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Saturday, 15 December 2018

REVIEW: Christmas Crackers at Newcastle Live Theatre

Christmas Crackers
Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Saturday 22nd December 2018

Written by Olivia Hannah, Henry Lawrence, Jamie Morren and Tamsin Daisy Rees
Directed by Joe Douglas & Graeme Thompson
Designed by Anna Robinson
Original Music by Beth Brennan
Ensemble Cast Sarah Balfour, Micky Cochrane, Dale Jewitt, Katie Powell and Daniel Watson

Four short plays, on the theme of the family at Christmas, show the wide range of Christmas experiences from the highs to some of the lows but with a strong link of love between family members. 

A press night on a Friday night is not usually a problem but, on the penultimate Friday before Christmas, the Quayside was packed with taxis dropping off party goers in random places and preventing the flow of traffic. This acted as something of a prelude for the theatre as scantily clad people hobbled in freezing winds to spend nights with work colleagues, families and friends. You have to love Newcastle.

Fortunately, despite the congestion, parking at our regular spot – the Quayside multi-story – wasn’t an issue. I guess most people on the Quayside had left their cars at home so they could enjoy a drink.

Christmas Crackers is a compilation of four unlinked stories running at about half an hour each. The trouble then is to talk about them, without giving too much away, as they quickly develop. One advantage of an evening like this is that it feels like it moves along really quickly.

Written by Tamsin Daisy Rees
Starring Sarah Balfour, Dale Jewitt and Katie Powell

Mother is away looking after ill relatives, so it up to her children to try to keep the Christmas traditions going. Sam (Dale Jewitt) has returned home and is giving a vegan diet a try. The clementines are much more popular than his dried out nut roast. He is trying to get young Charlie (Sarah Balfour) ready for her school show Romeo and Juliet At Christmas. Added to this mix is the hungover middle child Tess (Katie Powell) who has ended up in an unsatisfying dead end job.

Tamsin Daisy Rees studies the family friction with frequent humour but she also manages to capture the glue that keeps family units together. Yes, the older siblings wind up Charlie about an accident that she had when she was younger but they also want her to put her best foot forward during that evening’s show. As a snapshot of a group of people getting ready to go out, it seems a simple premise but a lot of social chemistry is unearthed. Director Joe Douglas ensures a tight entertaining performance.

The only “but” is that the evening is billed as suitable for ages 14+. Nothing is said that isn’t spoken in playgrounds of high schools up and down the country but it might not be what you’d want share on a family night out. Having said that, I’m probably over reacting…

Written by Henry Lawrence
Starring Micky Cochrane and Daniel Watson

After the action of the first story, we find ourselves with Eddie (Daniel Watson) who has arrived at his Dad’s house with an injured pigeon which he has carried in a fish and chip box. When Dad Martin (Micky Cochrane) arrives, it becomes clear that a lot of water has passed under the bridge and they both have issues to talk about.

Eddie has tried to keep life normal for his younger sister (who remains asleep off set). Filling in on Santa duties, he tries to look after her but an earlier event was a step too far.

This is a moving two-handed play. Micky Cochrane shows his emotive side as the Dad tries to paper over the cracks. Daniel Watson conveys the complexities of youth.   Under director Graeme Thompson, the characters in Henry Lawrence’s tale are intricate rather than one- dimensional.  A remarkable amount of emotion is channelled in a short period of time. Like a great soap opera, you wondered what happens next.

Home for Christmas
Written By Olivia Hannah
Starring Sarah Balfour, Dale Jewitt, Katie Powell and Daniel Watson

Jack (Daniel Watson) brings Santa (Dale Jewitt) home after seeing him sleeping rough near Tescos. This produces a range of reactions from housemates Amy (Katie Powell) and Lex (Sarah Balfour). Writer Olivia Hannah takes an often humorous take on the, at times, absurd scenario. Why does Santa know so much about them? Why does he seem familiar and, more the point, why has Jack invited him to the party?

Groups of friends will share lots of secrets but they’ll hold other ideas back and the revealing of their deepest thoughts can suddenly change the dynamic of the group. This is Abigail’s Party for 2018.

Written by Jamie Morren
Starring Sarah Balfour, Micky Cochrane, Dale Jewitt, Katie Powell and Daniel Watson

Jamie Morren’s Marbles unites the whole ensemble in a very emotional end to the evening. Grandad Pat (Micky Cochrane) is around for Christmas dinner yet his enthusiasm is not being match by the rest of the family. His recollections of fun times in the past is in sharp contrast to a family fixated with their smart phones.

Joe Douglas is successful in directing a show in which the past is explored through the eyes of the present. Jamie Morren has written something that reminds me of the great Dennis Potter hits in the 1980s. There was a time when you’d get great drama, such as the 4 plays that make up Christmas Crackers, on television. I’m pleased they still have a place thanks to organisations like Live Theatre.

Christmas Crackers brings to the season’s drama festivities what the Fairytale of New York gave to Christmas hits. A fresh break from the pantos, that dominate the theatre schedules at this time of the year, this show is typically “Live Theatre” in that it isn’t typical at all. Four new writers have been given an exciting opportunity, and a great ensemble cast, to present interesting ideas. There are plenty of laughs and strong underlying messages but nothing here is preachy or “right on”. It is left up to the individual to chew over events.

Christmas Cracker represents four golden nuggets of Christmas.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Tickets: £10-£14, concs from £6
8pm, Sat matinee 2pm, running time approx. 2hrs, incl. interval
Suitable for ages 14+
Contains some strong language and some mild sexual references

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Relaxed Performance: 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

Relaxed Performance: Thursday 27th December 2018

Special effects will be tuned down and lights will dimmed at Sunderland Empire this festive season to ensure families have a more relaxed theatre experience, as the theatre gears up to host this years Relaxed Performance for their swashbuckling pantomime, Peter Pan.

The Relaxed Performance will take place on Thursday 27 December 2018 at 5pm and is facilitated by the theatres award winning Creative Learning and Community Partnerships team, which has seen attendances and demand grow at their highly acclaimed Relaxed Performances over the years. The theatre has worked closely with the north east autism society over the years to support the growth and development of these performances.

Pawsum meets Richard McCourt and Josh Andrews
Anthony Hope, Creative Learning and Community Partnerships Manager said: “We are so thrilled that after 6 years our Relaxed Performances continue to give opportunities for many families and individuals across the region to visit our venue, who may otherwise find it to be a daunting experience. We have since encouraged other relaxed performances across our calendar such as Awful Auntie and Gangtsa’ Granny with the plans for more in the future. The support from NEAS over the years has been crucial in our development and their knowledge and expertise has enabled us to really understand the needs of our audience.”

The Relaxed Performance is for patrons who may be concerned about attending a theatrical performance and may find visiting the theatre daunting. The performance will be designed to benefit patrons with additional needs, such as autism, ADHD, dementia, young children attending the theatre for the first time, or anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment.

Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager at north east autism society (neas) said: “We have worked in partnership with the Sunderland Empire for the last six years and have developed a really positive working relationship. It’s brilliant to have watched the relaxed performances develop over the years. We really enjoy working with the theatre, they have really embraced the idea of relaxed performances and embedded it within their practice.”

Families will have the chance to see the all-star crew including award winning actor Jamie Lomas (Hollyoaks, Eastenders, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here) as 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 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.

During the Relaxed Performance slight alterations are made to the performance though the overall content will not change. Technical adjustments are made to lighting and sound (house lights are normally left on low and strobe lighting may be removed and loud noises or explosions are either taken out entirely or reduced.

Audience members are free to go in and out as needed and late comers rules will be relaxed and making noise during the performance will not be discouraged. Additional staff members are on hand to assist as required, and quiet areas are provided for anyone who may become overwhelmed at any point.

In addition, to supporting the visit, visual stories can be sent to all bookers on request in advance of the visit, with detailed information and photos of both the theatre and the show. Pre-show familiarisation visits can be arranged.

For further information about the Relaxed Performance call 0191 566 1054 (Mon-Fri) or email SunderlandEducation@theambassadors.com

Tickets just £12!*

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.

Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022*** or online from our affiliate ATG Tickets: http://bit.ly/PeterPanSundEmpire 
Access Line: 0800 912 6971*
Groups 10+: 0330 102 7531**

*£12 ticket applies to the performance on Thu 27 Dec at 5pm only. A one-off transaction fee of £3.65 applies to telephone and online sales. No fees for Theatre Card members or groups of 10+. **Calls charged at local rate for groups 10+ only.
***calls cost 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

News: Live Theatre, Newcastle announces new board members and chair

Live Theatre, Newcastle announces new board members and chair

Live Theatre, Newcastle has appointed a new chair of its board of trustees and six new trustees with experience drawn from the commercial and creative sectors, to strengthen its board.

Lucy Winskell OBE DL, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Employment and Partnerships at Northumbria University who has been a trustee of Live Theatre for almost 9 years becomes Chair, taking over from Paul Callaghan, Chairman of the Leighton Group and Trustee of Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust who steps down as Chair of the Board after almost 9 years, but remains on the board.

Lucy Winskell OBE DL, the new chair of Live Theatre’s board said:  “We owe Paul a huge debt of gratitude for his outstanding leadership guiding Live Theatre through its ambitious capital redevelopments and artistic successes, and for his support and inspiration to the whole team. I am delighted to be taking over from Paul as chair of Live Theatre, an innovative and exciting place which challenges the way I think with every production it creates.”

New Trustees with extensive theatre and arts experience joining the board include award-winning playwright Ishy Din, whose play Approaching Empty comes to Live Theatre in February after premiering at Kiln Theatre, London; Robin Cantrill-Fenwick, former Deputy Executive Director of the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, and Brenna Hobson, Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Producer at National Theatre of Scotland. Live Theatre and NTS have been forging a successful cross border co-producing partnership which started with Lee Hall’s Olivier Award-winning hit play Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, and will continue with John McGrath’s classic Scottish play The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil in Summer 2019, with Live Theatre being the only English date on the new production’s tour.  

Joining the board of trustees from the commercial sector are Lucy Robson, a qualified accountant and audit partner at a mid-tier professional services firm with extensive experience advising and auditing business, charity and education sector clients, Paul Shevlin, an Employment Rights lawyer and Partner at Thompsons’ Solicitors based in their Newcastle and Leeds Office, and Ross Elgie, Chief Financial Officer at Kilfrost.

Jim Beirne, Chief Executive, Live Theatre said “Live Theatre wants to thank Paul Callaghan for time as Chair of the Board of Trustees, and for his support and generosity for the organisation. We are delighted to welcome Lucy Winskell as the new Chair of Live Theatre’s trustees. Lucy brings extensive experience in the education and cultural sectors. We are also delighted to welcome the six new trustees who bring a wealth of experience from a wide range of sectors.”

The new Trustees were co-opted in December 2018 and will start in the new year joining existing Trustees Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director Young Vic Theatre; Professor Peter Fidler CBE, Retired Vice Chancellor, University of Sunderland; Cllr Mick Henry, CBE, Retired Leader Gateshead Council; Arts Council England North Area Council member; Rhys McKinnell, Store Director Newcastle, Fenwick Ltd; Michelle Percy, Assistant Director, Corporate Development, Newcastle City Council; Susan Wear, Former Director of Corporate Affairs at Port of Tyne; Sue Wilson, CBE (Lady Gibson), Chair, Emmaus Gateshead and Jim Beirne MBE D.Litt. FRSA Chief Executive, Live Theatre.

Live Theatre is dedicated to developing and producing new plays, by discovering, nurturing and championing new talent. It is the only English new writing theatre outside London to do this.

For almost 50 years, Live Theatre has been creating compelling, award winning plays that speak to the people of the North East, with universal truths that appeal to a broad, national and international audience. Located on Newcastle upon Tyne’s Quayside, Live Theatre is based in a carefully restored complex of five Grade II listed buildings, combining state-of-the-art facilities in a unique historical setting with a flexible and welcoming theatre space, studio, rehearsal room and writers’ rooms.  Live Theatre draws on a broad portfolio of income streams and is recognised as a national leader in developing new strategies for increasing income and assets to support its work.

For more information see www.live.org.uk

Twitter & Facebook: @LiveTheatre                 
Instagram @LiveTheatreNewcastle

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Preview: Grinning Idiot Comedy Club at Newcastle St Dominic’s


Dan Willis
The Grinning Idiot Comedy Club
Newcastle St Dominic’s Catholic Club
Saturday 22nd December 2018

Newcastle comic, Dan Willis, is planning a flying visit to the UK this Christmas to host a one-off stand-up event following seven years in Australia.

As co-founder of the legendary alternative comedy night, The Grinning Idiot Comedy Club, Dan hopes to bring some festive fun to Newcastle audiences when he and fellow comics, Kai Humphries and Dave Hadingham take to the mic at St Dominic’s Catholic Club in the Ouseburn on Saturday 22nd December.

St Dom’s will be fondly remembered by many Grinning Idiot fans as the original home of the hugely popular comedy nights, which were launched in 2009 by Dan and fellow Geordie comedian, John Smith.

The duo brought many big names to the North East’s most intimate spaces, with fans getting up close and personal with acts such as Sarah Millican, Michael McIntyre, Reg D Hunter, Tom Stade and many more. The club also introduced new acts, enabling up and coming performers to tread the boards alongside some of the comedy industry’s biggest stars.

Dan Willis at Ed Fringe
Photo: Joanne Oliver for Carliol Photography
Dan said: “I’ve been away for over seven years now, having left the North East for the love of my life – a long-distance relationship between Newcastle and Melbourne was never going to work! We’ve since married, started a family and I’ve been lucky to land the headline spot for many major gigs in the Southern Hemisphere.  But if there’s one thing that’ll pull me straight back to the toon it’s the Grinning Idiot crowd. And to be playing St Dom’s makes it even better.

“We’ve had some memorable – and not so memorable – nights in that club. In fact, it was the very spot where I ended up sitting on top of a Christmas tree when a drunken John Smith knocked me off the stage with gusto.  They were fun – and rather painful – memories. I’m looking forward to making some more on the 22nd.”

The North East Theatre Guide caught up with Dan Wllis in Edinburgh and rated his show ★★★★★. We last caught up with Dave Hadingham in 2016 in a show we listed in our annual “best of 2016” review – review link.

David Hadingham
Photo:  Joanne Oliver for
Carliol Photography

In this special festive triple-headline show, Dan (“Total side-splitting laughter” Plains Producer) will share the stage with Kai Humphries (“Boundless energy and good natured banter” Theatre People, Melbourne) and Dave Hadingham (“Ranting and raving comic genius” The Guardian.)

As well as the 3 headline acts, there will be a couple special guests as well, to add to a bit of Grinning Idiot madness.

Doors open at 7.30pm and the show starts at 8pm. Tickets cost £8 (+bf) advance and £10 on the door and can be booked by visiting: http://www.wegottickets.com/af/544/event/457891

Monday, 10 December 2018

NEWS: Free Metro Travel 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
Even Tink needs to rest her wings sometimes (oh yes she does!) and free Metro travel is set to be just the ticket for visitors heading to Sunderland Empire for this year’s highflying pantomime, Peter Pan!

Ahead of taking flight in Peter Pan, Lauren Ferreira (Tinkerbell) put her mischievous antics to one side to highlight a magical travel offer for panto visitors. Theatre ticket holders heading to see Peter Pan this festive season can benefit from free travel on the Metro and the Shields Ferry for up to two hours before and after the performance by simply presenting their show ticket.

Chris Carson, Metro Services Director, said: “We’re delighted to be able to offer free travel to Sunderland Empire for panto ticket holders before and after the performance. We hope families will thoroughly enjoy the pantomime and that they will make the most of their trip out by enjoying all of the festive events on offer in Sunderland including; Hadrian’s Tipi, ice skating in keel square and much more.  Families can also take advantage of the extra Metro services which make travelling during the festive period quick, easy and convenient.”

Awarding 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 Smee! Topped off by everyone’s favourite Barry-born omelette flipping mum, Melanie Walters from BBC’s BAFTA winning series ‘Gavin and Stacey’ in the dual role of the delightful and doting Mrs Darling and Mermaid with Josh Andrews (Cats, Book of Mormon and 42nd Street) as Peter Pan.

Ben Phillips, Theatre Director, Sunderland Empire said: “We are thrilled to continue our relationship with Metro Services for another pantomime season and beyond into 2019 with the free travel scheme for our customers. The initiative has proved popular over the last two years and we would encourage customers to continue to take advantage of this very beneficial local scheme.”

Sunderland Empire is just a short walk from Park Lane Metro and bus interchange or Sunderland Metro station. The free travel scheme is an ongoing initiative and is also valid on an array of up and coming productions as the theatre enters an exciting 2019 season from Benidorm, The Rocky Horror Show and Calendar Girls the Musical to name but a few.

Each theatre ticket entitles one person to a free return journey to Sunderland from any other Metro station, up to two hours before and after the performance on the date shown on the ticket.  Travellers must have a valid theatre ticket and retain it for inspection throughout the journey. At stations with ticket gates in operation, just show your ticket to the member of Metro staff on duty at the gates.

So hoist the mainsail and hook your tickets now for another PAN-tastic pantomime adventure with laughs-a-plenty, live music, flying and audience participation guaranteed 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: http://bit.ly/PeterPanSundEmpire *calls cost 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

REVIEW: Cinderella at Newcastle People’s Theatre

The People’s Panto is a ball of a show!

Newcastle People’s Theatre
Until Sunday 16th December 2018

Nova Radio North East’s Robert Wilson Baker continues his Panto-viewing season with a trip to the People’s Theatre in Heaton to see the biggest tale of them all…Cinderella!

This was an unexpected trip in my continually expanding Panto-viewing schedule (I’ve now counted 12 Productions between November and February) and my first time experiencing a Panto at the People’s Theatre. It’s worth mentioning now that despite this production being classed as an amateur production, I will be reviewing it with the expectations of any production I see; more so in this instance as all the performers have chosen to be there and have put in multiple months of hard work to deliver a performance they hopefully will be proud of.

Cinderella a much-loved fairy tale and regarded as the nation’s favourite Pantomime story. This version takes a very different stance on the famous story. We first meet Fairy Moonglow (Lynn Huntley), a fairy veteran in Once Upon A Time land, who invites us to join our story in Heatonville. This is abruptly interrupted by Countess Malady (Cat White), a former fairy turned mortal, who has come to spoil her sister’s plans of helping Cinderella (Georgia White).

The story moves to Heatonville where we meet our heroine and her best friend Buttons (Joe Robson) who makes an engagement as the audience’s new best friend. Cinderella’s dad, Count Harry Hardup (Roger Liddle), arrives back from his travels to break the news of his marriage to his daughter. With this news comes extra arrivals in the form of the Step Sisters, Calpolla (Stephen Waller) and Covonia (Dan Dickinson). The sisters instantly enforce their wicked ways and along with their mother force Cinderella to become a servant and send her into the woods to collect fire wood. Moonglow’s magic enlists the help of Buttons to guide her along her travels. In the meantime, we meet Prince Charming (Nick Warneford) who straight swaps with his right-hand man Dandini (James Hardy) in order find a normal girl who will accept him for more than just a prince.

Following the typical meeting with the prince, Cinderella’s story sticks more loosely to tradition: the prince organises a ball, the sisters and Count Malady force Cinderella to tear her own ticket up, Moonglow grants Cinderella’s wish (and Buttons wish to be a very famous animated character).

Act 2 sees the introduction of a Master of Ceremonies character Flunky (Callum Clarke) who acts as a secondary Dandini. We also see Count Malady up to her wicked ways, distracting Cinderella from leaving before midnight. This is where the biggest change to the story is; we get to see the magic reverse around us with Buttons being caught by the ugly sisters in mortal form. The rest of the story from here deviates back to tradition with finding the slipper, the prince’s search for his missing princes and the calamity the shoe fitting. And of course, the story ends with a happily ever after!

The People’s Theatre have the foundations of what could be a winning Panto formula for future shows. This production shows load of promise and heart mixed with some amazing sets in an awkward theatre (at least 1/2 of the staging area is in front of the front cloth).

The casting is very safe but include many standout performances. Lynn Huntley’s Fairy Moonglow is the definition of a Fairy Godmother. Her presence is felt from the start, her comic timing is faultless and her old school-esque vocal tone works well with her transformation song at the end of Act 1. She also holds very good rapport with evil counterpart Cat White, who’s very secure in her evil skin and has marvellous stage presence.

Elsewhere Roger Liddle plays a delightfully, quirky Count Hardup and Callum Clarke is very underused as Flunky.
Nick Warneford’s unconventional Prince Charming goes down a treat with his overexerted persona and crystal-clear vocals. He is also the catalyst for partnerships with Georgia White’s Cinderella, showcasing some nice vocals both solo and in duet with Warneford, and James Hardy as Dandini, who despite looking uncomfortable in his Panto surrounding gives a sound attempt.

Credit must be given to Joe Robson as Buttons. Despite having virtually no voice, he gave 110% with full energy and physicality. It’s a shame the script also doesn’t showcase Robson’s comedic quirks and Buttons pathos more, something I feel should be present in every comic lead. Furthermore, I overheard one family in the interval saying that Robson is their family favourite every year and they felt this year was no exception. I’m very much looking forward to seeing him develop in future years.

The Ugly sisters in this story steal the show. Stephen Waller and Dan Dickinson are a triumphant duo, serving a fine mix of comedy, wickedness, audience participation and stunning vocals, costumes and wigs (credit must be given to Chris Carr for the fabulous design) For all I could have known, these two could easily be a professional sister team.

It is also worth mentioning that the cast is backed an army of 10 adult chorus, 5 senior dancers from Newcastle High School for Girls, 4 teams of 20+ Juniors and 4 teams of 10-20 babes, with this performance featuring Team B’s Juniors and Babes. This London Palladium sized ensemble were the true stars, supporting the principals with superb choreography from the 5 Seniors and Adult Chorus in the ballroom scene, and to get that many child dancers to do more than basic choreography at the time is a win win.

Despite having no live band, which is a preferred option amongst the team at NE Theatre Guide, the tracks had orchestral richness which vibrated through the auditorium. The song choices were very far between, some not fitting with the context of advancing the story but some really worked, notably Huntley’s Act 1 rendition of ‘Come Alive’ and Warneford and White’s Act 2 ballad of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’. Baby Shark also makes welcome appearance in the Community Song.

The script for me is the only major let down. Phil Meeks’ script delivers some good moments but overall lacks in the clarity with an over confused plot and missed opportunity for real comedy moments, particularly with Buttons’ characterisation. Emma Jane Richards has done a sterling job to make the best of this, producing a nicely packed production with the right mix of production elements.

With tickets on sale for next year’s production ‘Dick Whittington’ and limited tickets available for the rest of this year’s run, The People’s Pantomime proves to be a pleasant treat for all the family and long may it continue to grow and find the success that it’s currently developing.

Review: Robert Wilson Baker
Photos: Richard Gardner

£14.50 (children and concessions £12)
Box Office: 0191 265 5020
Online: www.peoplestheatre.co.uk

REVIEW: Aladdin at Darlington Hippodrome

Darlington’s Panto Is A Flying Success

Darlington Hippodrome
Until Sunday 6 January 2019

Some pantos are spectacular.  Some are full of great singing moments. Darlington's panto is loaded with great laughs and sparkles. Louie Spence comes across as the ‘Spirit of Innuendo’ and, with Eric Potts as dame and comic Liam Mellor, the audience were laughing throughout the show.

First up is Robin Askwith as evil mastermind Abanazar. After setting his dastardly master plan for world domination he seeks assistance from the Slave of the Ring. With a huge twirl Louie Spence stamps his mark on the show. Funny for the parents, I'm sure some of his quips were flying over the heads of the younger audience members.  At times he probably over-stepped the mark.

Aladdin has all of the QDOS Pantomime’s hallmarks of success: a cast that understands the elements of a great panto and some of the wow factor.  Opening number "Darlo" to the tune of Downtown is the start of many local references.  The well worked song is the first to feature the enthusiastic dancers, made up of both professionals and younger "babes" from Joanne Banks Dancers.  The show also features a live band under Musical Director Chris Pugh. As we’ve always said, live music performances are far preferable to a recording.

Then come the introductions of the remaining principal cast members. This is done efficiently - other shows can make this drag on sometimes. In fact, with Eric Potts as both dame and director, the show canters along at a good pace and finished tonight at 2 hours including interval - ideal for the youngsters. The exposition is economical, funny scenes abound, but the show is selective in what they use. Aladdin is more 'pantos greatest hits' rather than the 'complete box set'. No take off or messy scenes here but we do have a fabulous tongue twister scene. Even Baby Shark is cut to 2 lines (phew!)

Liam Mellor has settled in in his second year as Darlo's comic. The kids respond well to him and want to be in his gang. Special mention goes the 3 year-old Thomas for his star performance during the community singing on the triangle - a future star in the making.

Zoe Birkett has made regular appearances in the North East with various musicals and she has the opportunity to show off her singing talents here too. There are not many songs here, hence the 2 hour running time, but it was good to hear some recent music rather than the usual pot boilers. Zoe sparkles as Princess Jasmine, confirming that she can act as well as sing.

Carl Douglas is the Princess's love interest Aladdin. Being the chosen one, he gets to feature in the shows big show stopping event... the magic carpet ride. QDOS have pulled the stops out to produce a great ending to Act One. The Twins FX have helped Aladdin to fly over the orchestra pit without it being obvious in the stalls how it was done. All good pantos need these magical moments.

The only let down was the huge Genie puppet. It was the height of the stage but had more than a passing nod to Disney.  It's a shame the lips were badly out of sync.  Having said that, this is the first panto I have been to this season that hasn’t suffered from some sound issues at some point.

Aladdin is magical and funny. Darlington has a wonderful panto on its door step that means that the locals don't need to venture far for a great Christmas treat.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

Aladdin flies into Darlington Hippodrome from Saturday 8 December 2018 to Sunday 6 January 2019. For full details and to book visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk or call 01325 405405.