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Thursday, 28 February 2019

REVIEW: The Mousetrap at Sunderland Empire


The Mousetrap
Sunderland Empire
Thursday 28th February – Saturday 2nd March 2019

Tickets for The Mousetrap are available in person at the Box Office on High Street or online from ATG Tickets 
http://bit.ly/MousetrapSund* #Ad



Agatha Christie’s classic record breaking whodunnit arrives in Sunderland this week. Complete with its period charm, the show have been packing the audiences in for its West-end run of over 27500 performances over the last 67 years. Even the Queen has seen it and been asked not to give away the secret.

Set in the early 50s when rationing was still around the story centres around Mollie Ralston (Harriett Hare) who has inherited a large property which is about an hours drive from London. She decides to open the property as the “Monkswell Manor Guest House” with the support of her husband Giles (Nick Biadon). The Mousetrap starts with heavy snows outside and the couple are expecting their first guests. As they make their final preparations the big news story on the radio is the murder of a woman in  Paddington. The police issue a fairly generic description of the man that they need to question.


As they arrive, the guests make a quick first impression on the audience. Christopher Wren (Lewis Chandler) is a lively young architect who likes a joke. His behaviour is in stark contrast to the irascible Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong, who is best known for playing Only Fools And Horses regular Cassandra) who does not suffer fools and is clearly irritated by the inexperience of her hosts. It is a good job Trip Advisor wasn’t around at the time. Mrs Boyle arrived in the same taxi as the Major Metcalf (resident director John Griffiths) who takes the situation in his stride.

Seemingly out of place in the 1950s scene is Miss Casewell (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen) who is dressed initially in fairly a masculine outfit - which, like the other male guests, also matches the police description  of the person they want to question - and she wishes to keep herself to herself. Unexpectedly the door bell rings again and Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) asks if a room is available as his car has got stuck in the snow. Whilst little is known about him, no more is known about any of the guests who pre-booked their rooms either.

So, the classic Agatha Christie scenario is set up. A group of strangers stuck in a snow bound hotel for the evening with a murderer on the loose. Thank goodness the phone rings and the police are sending Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold) around on his skis to ensure everyone is safe. The ensemble cast do a fine job in portraying a fairly eccentric bunch of people who have little in common whilst they wait for the snow to clear.

The set is a single central room at the front of the Manor House. Numerous doors and exits enable the cast to flow in and out of the action. Unlike some whodunits, director Gareth Armstrong ensures that there is a good flow in the narrative. But just like an episode of Scooby Doo, part of the challenge for the audience at the interval is trying to work out if the killer is in the house and who it is.

The lighting design from Peter Vaughan Clarke enables the crunch moments to be picked out – or hidden – as appropriate. The sound design by Richard Carter includes some well timed radio broadcasts. A nice touch was the snow falling outside making it feel cold inside the Empire Theatre.


Regular readers will know I like the murder mystery format and I am a fan of Agatha’s work. The Mousetrap is successful as it is a fine example of the whodunit. It may feel quaint, a reflection of a bygone age, but setting a play in a time before mobile phones helps to build up the tension. I couldn’t imagine a modern day reboot having the same charm.

The Mousetrap is an entertaining frolic. Seeing it for a second time I can say that the clues are there…I missed them all the first time around!

Photos: Johann Persson 
Review: Stephen Oliver

Tickets for The Mousetrap are available in person at the Box Office on High Street or online from ATG Tickets http://bit.ly/MousetrapSund* #Ad

Preview: Octopus Soup at Darlington Hippodrome


TOMMY WRIGHT PUTS NICK THROUGH HIS PACES

Octopus Soup 
Darlington Hippodrome
Tuesday 26 February - Saturday 2 March 2019

Darlington Football Club manager Tommy Wright drops in to Darlington Hippodrome to offer some advice.

Darlington Football Club manager Tommy Wright dropped in to Darlington Hippodrome to offer Nick Hancock some tips on keeping fit and healthy during his UK tour of the brand new British comedy Octopus Soup. They also took time to discuss their favourite subject – football.

Tommy took time out from his hectic schedule to give Nick advice on how to pace himself through each performance to ensure he can give the best performance each and every night.

Nick is starring in a brand new British comedy Octopus Soup which has just started a UK tour which will see Nick travelling to Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Windsor, Cardiff, Swansea and Guildford before the end of May.

Nick said “Performing on stage for two hours every night really does take it out of you, mentally and physically. The rush of adrenaline you get just before stepping on to the stage in front of an audience is amazing but it can also be very draining.  Tommy has given me plenty of ideas to help me keep fit and healthy during the tour and it was great to catch up on how DarlingtonFC are doing this season.”

Octopus Soup runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Tuesday 26 February to Saturday 2 March. For more information or to book call 01325 405405 or visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk.


Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Tom & Catherine at South Shields Customs House


  TOM & CATHERINE MUSICAL A FAMILY AFFAIR FOR CAST

Tom & Catherine
South Shields Customs House
Tuesday 5th - Saturday 9th March 2019

Tom & Catherine makes a triumphant return to The Customs House, from Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th March, as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations. The original play sold out months in advance of its first run in September 1999 and is widely credited with securing the future of the venue at the time.

The South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society are making a family affair of their joint production with The Customs House, Tom & Catherine.  Kathryn Atack will play Old Catherine and is also musical director, while her youngest child, Bonnie-Belle Atack, shares the role of Child Tom with Joe Cook, who is making his South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society debut.  Meanwhile, sisters Millie and Charlotte Adams share the role of Child Catherine.

Old Tom will be played by Tony Chapman, while Adult Catherine and Adult Tom are played by Natalie Elleithy, who also directs, and Garry Dring. Ellie Falconer plays Young Catherine, while Nan will be played by Dianne Jackson and Kate by Tracy Office.   Natalie, who has been a member of the group for 10 years and resident director for the last three, said: “I have loved bringing Tom & Catherine to life and I am extremely excited about directing and playing such an iconic and challenging role.”

Bonnie-Belle Atack as Child Tom
Garry, who joined his first theatre group at the age of 13, returns to The Customs House stage for a fourth time in Tom & Catherine. He said: “It is a great honour to be part of the 25th anniversary celebrations playing Tom in this revival.”

Charlotte Adams as Child Catherine
Written by Tom Kelly, Ray Spencer and John Miles, the musical tells the incredible love story of Tom and Catherine Cookson, the celebrated author who penned more than 100 books based on her deprived childhood in South Tyneside.

Ellie Falconer as Young Catherine
Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, said: “It is lovely to welcome the South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society back to The Customs House for a special production of Tom & Catherine. This musical, first performed in 1999, kick-started a new beginning for The Customs House and it is really fitting that this production celebrates one of the north east’s greatest benefactors and one of South Tyneside’s best-known figures.  I do hope our community join us to celebrate Tom and Catherine’s life and support performers from our brilliant community.”

Dianne Jackson as Nan and Tracy Office as Kate
Ray directed the original production and Neil Armstrong followed in his footsteps when Tom & Catherine returned to the theatre. Versions of the play have also been performed to mark what would have been Dame Catherine’s 100th birthday in 2006 and the 15th anniversary of The Customs House in 2009.

Garry Dring and Natalie Elleithy 
as adult Tom and Catherine 
Adrian Jackson, chairman of the South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society, said they are delighted to be bringing it back to the stage for audiences old and new. He said: “We are excited to be performing this iconic and locally written musical which holds such strong associations with our home town. Many of our members will remember the first, very successful production performed 20 years ago whilst some of our younger members are learning about the life of Catherine Cookson and her legacy to South Tyneside for the first time.  We hope that you will come and join us in celebrating the life of Catherine Cookson and enjoy this powerful, uplifting and moving account of her life story as we bring Tom and Catherine home to where the story all began.”

Joe Cook as Child Tom
Catherine was born in Tyne Dock and grew up in East Jarrow, believing her unmarried mother to be her sister as she was raised by her grandparents.  She left school at 14 and after a period of domestic service, took a laundry job at Harton Workhouse, before moving south in 1929 to run the laundry at Hastings Workhouse.  There she met Tom, a teacher at Hastings Grammar School, and they married in June 1940, when Catherine was 34. She experienced four miscarriages late in pregnancy due to a rare blood disorder and suffered a mental breakdown as a result. She turned to writing to help overcome her depression.


Kathryn Atack and Tony Chapman as old Tom and Catherine


Millie Adams as Child Catherine
She returned to the north east in 1976, to confront her past and use her wealth to help others who were not as fortunate. Her foundation continues to make donations to worthy causes. She received an OBE in 1985 and was made a Dame in 1993.  Her books have sold more than 123 million copies in at least 20 languages and have been adapted for television, radio and the stage. She was the most borrowed author in UK libraries for 17 years, up until four years after her death, aged 91, in 1998. Tom died 17 days after his wife.

Tickets:
Tickets for Tom & Catherine are priced from £8 and available from the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or online at www.customshouse.co.uk.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Preview: Ghost – The Musical at Sunderland Empire


UNCHAINED AND REIMAGINED, INTERNATIONAL SMASH HIT GHOST THE MUSICAL RETURNS TO SUNDERLAND EMPIRE!

Ghost – The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Tuesday 12th – Saturday 16th March 2019
Tickets: http://bit.ly/GhostSund #Ad

Bill Kenwright’s ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Spectacular’ production of Ghost – The Musical returns to the UK in 2019, following a spectacular international tour in Dubai, Istanbul and Trieste. The 2019 UK tour is at the Sunderland Empire from 12-16 March 2019.

The double Academy Award-winning movie Ghost is a huge success story, both critically and at the box office, where it was the highest grossing film in the year of its release. It starred the late Patrick Swayze alongside Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn and Whoopi Goldberg and was directed by Jerry Zucker. Bruce Joel Rubin's script won the Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay and Whoopi Goldberg won the Oscar® for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The film's most iconic and moving scene was famously performed to The Righteous Brother's Unchained Melody, which also features in the musical version.

Walking back to their apartment late one night a tragic encounter sees Sam murdered and his beloved girlfriend Molly alone, in despair and utterly lost. But with the help of Oda Mae Brown, a phony storefront psychic, Sam, trapped between this world and the next tries to communicate with Molly in the hope of saving her from grave danger…

Bill Kenwright said; “Ghost is a story full of hope and is one of those films which never leaves you. The book by Bruce Joel Rubin and score by Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballad come together wonderfully.”

Bruce Joel Rubin said; “This is a show with such a strong emotional and musical life that it can mould to many visions and interpretations.  It can be performed on any scale, and its vibrant heart will still captivate an audience and allows the imagination to flourish. It is purely theatrical in the greatest sense”.

The stars of the hit musical based on the Oscar-winning film tell us about bringing the iconic story to the stage ahead of the one week run at Sunderland Empire in March 2019. Here is what Niall Sheehy (Sam), Rebekah Lowings (Molly) and Jacqui DuBois (Oda Mae Brown) think ahead of their appearance on Wearside.

What is Ghost The Musical about?
NIALL: It’s the story of a young couple who suffer a loss. My character, Sam, is killed but can’t seem to move into the next world. His girlfriend, Molly, is in danger. He’s trying to help her while she’s trying to find a way to move on. In the middle of that, he realises that Oda Mae, a fraudulent psychic, can actually hear him, so he enrols her to try and help communicate.

What attracted you to the show?
REBEKAH: When I first saw the show it took my breath away. The storyline is iconic. The songs are just stunning, the orchestration is beautiful.
NIALL: It’s so full of heart and it deals with loss, which is a really important issue. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a job or anything important, it resonates with us as actors and as audience members.
JACQUI: It puts you in touch with your heart.
NIALL: It takes you on an emotional journey. It’s heartbreakingly sad at points, but it’s also rip-roaringly funny. It’s a show for anybody who believes in the power of love.

What are your characters like?
NIALL: Sam is complex. He’s fun-loving and relaxed, but he has intimacy issues. He has an issue expressing love, but he’s determined and even when he hits rock bottom, he doesn’t give up. He’s a fighter. That’s something I would like to think I share with him.
REBEKAH: Molly has a constant flow of hope and determination. She wants to believe. She’s boisterous. She’s a tomboy, like me.  
JACQUI: I love Oda Mae. She’s direct and I have that part of my personality. She is a real hustler and a survivor.

It’s nearly 30 years since Ghost was released as a film. Why do you think the story has stood the test of time?
REBEKAH: It’s because the characters are so relatable to everyone. This show is so real.
NIALL: As much as it’s this wonderful, crazy story, these characters are absolutely rooted in the truth. Everyone can relate to feelings of loss and of thinking ‘If only I had five more minutes with them’.
JACQUI: It’s a universal thing. It doesn’t matter what country you come from, what colour you are, what sexuality you are, we all feel this exactly the same way. No-one owns it more than anyone else. If you love, you love. I lost my mother the last time I did this show. That was very hard. But at the end of the show every night I connect with my parents. I think the audience has that too. At that moment, I’m probably an audience member feeling the same things as them.

The potter’s wheel scene is an iconic moment of movie history. What’s it like to perform on stage?
REBEKAH: I was originally petrified because, apart from being a performer, my artistic qualities are very slim. I love that scene because we have so much fun. I wish I could get Niall more messy, but he has a quick change right after and I’m not allowed.
NIALL: People want to see those “Ditto” moments because that’s what they remember from the film, and it’s a lovely scene to be part of because you know it’s one of those amazing moments. But we’re not here to mimic Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg or Demi Moore. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel either. Hopefully when people see this show, they’ll see the film they remember but they’ll also see something very different.

What does the music, written by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, bring to the story?
REBEKAH: The songs are so well written, they don’t feel like songs, they feel like an extension of the script. I know that sounds silly, but you could easily speak the songs.
NIALL: It’s an eclectic songbook and a cleverly constructed score. The music we’re singing perfectly suits who we are as characters. The writers have done a lot of work on the music, with some of the songs being drastically rewritten for this production. It’s great to see a musical that hasn’t just been finished and left. They’ve reworked it, so thankfully I think we have an even better piece now.

What’s the best thing about touring?
REBEKAH: I love touring. You get to see different cities, different places. And I love weekly touring because you can’t ever get bored. You’re always on a new stage in a new city and everything feels slightly different and more exciting.
NIALL: It’s fantastic to take a new show into a town. Audiences, I find, are so excited and up for it. And you get to experience some lovely things in cities you may never have got to do otherwise. We always have an unofficial social secretary within the cast who says we’re going to do X, Y and Z. There’ll be plenty of fun to be had over the course of the tour.

What’s makes live theatre special?
JACQUI: It’s historic. It’s how we shared together when we lived in little villages and tribes. Everyone gathered for storytelling.
NIALL: To see live theatre is a real joy. To see actors on stage showing rage or love or sadness, to be in the presence of raw emotion, which hopefully you’ll see in our production, it’s powerful. Every time I see a show it moves me more than when I’m watching a film in my living room where I can pick up my phone if I want to quickly send a text message. In a theatre you leave the world outside and get engrossed in the story.


With Music and Lyrics by Sunderland’s very own Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. Rebekah Lowings (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar) will join Bill Kenwright’s production of this timeless story of love, despair and hope in the part of Molly alongside Niall Sheehy (Titanic The Musical, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Wicked) as Sam.

West End musical theatre star Jacqui Dubois (original London cast of Rent and Children of Eden, other credits include The Lion King, Fela and most recently People, Places and Things) returns to play ‘Oda Mae Brown’, the part made famous in the film by Whoopi Goldberg. 

Sergio Pasquariello (Original London cast of Heathers the Musical, other credits include West Side Story, Les Miserables) plays ‘Carl’ alongside Jules Brown as ‘Willie’, James Earl Adair with his haunting performance as the ‘Hospital Ghost’ and Lovonne Richards as the ‘Subway Ghost’. Jochebel Ohene Maccarthy plays ‘Louise’ and Sadie-Jean Shirley is ‘Clara’. Completing the cast is Chanelle Anthony, Josh Andrews, Samantha Noel, Charlotte-Kate Warren, Kage Douglas and Michael Ward.

Creatives:
BILL KENWRIGHT presents GHOST – THE MUSICAL
Book and Lyrics by BRUCE JOEL RUBIN
Music and Lyrics by DAVE STEWART AND GLEN BALLARD
Based on the Paramount Pictures film written by BRUCE JOEL RUBIN
Directed by Bob Tomson
Choreographed by Alistair David
Designed by Mark Bailey
Lighting Designed by Nick Richings
Sound Designed by Dan Samson

Photos: Pamela Raith Photography

Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West or online from our affiliate ATG Tickets: http://bit.ly/GhostSund. #Ad

Preview: Picture of Dorian Gray at Darlington Hippodrome


CLASSIC WILDE AT THE DARLINGTON HIPPODROME

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Darlington Hippodrome
Tuesday 26th – Saturday 30th March 2019

Tilted Wig Productions present an exciting and bold new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Co-produced with Malvern Theatres and Churchill Theatre, Bromley, it will be showing in Darlington between 26 and 30 March as part of its national spring tour.

Jonathan Wrather and cast in rehearsal
Jonathan Wrather, known for his roles on both stage and screen, will be joining the cast, taking the part of Lord Henry Wotton.  Jonathan is best known to audiences recently for playing the controversial Pierce Harris in ITV’s Emmerdale for two years. Other notable TV credits include Joe Carter in Coronation Street, Silent Witness and Casualty. He also has extensive stage and film credits. The cast also includes Daniel Goode (Basil Hallward) and Kate Dobson (Sybil Vane) with further casting to be announced.

Jonathan Wrather and cast in rehearsal
The play, based on the classic novel, celebrates Wilde's wonderful language and will appeal to audiences old and new. It is adapted and directed by Séan Aydon, designed by Sarah Beaton with lighting by Matt Haskins. Featuring Wilde’s famous wit and a stellar cast, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a fast-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the final scenes of the play – providing a really entertaining night out for all.

Jonathan Wrather
In a society obsessed with youth and beauty, Dorian is given the chance to keep his looks forever. But at what cost...?  The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story of a cultured, wealthy, and beautiful young man's downfall through moral corruption and seduction.  Dorian, who, fearing that his good looks would fade as he grows old, wishes that a portrait painted of him could bear the burden of the ageing process, leaving him forever young and resulting in disastrous consequences!

Katherine Senior of Tilted Wig Productions says: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray will be the 21st show that Matthew and I have taken out on the road. We produced 19 shows for Creative Cow over its 10 years in existence and now, under the banner of Tilted Wig Productions, The Picture of Dorian Gray will be our second production, following on from the success of Great Expectations last year. We hope audiences will enjoy our classic re -telling of this famous novel as it still has such resonance with our modern day lives and with its utter timelessness should feel bang up to date.’

Tickets: The Picture of Dorian Gray runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Tuesday 26 to Saturday 30 March.

For more information or to book call 01325 405405 or visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk

News: Panto auditions at South Shields Customs House


 OPEN AUDITION FOR LEADING PANTO ROLE

Some day our prince will come…

The Customs House in South Shields is holding an open audition for one of the leading roles in this year’s pantomime, Snow White.

Last year’s open auditions for the role of 
Beauty in Beauty and the Beast.
Would-be leading ladies queued around the block last year when theatre bosses opened up the role of Beauty, in Beauty and the Beast, to the general public.

Now they require a leading man to take on the role of the Prince in this year’s show, for which a third of tickets have already been snapped up.

Candidates need to be at least 5ft 10in tall with a playing age of 25 to 30. Tap dancing skills would be an advantage.

Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, 
in costume as Dame Bella, with David John Hopper as Arbuthnot, 
Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, who co-writes, directs and stars in the annual panto, said: “Last year we held an open casting for the role of Beauty and Annie Guy was chosen and was a fantastic principal girl.  This year we are looking for our principal boy and hope to unearth another fabulous talent. We are heading for another record-breaking year and this is an amazing opportunity for someone to join our panto family.”

Snow White was the first panto to be performed at The Customs House in 1994 and is being brought back as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations.

Last year’s pantomime broke box office records and has been nominated for three Great British Panto Awards – Best Comic (David John Hopper - Arbuthnot), Best Pantomime Animal (Charlie Raine – Cutlet) and Best Staging and Set (Fox and Shriek).

The open audition will take place in the main auditorium at The Customs House, Mill Dam, on Wednesday, March 27, from 4pm onwards.

Actors should bring with them a CV and a headshot and prepare two contrasting songs to be performed a capella, a short uplifting poem and a joke.
Snow White, sponsored by Hays Travel, runs from Wednesday, November 27, 2019, to Sunday, January 5, 2020. Tickets, priced from £9.99, are available from the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or online at www.customshouse.co.uk.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Preview: My Mental Breakdown: A Musical at North Shields Exchange


My Mental Breakdown: A Musical
North Shields – The Exchange
Friday 8th - Saturday 9th March 2019

In a society that has, at long last, got mental health within the group consciousness, it is still often misrepresented. My Mental Breakdown has been created by a small group based in Newcastle upon Tyne.  They have used their talents and personal experiences to bring together the most underrepresented parts and the cold reality of living with mental illness.

The show aims to help express the inner most and darkest thoughts that many people struggle to put into words.  It hopes it can reach those who have loved ones struggling and try as they might, can’t understand what it’s like.   It is also for sufferers themselves who could benefit from seeing other perspectives and to validate their experiences.

The narrative follows a young man, struggling with the various thoughts and feelings that leave him isolated, and alone. It is written semi-autobiographically by Max Kingdom: the founder of the now annual Canny Fringe Festival. Many men feel that can’t talk about the struggles they go through; many feel that needing help is a form of weakness.

This production shows that it takes real strength to tell people you are not coping. Much of media, such as the popular 13 reasons why, run a narrative where suicide is presented as an understandable conclusion to being sexually assaulted and bullied at school. It glamorises the pain that leads people to take their own lives in a romantically tragic way. My Mental Breakdown does not do this. Suicide is ugly. Awful. It leaves loves ones left behind, broken, full of thousands of questions which will never been answered.

In Kingdom’s real life he lost a friend to suicide: a flatmate that he lives with but never even knew that they were struggling. One day you wake up and realise that person isn’t there anymore and all that potential has suddenly been wiped out. It was this that catalysed the passion that has lead to the creation of this musical. Kingdom has been able to channel his own struggles with poor mental health into a heartbreakingly honest and real production with beautifully bittersweet songs.

Sadly, through lack of resources and lack of understanding, many ‘professionals’ are not actually equipped to help those in need. This is why we need to build a sense of community.  Sometimes doctors can help, sometimes they can’t. Telling people that doctors are the only people who can help only serves to make people feel alone and hopeless. We can help. We need to be there for friends, family and neighbours. Maybe we can’t fix the problem, but a lot of the time just being around is enough; it helps more than you can imagine.

‘Not a dry eye in the house’ - an audience member from a preview

CONTENT WARNING: Themes of mental illness, suicide and self harm.

My Mental Breakdown: A Musical has been fully sponsored by London North Eastern Railway.

All Proceeds are going to Campaign against Living Miserably (CALM) who work tirelessly to help men who are feeling suicidal.  More information on this amazing charity can be found here: https://www.thecalmzone.net

On The Web:

Age:16+
Length:1.5 hours

Tickets: £10.00 (£8.00  Con) from the Exchange box office or www.ticketsource.co.uk/theexchange.