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Preview: Shows in Sunderland in January


Next month Sunderland Empire has as a mix of one-night showstoppers that are set to take the stage by storm. First up and featuring eight top-flight musicians and a world-class crew, UK Pink Floyd Experience (Saturday 12 January) is a concert-based production which authentically recreates the atmosphere of a Pink Floyd live performance.

With over 50 years of hits by this legendary band, the highly acclaimed show also features over two hours of songs from both iconic albums Dark Side Of The Moon and Animals as well as Wish You Were Here, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Another Brick In The Wall and Comfortably Numb. With outstanding musicianship, superb vocals, and incredible production including impressive video projection on a large circular screen and a stunning light show this spellbinding concert is a true celebration of all things Floyd and appeals to fans of all ages.
UK Pink Floyd Experience Tickets:

The Johnny Cash Roadshow (Monday 21 January) is the only show to be endorsed by the Cash family and is back on top form with a brand new production. Award winning front man, Clive John, dedicates this year to a 50th anniversary tour of the legendary San Quentin State Prison recordings. Alongside Clive is Cash’s iconic wife June Carter played by Emily Heighway, a world class band (Spirit band) and the JCR horns.

Songs from the San Quentin live album will be performed, alongside all the hits and favourite songs that we all know and love, including Ring of Fire, Walk the Line. With full video projection, The Johnny Cash Roadshow is simply the biggest and best celebration of Johnny Cash in the world today.
The Johnny Cash Roadshow Tickets:

Next up The Sensational 60’s Experience (Thursday 24 January) returns with a brand new production for 2019 and bringing a three hour 60’s spectacular of pure nostalgia.

The show with the definite feel good factor will transport you back to that magical decade that was the 1960’s. Starring Mike Pender (Original voice of The Searchers) Chris Farlowe, Herman’s Hermits, The Swinging Blue Jeans, New Amen Corner and The Dakotas and The Fourmost. Hits include Needles and Pins, Out Of Time, I’m Into Something Good, Hippy Hippy Shake, Bend Me Shape Me, Little Children, A Little Lovin, plus many more.  
The Sensational 60’s Experience Tickets:

Celebrating the music of the world’s greatest rock and roll band, The Rolling Stones Story (Saturday 26 January) hits the road featuring all the classic hits of the world’s most influential rock n’ roll band, allowing the audience to experience their incredible journey.

It’s London...1962... and one of the most successful and critically acclaimed rock bands of all time is born. The Rolling Stones are rock and roll, an institution, pure and simple. At the forefront of a cultural revolution, they transformed rock music. Their guitar riffs are the basis of all rock n roll, by 1963 the time was right, Mick’s lips, Mick’s hips, Keith and Brian’s pulsating groove and The Rolling Stones were fanning the flames of rebellion.

The Rolling Stones Story is fast becoming a firm favourite and the most authentic tribute to Mick and the boys on the UK theatre scene today. This is a must see show for all lovers of rock ‘n roll. Some c’mon, Let’s Spend The Night Together!
The Rolling Stones Story Tickets:

Booking Information:
Tickets on sale now and available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online at*
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings

Preview: Benidorm at Sunderland Empire


Sunderland Empire
Monday 14th – Saturday 19th January 2019

The festive season may be upon us but Sunderland Empire are set for a dose of fun in the sun when Benidorm Live checks in for one week only, 14-19 January 2019.

Derren Litten's smash hit ITV comedy BENIDORM is set to bring sunshine and smiles to the Sunderland Empire stage with all your favourite stars from the Solana Hotel including Jake Canuso (Mateo), Janine Duvitski (Jacqueline), Sherrie Hewson (Joyce Temple-Savage), Shelley Longworth (Sam), Tony Maudsley (Kenneth) and Neptune’s very own Asa Elliott.

ITV’s award-winning comedy celebrates over a decade of all-inclusive hilarity, having followed the ensemble cast of holiday makers and staff for ten series since it first broadcast in 2007. Critically acclaimed, Benidorm has received two National Television Awards a TV Quick Award and nominations at the British Comedy Awards and BAFTAs since it first broadcast in 2007.

Derren Litten has now written an all new set of Alicante escapades for the much-loved cast members as they swap sangria for the stage - after a quick spruce up at the Blow ‘n’ Go!

After leaving school in Hull in the late 1980’s Derren Litten spent a year working as a professional magician whilst auditioning for drama schools.  He won a place on the 3 year acting course at the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama where he met fellow student Catherine Tate.  

After 10 years of working as an actor, Derren was asked by Catherine to write for her newly commissioned TV sketch show, The Catherine Tate Show; in which he also appeared in many of the sketches.  After co-writing and appearing in two series and a Christmas Special, Derren was given a script commission by legendary comedy producer Geoffrey Perkins, “just write anything you want as long as it’s funny” he said; that show turned out to be ITV’s BAFTA nominated hit comedy Benidorm.

The show is produced for the stage by Michael Harrison and David Ian.

Benidorm creator, Derren Litten chats about Benidorm Live, ahead of checking check in to Sunderland Empire, 14-19 January 2019.

What inspired you to write Benidorm?

After co-writing and appearing in The Catherine Tate Show I was asked by the same producer, the late, great Geoffrey Perkins, to write my own show. I didn’t want to write a sketch show so I decided to write a more traditional comedy. Although I had never been to Benidorm and to this day I have no idea why I called it that.

Do the characters shape the story or is it the other way around?

In the beginning when I was still finding my way with the characters it was the latter, but as I got to know our crazy Benidorm family it definitely became the former.

Are the characters inspired by people you know?

I used to think not but sometimes, often years later, I’ll be watching an episode of Benidorm and it will suddenly dawn on me that The Oracle was someone I met on holiday in Egypt in 1998 or that Madge was named after my auntie who also had a daughter called Janice.

The actors we see on-screen are the ones on stage. Did they need much persuading to tread the boards and do Benidorm Live?

You’ve got to be kidding! They all jumped at the chance. In 10 series of Benidorm I’ve had 180 characters who had speaking parts. Obviously not all of those were regulars but when people heard I was writing a live stage show I got emails from many of them telling me they were available!

It was a very difficult choice of which of the regular characters to put in the show but I let the story dictate that.

Who would you share sunbed space with?

I’m not sure there would be much space for another person, even though I’ve just lost 5 stones in weight! Maybe Pauline as she’d spend most of the time at the bar leaving me to top up my tan in peace.

Which of the actors most closely resembles the character they play?

None of them really, oddly the one who is least like their character is Pauline, Selina Griffiths who plays her is completely teetotal.

What can audiences expect their characters to get up to in the stage show?

The stage show is like the best episode of Benidorm ever with singing and dancing on top! If you watched series 10 you’ll be wondering what is the fate of The Solana Hotel and everyone’s jobs, come to see the live show and you’ll find out.

Which of the characters is most like Derren?

Derren Litten is an amalgamation of every character that has ever been in the show. Yes, I’m as terrified by that answer as everyone else should be.

Photos: Paul Coltas

On The Web:
Twitter: @benidormonstage
Instagram: @benidormonstage

Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online from our affiliates ATG Tickets:
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your plus your phone company's access charge. Booking and transaction fees may apply.

NEWS: Theatre Royal announces new season


Rebus: Long Shadows Feb ‘19
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin May ‘19
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet – Oct ‘19

Racial injustice in the Deep South, murder on the streets of Edinburgh, an epic wartime love story on a Greek island and a creepy mansion with a rock and roll party in full swing – Newcastle Theatre Royal has it all in its Spring/Summer ‘19 season, recently announced.

Our spectacular season opens with Rebus: Long Shadows (25 Feb – 2 Mar 2019) - Ian Rankin’s famous literary creation brought to life on stage for the very first time with an  all-star cast led by Charles Lawson (Coronation Street), Cathy Tyson
(Mona Lisa) and John Stahl (Game of Thrones). Rankin’s legendary Rebus novels have dominated bestseller tables and primetime TV screens but now with the assistance of award-winning playwright Rona Munro (The James Plays), Newcastle theatre goers can now be mesmerised by Edinburgh’s most famous Detective Inspector in a thrilling live stage experience.

Back by popular demand is the critically acclaimed production of one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, To Kill a Mockingbird which visits 25 – 30 March 2019. A sell out success on the Theatre Royal stage when it visited in 2015 this moving show retells Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of racial tensions in a small-town community of the Deep South in the 1930s. Produced by London's award-winning Regent’s Park Theatre it has been critically acclaimed for capturing the warmth, poignancy and magic of the best-loved classic.

Hailed as the theatrical event of its generation and winning more awards than any other production in history, the National Theatre’s landmark production An Inspector Calls returns in the autumn (22 – 26 October ‘19). Stephen Daldry’s epic adaptation of JB Priestley’s classic thriller has enthralled more than 4 million people worldwide and continues to claim new fans with every tour.  Stirring, thought provoking and eerie, it centres on the arrival of mysterious Inspector Goole at a dinner party held by the prosperous Birling family.  Investigating the death of a young woman, his startling revelations shake the very foundations of their lives and challenge us all to examine our consciences. More relevant now than ever, this is a must-see for a whole new generation of theatregoers.

In May we visit the picturesque Greek island of Cephalonia for an unforgettable love story set against the turbulent backdrop of World War II in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (21 – 25 May 2019).  Based on Louis de Bernières’ best-selling novel that inspired the hit film, this world premiere production, marking the book’s 25th anniversary, tells the compelling story of beautiful Islander Pelagia and how her and her father’s peaceful life on the idyllic  island is turned upside down by the arrival of war and foreign occupation.

From one kind of forbidden love to another as October brings a breath-taking new production from probably the world’s hottest choreographer Matthew Bourne in Romeo and Juliet (9 – 12 October 2019).  A passionate and contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s classic love story, two young lovers must follow their hearts as they risk everything to be together. Bursting with youth and vitality, the North East’s brightest young dance talent join the incredible skill of the New Adventures company in this sublime new production. Romeo and Juliet follows the company’s critically acclaimed and box-office smashing predecessors Swan Lake, Cinderella and The Red Shoes.

The Rocky Horror Show 
A summer spook-tacular signals it’s time to ‘Do the Time Warp Again’ in The Rocky Horror Show - Richard O’Brien’s legendary monster-mash rock ‘n’ roll musical making its Theatre Royal debut between 5 and 10 Aug 2019!  With an all-star cast headed by Duncan James (Blue, Hollyoaks) as Dr Frank’n’Furte and packed with timeless floor-filling classics like Sweet Transvestite, it is the story of two squeaky clean college kids – Brad and his fiancée Janet, who’s car breaks down outside a creepy mansion where a rock and roll party is in full swing…

Saturday Night Fever 
Shows for 2019 also include the behemoth extravaganza Les Misérables (15 Aug – 5 Oct ‘ 19), music and dance spectacular Saturday Night Fever (5 - 9 Mar ’19), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sparkling musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2 - 6 April ’19), family favourite Annie starring newly-announced Anita Dobson (8-13 April ’19),   
Motown the Musical
‘soul-sational’ West End hit Motown the Musical (4 - 22 June ‘19), breath-taking blockbuster musical starring just-announced Alexandra Burke The Bodyguard (23 July – 3 Aug ‘19), gripping thriller The Girl on the Train (29 April – 4 May ‘19), one of Britain’s most successful shows ever The Full Monty (15 - 20 April ’19) and many more! Not forgetting that over 15,000 tickets have already been sold for 2019’s spellbinding festive spectacular Beauty and the Beast - one of the most romantic pantos of all time (26 Nov 2019 - 19 Jan 2020).

Tickets for all new shows in the spring / summer ’19 season are now on sale and can be purchased online at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge).


The Best of 2018

The Best of 2018

2018 has been a fun year for us at the North East Theatre Guide. Our sister publication the North East Music Guide has also built up its reputation too for reviews and photography from Carliol Photography.

Thanks go to everyone who read, wrote or helped out in any way in helping us to celebrate North East theatre.  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 at the time that the list is put together.  Ask us on another day and you might get a different order. 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 that will put a limit on how far we can reach out. Sad but true.  It was only when we got to the end of the year that we realised we had only visited one particular coastal theatre twice – and both visits were for pantos. That’s the way it is. However, we welcome reviews to be submitted and that has helped us to cover more shows in a bigger area this year.

Our review of the year has already had some traffic/discussion. So here goes another opportunity to upset people by missing “their” show out.

We do wonder if anyone reads these lists… but this year, more than any other, we have seen our thoughts splattered across posters and flyers. In case you’re wondering – this is just a virtual pat on the back, we don’t issue certificates or hold an award ceremony. Anyone who knows us would know that we wouldn’t turn up to it!

The Proud To Be In The North East Award:
This is one award in which the order could be different on another day as each show is really different and has different strengths. The Last Ship was a big undertaking for Northern Stage and director Lorne Campbell. Perhaps it should have started over here rather than in America? Rowan McCabe told a very personal journey but reveals a lot about the North East Spirit on his journey around the region. When The Boat Comes In is the latest in a line of shows produced by the Customs House in an effort to make their output relevant to its local community.
1.       The Last Ship at Newcastle Northern Stage  
3.       When The Boat Comes In at South Shields Customs House  

2015:   Geordie The Musical – South Shields Customs House

The Laugh-Out-Loud Standup Comedy Award:
Sarah is a big name and, to her credit, she pays several nights at the Westgate Road theatre rather than a single night in a 10K+ arena. The end result is a really personal experience for the audience rather than watching a big screen at the back of an aircraft hangar. The Opera House is a really good venue for comedy. Big enough for a great vibe, small enough to feel that you’re part of the show. We did see one comedy event at the arena and watched most of it off the screens.
Lee on the other hand was involved in both our first and last review. It will only be a matter of time before we see him on a bigger stage.
1.       Sarah Millican at Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House  
2.       Lee Kyle – several shows including Kicking Potatoes Into The Sea  
3.       Dave Spikey at Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House

2016 Steffen Peddie 99 Problems And The Chips Still Ain’t One

The Stunning Set Design Award:
One word. Helicopter.
I saw Miss Saigon back in the 90s in the West End and wondered how well it’d transfer. I need not have worried as it was superb.
The Last Ship had some innovations with the screens and was a rare show in that it used the width of Northern Stage’s main venue.
Fox & Shriek’s design got national recognition this year and it was what we were discussing on the way home from that panto.
3.       Beauty & The Beast at South Shields Customs House

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

The Best Dance Production Award:
In our review we mentioned that it had been a quiet year, for us, on the dance front. The return of The Trocks is worth flagging up as their show help break down the barriers between non-dance fans and ballet.
1.       Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at Newcastle Theatre Royal

2017 Mark Murphy's V-Tol: Out of This World at Newcastle Northern Stage

The Best Amateur Musical Award:
The standard was high this year. There is a danger to go for a very large cast – I guess it helps ticket sales! But a large cast is not always a sign of quality.
1.       Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
2.       Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Darlington Hippodrome

2015: Hairspray – Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House

The Best Musical Award:
The Empire has had a cracking year on the musicals front and, looking at the shows announced already for 2019, it will do so again. As for Tom & Bunny / Vulvarine – they were both produced by Fat Rascal theatre and were delightful. Hopefully Vulvarine will head to the North East in 2019.
2017 Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Newcastle Arena
2015:    Our Ladies of the Perpetual Succour – Newcastle Live Theatre

The Best Show For Children Award:
We seemed to cover a lot of kids shows this year, one way or another. Mark Calvert and the team at Northern Stage have blown new life into the Dickens classic. David John Hopper is a name to keep an eye out for – if there was any justice then he’d be on TV. Meanwhile Sell A Door continue to produce shows that appeal to an often ignored age group.
1.       Christmas Carol at Newcastle Northern Stage
2.       Arbuthnot and Puddles’ Pirate Adventure at South Shields Customs House

2015:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Newcastle Northern Stage

The Best New Writing Award:
This is always one of the hardest to put into order as we have the pleasure to witness so much good new writing thanks to our local theatres actively supporting writing talent. A number of shows “just missed out” here.
1.       Don’t Forget The Birds at Newcastle Live Theatre
2.       My Romantic History at Newcastle Live Theatre  

2017 Rattle Snake at Newcastle Live Theatre

The Laugh Out Loud Funniest Production
The not-so-wee-these-days-man always gets the job of nominating this one. This year’s nomination is based upon how funny he found the Cats Song. We need a cast recording!

2017: Play That Goes Wrong at Newcastle Theatre Royal.
2016: Avenue Q at Newcastle Tyne Theatre and Opera House
2015:    Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Darlington Civic Theatre

The Best Adaptation Award:
Another Mark Calvert production. Another success.

1.       Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at Newcastle Northern Stage
2.       Matilda at Sunderland Empire
3.       Thoroughly Modern Millie at Sunderland Empire

2015:    Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour  – Newcastle Live Theatre

The Best Shakespeare Award

Is Number 3 not Shakesparean enough for you? Write your own list then! It was great to see Northern Stage hosting the RSC this year. There will be people reading this that are too young to remember when they used to take over both that venue and the Theatre Royal. As for Macbeth, performing the GCSE Eng Lit set text is going to get kids into theatre to see something that isn’t a panto.

The Best Drama Award

1.       Don’t Forget The Birds at Newcastle Live Theatre
2.       My Romantic History at Newcastle Live Theatre  
3.       Super Hamlet 64 at Newcastle Alphabetti  

The Best at Fringe Award
We love small scale theatre and these were 3 gems. The Tanner was the smallest scale show we have enjoyed this year. It was a wonderful piece of storytelling.

Our favourite family panto

Previously we have listed these separately as most “entertaining” and “spectacular”. This year’s award is much more simple. We have 3 very different scales of show here – and prices too. But do you know what – we are still talking about them. A few near misses here too, particularly from shows earlier in the year.

1.       Cinderella at Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House  

With a special mention for the adult panto Aladdin at Newcastle Boulevard ( which was most definitely not for kids but was an absolute riot.

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 15 and has literally sat through nearly a hundred shows.  For the record Robert’s top pick this year was Vulvarine and Jo puts Eugenius at the top of her list. Let’s hope both shows head to the North East at some point.

Happy New Year!
Stephen Oliver
North East Theatre Guide