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Review: The Best of 2016

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The Best of 2016

2016 was another great year for the North East Theatre Guide. We more than doubled the readership of the theatre blog during the year which continues to go from strength to strength.

Stats wise: This year 244000 (2015:115 000) read the guide which featured 133 (2015: 93) reviews and it had a peak readership of over 30300 in a month. Thanks go to everyone who read, wrote or helped out in any way in helping us to celebrate North East theatre.  The review which created the most traffic was Bishop Auckland’s open air spectacular Kynren Now we don’t claim to see every show but here are the shows that stood out for us from those we covered.

We don’t pretend that this is anything other than a list of what we liked. We don’t go on anything technical or clever – we are just members of the audience that say if we liked the show or not, nothing more or less. You may disagree – great! We will be happy that the theatre that you saw caused you to react in that way. Please remember that we are Newcastle based and for most of this year the roadworks on the A1 has prevented us from attending shows in the southern half of the region after work. 

The Proud to be in the North East Award:
Here is the first surprise, as neither Jo or I saw the winner, but we value the opinion of our reviewer plus the audience reaction. Baby Love and Ultimate Warrior were both very personal shows and had a real impact. We thought about Billy Elliot but we’d like to keep this category local.

2 Baby Love at Durham Gala and  South Shields Customs House

TheLaugh out loud stand up comedy award:
A tough category as a number of great stand up tours have come to the region, especially at the Tyne Theatre. We are going to allow Steffen to hold the title for 2 years as his ingenious format generates a different show every time you see it. Suggestibles are always a favourite annual trip and form the perfect antidote to the panto season.  We are pleased to note the return of the Grinning Idiot back at St Doms. It is great value and good fun.

2 The Suggestibles Improv Pantso at Newcastle Northern Stage

The Stunning set design award:
Did you go to Kynren? We have to admit we wondered if they’d pull it off – and they did! They plan to return bigger and better next year. The Theatre Royal has had a good year in the stunning department and the set of Lord of the Flies was another close contender.

2015: Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Sunderland Empire

The Best dance production award:
Dance continues to develop in the region and we have two fabulous tours that visited the region and a locally produced show that could easily have gone in our North East Pride category.

The Best amateur musical award:
Oh boy, there was some debate about this group as we have a lot of talented people who appear in these shows. Spamalot was as good as the professional show we saw a few years ago and just shows how good “amateur” can be. Tyne Theatre has had a number of entertaining shows this year and, in our opinion, Sweeney Todd was the pick of the bunch. Keeping the Stephen Sondheim theme going, we were impressed with the Newcastle College show and the young actors have a great future ahead of them we’re sure.

TheBest musical award:
Another surprise? This was a close one and the result of much debate. This is down to personal preference and we admit it – we love The Kinks! It was probably the best “jukebox” musical we’ve seen. Poppins was a great success too and quite rightly attracted a lot of praise. Avenue Q is another, shameless, one we love and regularly play the cast recording (when not in polite company of course). Special mention for Tom – the Tom Jones Musical – which was much better than some newspaper critics would let you believe.

The Best Show for Children:
Regular readers will know that we love the Christmas show at Northern Stage and this year’s show was no exception. These shows were Robert’s introduction to theatre and from that a real passion has developed. Savage, however, did something very brave – it aimed itself at older children than are usually the case for kids shows. This is a move that should be encouraged. The magic show Impossible just missed out in this category and is still worth a mention.

2015:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Newcastle Northern Stage

The Best new writing award:
This is always the toughest category to do as there is so much wonderful new writing in the North East. Alphabetti had a string of great shows and we wish them every success in relocating when the current venue is closed for redevelopment. The Rooms in 2016 was a brand new show with 3 new plays to experience and hence it can take the title again. Meanwhile Live Theatre had a cracking year and didn’t put a foot wrong with its ambitious programming. Likewise Northern Stage continues to push the boat out on stages 2 and 3. Just missing out is The Customs House in South Shields which is regularly pulling in new writing talent and taking a risk rather than just programming the regular pot boilers. With all 4 venues we can recommend taking a risk if you are free one evening next year and fancy seeing a show without breaking the bank. Yes, we have a joint third place because that is easier than a divorce.

2 How To Make A Killing In Bollywood at Newcastle Northern Stage

The Most entertaining pantomime
Ray Spencer MBE and his team had us all in stitches for start to finish. It set the bar extremely high in entertaining the audience and ensuring something for everyone. The chasing pack are catching up and the other 3 pantos deserve a billing for making us laugh and getting a reaction out of the youngsters in the audience. There is something magical when you hear children going “wow!” in a show.

3 Aladdin – Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre

The Most spectacular Christmas show
The North East has big pantos too and each one has their own merits. All three were better than last year which is good news as standards continue to improve. Panto is important as, for many kids, it will be the first experience of live theatre. We need to capture their hearts and minds and encourage them to try something else which is live and not on a screen. 

3 Beauty And The Beast at Newcastle Tyne Theatre and Opera House

The Laugh Out Loud funniest production
The not-so-wee-these-days-man always gets the job of nominating this one. He didn’t know what to expect and loved it. We hope Sell-A-Door continue to bring shows to the Tyne Theatre.

2015:    Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Darlington Civic Theatre

The Best amateur play:
Three great shows here from a venue that has had the builders in this year and is undergoing an extensive revamp. We cannot wait to visit the new studio theatre when it opens. Be My Baby was really emotional and feature superb young acting talent. Richard III was incredible and Lords and Ladies was the best Pratchett adaptation to date.

2015: They Shoot Horses Don’t They – Newcastle Peoples Theatre

The Best Adaptation award:
Again. No apologies. We loved the funny 39 Steps. We are massive fans of Get Carter (read the book, got the DVD etc). We were pleased with Lord of the Flies which was studied at O Level (ask your grandparents). We are biased. Get over it.

2015:    Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour  Newcastle Live Theatre

The Best Shakespeare award
A new category – but we’ve seen a fair bit of Bill’s work this year. Cranked Anvil nearly got a clean sweep if it wasn’t for Colin Jeffery’s power hungry Richard III. Romeo has a toon vs mackem adaptation which worked well. Henry was rebooted for the Great War and, once again, brought the Bard’s work to life with its relevance.

The Best drama award
This was always going to be a tough one as 2016 was a great year for drama. The Father was personal. It was clever and well interpreted however it was nevertheless personal. Likewise The 56 means a lot to a pair of Yorkshire football fans who support, what was at the time, another club that was going nowhere. The harrowing detail remains with us as we know what our ground was like at the time. Bollywood was a very clever script which was executed very well and shows the high standards achieved by shows on Stage 2 at Northern Stage.

3 How To Make A Killing In Bollywood at Newcastle Northern Stage

The Best at Edinburgh Fringe award
Fringe was fun. Shows definitely fell into 2 categories: the good and the meh! Not all shows seen had reviews written about them. They simply weren’t good enough to have to spend time writing them up. The Blueswater Blues show nearly made the cut. Of the 35 shows seen, it is Lifted, Cat Loud and Jay’s Trump show that we still regularly talk about months later.

So that leaves, once again, a thank you to everyone that has helped us by reading, reviewing, performing, inviting and booking the shows.  Special mention goes to the very patient Joanne and our son Robert. He is only 13 and has literally sat through over a hundred shows.  For the record Robert’s top pick this year was Avenue Q and Jo puts The Rooms at the top of her list.

Finally, we like to put on record our sincere thanks to one amazing lady who was a big supporter of the North East Theatre Guide. Dawn Taylor was full of support, ideas and encouragement and we were extremely saddened to hear about her very severe stroke. We wish her a full and speedy recovery and would like her family to know that they remain in our thoughts.

Happy New Year!
Stephen Oliver
North East Theatre Guide


Preview: MK Ultra at Newcastle Dance City

MK Ultra
Newcastle Dance City
Friday 28th& Saturday 29th April 2017

A new dance work inspired by the bizarre realm of pop culture, mind control conspiracies and Illuminati imagery

MK ULTRA reunites award-winning 5 SOLDIERS creative team

Lady Gaga designer Gary Card creates his first costume designs for contemporary dance
Rosie Kay Dance Company, headed by artistic director and choreographer Rosie Kay and winner of Best Independent Company at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards in 2015, will tour its new work MK Ultrafrom 17 March to 18 May 2017.

Rosie Kay Dance Company - MK ULTRA
photo: Brian Slater
Rosie Kay is one of the UK’s leading female choreographers and is renowned for her athletic movement, rigorous research and intelligent theatricality. Kay, a research associate to the University of Oxford School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, choreographed the hit feature film Sunshine on Leith and is best known for the five star and award-winning 5 Soldiers (NETG: REVIEW LINK).  

Following several years exploring the weird world of conspiracy theories, inspired by the bizarre realm of pop culture, mind control and Illuminati imagery, MK ULTRA will bring a hypnotic, high energy, supercharged mash-up of dance, music and imagery to the stage.
Renowned for tackling important, pertinent and challenging subject matters, RKDC looks at a weird world of symbolism, hidden messages and occult signs and deconstructs it for an aware and an unaware audience.
MK Ultra is a CIA code word for a real LSD fuelled brainwashing technique developed by the US military. Popular conspiracy theory believes that MK Ultra is still active and programmes high profile public figures and celebrities such as pop stars Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Rhianna - puppets of the ‘Illuminati’, a shadowy elite intent on creating a New World Order of authoritarian world government.

In MK Ultra, Kay, with a typically fearless eye, delves deeply into this world and conjures up something entirely new, subverting the subversive. If you didn’t know about the Illuminati, you soon will and if you did, expect MK Ultra to shatter the Illuminati’s illusory control.

For MK Ultra, Kay is reunited with the award winning 5 Soldiers creative team- composer Annie Mahtani (Asylum, Supernova and 5 Soldiers); set and video designer Louis Price (designs include: The Emperor, Young Vic/Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg; The Rotters Club, Birmingham Rep; Stravinsky: Tales, Philarmonia/RFH Southbank; The Etienne Sisters, Theatre Royal Stratford; The Funfair, Home, Manchester and 5 Soldiers); lighting designer Mike Gunning (designs include: The Emperor, Inkheart, Romeo and Juliet, Home, Manchester; Crime and Punishment, Moscow Musical Theater; The Drowned Man, Punch Drunk; Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East; The Second Mrs Tanqueray, The Rose Theatre Kingston; The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Alchemist, Everyman, Liverpool; and 5 Soldiers); and dramaturg Tessa Walker.
Marking his first design for contemporary dance is MK Ultra’s costume designer Gary Card. A set designer, illustrator and one of London’s most talked about talents, Card has worked with pop stars such as Lady Gaga, designing props and headdresses for her Monster Ball tour. His clients have included Comme Des Garçons, Topshop, House of Holland, Nike, Adidas, Stella McCartney and Penguin.
Rosie Kay, artistic director of Rosie Kay Dance Company, said: “MK Ultra is the result of three years intense research, which have taken me through the world of surveillance, state police, torture and brainwashing, through to pop culture, mainstream media and celebrity breakdowns, all the way back to politics and a comment on the post-culturism state we are in now.
Spending time exploring the deep rabbit hole of conspiracy theory took me into strange realms of CIA brainwashing, celebrity training and Illuminati symbolism hidden in pop culture.  At a time when everything is fake, or at least we don’t trust what’s real any more, MK Ultra looks at what this world really feels like and what affect it is having on us, whether we know it or not.
I’m working with the most exciting team, which includes costume designer Gary Card who has worked with everyone from Stella McCartney to Lady Gaga. Long-time collaborators return with Louis Price doing set and video design, Annie Mahtani composing and adapting high produced pop, and Mike Gunning designing the lighting. Tessa Walker joins as dramaturg from Birmingham REP.
Be prepared for high-energy, high-octane dance, a mash up of dance styles, subliminal and secret messages, incredible video, light and costume visuals, music that wraps around your senses and a deeper, darker political edge. Be prepared, there is twerking.
MK Ultra will feature seven outstanding dancers- Shanelle Clemenson, Harriet Ellis, Shelley Eva Haden, Lizzie Klotz, Joao Maio, Ryan Munroe and Oliver Russell.
MK Ultra is supported using public funding by Arts Council England and is commissioned by DanceXchange, Warwick Arts Centre & Birmingham Repertory Theatre. 

Age Guidance:14+ - this is a guideline not a restriction. The work deals with adult themes including those of a sexual nature.

Duration:Approximately 90 minutes, including interval.
On The Web:
Twitter: @rosiekaydanceco // Facebook: #MKUltraDance
2017 tour dates and listings information:
Fri 17 & Sat 18 March at 7.45pm
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Broad Street, BIRMINGHAM, B1 2EP
Thu 23 March at 7.30pm
Performing Arts Centre, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, LINCOLN, LN6 7TS
Tickets: 01522 837600 //
Thu 30 March at 8pm
Brewery Arts Centre, 122a Highgate, KENDAL, LA9 4HE

Wed 5 April at 7.30pm
York Theatre Royal, St Leonard's Place, YORK, YO1 7HD

Thu 20 April at 7.30pm
Laban Theatre, Laban Building, Creekside, Deptford, LONDON, SE8 3DZ
Tickets: 020 8463 0100 //

Tue 25 April at 8pm
Eden Court TheatreBishops Road, INVERNESS, IV3 5SA

Friday 28th& Saturday 29th April at 7.30pm

Dance City, Temple Street, NEWCASTLE, NE1 4BR

Wed 3 & Thu 4 May at 7.30pm
HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, M15 4FN
Tickets: 0161 200 1500 //  

Tue 9 May at 7.30pm
Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre Northern Ballet Quarry Hill, LEEDS, LS2 7PA
Tickets: 0113 220 8008 //

Thu 11 & Fri 12 May at 7.30pm
WarwickArts Centre, University of Warwick, COVENTRY, CV4 7AL
Tickets: 024 7652 4524 //

Thu 18 May at 7.30pm
Macrobert Arts Centre Universityof Stirling, STIRLING, FK9 4LA
Tickets: 01786 466666 //