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Preview: Milk Carton Kids at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

The Milk Carton Kids bring acoustic Americana to Newcastle
Milk Carton Kids
with support from Ryan Bingham
Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Wednesday 29th January 2020
California indie folk duo The Milk Carton Kids bring their exquisite live show to the Tyne Theatre & Opera House stage on Wednesday 29th January 2020.
The Milk Carton Kids return to the UK and Europe for the first time since the 2018 release of their Grammy-nominated album ‘All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do’. 

The new project marks the first time that acoustic duo Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale have brought a band into the studio with them. Two-part harmonies ride acoustic guitars, high above the haunting landscape created by the presence of the band, as if Americana went searching for a lost America.

Fresh from a string of US shows, including an opening slot for Mumford & Sons, on this short tour consisting of just six UK dates, songs new and old will be played by the duo without accompaniment.

Pattengale says. "I'm the lucky recipient of a life in which for hundreds of times, day after day, I get to spend an hour that is like speaking a language only two people know and doing it in a space with others who want to hear it.”

Support comes from one of American music’s most distinct voices, Grammy and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham.

Theatre Director Joanne Johnson says: “I’m thrilled to add another music event to the theatre’s programme, as the acoustics of the theatre are truly perfect for concerts. The Milk Carton Kids’ sound will be spine-tingling under our beautiful domed ceiling.”

Tickets are priced: £28 / £25.50 / £20.50
General sale tickets are now available from the theatre or online from our affiliate Eventim UK: #Ad

NEWS: Kids go free this Christmas for The Snow Queen

Kids go free this Christmas for The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen
Newcastle Northern Stage
30th November to 4th January 2019

For a limited time only, when you buy a full-price adult ticket to selected performances of Northern Stage’s magical family show, The Snow Queen, you can get a child’s theatre ticket for free.

The Snow Queen runs from 30th November to 4th January and is written by the 2018 Journal Culture Award-winning Writer of the Year, Laura Lindow and is directed by Mark Calvert. Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable is thrillingly re-imagined in this spellbinding new production from the same team that brought you A Christmas CarolJames and the Giant Peach and Alice in Wonderland.

When her best friend Kai disappears, the young and gutsy Gerda is sure that he has been taken by the mysterious Snow Queen. Determined to rescue her friend, she embarks on a courageous quest all alone into the icy unknown. But can Gerda rescue Kai in time to stop the Snow Queen’s plan to keep the world in eternal winter?

To take advantage of this offer from Monday 2 September use promo code KIDSGOFREE when booking tickets online, over the phone, or in person at the box office. Terms and conditions apply, details at

But be quick, this back-to-school offer expires at midnight on Monday 16 September, or until the tickets run out.  Book online at or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.

REVIEW: The Book of Mormon at Sunderland Empire

The Book Of Mormon says Hello to Sunderland

The Book of Mormon
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 14th September 2019

Tickets Still Available: #Ad

The winner of nine Tony and four Olivier Awards, with script, lyrics, and music written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone has finally arrived in the North East. The creators have previously been responsible for South Park on TV, films like Team America as well as providing the music for the musical Avenue Q and providing Let It Go for Disney’s Frozen between them. We really looking forward to it and were not disappointed.

The show opens at a Mormon training centre with Elder Kevin Price (Kevin Clay) leading a session in how to conduct yourself when preaching on the doorstep.  His dream is to be sent to Orlando but he finds himself heading to Uganda with Elder Arnold Cunningham (Jacob Yarlett). Arnold is a fantasist who admits to making stuff up due to his low self esteem.

The pair have to spend two years working together in Uganda and they quickly get a feel for the place when two of the local General’s Guards (Jemel Felix & Lukin Simmonds) steal their luggage. Fortunately they meet some kinder villagers such as Mafala Hatimbi (Ewen Cummings) and his daughter Nabulungi (Nicole-Lily Baisden) who point out where the Mormon’s will be based. They join other Mormons, under leader Elder McKinley (Will Hawksworth) who have yet to get another to agree to a baptism and yet the Mission President (Patrick George) is expecting a progress report on their missionary work.

This is a very rude, very funny and cleverly crafted musical by writers who clearly thrive with the format. Like their previous work, they use crude jokes to deliver a harder message. We felt the message here is increasing the awareness of the repulsive tradition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This has to be applauded.

The humour is at that crude South Park level. We’re talking diarrhoea jokes and a character, performed by Thomas Vernal, called General Butt-F’king Naked. But as long as you leave the kids at home, broad minded adults will witness nothing here that does not appear on TV after 10pm. Here’s the thing – the humour works and the Empire crowd had plenty to laugh at during the show.

The cast do a great job. They deliver the story with aplomb. Kevin Clay delivers a suitably supercilious Elder Price, Jacob Yarlett makes his partner Cunningham loveable and funny.

But this musical is also about the music. We have the big ensemble numbers beginning with the opening Hello! Through to the very funny Hasa Diga Eebowai and Turn It Off. There is opportunity for some great solo numbers too.  This includes Nicole-Lily Baisden’s Sal Tlay Ka Siti and Kevin Clay’s I Believe. Once again, we applaud the use of a live band under musical director Colm O’Regan.

Casey Nicholaw’s choreography is lively and fitting to the situations. The costume and set designs by Ann Roth and Scott Pask help to set the scene well. This is another show in which the unknown stage crew work hard ensuring the props and scenery cloths appear and disappear on time and without any fuss. The lighting, from Brian MacDevitt, highlighted the action and set the mood. In fact the direction from Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker ensured a nippy 2 hour plus interval show.

So, was the arrival of Book of Mormon worth the wait. We think it was. It is deliciously offensive yet frequently polemic. Very entertaining – we have agreed that this show is the funniest musical that we’ve seen this year.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Paul Coltas

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Preview: Blood Brothers at Sunderland Empire

Full Cast Announced For Blood Brothers 2019 Autumn Tour

Blood Brothers
Sunderland Empire
Tuesday 3rd - Saturday 7th December 2019

Bill Kenwright’s ‘Dazzling’ (Sunday Telegraph) production of the international smash hit musical Blood Brothers returns with a date at Sunderland Empire, 3-7 December 2019. Starring Lyn Paul in the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone for the final time, she will be joined by Joel Benedict as Eddie, Danielle Corlass as Linda, Danny Taylor as Sammy and Chloe Taylor as Mrs Lyons. Alexander Patmore returns as Mickey alongside Robbie Scotcher as the narrator.

The rest of the cast for Blood Brothers includes Tim Churchill, Graham Martin, Gemma Brodrick, Hannah Barr Graeme Kinniburgh, Shaun McCourt and Connor Bannister.

Considered ‘One of the best musicals ever written’ (Sunday Times), Blood Brothers, written by award-winning playwright Willy Russell has triumphed across the Globe. Scooping up no fewer than four awards for Best Musical in London and seven Tony Award nominations on Broadway, Blood Brothers is simply ‘Unmissable and unbeatable’ (The Spectator).

This epic tale of Liverpool life started as a play, performed at a Liverpool comprehensive school in 1981 before opening at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983. It has since completed sell out seasons in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan and ran in London’s West End for 24 years, exceeding 10,000 performances. One of only three musicals ever to achieve that milestone.

Blood Brothers tells the moving story of twin boys separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate and a mother’s haunting secret. The memorable score includes A Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged hit Tell Me It’s Not True.

When Mrs Johnstone, a young mother, is deserted by her husband and left to her own devices to provide for seven hungry children she takes a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet.

It is not long before her brittle world crashes around her when she discovers herself to be pregnant yet again – this time with twins! In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer which leads inexorably to the show’s shattering climax. A sensational cast, brilliant book, show stopping music, remarkable staging and five-star performances make Blood Brothers an enthralling night of entertainment.

Willy Russell is one of this country’s leading contemporary dramatists. His theatre credits include Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Breezeblock Park and Our Day Out. Educating Rita, originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, enjoyed a two-year run in the West End and was made into a film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. Shirley Valentine also made the move from stage to screen in an enormously popular film starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti.

Bill Kenwright presents Blood Brothers by Willy Russell
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright
Designed by Andy Walmsley                        
Sound Designed By Dan Samson
Musical Direction by Kelvin Towse               
Lighting Designed by Nick Richings

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

Preview: Toast at Newcastle Northern Stage

Nigel Slater’s Toast Coming To Newcastle

PW Productions and Karl Sydow present The Lowry production:
Nigel Slater’s Toast
Newcastle Northern Stage
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 September 2019

From making the perfect sherry trifle, waging war over cakes through to the playground politics of sweets and the rigid rules of restaurant dining, this is a moving and evocative tale of love, loss and... toast.

Following its world premiere at The Lowry, Salford in May, a sold-out run at as part of Traverse Festival 2018 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and a London transfer to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Other Palace, Nigel Slater’s Toast announces further dates for its UK tour and it will arrive in Newcastle in September.

Marie Lawrence as Joan, Jake Ferretti as Josh,
Giles Cooper as Nigel Slater, Lizzy Muncey as Mum
Fresh from the West End run, Giles Cooper will continue to star as Nigel Slater, with further casting to be announced. Giles’s theatre credits include This House, People and After The Dance at the National Theatre, and Henry V and The Duchess of Malfi at Shakespeare’s Globe. Roles in hit British films include Pride and The Lady in The Van. 

Nigel Slater said: “With the London run approaching its conclusion, it’s an extremely exciting time as the words on the page will soon come to life once again for audiences around the country. I’m thrilled that the play will continue its journey after The Other Palace.”

Jake Ferretti as Josh, Marie Lawrence as Joan 
Originally produced by The Lowry for Week 53 festival, Toast is written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Jonnie Riordan. Henry Filloux-Bennett explains: “Having written ‘Toast’ whilst working at The Lowry, that the production is coming back to the North of England after its run at The Other Palace is exciting enough. Now that I have moved to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, I’m completely delighted that we get to open the tour of ‘Toast’ here in Yorkshire, starting as it will our 25th Anniversary season.”

Giles Cooper as Nigel Slater, Lizzy Muncey as Mum
Based on the British Book Awards Biography of the Year, Toast is a new play based on Nigel Slater’s award-winning autobiography. Vividly recreating suburban England in the 1960s, Nigel’s childhood is told through the tastes and smells he grew up with and the audience with be enveloped by the evocative sights and sounds of cookery that defined the definitive moments of his youth.

The author of a collection of bestselling books and presenter of nine BBC television series, Nigel Slater has been the food columnist for The Observer for 25 years. His memoir ‘Toast - the Story of a Boy’s Hunger’ won six major awards, has been translated into five languages and became a BBC film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore. Nigel’s latest book Greenfeast has recently been published by HarperCollins.

The food writer and journalist Nigel Slater tells Matthew Amer about seeing his memoirs brought vividly to life on stage in Toast, bringing food into the theatre and the surprising impact his story has had on audiences.

Stephen Ventura as Dad, Giles Cooper as Nigel Slater,
 Lizzy Muncey as Mum 
What’s Toast about?
Toast is the story of a little boy who feels abandoned because his mother dies when he’s very young and his father falls in love with another woman. The boy’s life suddenly changes with the arrival of a woman who’s completely different from his mother. It’s about learning to make your own way and gaining the strength to do something surprising at that young age, make big decisions about your life.

It’s your story, but it sounds like you’ve managed to separate yourself from the character of Nigel.
I have, a little bit. There’s 50 years between us! He will always be another person until I sit in the theatre and watch either very tender scenes or very upsetting scenes. Then suddenly all those emotions come flooding back and it isn’t that little boy any more, it’s me. The words I spoke stayed with me. I put them in the book and now they’re on stage as well. 

Nigel Slater with Giles Cooper as Nigel Slater
What moved you to write your memoirs?
I wasn’t the driving force, actually. I was asked to write an article about the food of my childhood. When I started writing, I realised that everything I was tasting brought back a lot of memories. Every food item was associated very clearly with a particular part of my life or vignette from my childhood. The day after it was published, my editor said “I think it should be a book.”

How did you feel when playwright Henry Filloux-Bennett asked about adapting it for the theatre?

I said “No.” I just didn’t see how it would work on stage. But when he sent part of the script I was completely blown away. I could feel the emotions; I could almost reach out and touch the people. I thought “This is going to work, let’s have a go.” 

Jonnie Riordon, the director, has done this thing that directors do of making the show not a slightly sad story of a little boy losing his mum and being forced to live with a stepmum he didn’t like, but a really joyous performance. Right from the start, he decided that the heart and soul of this show is food. When I walked in on the very first night at the Lowry in Salford, I thought “Where’s the smell of toast coming from.” It was Jonnie walking round waving bits of toast before the audience sat down.

There’s magic to it when the food appears. For instance, my stepmother will open a cupboard and there will be a wonderful cake or some pastries waiting. It’s like little doors keep opening and food keeps appearing. The food is almost a cast member in its own right. The cast, as well as having to remember their lines, positions and all the usual things actors do, also have to run into the audience and hand out sweeties and treats. It really makes quite an impact. 

Jake Ferretti as Josh, Marie Lawrence as Joan,
Giles Cooper as Nigel Slater, Stephen Ventura as Dad,
Lizzy Muncey as Mum 
How involved with the production have you been?
It is my story, so I do feel protective of it. But Henry got the spirit of the book straight away and Jonnie picked up the sense of fun, so I felt it was all in extremely good hands. I’ve kept a close watch on it, but everyone understood it is more than just a story of a little boy and his mum. It’s a bigger than that. It’s affected many people. 

There are so many children that have felt abandoned after a bereavement. There are so many children that don’t understand why this new person’s come into Dad’s life or Mum’s life that they have to accept. It isn’t just my story. Lots of kids have that emotionally tough time. I hadn’t realised so many people would come up to me, send me letters or write emails saying “That is my story. That happened to me.”

How important is it then that a story that so many people can relate to is touring the UK after its London run?
I’m thrilled that it’s in London. I’m overjoyed. But the fact that it’s going to all those cities around Britain is such a buzz. It is a countrywide, universal story; children having a tough time but not being able to talk about it. I couldn’t be happier that it’s going round the country. 

Giles Cooper as Nigel Slater
How closely have you worked with Giles Cooper, who plays the younger Nigel?
We have become very good friends. We talk a lot and he asks a lot of questions, which is great, but I’ve never, at any time, said “Nigel wouldn’t do that” or “Nigel didn’t say that.” I don’t want a carbon copy of little Nigel. And Giles is just wonderful. He plays Nigel with aplomb. 

Finally, what can audiences expect from a trip to see Toast?
They can expect a magic, the luxury of nostalgia and some fantastic surprises and treats that you don’t usually get at the theatre. It might be worth popping in a Kleenex as well, because there have been quite a few tears.

Photos: Simon Annand

On The Web:
Facebook @ToastPlay
Twitter @ToastPlay

Age recommendation : 11+
Tickets from £10. Box Office: 0191 230 5151 

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at Newcastle Northern Stage

It’s Panto Time At Northern Stage
…Oh, Yes It Is!

Sleeping Beauty
Newcastle Northern Stage
Tuesday 27th – Saturday 31st August 2019

Newcastle’s Northern Stage is hosting a family pantomime this week with a cast full of local experienced panto talent. Written, and co-directed, by local lad Tom Whalley, the classic story of Sleeping Beauty is located in Geordie land.

Now the only panto that usually happens at Northern Stage is the adults only improvised Pantso which take place on the set of the delightful family Christmas Show. The other unusual aspect of this show is that not many people do Sleeping Beauty – we think our last SB panto was at the Tyne Theatre and that’s a few years back.

This is a traditional panto so it opens with Hazel Pude as Fairy Canny setting out the tale before, with a blast of white smoke, Miss Rory sets out the plans of the evil Carabosse and her sidekick Radgie Gadgie (James Mitchinson).

Sleeping Beauty (Robyn McEnaney) is under a curse from Carabosse, and as her 21st birthday approaches the evil one is keen to wreak revenge. Watching over her is panto dame Daniel Mawston as Queen Patsy and the panto’s comic Muddles, played by Craig Richardson. Of course there is a Prince in this story and Wayne Smith’s Prince Philip of Fenham arrives in the nick of time as the chaos begins.

Whilst Miss Rory has appeared in a number of adult pantos at the Boulevard, this is one of Dan Cunningham’s first family pantos before taking his Miss Rory character to Cinderella at the Sunderland Empire. The portrayal of a cynical sarcastic wrong doer was well in keeping with the family panto format.

We have enjoyed watching Daniel Mawston grow as a panto dame over the recent years and this is another fine performance, reminiscent of the laugh-a-minute Jack In The Beanstalk, which was another Tom Whalley penned panto. Some of Daniel’s lines are near the knuckle but the parents will laugh whilst those jokes fly over the heads of the young kids.

It’s nice to see both Craig Richardson once again as he is funny and engaging with the little members of the audience, and the return of Robyn McEnaney who showed in Snow White that she is a capable singer and actor. Hazel Pude is another member of the cast who has a clear understanding of how to reach out to the audience.

We enjoyed opening night, which featured a number of our panto heroes, as it had plenty of laughs plus a number of the format’s staples. There is the take off scene, the chase, the local jokes and chances for the kids to yell out the classic phrases.

This was opening night and there were hiccups along the way, but it is your ability to recover that marks the quality of the cast. The compensation for these moments was the wonderfully worked scenes involving board games and the watch that played well picked tunes – a moment that reminds you that a crew and technical team are working hard behind the scenes.

This panto keeps reasonably close to the fairy tale, without unnecessary deviations, helping it to run at 2 hours including interval. You don’t want shows running longer than this if you want to attract younger families. The only padding were the songs which, whilst not advancing the story, were all well sung and gave each member of the principal cast their moment in the spotlight. There is also a small dancing ensemble that managed to fill the stage – a real achievement given the width of this particular stage – which included some really young kids who enjoyed their moment in the spotlight.

Sleeping Beauty is a funny panto that is a good night out for the family before the kids return to school. The beauty of using Northern Stage is there is a good view from each seat. Remember panto isn’t just for Christmas! It will be interesting to see what comes next from producer and co-director Liam Glendining’s ‘Glendo Entertainment’.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Performance times:
3pm & 7pm

Sat 31 August, 11am & 3pm

Relaxed performance: Wed 28 August, 3pm

Running time – Approx. 2 hrs (including interval)

Age recommendation - Suitable for all ages

You can buy tickets for the show from just £10 online from the Northern Stage box office, by calling 0191 230 5151, or online:


Preview: Iris at Newcastle People’s Theatre

Iris by Alison Carr
Newcastle People’s Theatre
Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 September 2019

The new Season at the People’s Theatre kicks off next month with darkly comic family drama Iris by North-East playwright Alison Carr.

The play sees estranged sisters Julie and Ruby reunited after the death of their mother, a woman who continues to dominate their lives from beyond the grave. On the night of the funeral, Julie gets off with crime scene cleaner Gerry. Maybe that’ll help? It doesn’t.

The North East Theatre Guide reviewed its premiere at Newcastle’s Live Theatre in 2016 and described it as “Whilst the play has adult situations and language, it doesn’t go out of its way to shock the audience for the sake of it. There are no cheap shots in this enjoyable drama. The production is laced with humour and gives a perspective of the human condition.  Iris is a fascinating drama that we’d like to see much more of. The rollercoaster of emotions that underpins even the most dysfunctional of relationships, and fabulous acting, results in a cracking drama.

17-year-old Sarah Mulgrew plays Ruby, a young woman with a potty mouth who is struggling to come to terms with her mam’s death and all of the upheaval it’s bringing with it. This is Sarah’s second play at the People’s having previously appeared in Animal Farm a couple of years ago. Sarah describes Ruby as “grieving, broken and outrageous” and comments “you don’t get often get to play characters like Ruby, there aren’t a lot of roles like this for girls”.  Sarah, who hopes to pursue a career in theatre and the arts, was recently accepted to be part of the Junior Conservatoire at the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and will head up to Glasgow to start the course as soon as Iris ends.

Alongside Sarah is Emma Weetch as Ruby’s older sister Julie who reluctantly finds herself back in the house she grew up in.  Emma, who joined the People’s last year, says “Iris is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Julie has this hard exterior but there’s so much vulnerability and hurt underneath, it’s really interesting to play”.

Completing the trio is Stephen Sharkey as the hapless Gerry, Julie’s one-night stand who keeps coming back. Stephen has previously performed in the People’s new Studio Theatre, but for Emma and Sarah this is their first time in this intimate new space. Sarah says “the smaller space works so well for the play, it will really feel like the audience are in our house experiencing everything with us”.

For director Sarah Davison, who has previously helmed mostly large cast plays, Iris is a different kind of challenge. But a cast of three means there is time in rehearsals to really explore the characters and their relationships.  Sarah adds “I love the richness in the writing - they are ordinary people and the humour especially feels very real, and possibly very Northern! But there is lyricism and sorrow and a huge heart at the centre of it too. It has been a real treat to work with such brilliant material.” 

The play won Alison the Journal Culture Writer of the Year Award and we are delighted to be bringing it back to the region. Alison’s quirky wit and black humour ensures that for all Iris’s darkness as it explores knotty family dynamics, loss and grief there’s plenty of laughs to be had too. And one or two surprises!

Tickets:     £14 (Concessions £11.50)
Box Office: 0191 265 5020 or  online at