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REVIEW: Miss Saigon at Sunderland Empire

Miss Saigon
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 17th November 2018

Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon has landed at Sunderland Empire this week for a 3 week run. It has been seen by 36 million people worldwide since it first opened in 1989. So what does a show with a cast of 38, orchestra of 15 and a technical team of 32 that arrives in 16 45-foot trailers and needs 100 production and local crew working 24 hours a day for 3 days to get in at The Empire feel like? The North East Music Guide’s Joanne Oliver reviews.

War brings out the best and worst in people. Being a mother, I know the bond one can have with one’s child and as a human, the power of the first love you feel as a teenager.

Miss Saigon has rightfully gained the love of theatre-goers and kept them faithful since its premiere in London in 1989.

The musical, based on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells the story of love born within the debauchery of a brothel in the Vietnam war, between a  US Marine (Chris) and a bargirl (Kim)being groomed to be a prostitute by the “Engineer” a pimp-cum-bar manager who has dreams of being an American citizen.

The abandonment of Kim (unwillingly, during evacuation by the American troops) by Chris at the propels her into prostitution. She works to support Chris’s son who is “Bui-Doi” (street child), the name given to children fathered by American troops.

The story is a heartbreaking tale of loss, separation, determination to survive, and self-sacrifice by a number of the characters. It also focusses on people who try to profit from war and sell their souls and those of others just for financial gain.

The scene changes and lighting are nothing short of breathtaking in this show. Sunderland Empire’s West -End style stage manages to contain multiple layers of scenery, and a helicopter at one point. Sound and lighting threw us into a war zone and the red-light district of Bangkok with equal ease.

The choreography deserves a mention as such a large cast was sculpted into a fabulous show and dancers did not miss a beat. Action was sometimes disturbing but that’s the story. It was not a clean war.

The cast were amazing with strong vocal performances from Sooha Kim (Kim), Ashley Gilmour (Chris), Leo Tavarro Valdez (The Engineer), Gerald Santos (Thuy) to name but a few. No one fell short of outstanding.

The full orchestra filled the air with a rich sound and did the music a real justice in this production.

To conclude, I was both emotionally moved and impressed by this show. I would certainly recommend it if you haven’t seen it before.

Review: Joanne Oliver
Photos: Johan Persson

Tickets - Sunderland Empire Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022* or from our affiliate ATG Tickets:  *calls cost up to 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

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Preview: Damned United at Sunderland Royalty Theatre


The Damned United
Sunderland Royalty Theatre
Tuesday 13th - Wednesday 14th November 2018

A play about legendary manager Brian Clough is coming to Sunderland – the city where his playing career was so tragically cut short.

       OLD BIG HEAD - Luke Dickson as Brian Clough
Clough was only 29 when an on-pitch collision on Boxing Day 1962 ended his days as a striker. He had moved to the Black Cats from his hometown club Middlesbrough in 1961 and went on to score 63 goals in just 74 appearances.

Always controversial, Clough became a hugely-successful manager, lifting the European Cup twice, as well as the League Cup (four times) and winning the First Division title with both Derby County and Nottingham Forest.

Anders Lustgarten’s play The Damned United charts his turbulent 44 days at Leeds United and will be performed at The Royalty Theatre in November.

Luke Dickson as Brian Clough and 
David Chafer as Peter Taylor
A sell-out success when it received its world premiere in 2016, The Damned United is touring nationally for the first time and is being brought to the city by Sunderland Culture through its Sunderland Stages programme. The play features Luke Dickson as Brian Clough, David Chafer as Peter Taylor and Jamie Smelt as Sam Longson and other roles.

The play’s director, Rod Dixon, is very much looking forward to bringing the play to Sunderland: “It’s a footballing city and obviously has close links to Clough so I’m excited about delivering the play at The Royalty.”

Rod, a Liverpool fan, thinks that Clough would have gone on to be one of SAFC’s greatest ever players if it hadn’t been for the Boxing Day injury: “There is footage of the tackle in the production and it’s difficult to watch as it’s a bad collision. Football was rougher and tougher in those days, but it was still a really bad tackle – you can see from the footage how much pain Clough was in.

“I’m sure he would have gone on to be a Sunderland legend – he was a great player and a natural leader on the pitch.”

The play is about Clough’s attempt to rebuild his managerial reputation after he resigned from Derby County, where he had been very successful and had then gone on to manage third division Brighton and Hove Albion.

It was a major surprise when Clough announced he was to become manager of Leeds United, a team he had previously strongly criticized. His stated aim was to win the European Cup with his new team. Without his usual sidekick, assistant manager Peter Taylor, Clough lasted 44 days before he was sacked.

“Although clearly based around football, non-footy fans have been shocked at how much they’ve enjoyed the show, which is based on David Peace’s book, not the film. Much of it is about the closeness of the relationship between Clough and Peter Taylor – Clough’s arrogance and vulnerability.

“He was a complex character and as a football manager felt everything – he lived every tackle, every pass, every goal. The play has gone down well wherever we’ve been. We were down in Plymouth recently and that is a town very passionate about their football. The theatre manager there said he’d never seen so many men attend a show before, which was great.”

The play is adapted from David Peace’s best-selling novel and presented by Red Ladder Theatre.

For tickets go to


Preview: BLACKADDER GOES FORTH at Newcastle People’s Theatre

"I have a cunning plan ..."

based on the TV series by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Newcastle People’s Theatre
Tuesday 30 October - Saturday 3 November 2018

Next week the People's Theatre in Heaton are delighted to present Blackadder Goes Forth, based on the TV series by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton.

One of television's most enduringly popular comedies, it follows the adventures of cynical Captain Edmund Blackadder in his forlorn quest to survive the madness and buffoonery of all who surround him including sidekick Baldrick, dim-witted twit George and Squadron Commander Flashheart. 

For all its pithy witticisms and knockabout humour, Curtis and Elton's take on the First World War famously treads a sensitive line between the gallows humour of British soldiers and the tragedy of their sacrifice in the trenches of Flanders.

The theatre are proud to do justice to both in their staging of this memorable classic, presented in support of Comic Relief and to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice.

Hot on Blackadder's heels come another comedy, Noel Coward's greatest lifetime hit BLITHE SPIRIT. It might be opening a couple of week's after Halloween but there's spooky goings-on afoot when writer Charles Condomine, wishing to learn about the occult for his new book, arranges a seance that sees dotty medium Madam Arcarti inadvertently summon the spirit of his first wife! Hilarity and marital mayhem ensue in this spectral variation on the eternal love triangle.

Photos: Paula Smart


BLACKADDER GOES FORTH based on the TV series by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Tuesday 30 October - Saturday 3 November 2018
£14 / £11.50
People's Theatre, Stephenson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5QF
0191 265 5020

REVIEW: Clear White Light at Newcastle Live Theatre

Clear White Light
Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Saturday 10th November 2018

Written by Paul Sirett
With the songs of Alan Hull of Lindisfarne
Musical Direction and performed live by Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell

Clear White Light follows in the long tradition for new writing at Newcastle’s Live Theatre. It marks the first production at Live for the new artistic director Joe Douglas. Local themes combine with Alan Hull’s music to produce a show that is certainly different.  

Bryony Corrigan appears as Alison, a second year Mental Health Nursing degree student on her first night shift at St Nicholas Hospital.  She meets Rod (Joe Caffrey) who is the only experienced nurse on the under-staffed ward.  He sets out the schedule for the next 12 hours: go through the hand over from the day shift then do the rounds, sort out tea, issue meds and then get the patients to bed before 10.

Rod gives Ali three of the 16 cases to look after. This includes Barry (Billy Mitchell), a car mechanic had a breakdown when his garage was set on fire by kids. Aaron (Phil Adèle) who is a patient with depression who was referred from Stockton as they had no places there. Finally there is Charlie (Dale Jewitt), a mathematics student who has a personality disorder.

We don’t do spoilers here, but I should mention the other performers on stage is Alice Blundell as Jo, a nurse on nearby ward, and Charlie Hardwick as Maddie, a lady whose role becomes more apparent as the show goes on. The bulk of the performers get involved with their instruments during each musical number.

Off stage and parked near the seats with the low numbers is Ray Laidlaw adding percussion to the variety of numbers that proliferate the show.

We are not ones for pigeonholing a show but this show falls between a number of genres.  The show features some great music, with Charlie Hardwick performing the bulk of the vocal duties. This show is not a musical though. More a drama that stops for 11 musical numbers by Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull. Likewise the show may be inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher but it isn’t a straight horror show.  The show also has a few digs at the current government’s health policy but it isn’t a play about mental health.  Clear White Light features elements of each of these tropes but lands somewhere between them all, missing many an opportunity to have a much stronger narrative.

The central performances by the reliable Joe Caffrey and the unswerving Bryony Corrigan are both fine. The music fits in well too, though sitting near the drum kit meant I was struggling to hear the lyrics over the percussion.

Clear White Light feels like a missed opportunity. The 3 patients could have been developed further – we are thinking about the successful Live Theatre production Wet House here. Instead, in the second act, the story takes a change in an almost surreal direction. 

I had been looking forward to this show but, somehow, it failed to deliver as either a piece about mental health or as an exciting horror or mystery story. I may be the only one who feels it, but it is a rare Live misfire: a real shame.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

Written by Paul Sirett
With the songs of Alan Hull of Lindisfarne
Musical Direction and performed live by Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell
Directed by Joe Douglas
Designed by Neil Warmington
Dramaturgy by Max Roberts
Lighting Design by Ali Hunter
Sound Design by Dave Flynn


Clear White Light is at Live Theatre from Thursday 18 October to Saturday 10 November.

Writer Paul Sirett will give a free post show talk after the 2pm show on Saturday 20 October and Musical Directors Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell will take part in a post show talk after the 7.30pm performance on Wednesday 24 October. Both talks are free for ticket holders for that performance and will be recorded and available to listen again at

There will also be a number of additional talks and events linked to the play.


For more information or to book tickets which are between £12 and £26, and concessions from £10 call Live Theatre’s Box Office on(0191) 232 1232 or see







The Award Winning Brendan O’Carroll and Mrs. Brown’s Boys invite you to their brand new production “Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical?” coming to arenas across the UK and Ireland in 2019. 

Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical? promises to take audiences on an exhilarating, side splitting and musical adventure. Brendan O’Carroll said: “Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Musical? will have you crying with laughter, tapping your toes and you will leave the show singing and smiling to yourself. We are having such fun doing this and can’t wait to share it not just with fans of Mrs. Brown’s Boys,  but to anyone who needs a good night out.”

Mrs. Brown’s Boys success has been nothing short of incredible. Voted the No. 1 Sitcom of the 21st Century, awards include 5 BAFTAs, 4  National Television Awards, 3 TV Choice Awards, 4 IFTA awards, 3 TV Times Awards as well as RTS, TRIC and National Comedy Awards. It is a ratings smash across the globe. Mrs. Brown’s Boys live show has broken box office records across the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

2014, 2016 and 2018 saw  Mrs. Brown’s Boys tour Australia and New Zealand selling out multiple arenas and BBC ONE series All Round to Mrs. Brown’s continues to achieve record breaking viewing figures with a third series due next year.

If you haven’t experienced Mrs. Brown’s Boys live show, this tour is set to be one of the hottest tickets for 2019 and is not to be missed.  Be part of this unique experience with tickets going on sale Friday 26th October at 10am.

Tickets will go on sale 10.00am Friday 26th October and are available online, from the booking hotline number 0844 493 6666 or from 11.00am in person from the Metro Radio Arena Box Office. Please note venue facility and booking fees will apply.


Preview: Christmas Carol at Newcastle Castle

The Christmas spirits are alive this December at Newcastle Castle.
Christmas Carol
Newcastle Castle
Saturday 15 - Sunday 23 December 2018

Join the incredible 4M and award-winning Theatre Space North East for an unforgettable trip to Christmases past, present and future.

Charles Dicken ’s immortal classic is told through stunning puppetry and unique staging, filling every corner of Newcastle Castle with music, merriment and the odd ghost too. Will the wicked to the bone Ebenezer Scrooge learn the error of his ways on this Christmas night he’s sure not to forget in a hurry?

This all-new festive production, funded by Arts Council England in partnership with Newcastle Castle, Crisis and the Newcastle West End Food Bank, is a yuletide event not to be missed.

Please Note:
The Keep is a Scheduled Ancient Monument without any central heating – wrap up warm!
The Great Hall is also only accessible via a spiral flight of spiral stairs. Wear suitable clothing and footwear. There are no toilet facilities within the Keep itself, so please use facilities at The Bridge Hotel across the street.
Refreshments will be available. The Castle isn't a licensed venue, so there will be no sale of alcohol. If you do bring your own refreshments, we ask that you are respectful of the venue and other customers and tidy up any rubbish.
They will be operating a food bank collection point in aid of Newcastle West End Food Bank at each performance.

Tickets available from our affiliates See Tickets:

Preview: A Christmas Carol at Newcastle Northern Stage

Cast and creative team announced for A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
Newcastle Northern Stage
Saturday 1st December 2018  – Saturday 5th January 2019

From the team that created The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, James and the Giant Peach and Alice in Wonderland comes a brand new production of Charles Dickens’ classic story of ghosts, greed and goodwill, A Christmas Carol.

Director Mark Calvert says, “Neil Bartlett’s adaptation stays true to the original with all the characters we know and love, but we’ve had great fun setting our version in the 1920s - Rhys Jarman has taken inspiration from Peaky Blinders and the Great Gatsby for the set and costume design, and Hannabiel Sanders’ music breathes new life into Christmas Carols with a fantastic jazz sound.  It’s going to be joyful, magical, and shows just don’t get any more Christmassy than A Christmas Carol.”

Adapted for the stage by Neil Bartlett and directed by Mark Calvert, A Christmas Carol will be designed by Rhys Jarman, with choreography by Martin Hylton and lighting by Sam Vivash.

New to the creative team this year is Composer and Musical Director, Hannabiell Sanders who will also    perform in the show. An African American Jamaican originally from New Jersey USA, Hannabiel is well known in the North East of England for her band Hannabiell & Midnight Blue. As a bass trombonist, Hannabiell has performed with bands including the The Drifters, Nobby Solano's salsa band The Geordie Latinos, and the Harlem Symphony Orchestra. A progressive music teacher with a BFA in Music from Mason Gros School for the Arts in the US and a Masters and a PhD in Music Performance from Newcastle University in the UK, Hannabiell has also worked as a freelance musician with the Kwazulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa, and performed at the London 2012 Cultural Olympics in the BT River of Music Festival.

Nick Figgis will play Scrooge. His work in theatre includes War Horse in the West End, Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre, Dog Boy at Manchester Royal Exchange, and Bouncers at York Theatre Royal. TV includes Casualty, Skins, Byker Grove and Our Friends in the North.  He is also a resident actor with Actors for Human Rights.  Nick said, "My family moved to Newcastle when I was 12 and it was at Heaton Manor School, encourage by a brilliant drama teacher, Mr Tilley that I first started thinking seriously about acting.  I love this city and I can't say how much I'm looking forward to sharing my favourite Christmas story here... and it means I won't miss my mother's legendary Christmas dinner this year, so thanks for that!"

He is joined by a cast of actor-musicians including Tim Dalling (James and the Giant Peach, Northern Stage); Clara Darcy (Alice in Wonderland, Northern Stage); Rachel Dawson (The Jungle Book, UK tour); Craig Fairbairn (Animal Farm, Northern Stage); William Pennington (Treasure Island, New Vic); and Hannabiell Sanders; plus a chorus of six performance students from Newcastle College.

Tim Dalling
Clara Darcy
Rachel Dawson
Craig Fairbairn
Nick Figgis
Will Pennington
Hannabiell Sanders
Chorus – Newcastle College performance students

Director Mark Calvert 
Writer Charles Dickens  - Adapted By Neil Bartlett 
Designer Rhys Jarman 
Lighting Designer Sam Vivash 
Sound Designer Nick John Williams 
Composer & Musical Director Hannabiell Sanders 
Movement Director Martin Hylton 
Associate Sound Designer Matthew Tuckey 
Stage Management  Company Manager Colin Holman 
Stage Manager Chloe Ribbens 
Deputy Stage Manager Nichola Reilly 
Assistant Stage Manager Nicola Morris

Photos: Mark Savage

Tickets are now on sale from £10 at or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.

Preview: The Lock In ‘Christmas Carol’ at Gateshead Sage

Breaking Tradition presents The Lock In ‘Christmas Carol’ featuring The Demon Barbers, winners of ‘Best Live Act’ @ BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards
Gateshead Sage
Thursday 20th December 2018

Breaking Tradition, the UK’s leading folk and hip hop Dance Company, and multi award-winning folk powerhouse, The Demon Barbers, invites families and folk fans to The Lock In ‘Christmas Carol’

Half gig, half dance show and half panto! Join the BBC Award Winning team of musicians & dancers for 150% of the very best festive live music, song and dance!

It’s Christmas Eve and the regulars of The Olde Fighting Cocks are excited about the night ahead, it’s going to be the Folk & Hip Hop dance party of the year! To their dismay the landlady, Jasmineezer Scrooge, has more profitable ambitions and is preparing to launch her new business, the ‘Oompah Techno Bar’! Cheap alco-pops, luminous lighting and mind-numbing bass beats are all in danger of alienating the local community and ruining Christmas! Fortunately, some insightful souls are at hand to lead her back to her senses.

Featuring ‘folk powerhouse’ The Demon Barbers; artists from Breaking Tradition Dance Company; a new seasonal repertoire and a ‘slightly unhinged’ approach to their family friendly stage shows, they are “guaranteed to raise weary spirits and send an audience home smiling”! The Telegraph

“Some shows demonstrate great skill and technique, some offer strong musicianship, and some create the kind of atmosphere and energy that leaves you high on life. The Lock In does all three” The List (Edinburgh Fringe)

“A full-on show of such blazing energy and joyous ingenuity you scarcely ponder on the apparent madness of trying to marry folk dance and hip hop” The Independent

“The Lock In is infectious and gets under your skin to the extent you stop analysing and start just enjoying. Certainly the best night out in town”

Tickets: £17.40, £15.30
T: 0191 443 4661 and online at
And in person at Sage Gateshead, St Mary's Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead NE8 2JR

Preview: Peter Pan at Sunderland Empire


Martin Dodd for UK Productions by arrangement with
Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and Samuel French Limited proudly present:
Peter Pan
Adapted from the book by J.M. Barrie
Sunderland Empire
Friday 14th December 2018 – Sunday 6th January 2019

OH BUOY! All-star cast to set sail to Sunderland Empire for this year’s swashbuckling pantomime, PETER PAN!

Boos at the ready as award winning actor Jamie Lomas (Hollyoaks, Eastenders, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here) is set to take on the role of the meanest man in Neverland, the dastardly Captain Hook! CBBC’s Richard McCourt aka ‘Dick’ from Dick and Dom will be going solo as Hooks BOGIE-tastic right-hand man Mr Smee! Topped off by everyone’s favourite Barry-born omelette flipping mum, Melanie Walters from BBC’s BAFTA winning series ‘Gavin and Stacey’ as the delightful and doting ‘Mother’, Mrs Darling with Josh Andrews (Cats, Book of Mormon and 42nd Street) as Peter Pan.

In 2017, Jamie Lomas was crowned runner up in ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ after completing a number of gruelling bush tucker trials! Jamie is best known for playing bad boy ‘Warren Fox’ in channel 4’s continuing drama Hollyoaks. In 2013, Jamie swapped the lovely village in Chester for the most famous square on telly, Albert Square, were he played troubled character ‘Jake Stone’ in Eastenders for BBC.

Richard McCourt’s first ever panto was right here at Sunderland Empire in 1999 when he played Wishee Washee in Aladdin alongside Cobra the Gladiator! For the past 22 years, Richard is better known as one half of the multi award winning Dick and Dom and this winter he’s going solo for panto!

Dick and Dom have hosted many popular shows over the years, including the double BAFTA winning Dick and Dom in da Bungalow, the BAFTA winning Diddy Movies, Diddy TV, Splatalot and the Legend of Dick and Dom. Their science entertainment show Absolute Genius, for which they won the BAFTA for best presenters has just completed its fifth series. We have it on good authority that he is really excited to be back in Sunderland but *SPOILER ALERT* BOGIES will be shouted at high volume!

Melanie Walters is best known for her role as Gwen West in the BAFTA winning series ‘Gavin and Stacey’ for the BBC alongside James Corden and Ruth Jones. Melanie has spent most of her professional life touring the country working in Theatre, Television and Radio. In addition to ‘Gavin and Stacey’ she has appeared in a number of dramas including Doc Martin, BBC’s Under Milk Wood and Stella and the family drama, High Tide. Theatre productions include The Importance of Being Earnest, Educating Rita and Blood Brothers.

So hoist the mainsail and get set to fly to Neverland as Martin Dodd for UK Productions brings another PAN-tastic pantomime adventure to Sunderland, with laughs-a-plenty, live music, flying and audience participation guaranteed!

Hook your tickets now and join Peter Pan, Wendy and the Darlings, the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell and not forgetting the infamous Captain Hook and Smee for ship loads of festive fun!

Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022* or online from our affiliate ATG Tickets: *calls cost 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.