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REVIEW: Dracula: The Travesty at South Shields Customs House

Sweet dreams are made of this, who am I to disagree?

Dracula: The Travesty
South Shields Customs House
Until Friday 1 November 2019

Sick of bad news on television and radio? Need cheering up? So did we and we found the perfect antidote to all the crazy stuff that is happening at The Customs House this week. I haven’t laughed so much in ages and wee-man has suggested it will be at the top of his “funniest show of the year” list by the end of December. Plus, at £12 for a full price ticket – it doesn’t does the Earth.

The show begins with Ray Spencer, Davey Hopper and Sophia Catleugh on stage cracking jokes from the off. Whilst the show reunites panto double act Ray and Davey, it sees them both being funny in different ways to the regular end of year panto. However, their on stage chemistry works well on this show too. Fitting in well to the mix is Sophia, who must be from Peterlee given the number of swipes the poor place takes during the show’s two hour run. Indeed, the three actors work well as an ensemble.

But ‘is it a panto?’, you may ask. Good question. A quick check of the definitive guide “It’s Behind You! – The Story of Panto” by Peter Lathan suggests we will have laughs, audience participation and a girl dressed up as a boy and an evil baddie. Yes – this show has all of that. Perhaps this story follows the source material closer than a regular panto show.

The show is pretty physical at times.  Poor Davey takes a number of tumbles and even Ray fell over at one point (though that might not have been in the original plan!) Is it suitable for families? Sure – despite the horror source, this isn’t scary and even the one bloody scene had everyone laughing (was the audience member a plant? Will she get the blood out of her top?)

This show does have a story… Dracula has landed and our brave team chase him out of England and back across the channel to his castle to stop him having tasty snacks of human blood.

A quick change of clothes and we have a quick change of character – from Dracula’s side kick to Dutch tulip seller, from a vampire hunter to the vampire himself or from dear Lucy to Scottish doctor in an instant. Well almost an instant – but that’s part of the comedy as Davey appears with odd socks and no shoes at one point.

Dracula: The Travesty, written by Stewart Howson, was originally commissioned by Northumberland Theatre Company NTC in 2016. It has had a number of outings since then but this is the first time we have caught up with it. It was well worth the trip across to Shields.

We are going to declare it our first panto of the season (as it runs into November) and we are happy to announce that it is the best panto we have seen this season – so far. I know, dear reader what you’re thinking – but as we left the Customs House last night the conversation quickly turned to “will we see anything as funny as this during the rest of the season?” If we do, then panto is in rude health this year.

Tickets for Dracula: The Travesty, priced from £10, are available from the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or online at


REVIEW: Opera North: La Bohème at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Opera North: La Bohème
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Tuesday 29, Thursday 31 October & Friday 1 November 2019

The wonderful Opera North are in town this week. They’ll be performing Handel’s Giulio Cesare on Wednesday and The Greek Passion on Saturday, but it was Puccini’s popular La Bohème that started the week off.

Perhaps its popularity is down to the simplicity of the story. The 19th century Paris of the original has moved to the early 1960s. The shift fits in well with the story and it helps to make the ‘boy meets girl’ tale relatable for a 21st century crowd.

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive is the orchestra pit has been extended the length of the pair of boxes at the front. It is an incredible delight to hear the huge group of musicians filling the room with their swirling yet precise sound. Tonight’s conductor was Matthew Kofi Waldren and he kept a tight ship throughout.

The show opens with the audience peering through a frame as two artists sing about how cold it is in their flat in the run up to Christmas. Marcello (Timothy Nelson) is busy painting a huge picture Tony Hart style. His flatmate Rodolfo (Thomas Atkins) stares out looking for some inspiration for his creative poetry block. The audience at this point is guided to the meaning of the Italian lyrics by screens either side of the stage. Act one is not a million miles away from a musical version of the sit-com The Young Ones. 
Especially as the other residents join them in their squalid cold surroundings. Philosopher Colline (Emyr Wyn Jones) has return from pawning his books then musician Schaunard (Christopher Nairne) arrives with food and money as he has been paid. They decide to celebrate at a local café. Before they head out the landlord (Jeremy Peaker) arrives for the rent but is brushed off in a similar fashion to the aforementioned Young Ones landlord that Alexei Sayle used to play.

They head off for food leaving the poet behind to write some copy for a publication whose deadline looms.  Neighbour Mimi (Katie Bird) pops around for a light for her candle and they fall in love. (If only it was that simple in real life!) They head down to the café together where the meet up with, amongst others, singer Musetta (Samantha Clarke). The story then follows the relationship of the two lovers – as always, no spoilers here!

The opera is in 4 acts – though act 1 in the flat quickly rolls into act 2 at the café. After the interval the two acts are separated with a brief break in which the hall lights came on and the audience talked in their seats whilst the set was prepared for the final act. In total the running time was about 2 hours 15 minutes, including the 20 minute interval.

So, what is opera like? There isn’t that big a leap for the audience between watching this and a regular musical. It might be in a foreign language, but it is fairly obvious what’s happening even if you don’t stare at the translation screens all of the time. From the performers point of view you have much larger set of musicians and everyone’s voices are projected naturally as it would have been back in the 1800s. 
It is really impressive to hear the principal actors singing. The two female leads in particular were awe-inspiring with their fabulous vocal abilities. As I’ve said before, this story is a fairly easy one to follow and the amusing parts are actually funny (or is it just me that wonders why others are laughing in some Shakespeare plays?). Director Phyllida Lloyd has previously been involved in Mamma Mia and that pace and attention to detail is clear in this production too.

This is an interesting night at the theatre. As lovers of music generally, my companion and I had an enjoyable evening with the added bonus of the story on top.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Richard H. Smith


Preview: Ten Times Table at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Robert Daws Leads A Star Cast In Alan Ayckbourn’s Hilarious Ten Times Table

Ten Times Table
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Monday 4th – Saturday 8th November 2019

It’s a ‘fete’ worse than death when an all-star cast heads to Newcastle Theatre Royal in multi-award-winning writer Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious comedy Ten Times Table.

The star cast is led by TV and stage actor Robert Daws, who is most loved for his role as Dr. Gordon Ormerod in The Royal as well as his time in other hit shows such as Poldark, Outside Edge and Roger Roger. Joining him is Deborah Grant, best known for playing Wendy in Not Going Out and Deborah Bergerac in Bergerac. Emmerdale and Holby City star Gemma Oaten is joined by Robert Duncan of Drop The Dead Donkey fame and theatre veteran Mark Curry, well known for his appearances in Hollyoaks and as Kevin in Last Of The Summer Wine. Craig Gazey, famous for his portrayal of Graeme Proctor in Coronation Street completes the cast, alongside Elizabeth Power known for playing Christine Hewitt in EastEnders.

In the long-since ‘grand’ ballroom of the local Swan Hotel, a most miscellaneous assemblage gathers to conduct the business of the Pendon Folk Festival, led by excitable chairman Ray.

Unfortunately, for Ray, his calamitous committee quickly divides, as his wife Helen has a bone to pick…

 Add a Marxist schoolteacher, a military dog-breeder and an octogenarian secretary, and the table is set for one of comedy master Ayckbourn’s most hilarious plays. This tumultuous comedy by committee is not to be missed.

The production will be directed by Robin Herford known for his work on the West End hit The Woman In Black, with lighting design by Jason Taylor and sound by Dan Samson. Set and costume design is by Michael Holt.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Ten Times Table is at Newcastle Theatre Royal Monday 4 - Saturday 9 November 2019 playing evenings at 7.30pm and matinees Thu (2pm) and Sat (2.30pm). Tickets from £16.00 can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge) or book online at

Interview: Alexandra Burke in 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

We caught up with Alexandra Burke who will be appearing in The Bodyguard musical at the Sunderland Empire in November.

For the few people not familiar, could you briefly explain the story of The Bodyguard?

If you’re not familiar with The Bodyguard it means that you were born after 1992, and you are very young and I am very jealous!  The Bodyguard follows Rachel Marron, a Grammy award winning superstar singer and mother who encounters an intense stalker who will go to any lengths to get to her. Her team has to hire a new bodyguard to protect her. She discovers that there is more to life than fame and being a singer and she discovers how important love is. She’s a very loving and strong woman but she’s also very vulnerable.

What is it about the role of Rachel that made you want to return to the show, having played the role both in the West End and on tour previously?

I think what’s really exciting about the show is that it includes Whitney Houston’s catalogue of work which really makes the show. It takes me back to when I was a child and had a hairbrush in my hand and was always singing Whitney to my Mum. For me, the storyline never gets old. People always ask me if I get tired of performing the same show six times a week but I honestly don’t. It’s never the same show each night. It was also an exciting prospect to be singing Whitney Houston for a year, which of course will be tough but at the same time very rewarding. This show is my dream, you can’t beat the adrenaline of the end of the show when it hits the finale and everyone is on their feet, that feeling of knowing everyone has enjoyed the show.

How have you prepared for the role of Rachel this time around?

Well, I’m in a different place in my life now. I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing experiences with Sister Act, Chess, Chicago and Strictly Come Dancing. So I was hoping that people would see growth in the sense of my dancing ability, acting and vocally. So much has happened in my life that I’m taking all my experiences and putting them into the show in the hope that people can see that in my performance. I’ve also seen my nieces and nephews grow up and tried to be the best Auntie I can be which isn’t the same as being a parent but gives me some idea.

How have you made Rachel your own? Does she feel familiar now?

I think how I’ve made Rachel my own is that my emotions are very raw and real in every performance. I haven’t professionally trained in acting so I draw from a very real place and really feel it and that’s why sometimes I struggle with the role emotionally. I end up in tears on stage every performance.

Do you feel any pressure singing such big songs made famous by Whitney Houston?

Absolutely. The songs aren’t easy to sings, luckily some of them aren’t in Whitney’s key which I’m very thankful for. At the same time, it’s very rewarding. Singing Whitney Houston six times a week is no joke and it’s very hard but also incredible.

Did you have a favourite Whitney Houston track before you became involved in The Bodyguard, and has that changed now you’re getting to sing the songs?

Yeah, you know what actually, I did. I think my favourite Whitney track of all time was “I Will Always Love You” and a couple of years ago after performing the show night after night it changed to “I Have Nothing”. I love performing that in the show, I could happily do Act 1, sing “I Have Nothing” and go home but that’s not how it works!

Are you looking forward to visiting Sunderland with the tour?

I am so looking forward to bringing The Bodyguard to Sunderland as I’ve never performed this show there. It should be really exciting!

Do you enjoy touring and seeing new cities, or do you find any aspects of it difficult?

I struggle with it because I miss my family so much, however I always remember that my reward at the end of every day is the audience and them coming out to spend time with us. We’re very lucky that people seem to love the show and love Whitney Houston, but I think for me missing my family is the hardest thing, missing home. But I do enjoy seeing different cities around the country and the world. I’m lucky I can go to new places with The Bodyguard and also revisit places that I love.

Do you have any ‘must-have’ items for on tour?

I don’t know if you can call them ‘items’ but my dogs! They are my living, little loving things, all four of them. I would also say the essentials for a singer, a steamer, a humidifier, ginger, lemon, honey, very basic and very simple. Plus, my favourite pillow which goes with me everywhere and I always pack a onesie because you can never go wrong with a onesie at any time of year!

Do you get much ‘down time’ whilst on tour, and if so, what are your favourite things to do?

I know this sounds quite boring but my favourite thing to do on tour is go to the gym, so I’ve been going to the gym every single day to challenge myself and do the show. It’s my escape, it’s the one hour I get to myself and I can concentrate on making myself stronger. I also love going to the cinema, I really like to find little boutique cinemas in different cities. Also, finding any vintage and second-hand shops is something I love to do when I can.

Have you ever received any words of advice that have stuck with you?

Yes, from Whitney herself actually. My mum used to do backing vocals for Whitney and when my mum sang with her on Top of the Pops she spoke to Whitney about me and said “oh my daughter really loves you and wants to be a singer” and Whitney’s advice to me was to keep working and never stop – to strike whilst the iron’s hot. That’s why in the past ten years I’ve never really stopped as that’s stuck with me – work hard and strike whilst the iron’s hot.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

I am engaged, but we’re not planning a wedding just yet because it’s a busy time. So exciting plans as well as this brilliant tour is to also record an album whilst doing this tour. I’m scheduling studio sessions on all my breaks and hopefully 2020 I’ll start to concentrate on my music for a bit.

Photos: Paul Coltas


*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

Preview: Jane Eyre at Durham Gala Theatre

Gothic masterpiece Jane Eyre to captivate theatre-goers

Jane Eyre
Durham Gala Theatre
Tuesday 5 - Wednesday 6 November 2019

A thrilling adaptation of Charlotte Brontё’s masterpiece Jane Eyre promises to captivate audiences at a County Durham theatre.

Eleanor Toms and Ben Warwick
as Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester
A Gothic tale of tempestuous passions and dark secrets, Jane Eyre tells the story of an orphan’s journey from a childhood of loneliness and cruelty, to a life at Thornfield Hall and an unlikely relationship with the mysterious Mr Rochester. Falling in love, she gradually uncovers a hidden past to the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall – a terrible secret that forces her to make a heart-wrenching choice.

Captivating, brooding and intensely powerful, Jane Eyre is a moving and unforgettable portrayal of one woman’s quest for equality and freedom and remains one of the great triumphs of storytelling.

Eleanor Toms and Ben Warwick
as Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester
Blackeyed Theatre will perform Nick Lane’s adaptation of Brontё’s 1847 novel at the Gala Theatre in Durham on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 November at 7.30pm. In the company’s trademark style, the play will feature an ensemble cast of actor-musicians. There will also be live music written specially for the production by the award-winning composer George Jennings.

Director and producer Adrian McDougall said: “What we produce will, I hope, induce that same intensity of feeling you get when you read the book: the joy, the despair and everything in between. It is a searing celebration of female empowerment, a beautiful, brooding love story with a little Gothic horror thrown in for good measure.”

Eleanor Tomms, centre, as Jane Eyre. 
Originally Brontë published Jane Eyre under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. The literary world became consumed with the identity of the writer but even her publisher did not know Currer Bell’s gender. A woman in a man’s world, Brontë wrote of a female character who despite agonising hardships, manages to persevere and define her own happiness, rather than have it defined for her by others.

Robin Byers, Gala Theatre manager, said: “The Brontë sisters and the novels and characters they created are beloved all over the world. Jane Eyre is quite rightly considered one of the greatest novels of all time and we cannot wait to see the story brought to life here in County Durham.”

Jane Eyre is presented in association with South Hill Parks Arts Centre and is supported by Arts Council England.

Tickets cost £15, £13 for concessions and £12 for Gala members. To book, visit or call 03000 266 600.

Preview: Tabby McTat at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

Freckle Productions present: 
Tabby McTat
Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Tuesday 29 & Wednesday 30 October 2019 
1.30pm & 4pm Tues, 11am & 2pm Wed
From the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
“Me, you and the old guitar,
How perfectly, perfectly happy we are.
MEEE-EW and the old guitar.
How PURRRR-fectly happy we are!”
Tabby McTat is a cat with the loudest of meee-ews and a best friend with a guitar.  Together they sing their favourite songs delighting the crowds, until one day Fred disappears.  Separated and alone, Tabby finds shelter and a new life with all the home comforts that any cat could dream of.  However, memories of his life with Fred haunt him, and he sets off to search the streets for his long-lost friend.
From the team behind Stick Man, Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales and Zog, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tabby McTat is a heart-warming tale of friendship and loyalty interwoven with original songs and a sprinkling of magic.
Suitable for children and families of all ages.

Creative Team
Directed by JJ Green with Bobby Delaney
Original Direction – Alan Lane
Music – Bobby Delaney
Lyrics – JJ Green
Running Time: Approx 55 minutes with no interval
Age suitability: All ages welcome.


Preview: Cinderella at North Shields The Exchange

Mendes Management brings the magic of panto to The Exchange

North Shields The Exchange
Tuesday 3rd December - Sunday 22nd December 2019

Tickets are now on sale and are selling fast with almost all schools performances sold out…

This year we are performing at The Exchange in North Shields.  A fabulous hidden gem in the heart of the town.  This hilarious family production is written and directed by North East actor, singer and director Dale Meeks. Dale has maintained the tradition of Panto coupled with popular songs and of course a messy scene for the kids, which will guarantee to get the audience participating and singing along.

This year’s show looks set to be one of the best to date. They have a fantastic cast and magical costumes all designed and made by Charmain Hamilton.

Once again, the company has teamed up with Newcastle West End Foodbank, providing their clients the opportunity to experience the magic of panto. Alongside the Food bank we welcome ENGIE. ENGIE is supporting family's in the Tyne Wear area and enabling them to see the panto at The Exchange this Christmas.

Producer Danielle Mendes welcomes their third Panto. ‘My aim was and is always to make Panto affordable for all. ENGIE endeavours to help balance performance with responsibility, enabling progress in a harmonious way. To have this association with a company that has the same ethos as us, is a perfect match’

Our Choreographer this year is Jo–Anne Torre owner of Decote Dance school in Whitley Bay, who are thrilled to be part of this production.

The Cast:
Janine Leigh is a London actress, originally from Jarrow returns for her third panto playing Dandini.

Jayne McKenzie appears as the Fairy Godmother. Lucy Walton as the Prince and Lucy Curry as Cinderella. The hilarious Craig Richardson playing Buttons and Steven Stobbs will be one of the Ugly Sisters, both lads are well known in South Tyneside for performing in panto.

Michael Geddes will be Barron Hard-up whilst Paul Martin is playing one on the Ugly Sisters. Paul is returning to his native North East from Majorca especially for this production.

Company Manager Alison Franklin is excited for this year not only because it’s in a fabulous venue but the cast will be performing the amazingly funny 12 Day’s of Christmas.

Tickets cost £14 for adults, £12 for concessions and £45 for a family of four.
School bookings only £8.00 including transport. Group Bookings only £10.00 per ticket.

For more information to book visit or call 07766 335055

NEWS: Anniversary Celebrations Continue As The Customs House Unveils Final Programme Of 2019

Anniversary Celebrations Continue As The Customs House Unveils Final Programme Of 2019

The Customs House has announced the stunning line-up of shows leading up to its 25th birthday in November and into the festive season.

There’s still plenty of fun to be had before panto season kicks in, starting with Jason Cook’s Comedy Club on Saturday, November 2 – the last one of the year before his New Year’s Eve special on Tuesday, December 31.

Joe McElderry will perform twice at the venue, where he worked as a waiter before finding fame on The X Factor, as he celebrates a milestone of his own.  His 10 years in the music industry will be marked with a special interactive performance, hosted by Kelly Scott, on Sunday, November 3, followed by Joe McElderry: The Impossible Dream, on Sunday, November 17.

The Customs House 25th Anniversary Gala Celebration brings together friends who have bene part of The Customs House journey for a night of music, comedy and fun, on Tuesday, November 5, as part of the 25th celebrations.  Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, said: “Welcome to our 25th birthday party! Thursday, November 28, marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of this fine institution.  We celebrated with a spectacular light show on our building at the weekend and the party continues with our sensational up-and-coming festive frolics with Snow White and The Naughty Elves and the Shoemaker.  We also have a number of opportunities for people to join us on special one-off events.”

The Pitman Poets, featuring ex-Lindisfarne singer/songwriter Billy Mitchell, Bob Fox, Benny Graham and Jez Lowe, take to the stage on Wednesday, November 6, to celebrate the region’s coal mining tradition through music, song and spoken word.

An Audience with Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham returns on Thursday, November 7, with the former SAS leader and sniper, bodyguard to the stars and TV personality selling out the theatre for the second time this year.

South Tyneside Dance Workshop return for their annual gala performance on Saturday, November 9, featuring a variety of high-energy, show-stopping routines from the likes of Burlesque, Wicked and Hercules.

Popular cabaret group Encore return to The Customs House to celebrate 20 years of making music and merriment together, putting a fresh spin on some of their favourite show tunes, from Tuesday, November 12 to Saturday, November 16.

Christmas then officially starts with the launch of Snow White on Tuesday, November 27, and The Naughty Elves and the Shoemaker, featuring Wayne Miller as Santa’s Naughty Elf, on Saturday, November 30.  Festive entertainment also comes in the shape of Christmas Cracker III on Wednesday, November 20, with Hands On NE, Ice Princess Afternoon Tea Party on Saturday, November 23, and Del Boy and Rodney: The Comedy Dinner Show, from Laughlines, on Friday, November 29.

There will be a Christmas Craft Fair on Sunday, December 1, and Festive Frolics – an afternoon of yuletide merriment - on Monday, December 2.

Acclaimed musicians GreenMatthews return on Thursday, December 5, with A Brief History of Christmas, featuring long-forgotten songs and tales as well as some familiar and well-loved carols. They will be joined by special guest Jude Rees, of Pilgrim’s Way. 

Abba fans will love Voulez Vous: The Dinner Party on Saturday, December 7, while families can enjoy a magic show with Mr Twister and lunch with Santa on Saturday, December 14 and Saturday, December 21.

For full listings and to book, contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or visit