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The Best of 2018

The Best of 2018

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

Thanks go to everyone who read, wrote or helped out in any way in helping us to celebrate North East theatre.  Now we don’t claim to see every show but here are the shows that stood out for us from those we covered.

We don’t pretend that this is anything other than a list of what we liked at the time that the list is put together.  Ask us on another day and you might get a different order. We don’t go on anything technical or clever – we are just members of the audience that say if we liked the show or not, nothing more or less. You may disagree – great! We will be happy that the theatre that you saw caused you to react in that way.

Please remember that we are Newcastle based and that will put a limit on how far we can reach out. Sad but true.  It was only when we got to the end of the year that we realised we had only visited one particular coastal theatre twice – and both visits were for pantos. That’s the way it is. However, we welcome reviews to be submitted and that has helped us to cover more shows in a bigger area this year.

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

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

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

2015:   Geordie The Musical – South Shields Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015: Hairspray – Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House

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

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

2015:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Newcastle Northern Stage

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

2017 Rattle Snake at Newcastle Live Theatre

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

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

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

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

2015:    Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour  – Newcastle Live Theatre

The Best Shakespeare Award

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

The Best Drama Award

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

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

Our favourite family panto

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

1.       Cinderella at Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House  

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

So that leaves, once again, a thank you to everyone that has helped us by reading, reviewing, performing, inviting and booking the shows.  Special mention goes to the very patient Joanne and our son Robert. He is only 15 and has literally sat through nearly a hundred shows.  For the record Robert’s top pick this year was Vulvarine and Jo puts Eugenius at the top of her list. Let’s hope both shows head to the North East at some point.

Happy New Year!
Stephen Oliver
North East Theatre Guide

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