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Saturday, 16 November 2019

Preview: Present Newcastle at Alphabetti Theatre

Alphabetti Theatre in partnership with homelesscharity CRISIS present:
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Tuesday 17th – Monday 23rd December 2019 (including Sunday & Monday)

Written and Directed by Ali Pritchard
Performed & Choreographed by Malcolm Shields
Live music from Diji Solanke, Martha Wheatley & Wilf Stone

Alphabetti’s own Ali Pritchard returns with his new play this Christmas, Present, which shines a light on an invisible community. Present is a high octane, energetic, festive show with live music that tells a story about homelessness at Christmas. 

The play follows Dave on his journey to creating a new Christmas tradition. It’s the 23rd of December and as usual Dave is in the park. It's freezing but he doesn't care - in his head he is having the time of his life in a Christmas rave! In his head he is dancing because he wants to. In real life he is dancing to keep warm. 

Dave is brought back to reality by a text from his daughter; a text containing hope and opportunity. The chance to meet his grandson for the first time this Christmas! Dave dances in real life now because he is happy, this is his chance to get back on track and make amends with his family, and to create new traditions for himself. The play explores the challenges and successes that Dave faces, to getting clean and getting off the streets, which identifies with the real challenges that homeless people can face at this time of year.

It is a poignant and touching look at what Christmas can be like for those in need, but there is a message of hope and support. To show our own support, 5% of all ticket sales will be donated to CRISIS, the UK national charity for homeless people. 

The play also features live original music, along with some Christmas classics, from Newcastle favourites Diji Solanke, Martha Wheatley and Wilf Stone (Dansi), with Musical Direction from Mariam Rezaei.

With support from Arts Council England, Alphabetti Theatre have worked closely with CRISIS members to deliver arts workshops in creative writing, photography and art, to produce work focused on the past, present and future, which will be displayed at Alphabetti Theatre during the run of the performance. Make sure you get down early to have a good look at the wonderful artwork that has been created by the members! The creative writing segments that the members have produced will be included in the printed version of the Present script, which will be available to purchase on the night.

Running time: approximately 50 mins, no
Ticket Prices: Pay What You Feel
Venue: Alphabetti Theatre, St James’ Boulevard, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4BR

Alphabetti website:

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

REVIEW: The Bodyguard at Sunderland Empire

The Bodyguard
Sunderland Empire
Tuesday 12th – Saturday 23rd November 2019

Tickets are now on sale online from ATG Tickets: BODYGUARD TICKET LINK #Ad

Alexandra Burke appears in The Bodyguard musical at the Sunderland Empire this week. We had the pleasure of checking out the new cast as they entertained the Wearside crowd on press night.

Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer (Ben Lewis), is hired to protect pop superstar Rachel Marron (Alexandra Burke) from an unknown stalker (James-Lee Harris). They both anticipate being in charge of the arrangement but end up falling in love.

** Photo Uli Weber
Yes, this is the same plot as the 1992 film of the same title that was the star vehicle for Whitney Houston back in the day. Of course, the first question for the fans of the music is “can they sing the Whitney songs live?” and when you’re looking at hits such as One Moment in Time , Saving All My Love for You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody then you’re looking at some really popular hits. Indeed Whitney, herself, found covering Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You live tough going. [Yes regular readers: that’s two consecutive shows at the Empire with the music of Dolly P!]

This show is more spectacular than thought provoking drama.  Sometimes one needs that. The singing duties are mainly handled by Alexandra Burke with occasional confident and capable assistance from Emmy Willow who plays her sister Nicki. Both have the ability to handle these tricky songs.

The show begins with a shooting but it has no explanation before the huge screen shows a promotion film for the successful star Rachel Marron. This then transcends into a big arena or Saturday evening type gig with fabulous lighting and flames shooting up. Tight choreography percolates thought the two hours but is most notable at the start and finish.  Indeed, this is one show in which it was worth hanging on for the final post applause big number I Wanna To Dance With Somebody. Plus you finally get to see the tight live band as the video projections appear at the very, very end.

Story wise, this is a paper-thin love story that plays a very straight bat. You have a stalker that crops up, a PR who is only interested in the singer’s profile and a security guard who grows to respect the bodyguard in a predictable fashion.  But (and it is a big but), that doesn't matter. The fans of the show want the love story, the songs and the spectacle and they get that by the bucketful.

Burke builds up through the show and knocks it out of the park at the end. Looking fabulous in her outfit, she is very much the Rachel Marron for the musical generation. It has to be said that the cast all look fabulous, like it was some 1930s musical film.

The lighting and set design help reinforce the Empire’s claim to be the West End in the North East. Indeed, the moment when the bodyguard removes the singer from a situation and the shadow of the pair is held in the smoke in a very clever way.

Special mention to the lad playing the son Fletcher. Such confidence and dance moves. He is one to watch if he decides to keep it up.

The Bodyguard delivers what it promised. A larger than life love story with great songs played well. There's nothing wrong with that.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

Photos: Paul Coltas (except ** Photo Ulii Weber)


*Alexandra Burke will perform the role of ‘Rachel Marron’ at evening performances only. Alexandra Burke is not scheduled to perform Wednesday 20th November 7.30pm show. Patrons should check before booking, *The producers of The Bodyguard cannot guarantee the appearance of any particular artist, which is always subject to illness and holidays.

Tickets are now on sale online from ATG Tickets: BODYGUARD TICKET LINK #Ad

Monday, 11 November 2019

News: South Shields Customs House Pilots New LGBTQ+ Arts Group

South Shields Customs House Pilots New LGBTQ+ Arts Group 

The Learning and Participation Team at The Customs House is launching a new arts group for LGBTQ+ young people. Ours/Us/We sessions, which are free to attend, will take place on a Wednesday evening and are suitable for anyone aged 14 to 21. The first session takes place on Wednesday 13th November from 6pm to 8pm.

Izzy Finch, learning and participation officer at The Customs House, said: “We will be working each week with multi-faceted artist and lead practitioner Melody Sproates, who is Gender Fluid and passionate about creating safe spaces for young people to try new things. This project will be led by the interests of the group, with the opportunity for young people to develop an existing arts interest or try something completely new.

“We will also be working with inspirational LGBTQ+ creative role models who will be delivering sessions throughout the 12-week pilot.  We would love for this opportunity to have a wide reach and continue beyond the pilot.”

Melody Sproates
Melody Sproates is a writer and cabaret artist based in Newcastle and a graduate from Northumbria University’s drama and scriptwriting programme. Their work ranges from lip sync, playwriting and cabaret performance to zine making and lino printing.  Melody won the Live Theatre’s 2018 New Writing Award and is currently part of The Writing Squad and Northern Stage’s NORTH company development programme.

To find out more about Ours/Us/We, e-mail

News: 100,000th visitor to the annual pantomime at Darlington Hippodrome

 You Could Be 100,000th Panto Visitor –
Oh Yes You Could!

One lucky theatre-goer is set to become the 100,000th visitor to the annual pantomime since the re-opening of Darlington Hippodrome – and it could be you!

The annual festive family pantomime is an opportunity to share magical theatre memories with friends and family. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in the zany antics, fun and sheer delight of the annual tradition of pantomime. This year, one lucky visitor will be the 100,000th to attend Darlington Hippodrome’s pantomime since our re-opening in November 2017. The lucky individual will be presented with a whole host of goodies including a signed programme and an opportunity to meet the cast of this year’s pantomime – Jack and the Beanstalk.

This year Darlington audiences will be spell-bound with Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas, Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson, comedian Phil Walker and comedy actor Daniel Taylor heading the cast of what promises to be another Hippodrome pantomime spectacular.

Shirley Ballas said “This is only my second pantomime having been encouraged to give it a try last year by fellow Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood. I’m so excited to be appearing in Darlington and this wonderful theatre – the restoration is absolutely stunning.”

Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson said “This will be my eleventh panto and I am so looking forward to teaming up with Shirley to be able to do some dancing. It has been a dream of mine to do a panto in the north east, this year my dream has come true.”

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Friday 6 December 2019 to Sunday 5 January 2020. To be in with a chance to be the 100,000th pantomime visitor at the newly restored theatre visit or call 01325 405405.

Preview: Phantom Of The Opera at Sunderland Empire

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh announce a UK and Ireland Tour of the brilliant original production of The Phantom Of The Opera

The Phantom Of The Opera
Sunderland Empire
Wednesday 4 November – Saturday 5 December 2020

Tickets: #Ad

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh are delighted to announce a UK and Ireland tour of the brilliant original production of The Phantom Of The Opera and it is visiting Sunderland Empire from Wednesday 4 November - Saturday 5 December.

Now in its 34th phenomenal year in the West End, The Phantom Of The Opera is widely considered one of the most beautiful and spectacular productions in history. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic, haunting and soaring score includes Music of the Night, All I Ask of You, Masquerade and the iconic title song.

 Photo Johan Persson
The Phantom Of The Opera tells the tale of a disfigured musical genius known only as ‘The Phantom’ who haunts the depths of the Paris Opera House. Mesmerised by the talents and beauty of a young soprano – Christine, the Phantom lures her as his protégé and falls fiercely in love with her. Unaware of Christine’s love for Raoul, the Phantom’s obsession sets the scene for a dramatic turn of events where jealousy, madness and passions collide.

The Phantom Of The Opera is one of the most successful musicals in entertainment history playing to over 145 million people in 41 countries and 183 cities in 17 languages. It has won more than 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tony Awards and four Olivier Awards.

The Phantom Of The Opera is the only show in history to have celebrated 30 years on both sides of the Atlantic. In October 2016 the London production celebrated its 30th Anniversary with a special gala performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre and in October 2011 the London production celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a spectacular staging of “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” which was screened live in cinemas all over the world and subsequently released on DVD. The musical became the longest running show in Broadway history on 9 January 2006 when it celebrated its 7,486th performance. On 1 January 2018 it celebrated its 13,000th performance and later that month on 24 January the Broadway production celebrated an amazing 30 years on Broadway.

The Phantom Of The Opera has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Charles Hart, and Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Book is by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber,   Based on the novel ‘Le Fantôme de l’Opera’ by Gaston Leroux, with Orchestraions by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Group Ltd.

The Phantom Of The Opera is currently showing in London, New York, Prague and Sao Paulo, as well as on tour in the US and Asia. 
The Phantom of the Opera comes to the Sunderland Empire from Wednesday 4 November - Saturday 5 December 2020.

Ticket on sale info below:
ATG Theatre Card members - Wed 13 Nov, 10am
Groups 10+ - Fri 15 Nov, 10am
General on sale - Mon 18 Nov, 10am

Booking Information:
Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, also from the Ticket Centre on
0844 871 3022* or online at* 
*Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

REVIEW: The Thrill of Love at Gateshead Little Theatre

The Thrill of Love
Gateshead Little Theatre
Monday 11th – Saturday 16th November 2019

This week the Progressive Players at Gateshead’s Little Theatre perform The Thrill Of Love by Amanda Whittington. The drama explores the reasons underpinning Ruth Ellis’s journey from club hostess to the notoriety of being the last women executed for murder in the Great Britain.

Ruth Ellis was a complex character trying to make her way in the London underworld as a woman. Her life, although controlled by the many men she allowed into it, was that of a “modern woman” living in the moment, “a girl on the up”. This was the blonde bombshell in the newspapers she wished to portray.

In reality she had a history of domestic abuse, abortions, abandonment when pregnant, alcohol abuse and use of prescription drugs. This culminated in her murdering a man in a crime of passion, and becoming the last woman hanged for a crime, by official hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

Ruth is played by Rosie Luffingham. The role is a difficult one, to play a woman who can be in turns childish, sophisticated, glamorous and broken, takes a lot of skill. Her hardened and worldly-wise club manageress boss was played by Louise Wright who managed to maintain an aloof persona who cracked a little as the situation became less and less tolerable.

The char for the club, Doris, played by Zoë Anne Slade often provided a calming influence and a voice of reason for the other women. Kathryn Sergison plays Vicky Martin, a model, hostess and “it girl” of the 50s whose fate must have contributed to Ruth’s mental deterioration.

The story is narrated throughout by the constantly present Detective Inspector Jack Gale played by Tim Clark, who held the story together as he explored the case.

The cast succeeded in bringing to life a tragic story of a woman driven to breaking point and possibly manipulated by a man to do his dirty work. The set was simple yet perfect for so many parts of the story, and it allowed for seamless scene changes. The music of Billie Holiday drove some of the scenes and this, as well as the repeated reference to the gunshots that led to David Blakely’s death, required a disciplined approach to timing. This also bought with it lighting effects that could so easily go wrong. The wardrobe department deserves a special mention. The 1950s style was faultless throughout.

Technically, artistically and emotionally this is not an easy play to perform, but the Progressive Players have clearly worked very hard to make this an interesting, engaging and entertaining piece of theatre. Director Jim Race has done a great job with this team.

Review: Joanne Oliver
Photos: Carliol Photography

The Progressive Players at The Little Theatre, Gateshead perform The Thrill Of Love by Amanda Whittington from Monday 11th – Saturday 16th November at 7:15pm.

The cast photography in this review and in the programme for the play was provided by Carliol Photography -

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Preview: Dennis & Gnasher The Musical at Sunderland Empire

Rory Maguire To Star As Dennis In Dennis & Gnasher The Musical!

Dennis & Gnasher The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Wednesday 20
- Saturday 23 May 2020
Tickets: #Ad

British actor Rory Maguire will star as Dennis in Selladoor Family and Beano Studios’ new stage production Dennis & Gnasher The Musical!

Rory is currently starring as Gerard in American Idiot (UK Tour & New Zealand). His previous theatre credits include Summer Holiday (UK Tour), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Avalon, Canada), Mamma Mia (UK Tour), Peter Pan (Greenwich Theatre & Rickmansworth), George’s Marvellous Medicine (88 London Road, Brighton), Grease (BKL), Ushers (Arts Theatre & Edinburgh Festival), Aladdin (Brighton Emporium) and Shrek (UK Tour).

The musical tells the story of the iconic duo Dennis & Gnasher and along with their best friends, Rubi, JJ and Pieface and their mission to save Beanotown from the grips of the evil W Corps! Featuring live music, hilarious pranks, and of course, Dennis' trademark skateboard, this brand new, high-octane musical is perfect for pranksters young and old!

The stage production follows on from the success of Beano Studios’ International Emmy-nominated TV series Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed! The TV show stars Beano’s irrepressible hero Dennis, his dogged side kick Gnasher and fearless mates including Rubi, JJ, Pieface and his pet potato Paul. Together they cook up crazy plans, get in all sorts of scrapes and take on every challenge, no matter how big.

BAFTA-winning writer/producer-director Will Brenton will write and direct the show which will feature Dennis and Gnasher’s imitable sense of fun and ageless humour delivered with a repertoire of songs. The creative team will also include set and costume designer Jean Chan and choreographer Kendra Horsburgh.

Further casting to be announced shortly.

On The Web:

Dennis & Gnasher - The Musical comes to the Sunderland Empire Wednesday 20 - Saturday 23 May 2020. Tickets on sale now at Dennis Online Ticket Link #Ad

Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Preview: One Under at Newcastle Live Theatre

A Graeae Theatre Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth production commissioned by Ramps on the Moon, presented in association with Curve.

One Under
By Winsome Pinnock
Newcastle Live Theatre
Tuesday 12 – Wednesday 13 November 2019

The cast has been announced for Graeae Theatre Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth’s production of Winsome Pinnock’s new version of One Under

When a young man jumps in front of a train Cyrus is driving, the mysterious circumstances prompt him to search for answers. In pursuing the truth of Sonny's final hours, Cyrus is led to laundrette worker Christine, as the past begins to catch up with people whose lives are changed forever.  Re-written and re-imagined by the 2018 Alfred Fagon Award winning playwright Winsome Pinnock, the new version of her 2005 play One Under explores the themes of the power of guilt and the quest for atonement and delves into the fragility of human relationships.

Full One Under cast L-R Reece Pantry, Claire-Louise English,
Evlyne Oyedoken, Stanley J Browne, Shenagh Govan
The cast of disabled and non-disabled performers comprises:  Stanley J Browne (Romeo and Juliet – Globe Theatre, Chigger Foot Boys – National Theatre, Titus Andronicus - Arcola Theatre) as Cyrus, Reece Pantry (Casino Royale – Secret Cinema, The Heresy of Love – New Diorama Theatre) as Sonny, Shenagh Govan (War Crimes – national tour, Vera – ITV) as Nella, Clare-Louise English (Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Hot Coals Theatre, The Light – Channel 4) as Christine, and Evlyne Oyedoken (A Midsummer Night’s Dream -Tobacco Factory Theatre, Julius Caesar- Royal Shakespeare Company,  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - Old Vic Theatre) as Zoe.

Directed by Amit Sharma, the production will visit Plymouth, Leicester, Ipswich, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, Salisbury and London.

Commissioned by Ramps on The Moon, all performances will creatively integrate audio description and captioning.  The original version of One Under was staged in 2005 at the Tricycle Theatre (since renamed the Kiln Theatre).

This Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth production will mark the two organisations’ continued partnership following their award-winning production of Jack Thorne’s The Solid Life of Sugar Water in 2015.  Theatre Royal Plymouth have also been one of the partner organisations on Graeae’s Write to Play programme in 2019.

Winsome Pinnock was the recipient of the prestigious Alfred Fagon Award 2018 for her play Rockets and Blue Lights. Most recently, a revival of her 1987 play Leave Taking played at the Bush Theatre to critical and commercial success. Her other plays include The Winds of Change (Half Moon Theatre), Picture Palace (Women's Theatre Group), A Hero's Welcome (Women's Playhouse Trust at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs), A Rock in Water (Royal Court Young People's Theatre at the Theatre Upstairs), Talking in Tongues (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs) and Mules (Clean Break Theatre Company). Winsome has also written for radio and television.

Amit Sharma is Deputy Artistic Director at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He was previously Associate Director at Graeae, and Associate Artistic Director at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. His production for Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth, The Solid Life of Sugar Water, received unanimous four and five star reviews, won the Euan’s Guide Most Accessible Show of the Fringe Award in 2015 and transferred to the National Theatre’s Temporary Space in spring 2016. Other directing credits for Graeae include Cosmic Scallies (Edinburgh Festival 2017 & The Studio, Royal Exchange), Aruna and the Raging Sun (part of the UK/INDIA Year of Culture) Prometheus Awakes and The Iron Man (UK Tour).  Amit leads on the Write to Play programme for Graeae.
Directed by Amit Sharma
Designer — Amelia Hankin
Lighting Designer — Tanya Stephenson
Sound Designer / Composer – Beth Duke
Movement Director – Angela Gasparetto
Cast: Stanley J Browne, Clare-Louise English, Shenagh Govan, Evlyne Oyedokun

£10-£14, concs from £6 
7.30pm, running time approx. 1hr 30mins, no interval
Suitable for ages 16+, contains references to challenging issues, including depression, paranoia and suicide.
Both performances are Captioned and Audio Described.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

REVIEW: 9 To 5 The Musical at Sunderland Empire

9 To 5 The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 9th November 2019

Music & lyrics: Dolly Parton
Book: Patricia Resnick
Director: Jeff Calhoun
Choreographer: Lisa Stevens
Designer: Tom Rogers
Musical director: Simone Manfredini

The 80s film about gender politics in the office gets a musical reboot this week at the Sunderland Empire.  As the office staff get their revenge on the bosses you have the right composition for the feelgood musical of the season.

Dolly Parton is on the posters and sure enough she is the first to appear on the video screen built into the huge 9 to 5 logo.  She narrates at the beginning and end of each act. She even sings the titular song.

Talking of the set, it is impressive to see rows of old fashioned monitors on top of white computer base units on the sides and ceiling of the set. The far wall has a huge video screen which gives the effect of going up and down the floors as you move from typing pool to bosses’ suites. This combines to give a very effective set onto which to build the action.

The story centres around three ladies: Violet (Laura Tyrer) is "too old to chase but too good to fire", Doralee (Stephanie Chandos) has a reputation for being popular with the boss and the Judy (Amber Davies) is starting her first day at work after her husband, Dick (Edward Chitticks) left her for his younger secretary. The odds are stacked against the group. There is no such thing as equal pay - the lad in the mail room earns more - and the lecherous bosses get away with horrific behaviour.

Post #metoo it is uncomfortable rather than funny to see the boss, Franklin Hart Jnr (Sean Needham) trying it on as a member of staff takes notes. On balance, the later revenge scenes just about make the setting up of the situation dramatically bearable, but there were some in takes of breath from the audience. It is good to see that we have moved on as a society in a number of ways – though there is still work to do to smash the glass ceilings.

A good musical needs big musical numbers and sharp choreography. The songs are well sung but are often just functional to the narrative. Put it this way the only song that one remembers afterwards it the title of the show. The choreography is, however, sharp and fills the stage with movement. The busy office is made vibrant as documents move around. It is very well done. Likewise, the live band also give a great performance during each number.

This is a good comedy with a strong likeable cast. The comedy elements start with Judy stating that misses her husband Dick, and it builds up as the first act draws to a close.  Office politics and glass ceilings are as relevant today as they were in the late 70s when the film was in production. The stalls were on their feet at the end applauding everyone, reflecting an enjoyable night at the theatre.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Craig Sugden

On The Web:
Instagram: @9to5themusicaluk
Facebook: 9to5TheMusicalUK
Twitter: @9to5MusicalUK
YouTube: 9 to 5 The Musical

Tickets available in person at the Box Office (12-4PM) on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online at #Ad
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your plus your phone company's access charge. Booking and transaction fees may apply.