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Friday, 30 November 2018

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast at South Shields Customs House


The Little Panto with a Beastly Heart!

Beauty and the Beast
South Shields Customs House
Until Saturday 5th January 2019

Nova Radio North East’s Robert Wilson Baker reviews The Customs House’s take on ‘The tale as old as time’.

A cold November’s night in South Shields was the perfect setting to start my Pantomime decathlon (oh yes I am! I’ll be seeing 10 Pantomimes between now and the beginning of February). As I said last season, I judge how successful a Panto is on the full package: songs that entertain but advance the plot, colourful sets and costumes, funny jokes and not so funny dad jokes, bold sketches but most importantly, a show that puts the audience at the heart of its story. It is heart that the Custom House prides itself on creating.

The story of Beauty and the Beast is well known from both Disney’s animated and, most recently, 2017’s live action remake. This version lends itself more to the French influences with the town of Cooksonville transported to the Alps under a Winter Wonderland spell created by the Enchantress (Eleanor Chaganis). The Enchantress moulds the story, placing the cruel-hearted Prince (Steven Lee Hamilton) into his Beast form forever, unless he finds acceptance from someone before the last petal falls. Beauty (Annie Guy) and her Father, the Duke du Pommefrites (Gareth Hunter), seek the prince’s financial help when they come across Dame Bella Ballcock and her daft son Arbuthnot (Ray Spencer and David John Hopper), who in turn venture to the palace.

Arbuthnot befriends a talking sheep Cutlet (Charlie Raine), who also communicates using sign language. Cutlet acts as a guardian to Arbuthnot and Beauty, who saves her from the encounter with the Gaston-like character, Gaviscon (Afnan Iftinkhar).

The rest of the story follows a similar path to the familiar movie versions, The Beast imprisoning the Duke later giving a financial boost for his company in exchange for his daughter’s freedom. Beauty and Beast’s relationship blossom’s during her stay thanks to help from bubbly housekeeper Horensia (Georgia Nicholson). Throw in hilarity from Dame Bella and Arbuthnot mixed with Gaviscon’s turning obsession with Beauty, this Panto is packed with drama and comedy.

I have mixed opinions on Beauty and the Beast as the story of a Pantomime but this production hits all the right marks to make this panto ‘the Belle of the ball’. Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson’s script has packed as many punches with multiple topical references, humorous jokes and subtle innuendos that sit just right and old fashioned slapstick that fills the auditorium with rapturous belly laughter.

The cast bring much added colour and energy to this story. Annie Guy and Steven Lee Hamilton are perfectly matched together as Beauty and the Beast. Guy more than holds her own in her Panto debut as the likeable heroine with her charming persona and delicate voice whilst Panto regular Hamilton showcases his strong stage presence and impressive vocals, especially with his Act 2 solo. Afnan Iftikhar fits into the comedic villain Gaviscon, showcasing both the humorous and sinister sides with ease.

Gareth Hunter’s Duke is equally as comedic and slightly underused throughout but gets enough look in to make a noticeable impact on the plot, forming a good partnership with the infectious and bubbly Georgia Nicholson’s Horensia. Eleanor Chaganis is a very commanding, multi-layered Enchantress which allows the audience to cleverly second guess her alliance in the prologue but thaw the harshness as the plot moves on.

A special mention goes to the creation of Cutlet the Sheep played by Charlie Raine. By incorporating the use of British Sign Language into the mainstream performances, it enforces the ethos of inclusion for both patrons with hearing impediments and those without who will be fascinated with the concept performed by a sassy, fun-loving character.

The true stars of this show are by far Ray Spencer and David Hopper as Dame Bella and Arbuthnot. You forget that this tour de force of a duo has only been ‘Mam and Son’ for 3 seasons but it seems like 15. Hopper instantly makes the audience engaged with his child like manner, wacky humour and comedy presence. He has the potential to be up there with some of the Panto greats like Billy Pearce and Danny Adams in the future. Spencer, marking 5 years since graduating to dame, proves why he is the King of Panto and of the ad-lib. Leaving no stone untouched, his observant eye and presence will instantly send the audience into a chaos with laughter (particularly when things go wrong).


The music hits the right chord with plenty of references to the 3 biggest movie-musicals this year, Greatest Showman fans will be particularly pleased. To be ever so slightly critical, the quantity of musical numbers may have been too heavy but it allowed the full cast to get chance to showcase their voices as well as engage in some golden storytelling moments; mentions go to Guy and Chaganis for a captivating A Million Dreams and Hamilton for an emotional rendition of Never Enough.

The production elements this year are also particularly strong. Paul Shriek’s Costumes are even better and grander than his Great British Pantomime awarding-winning creations from last year (which fought off the London Palladium). The set, also designed by Fox and Shriek, makes the most of the small space. There is one moment in Act 2 which I won’t spoil but when combining with all the other elements in the show, proves that you don’t need big budgets to create an amazing theatrical experience.

Whilst it might not have the stature of some of the other Pantos, The Little Panto with the Big Heart ensures that people of all ages and nationalities (I went with a group from my Uni course who had never seen a Panto before) can come away feeling thoroughly entertained!

Review: Robert Wilson Baker

Tickets:
Beauty and the Beast runs from Tuesday 27th November 2018 until Saturday 5th January 2019.
Contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or visit www.customshouse.co.uk.


REVIEW: Goldilocks and the Three Bears at Newcastle Theatre Royal


Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Sunday 20th January 2019



Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of those pantomimes you tend not to see very often, it’s certainly not one of the top 5 most performed shows. Don’t let that put you off; in fact I think it’s one of the strong points of this year’s offerings from The Theatre Royal.



The story of Goldilocks is a simple one about a girl who happens upon a house in the woods. She sits on three chairs, she eats three bowls of porridge and sleeps in three beds. Finally she meets three bears. So how does this work as a pantomime. Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh have written a pantomime that keeps those traditional elements but incorporates many new elements. The traditional part of the story is told expertly through song with Goldilocks, Dame Rita and the Three Bears. The rest of the story takes place in two rival circus’, Dame Rita (Chris Hayward) Rington’s Circus and Baron Von Vinklebottom’s (Steve Arnott) circus.


Danny Adams, now in his 14th year at The Theatre Royal, said at the end of the show, “We try every year to make it better.” I’d say they have succeeded in creating their best pantomime EVER! Danny Adams and Clive Webb are often seen as the big draw for the Theatre Royal but this is so much more than the double acts show. They are undoubtedly phenomenal, hard-working and hilarious performers but this is a pantomime family which relies on the dynamic of every performer. Chris Hayward’s Dame Rita is a glamorous, fabulous and saucy dame. With 12 costume changes and 4 musical numbers she is rarely off the stage and provides much hilarity and a touch of class.


Steve Arnott, in his 10th appearance as baddie, is nothing short of phenomenal. He is an absolute master class in how to be a panto villain. His costume and make up are perfect. His accent as Von Vinklebottom is flawless and when he is in disguise and uses a Geordie accent it’s only then you realise just how good it is! He’s imposing, got great charisma and the audience love to hate him. His circus number in act 2 was a particular highlight for me! Wayne Smith is likable as the ‘star of the show’ Starbuck and works well with Danny Adams. Laura Evans was a big hit with the young girls in the audience as the adorable Goldilocks and had a great singing voice.


The Three Bears can often be the difficult parts to pull off in this show but that is not the case here. Thankfully we can see the actors faces who play the Geordie Bears that can talk. Peter Peverley, Christina Berriman Dawson and Reece Sibbald play these bears with great energy and they’re a welcome addition.


My special mention goes to Michael Potts as the circus idiot. Every time he comes on stage I was in hysterics. He is a comic genius!

There are many highlights in this show: The Circus Car Routine, Danny and Clive’s Magic Sequence, Danny, Starbucks, and Dame Rita’s Shoe Shine Routine, The ‘Alexa’ Song Routine and the audience participation Romeo & Juliet routine. In fact there is very little to be critical of. The only thing I picked up on and it’s a personal preference, is The Circus Acts slowed the pace of the show down.  The Skating Mendini, The Berserk Riders and The Great Juggling Alfino all have solo spots within the show. That said they had younger members of the audience whooping and gasping.

I must also mention the lighting designer, Ben Cracknell who has excelled in lighting this show, spectacular!


This is a tour de force of Pantomime and Circus fusion. This is bigger than pantomime, this is an absolutely spectacular show worthy of the West End. It has everything you could possibly want from a night at the theatre. It has magic, music, mayhem and even motorbikes! It’s slick, exciting, thrilling and hilarious! This is an epic pantomime that Newcastle can be very proud of!


Review by Stephen Sullivan on behalf of The North East Theatre Guide.

Tickets:
Goldilocks plays Tuesday 27thNovember 2018 – Sunday 20th January 2019
Tickets can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge) or book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk





Thursday, 29 November 2018

Preview: Robin Hood at Hexham Queen’s Hall


Over 2500 tickets now sold as Oddsocks Productions revolt with Robin this winter at the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham with a new, comic adaptation of the legendary Robin Hood.

Robin Hood & the Revolting Peasants
Hexham Queen’s Hall Arts Centre,
Thursday 13 December - Saturday 29 December 2018

Theatre Company Oddsocks Productions is fast approaching their 30th anniversary year as they prepare to tour the UK from December. The team known for bringing classic tales to life with a difference will be adding their inimitable trademark humour, live music and audience interaction the iconic tale of Robin Hood in Andy Barrow’s brand-new piece “Robin Hood and The Revolting Peasants” at the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham this Christmas!

The family-run theatre company has been creating innovative and hilarious adaptations of classic texts since 1989 and their latest production promises to be no exception. 

Robin Hood is one of the most enduring folk legends and the subject of many ballads, books and films. Over the course of seven hundred years, the ‘romantic folklore hero’, ‘depraved outlaw’ and ‘prince of thieves’ has emerged as a versatile classic, tackled by everyone from Howard Pyle to Walt Disney, and even by Kevin Costner at Sycamore Gap!!

On why the company has chosen to adapt Robin Hood for their current tour, artistic director and writer of the show Andy Barrow says “We wanted to create a Robin Hood that speaks to a modern audience. We like to produce work for a reason, to have a message, for us. Robin Hood is about empowering people. In a crisis, co-operation and teamwork produces far better results than acting as an individual and if you persist within your efforts, eventually you do make a difference”. 

He continues “When it comes to classic tales, there aren’t many that contain inspirational, significant female roles. Women tend to be underrepresented in history and so to incorporate strong female characters is important to us too. We feel a duty to send a message to our young audience that women can be just as brave as Robin; not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. I want our Robin Hood and the Revolting Peasants to be equally inspiring for girls and boys alike. I also think Robin Hood is very appropriate for present times. It’s a story that people recognise and we are looking forward to telling it in a fun, interactive and entertaining way. It certainly has something for everyone: action, love, laughter with an abundance of live music and mischief!”

Tickets:
Robin Hood & the Revolting Peasants is at the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham from Thursday 13 December until Saturday 29 December. Tickets are £14.00 - £16.50 and are available from the Queen’s Hall Box Office 01434 652477 or online at www.queenshall.co.uk   

Preview: War Horse at Sunderland Empire


CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT


War Horse
Sunderland Empire
6 – 23 February 2019

CAST INCLUDES SCOTT MILLER AS ALBERT AND THE RETURN OF WEST END SONGPERSON and NEWCASTLE BORN BEN MURRAY

War Horse will return to Sunderland Empire from 6 – 23 February 2019 as part of its 10th Anniversary UK Tour, after previously visiting the venue for a sell out three week run in 2014.

The 34 strong cast for its acclaimed production of War Horse, which begins its major tour across the globe on 15 January 2019 in Glasgow, includes Scott Miller as Albert and Newcastle born, Ben Murray as Songperson.

Photo: Cameron Slater
Scott Miller, who recently graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, will play the central role of Albert Narracott alongside Jo Castleton who reprises her role as Rose Narracott from the recent 10th Anniversary UK Tour. Musician Ben Murray returns from the West End run as Songperson.

War Horse, which has been seen by nearly eight million people worldwide, finished its record-breaking eight year London run at the New London Theatre in March 2016 and will complete its 10th Anniversary UK tour at the National Theatre in January 2019. It has won 25 awards including the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway.

War Horse received its world premiere on 9 October 2007 at the National Theatre, where it played for two seasons before opening at the New London Theatre in March 2009. Since then, the production has been seen in 97 cities in 10 countries, including productions on Broadway, in Toronto and Berlin, with touring productions in the UK and Ireland, North America, the Netherlands, Belgium and China.

War Horse is directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, designed by Rae Smith, with puppet direction, design and fabrication by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company, lighting by Paule Constable, and movement and horse choreography by Toby Sedgwick, with video design by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer for 59 Productions, music by Adrian Sutton, songmaker John Tams, and sound by Christopher Shutt.

Scott Miller, Jo Castleton and Ben Murray are joined by: Kofi Aidoo-Appiah (Topthorn head), Rianna Ash (Joey head), Huw Blainey (Geordie), Matthew Booth (Allan/Brandt/Manfred), Jonathan Cobb (Goose/Schnabel), Colin Connor (Ted), Ben Cutler (Nicholls), Khalid Daley (David/Baby Joey), Zoe Halliday (Topthorn hind), Danny Hendrix (Billy/Heine/Klebb), Alex Hooper (Joey heart), Lewis Howard (Joey/Topthorn heart), William Ilkley (Arthur), Michael Jean-Marain (Topthorn heart), Andrew Keay (Joey/Topthorn hind), Clive Keene (Greig/ Sergeant Fine), Natalie Kimmerling (Emilie), Kiran Landa (Paulette/Baby Joey), Mark Matthews (Joey hind), Katherine Moraz (Annie Gilbert), Christopher Naylor (Friedrich/Priest), Samuel Parker (Joey/Topthorn hind), Tom Quinn (Joey/Topthorn head), Gareth Radcliffe (Carter/Strauss), Domonic Ramsden (Joey/Topthorn heart), Jack Simpson (Klausen), Tom Stacy (Joey/Topthorn head), Elizabeth Stretton (Matron Callaghan/Baby Joey), Kenton Thomas (Bone/Schweyk/Vet Martin), Charlie Tighe (Stewart/Heine/Ludwig) and Matthew Trevannion (Sergeant Thunder).

Katie Henry is the UK & International Tour Director and Craig Leo is the Associate Puppetry Director. Charlotte Peters is the Associate Director and Matthew Forbes is the Associate Puppetry Director. They are joined by Resident Director, Charlie Kenber and Resident Puppetry Director, Gareth Aled.

War Horse is produced on tour by the National Theatre.

Tickets: Tickets now on sale #Ad






Tuesday, 27 November 2018

NEWS: Customs House launches 25th anniversary celebrations



 FILL THE CUSTOMS HOUSE WITH LOVE THIS PANTO SEASON

Bosses at South Tyneside’s premier arts venue have two reasons to celebrate this panto season.

The opening night of Beauty and the Beast at The Customs House in South Shields also sees the launch of its 25th anniversary celebrations.  A year-long programme of events has been drawn up, including the return of the plays Tom and Catherine and When the Boat Comes In to the Mill Dam theatre.

The Customs House has also announced that next year’s panto will be Snow White, which was the first panto to be performed at the venue in 1994.   And the sequel to When the Boat Comes In – When the Boat Comes In: The Hungry Years – will hit the stage in September.

A fundraising campaign has also been launched to give people the chance to show their love for The Customs House by sponsoring a heart.  The hearts will be displayed in the box office area at first before spreading throughout the building to commemorate its 25 years as an arts venue.   Each heart will contain a small message, so people can dedicate it to someone or add something to signify their precious memories of The Customs House.  The hearts are available in four sizes and prices start at £25.

Ray Spencer MBE, Executive Director of The Customs House, said: “We often call ourselves The Little Panto with the Big Heart, but we would like to think that we are right at the heart of our community.  For 25 years we have made magic, supported good causes and given a lot of special memories.  Now we launch an appeal for people to show their love of The Customs House and place their heart in the heart of our building and give us the foundation to continue serving our audiences and wider community for another 25 years.”

Great North Run
People can also get involved in the 25th anniversary celebrations by snapping up one of 25 places The Customs House has secured for The Great North Run.
Panto stars Dame Bella and Arbuthnot – aka Ray Spencer and David John Hopper – will be among the runners taking part in the half-marathon from Newcastle to South Shields on Sunday, September 8, 2019.
To join them, runners must raise a minimum of £250 in sponsorship for The Customs House Trust. For more information, contact Kelly Anders on (0191) 427 8199 or e-mail kelly@customshouse.co.uk.

Tickets:
Beauty and the Beast runs from Tuesday, November 27, to Saturday, January 5. Performance times vary and ticket prices start at £9.99. For more information, contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or visit www.customshouse.co.uk.





Monday, 26 November 2018

Preview: Ugly Duckling at ARC, Stockton


This December, ARC invites you to meet the most unusual duckling the pond has ever seen!

Ugly Duckling
ARC, Stockton
Tuesday 4 and Sunday 23 December 2018


Following the success of last year’s Christmas show, Pinocchio, December 2018 sees ARC bring a magical new show to Stockton as Tutti Frutti Theatre Company perform a new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved tale – Ugly Duckling.


Image by Jessica Knight
In their nest at the edge of a pond, the baby ducklings wait impatiently for Mummy’s enormous egg to hatch.  But their new brother doesn’t look like everyone else. He doesn’t even quack like a proper duckling!

Teased and called Ugly by his siblings, our hero goes on an adventure in search of a place to fit in. As the woodland trees change from dark weathered branches to silver sticks of frost, the lost and lonely fledgling hides in brushwood and stares skyward at the migrating swans, yearning to belong and marvelling at their beauty; but where does he really belong?

Moving through all four seasons, Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal bring to life Hans Christian Andersen’s well-known tale. With a menagerie of mischievous animals, depicted through inventive performance, and live music that quacks and trills, this charming production plays with the importance of identity, self-worth and takes us on a journey to discover inner beauty.

Ugly Duckling’s writer, the Olivier Award winning, Emma Reeves, said: ‘Ugly Duckling is a classic story about families, identity and finding your place in the world. It’s funny, sad sometimes but ultimately uplifting. It’s great to be working with Tutti Frutti again, exploring such a timeless and joyful story.’

Tickets:
Ugly Duckling will be at ARC, Stockton between Tuesday 4 and Sunday 23 December.

Tickets are priced at £10 per person and £8 per person for groups of 6 or more. https://arconline.co.uk/whats-on/family/ugly-duckling





Saturday, 24 November 2018

REVIEW: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Durham Gala



“Don’t Blame It On The Panto…”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Durham Gala
Until 5th January 2019



The large Christmas Tree is already up at the Durham Gala which means it is time to start pantomime season…oh, yes it is!

Durham have been the first theatre to start its panto for the last few years. It sets a strong marker for the standards expected in each year. It is the fourth show to be written and directed by Neil Armstrong and Paul Hartley and it continues to go from strength to strength by getting the basics right: it is magical for the kids and funny for everyone.

Like in past years, they have taken a story that has been done by plenty of others but they’ve put it in the mixer and changed it to fit the Durham set up.  This is no Disney reboot.

In silhouette the story is set up by Miranda the Mirror (Sarah Boulter).  The Queen of Fairyhill gave birth to a baby girl. Before she could announce this to the townsfolk, Rupert von Rottenchops (Neil Armstrong) shot her accidently with a 30mm canon. The evil Rupert ditches the baby in a pizza delivery bag and she is brought up by Dame Dolly Doodle (Paul Dunn).

The show begins with Snow White (Lauren Waine) celebrating her 18th birthday and she is waiting for Chester the Jester (Paul Hartley) to arrive to start the entertainment. Instead, Rupert arrives to announce new punitive taxes which spoils the party. Ultimately he decides to send his henchmen Will the Woodsman (Jacob Anderton) and Corporal Crosby (Pip Chamberlin) to finish Snow White off to help prevent a change of power in the kingdom, and the rest is history…

So the evil Queen has been replaced with an evil male character in this tale but the change still leaves a very recognisable tale. 

What helps make this a strong panto is that the story drives the action and is central to each scene, rather than been only occasionally mentioned inconveniently, as happens in other shows.  There is a real effort with the storytelling and that makes it easier for the kids to relate to the action.

The elements of panto shows are there too. There is the take off scene with lots of screams of ‘its behind you’, the messy scene with custard, the community singing at the end and chances for the audience to get involved.  Paul Dunn is the affable Dame who singles out a male adult from the audience but they get picked on a lot less than in past years – it is like they’ve been warned to cool it. Likewise, Paul Hartley is the friendly comic who pulls some kids on stage for some singing and gives us our first rendition of Baby Shark of the season (I know it won’t be the last). What Paul didn’t do was the whole ‘Hi gang, when I come on stage I will say this and you need to say that’ routine. Cutting it out helped cut down the often lengthy exposition than can make the start of a panto drag for those with short attention spans.

Another change from the standard format was releasing Sarah’s character Miranda from the mirror. To see the face in the mirror go off to help Snow White physically worked well. Her incredibly sparkly mirror outfit was a real eyecatcher.

Snow White needs to be delightful and princess like and Lauren handles the role perfectly, although this Snow White is no lightweight pushover.  Likewise, Jacob and Pip may start the show as evil henchmen but they are not going to make the younger members of the group burst into tears. In the same way Neil skilfully manipulates the audience, they too elicit the right response from the Durham crowd.

Enough panto standards where kept in, along with some great songs and dance routines. The dwarfs are made up of two teams of children and calling one Keith Simpson was a masterstroke. Our team tonight put in performance which was greater in stature than their young age would normally suggest.

Snow White is a fast-paced panto that sticks to the script, remembers to be funny and looks great. A live band back some well sung songs and lively dance routines. The engaging cast remember it is a family show and there are no scary bits, which makes it suitable for the youngsters too.  All in all, it is a great little panto.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Tickets: Find out by booking tickets online at www.galadurham.co.uk or calling the box office on 03000 266 600.