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Review of the First Half of the 2015

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The North East Theatre Guide’s
Review of the First Half of the 2015.

We love Mark Kermode and he has a run through the first half of the year at the end of June. It seems appropriate for us at the North East Theatre Guide to do it this week as all of our theatres are in the dark, preparing for their Autumn seasons.

January is always a slow start. The panto season is like a theatrical hangover however we had a great time watching The Woman In Black at Darlington Civic Theatre. It is a great venue that frequently pulls in shows that don’t head any further north. The production shows that in world in which entertainment is frequently over the top, thanks to CGI, it is still possible to make an audience jump with old theatre tricks.

The great theatrical experience is one of being part of an audience and having a shared emotion. This could be fear, sadness, happiness or laughter. 2014 witnessed the whole auditorium at the Theatre Royal cheer as “No one puts baby in the corner” 2015 witnessed the Civic Theatre in Darlington and Newcastle’s Theatre Royal fill with laughter during Peter Pan Goes Wrong It is an energetic performance which will be one of the comedies of the year when we reflect back at Christmas. The show follows on from the extremely funny The Play That Goes Wrong which is still on in the West End. We think the original was hard to beat.

Some very powerful shows came to the region including For The Best from our local Operating Theatre Company  The show was successful in raising important issues without being overly preachy. It returns in a double bill with a new show The Sitting Room to the Arts Centre in Washington in September

We love theatre and we love the vast majority of shows that we are lucky to see. That’s the reasons why we tend to publish positive reviews. But we are not afraid to point the finger when the experience wasn’t good. A show that missed the mark, in our opinion, was the professional tour of Calamity Jane It sucked. Badly. But, like buses, another one came along. The amateur version at the Queens Hall in Hexham understood that the show should be entertaining, and start on time!

Indeed, it has been a great year for the amateur shows. By adopting professional standards they are rarely a second rate choice for an evening’s entertainment. Great value coupled with cracking stories make for a great night. Things go wrong: a wig falls off or a gun fails to fire – but that happens in the pro shows too. Somehow the recovery ensures everyone has a good night. On the big stage we had Hairspray at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre Sister Act at the Theatre Royal
Over at People Theatre exciting plans are building up which will see the redevelopment of the site They continue to produce some great shows from comedies like Yes, Prime Minister the pick of the bunch They Shoot Horses, Don’t They

What The Body Does Not Remember at Northern Stage 5 Soldiers at Dance City showed what a vibrant art form dance can be. It is an old cliché but each performer was giving 100% and putting their body on the line for our entertainment.

An article in a national theatre weekly suggested that the musical could be a dying art form thanks to the Jukebox Musical. Playing devils advocate it could be argued that these shows are bringing in new audiences and filling theatres when the pantos stop. In doing so they may encourage the new crowd to see the traditional shows.  The traditional musicals pulled in some crowds in the North East.
Brian Conley and Linzi Hateley wowed Theatre Royal crowds with their circus antics in Barnum, a show so good we saw it twice Talking of Linzi, she first appeared on Broadway in the disastrous 1988 musical Carrie, a show that the RSC have tried to forget. Carrie finally made it to London in a rebooted version that was a delight to watch and could end up being our musical of the year Another trip to London would be for the Green Day Musical American Idiot. This was a novel jukebox show as it had virtually no book, but it was still an exciting show. Locally the Nice Swan theatre group put together an exciting crop of upcoming talent when they brought The Chorus Line to the Tyne Theatre

The Tyne Theatre is going through a period of change with new management. An interesting project that they tried was using the stage for an art exhibition of local cinemas We hope they have every success at the theatre.

The NETG team have a soft spot for spoken word shows. Alphabetti Theatre is one of the areas newest theatres and has been the host to a number of spoken word shows such as The Palace of Varieties The Edinburgh fringe will be a better place thanks to the proving ground provided by such venues.

Some shows are hard to squeeze into a pigeon hole. One great show was Frank Sumatra which we caught at the Customs House in South Shields Set up as a radio show in which the titular star was a set of sound effects, it was a great laugh.

Variety is the spice of life and the variety show still pulls in the crowds in the region from charity shows such as the one for the Smile for Life charity old favourites such as the marathon tour for Ken Dodd

We love a good laugh and in addition to Ken Dodd we had a chance to finally see Jasper Carrott with ELO legend Bev Bevan at Darlington’s Civic Theatre He will be returning to the Tyne Theatre soon. Northern Stage was host to one of our more politically savvy comedians Mark Thomas He may have stated his dislike of bloggers but we still love him and recommend his shows. He is one comic who changes his material completely for each tour.

Drama is central to theatre and a great story can educate, entertain and change lives. I will never forget the effect that Unfolding Theatre’s Best In The World had on me. This year has seen some cracking drama. The Paper Birds brough Broke to the Arts Centre Washington raised a few eyebrows with it’s cutting commentary on debt. Northern Stage’s Lorne Campbell directed an engaging production of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac It was another recent show at Northern Stage which was a must by for anyone’s multibuy ticket.

When we left the Customs House in May, with donkey in hand, after seeing the moving The Man And The Donkey we were really happy. The story shows how local legend John Simpson Kirkpatrick had saved so many lives with a great local cast under the fabulous direction of Jackie Fielding None of us realised that Jackie would be taken from us during that week.  She has left her mark in local theatre and the upcoming production of Geordie The Musical is a tribute to Jackie

Our local home of new writing is the Live Theatre tucked away on the Newcastle Quayside. As development work is carried out to provide a new writing centre and an outdoor performance space, there has been some high calibre shows. From the troubles facing Donna Disco the game of chess that is politics Live Theatre has never been shy to pull a few punches.

One drama which is stunning and is well worth catching is The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time It is one show that has created a lot of praise with its strong story, great acting and stunning effects.  The audience at the Sunderland Empire were on their feet to acknowledge the quality of the production. Could this be the drama of the season when we look back in December?

So that sums up the last eight months. Great shows at a range of wonderful theatres. Looking ahead, there is plenty to look forward before Panto season begins.

Stephen Oliver.

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