingtonArts, Newbury February 11-12
Embassy Theatre, Skegness February 14
Palace Theatre, Newark  February 15
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne  February 18-22
Hawth Crawley     February  26
Lighthouse Poole     February 27-March 1
Playhouse Norwich     March 4- 5
Playhouse Harlow     March 6
Connaught Worthing     March 7- 8
Middlesbrough Theatre Middlesbrough     March 12-13
Swan Theatre Worcester     March 14-15
Greenwich Theatre London     March 18-22
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford March 31- April 1