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REVIEW: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune ★★★★ at Newcastle Northern Stage

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune ★★★★

Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 2nd June 2018

By Terrence McNally 
Director: Mark Calvert
Designer: Rhys Jarman
Lighting Designer: Zia Bergin-Holly
Sound Designer: Nick John Williams
Assistant Director: Holly Gallagher
Fight Director: Neil Tattershall
Voice Coach: Helen Jane Simmons

Northern Stage have had a fabulous 2018 so far and they carry on in this fine vane with the RomCom Frankie and Johnny…

The set and the audience both fit on Stage 1 – the bed sit/apartment is in the centre of the stage with both halves of the audience facing each other. The use of a traverse stage is nothing new but sitting on the stage with the curtains closed does make for a very intimate experience. Adding to this are the windows of the apartment block surrounding Frankie’s apartment and the walls cut out of just the one room. Voyeuristic theatre indeed. The apartment itself is fully functioning with sink, cooker, fridge, tv and lamps that will all come in to use at some point. Rhys Jarman has excelled once again.

Having said that, whilst the setting is different, this feels like a classic Northern Stage-style production. I’ve not said that in a while. We have been coming here since we arrived in Newcastle in 1990 and the shows often have a “feel” that other theatres don’t seem to have – an identity, as it were.  That’s the same for all theatres. It isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t a criticism. The show feels comfortably ‘Northern Stage’. I digress. Back to the review!

The show begins with the audience looking at the two actors going through the throws of passion through a net curtain. Subtle lighting means you don’t get to see much but you know what’s happening and that’s enough to set the scene. Frankie (Ruth Everett) is a waitress in New York. She is on her first date with Johnny (Richard Blackwood) who has started work as a cook at the same place. The film and the meal may not have been fruitful but clearly there has been more success in the bedroom. Frankie goes for a dressing gown and the net curtain swings open.

What happens next will determine if the event is simply a one night stand or something much more long lasting for the middle age couple. The pair keep changing their ages when asked but you get the impression they may both be in the 40s. With that age comes baggage and experience of past, failed, relationships. That is why this story works. It isn’t a teen romance full of “what ifs” but a middle aged tale of “I’ll avoid repeating the same mistakes if I can help it”.

The Terrance McNally script is full of humour. Johnny is confident and wants to pass ahead. Frankie seems much more cautious. Both have the emotional and, literally, physical scars of their respective pasts to deal with.  The internal demons of middle age. But what will happen next once the initial sex stops? Will it be fun? Will it be coercive? Annoying? Short lived? How will workmates react when they find out? And more the point: what is that piano music currently playing on the radio?

The audience are onlookers on a single night in the lives of two busy people. Occasionally Frankie and Johnny look out and discuss the neighbours who are still up at 3am, or the moon, the Clair de Lune as they say in France.

The characters are believable. Richard Blackwood’ Johnny exudes confidence, Ruth Everett’s Frankie isn’t shy but remains cautious. Director Mark Calvert succeeds once again in producing a sharply observed piece of theatre. This was a much better interpretation than the film.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Pamela Raith Photography
Running time: 2hrs 20mins (incl. interval)
Age recommendation: 14+ (contains sexual references)

Tickets start at £10. For full details or to book tickets see     or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.


Preview: Year of Wonders on tour

Heroine and Healer or Wanton and Witch?

World Premiere

Year of Wonders
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre Tuesday 26th - Wednesday 27th June 2018
Durham Gala Thursday 28th June 2018
Newcastle Lit & Phil Friday 29th June 2018

Adapted for Stage by Mike Alfreds and Jane Arnfield
From the book by Geraldine Brooks

Directed by Mike Alfreds
Performed by Jane Arnfield

'I am particularly fond of single-actor performances and Jane Arnfield exemplifies the best of that.’ Ruth Rendell

“Year of Wonders …has a vivid imaginative truth, and is beautifully written.”
Hilary Mantel on Year of Wonders

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith must find the strength to unite a fearful and fragmented community but there is a very human cost.

Based on Geraldine Brooks’ award-winning novel, this moving story reflects real life events that occurred in the village of Eyam during the plague year of 1666.  Convinced by their minister to close off their village, the residents of Eyam quarantined their small community for a year to contain the infection and prevent the plague from spreading. 

Many died as a result.

Year of Wonders is an uplifting tale that explores what happens when ordinary people and extraordinary events collide. In a community faced with death, we find hope within darkness and redemption within destruction. This powerful tale of one tiny community in the 17th century who sacrificed themselves for “the greater good” serves as a timely reminder of how fragmented, individualised and separated the  21st century has become.

Brooks a Pulitzer Prize winning writer has gifted the theatrical rights to Jane Arnfield who is bringing this award-winning novel to the stage with director, long-term collaborator Mike Alfreds. Their previous collaboration The Tin Ring by Zdenka Fantlov√° toured to over 14 countries and played to thousands of audience members.

The World Premiere of Year of Wonders will take place at  The Lowry Theatre in Salford on 21st June and then tours the North East with performances at the Gala theatre in Durham, Alphabetti Theatre and the Lit and Phil in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Cast & Creatives

Jane Arnfield
Jane Arnfield is Associate Professor and Subject Head of Theatre & Performance at Northumbria University. She has worked with three major ensembles: Mike Alfreds Method & Madness, David Glass Ensemble & Northern Stage Ensemble and received international acclaim for her performance in The Tin Ring.

Mike Alfreds
Mike Alfreds founded and ran Shared Experience for thirteen years. He was artistic director of Cambridge Theatre Company, later renamed Method and Madness, and has directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal National Theatre, where he was an associate director, and also for several regional theatres. He has staged over 200 productions and won awards both in the UK and abroad. His exemplary work on storytelling is detailed in his book “Then What Happens?” published by Nick Hern

Geraldine Brooks
Australian-born Geraldine Brooks worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. She has a Pulitzer Prize in fiction and is regularly on the New York Times bestseller list.

Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre Tuesday 26th - Wednesday 27th June 2018

Durham Gala Thursday 28th June 2018

Newcastle Lit & Phil Friday 29th June 2018

Preview: Wormtown at Customs House and Alphabetti

South Shields Customs House Friday 1st June 2018
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre Saturday 16th June 2018
The Customs House is delighted to announce the full cast for Wormtown. The play has been written by The Takeover Festival’s first Young Writer in Residence, Reece Connolly, and features a young cast of ‘ones to watch’.
All of the cast are under the age of 25, as the purpose of this strand of The Takeover Festival is to give young actors a platform, as well as giving emerging actors more professional experience.
Andrew Finnigan, 21, from South Shields, who has previously appeared in The Fifteen Streets and Drip at The Customs House and is also starring in My Uncle Freddie at The Customs House this summer, will be playing Kezzy.
The Customs House is where it all started for Andrew, as a member of The Customs House Youth Theatre, and he can’t wait to return with such a “unique and gripping show”.
Also returning to the venue are former Youth Theatre member and recent Arts Ed graduate James Gladdon, 21, originally from Middlesbrough, playing J, and Lauren Waine, 22, from Sunderland, a graduate from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, playing Cassie.

Top (L-R) Andrew Finnigan, Serena Ramsey, Lauren Waine, Daniel Watson.
Bottom (L-R) Luke Maddison, Kema Sikazwe, James Gladdon, Abigail Lawson.

Luke Maddison, 23, from South Shields, who has appeared in Geordie The Musical at The Customs House, as well as the annual pantomime, will be playing Scrum.
Abigail Lawson, 21, from Sunderland, will be playing Batter in her second professional theatre credit, following Blowin’ A Hooley’s Want, since graduating from Newcastle College this year.
In the multi-roles, there is Daniel Watson, 24, from Newcastle, who trained at Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Project A and recently starred in The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes at Newcastle’s Live Theatre.
Alongside Daniel is Serena Ramsey, 21, from Newcastle but now London-based, whose first TV appearance was in CBBC’s Mission 2110. She graduated from the Court Theatre Training Company in 2017.
The cast is completed by Kema Sikazwe, 24, from Newcastle, a rapper who got into acting in his early 20s and went on to land a leading role in BAFTA and BIFA Palme D’or award-winning film I, Daniel Blake.
Wormtown will be directed by Jake Smith, who hails from the north east and began his career at Hull Truck Theatre as a Creative Learning Facilitator.   He has since been a Resident Director at the Almeida Theatre, Trainee Director at Chichester Festival Theatre and trained on the National Theatre Directors’ Programme. He is the current Artistic Director of Petersfield Shakespeare Festival and has previously been nominated for an Off West End Award for Best Director.
Reece, from Prudhoe, is a playwright and theatre-maker, and has been based in East London since studying drama at Queen Mary University of London. He now splits his time between London and the north east.
Wormtown is a re-imagining of the Lambton Worm fable and is described as ‘a new legend of misfits and monsters’ and is a darkly comic, sci-fi tale.
Writer Reece Connolly has been mentored by Laura Turner, who is a writer for stage and screen. She has written more than 30 original plays and adaptations of classic novels, and has most recently worked with the Almeida Theatre, Hull Truck Theatre and One Day Creative.
Wormtown will be staged on Friday 1st June at 7.30pm at The Customs House, and again on Saturday 16th June at 7.30pm, at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle, as part of the region’s first Youth Fringe Festival.
The Takeover Festival is an annual youth arts festival run by and for young people in the north east aged 15 to 25. It features film, art, poetry, dance and much more and runs at The Customs House from Monday 28th May to Friday 1st June.
Its work is made possible with the generous support of South Tyneside Council, Arts Council England, WA Hanley Trust and Scottish Power Foundation.
Customs House: For tickets, available on a Pay What You Decide basis, contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or book online at

REVIEW: This World Here… Nomhlaba Le' ★★★★ at North Shields Exchange

Curious Monkey (UK) and Newcastle Arts Development Organisation (South Africa) co-production

This World Here… Nomhlaba Le' ★★★★

North Shields The Exchange, Saturday 26th May 2018
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre Tuesday 29th - Thursday 31st May 2018

What is home? How do we feel about the place we call home? Why is it alright for us to criticise the place we call home but not for outsiders to say the same thing? For that matter: who am I and what makes my identity? All of this and more is chewed over in this production.

For a curtain raiser on opening night, the show began with a large choir that meet at Gosforth Civic Theatre called the Mouthful Voices. It was their first public performance though you’d not guess that from the range of harmonies that they filled the venue with. On the theme of home there was a range of songs ranging from a South African song, written by cast member Sanele Mzimela, to one based upon a Chinese proverb. A nice start to proceedings.

Photo: RusbyMedia
This World Here… Nomhlaba Le' was commissioned as a cultural project between the Newcastles of the world. It draws on the experiences from the cast who are based in either Newcastle KZN in South Africa and Newcastle Upon Tyne here in England. Both areas have a history of coal mining so there are some common roots.

As Jo Cox once said “We are far more united than the things that divide us.” The bulk of the production takes the form of a conversation between the cast members about their feelings about home and their observations about visiting the other Newcastle. This leads the audience members to reflect upon their own position.

Some of the issues are trivial: Why do Brits stay out in the rain when the people in many cultures rush off to take cover?

Other issues are much more-deep rooted: Why is the history taught in British schools very selective and doesn’t involve the Empire? Why did the country that pushed the Bible on foreign lands in the past become such a secular society?

There are elements of storytelling, about love, and song intertwined with the observations. Music was both traditional African and Northeast English folk such as Waters of Tyne. The cast sang in harmonies and also added some instrumentation. But how did the overall show make one feel? Good question. Certainly, the show had one mulling over one’s own place in society. Am I privileged? I certainly don’t feel privileged. I find that I am pleased that the South African visitors are happy with themselves and that the UK cast members have had a chance to find themselves. I have had had the chance to do some travelling, including trips to Africa, and I love coming home.

Perhaps that is the point: travel if you can – appreciate the place that you call home?

This World Here… Nomhlaba Le' is an interesting piece. Theatre is working at its best if you leave and find yourself thinking it over. There is also a fine line when you find a show is lecturing its’ audience. This show just manages to keep on the discussing, rather than lecturing, side of that line.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Presented by Curious Monkey (UK) and Newcastle Arts Development Organisation (South Africa)

Created By (cast):  Sanele Mzimela, Phelelani Mzimela, Velaphi Mthimkulu, Samu Khumalo, Sam Bell, Alice Blundell and Stan Hodgson

Edited and Directed by:  Amy Golding 
Produced by Sphiwe Xulu and Jen Dewar
Assistant Director Jonluke McKie

On The Web



Preview: Wizard of Oz at Whitley Bay Playhouse

Television stars align for Summer Panto!

Wizard of Oz
Whitley Bay Playhouse
Wednesday 1st – Saturday 4th August 2018

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Playhouse, Whitley Bay for this year’s Summer Pantomime, The Wizard of Oz. Strictly Come Dancing finalist and star of CBBC’s Tracy Beaker, Dani Hamer plays the ultimate villain – The Wicked Witch of the West.
Dani Hamer 
Chris Stanton
The BAFTA award-winning actress will be at the Playhouse from 1st-4th August when she will be joined by Chris Stanton (Mr Flatley from CBBC’s M.I. High) as the Wizard of Oz himself. 

County Durham Producer, Reece Sibbald is hard at work creating a new-take on the much-loved classic. Boasting a brand-new soundtrack created by musical meastro Olly Ashmore, spectacular scenery, dazzling costumes and lots of panto-fun for all the family.

Sibbald says, “We’ve assembled a fantastic cast for this summer’s show at the Playhouse. It’s our first time in Whitley Bay after six year’s of producing around the UK – and I can’t wait to bring my biggest production yet to my native North East.”

Playing the iconic Cowardly Lion is local legend and panto-connoisseur Steve Arnott; who, this Christmas, will celebrate his tenth consecutive year as the resident villain in the Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Pantomime.

Tickets are selling fast; so don’t be brainless, have a heart and find the courage to book your tickets down the Yellow Brick Road today! Book online from our affiliates Ticketmaster UK: or call the Box Office Hotline on 0844 248 1588


REVIEW: Tom and Bunny Save the World ★★★★★ at Newcastle Alphabetti

Tom and Bunny Save the World: The Musical ★★★★★
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Friday 25th & Saturday 26th May 2018

Book and Lyrics: Robyn Grant
Music: Jonny Holbek
Director: Cat Robey
Producer: Laura Elmes for Fat Rascal Theatre

You wait for a musical to appear at Newcastle’s Alphabetti Theatre and two come along at once. Tom & Bunny captures the delightful comedic sense of powerful observation that made Avenue Q work so well.

Zombies have broken out of a hospital in Greenwich after an outbreak. Oxford graduate Tom (Jamie Mawson) falls over Bunny (Robyn Grant) as they try to escape the capital armed with a handy baseball bat. They decide to drive north to Yorkshire as hopefully the chaos is somewhat less up there. At a dairy farm they pick up a vet Gareth (Luke Dunford) who is trying to escape the mad farming couple.

The journey north passes Nottingham Trent University which they decide to stop off at in case there is a cure there. Ultimately they pick up pregnant scientist Pearl (Allie Munro) and gun wielding army-type Kai (Katie Wells).

News has it that the best place to point the car is Bridlington so they head off to the Yorkshire sea side town in the hope of saving the world from the zombie apocalypse.   

Indeed – why wouldn’t hope be found in Brid? If this was made for TV or film there is a strong chance they would swing the destination to the south east or, at a push, Blackpool. The Yorkshire angle adds a fun, and unexpected angle, to proceedings. Writer Robyn Grant has given the show a distinctive and fresh feel. Much of the dialogue is well-observed and contemporary. There are political and social issues there to be found but not at a level that is either preachy or distracting from the main thrust of the plot.

It is a musical. The early plot narration and guitar playing duties land on James Boyd, who also plays Mike – the person watching the CCTV footage of the apocalypse. The folky edge to the music helps to tell the tale. The songs are sung with such energy and gusto, it is difficult not to be carried away with the action. The cast recording was on sale for £5 and we picked up a copy which is currently playing as this review is being written.

If a test of a comedy is if you laugh out loud at least six times, then this is comfortably a comedy. The Alphabetti audience appreciate the humour derived from both the script and from Cat Robey’s direction. The cast utilised every inch of the stage to play out the Zombie tale. Obviously some comparison could be made with Shaun Of The Dead but this is much more of a road trip whereas the action in Shaun largely focuses on just a couple of locations.

T&BSTW:TM packs a real punch during its one hour running time. It’s a really funny comedy musical about zombies. The young enthusiastic cast swept us along on the journey across the UK. This is well worth a trip to the theatre!

On The Web:
Twitter: @WeAreFatRascal   
Facebook: /WeAreFatRascal

Tom: Jamie Mawson
Bunny: Robyn Grant
Mike: James Boyd
Pearl: Allie Munro
Kai: Katie Wells
Gareth: Luke Dunford

When: Friday 25th and Saturday 26th May 2018
Show Begins: 7.30pm
Tickets: £6.50 Full Price / £5.00 Concession (Student, OAP, Artist, Unwaged)
Age Recommendation:12+ (contains strong language and mild violence and gore)
Running Time: 1 hour

The remaining dates of the tour:
Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal: 31st May, 8pm
Seven Arts, Leeds: 1st June, 8pm

Ilkley Playhouse: 2nd June, 7:30pm

Preview: Fame - The Musical at Sunderland Empire


Fame - The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Monday 8th – Saturday 13th April 2019

Fame - The Musical is set to tour the UK in a stunning new 30th Anniversary tour opening at Manchester Palace on 20 July 2018, arriving at the  Sunderland Empire in April 2019.

Based on the 1980 phenomenal pop culture film, Fame The Musical is the international smash hit sensation following the lives of students at New York’s High School For The Performing Arts as they navigate their way through the highs and lows, the romances and the heartbreaks and the ultimate elation of life. This bittersweet but uplifting triumph of a show explores the issues that confront many young people today: prejudice, identity, pride, literacy, sexuality, substance abuse and perseverance.

With additional casting to be announced for venues in 2019, Keith Jack has been confirmed in the role of Nick.

Keith Jack 
Keith is best-known as runner-up on BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do. His extensive theatre credits include: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour) Only The Brave (Edinburgh Festival) Sincerely Mr Toad (Edinburgh/Greenwich) HMS Pinafore (UK Tour) Forever Plaid (St James Theatre, London) and many pantomimes across the UK. Keith’s concert appearances include performing for HM The Queen at the Parliament Picnic, Choices for Life, Lauder Live and BBC 2’s Friday Night is Music Night; Music, Music . He also has appeared on John Barrowman’s album tour, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Birthday Concert (Hyde Park) and BBC’s Songs of Praise.

Keith says; “I am really looking forward to performing the role of Nick in the UK Tour of Fame and I’m excited about working with Selladoor again.”

Fame the Musical has seen seven West End runs since opening in Miami 1988 and continues to be one of the best loved musicals across the world.

Fame will be presented by Selladoor Worldwide, producers of Footloose, Avenue Q, American Idiot and Flashdance - The Musical, with Adam Paulden & Dan Looney. With further casting to be announced, Fame will be directed and choregraphed by Nick Winston with design by Morgan Large.

David Hutchinson, Executive Creative Director of Selladoor says “This new tour for 2018 celebrates the 30 years since the premiere of the production and will very much have its roots in the style and nostalgia of the original musical. Selladoor are dedicated to bringing large scale theatre to as broad an audience as possible across the UK and internationally, and we’re delighted to add another classic musical to our ever-growing portfolio.”

Featuring the Oscar-winning title song and a cast of outstanding dancers, singers, musicians and rappers as they transform from star struck pupils to superstars. Fame The Musical will indeed live forever.

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 at *
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your plus your phone company's access charge. Booking and transaction fees may apply.