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REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Beauty and the Beast
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Sunday 19 January 2020

This is the fifteenth consecutive pantomime that Michael Harrison has written, directed and produced. Each one has featured the talents of the father and son double act called Clive Webb and Danny Adams. They are now central to the panto chaos in what has become, in terms of sales, the most successful pantomime in North East history. Clearly the team are getting something right. There is a reason why customers will already be organising tickets for next year’s pantomime Humpty Dumpty. So, what makes the panto juggernaut that rolls into Newcastle’s Grey Street venue every year such a massive draw?

The grand venue is a perfect location for one of the most lavish productions that is created here in the North East. The costumes and sets are stunning. The cast look amazing in their many outfits.  The stunning look of the show is part of the magic. Danny Adams does perform some tricks but the show no longer relies on gimmicks like 3D scenes. What it does rely on is a strong narrative and, unlike some pantos, it sticks to telling the story.

What this production has always done consistently, year after year, is refine the comedy, the routines – those apparent “accidents” – to within an inch of their lives. Even though tonight is just a few nights into the run, we show a highly polished and well crafted show.  Nothing is left to chance – the customers have paid good money and this production delivers the show that they expect. Unlike football – the audience are guaranteed to be supporting the winning team.

The show opens with narration from regular Steve Arnott as Dashing Dick The Candlestick and Reece Sibbald as his ornamental friend Mr Tock, the Talking Clock. They start the plot at the beginning: belligerent Prince Sebastian (Chris Cowley) refuses to help out an old lady who happens to be The Enchantress (Nicola Meehan) and a spell is put on him and the staff that are present at his home. This results in the Prince becoming the Beast and has staff turning into the ornaments that they attend to. Fortunately, Danny the servant was watching the Toon play so he wasn’t affected.  He fancies local Geordieville girl Belle (Laura Evans) but her Dad Crazy Clive The Inventor (Clive Webb) is having none of it.

Panto needs a bad guy and this comes in the form of Elvis throwback Flash Harry (Wayne Smith) who makes approaches on every lady in town, including Belle. We also need a panto Dame and, in a different amazing outfit every time you see him, Chris Hayward appears in the Beast’s castle as Mrs Rita Potty.  Completing the cast as the Castle Idiot is Michael Potts and an ensemble of 8 talented dancers.

The show also features a live band under Musical Director Ian Townsend who keep up with the chaos and calamity as it unfolds on stage.  They obviously back the singing but also build the tension around, for example, the knife throwing antics.

Sure, some of the jokes are as old as panto itself but this show tries to do things differently. A number of shows will pull items out of a shopping trolley as the comic tells a story about their life, but here Danny used a set of flags to do the same.

The show runs at 2 hours 15 including interval which is ideal for panto as many in the audience are young and you don’t want a show running over an hour per act if you can help it.  Suitability wise, the adults laughed at plenty of jokes and the youngsters seemed to love Danny Adam’s (and Michael Potts) crazy antics. There is a heavy measure of innuendo but that tier of humour will fly straight over the head of the very youngest members of the audience.

So, there you have it. A lavish show with the very highest of production values. It is proudly routed in the venue’s local roots, as the Wallsend-born writer retains the Geordie dialect in the script for the local actors and the region features in a couple of songs.  It left the audience very happy and wanting more – which they’ll get when they return, once again, next year. This show’s success is no accident!

Review by Stephen Oliver


Captioned & Audio Described performance: Tue 10 Dec 2019, 7pm
Relaxed Performance: Tue 14 Jan 2020, 12pm.


Preview: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Consett Empire Theatre

Curtain set to rise on popular family pantomime

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Consett Empire Theatre
Saturday 30 November - Tuesday 31 December 2019

Excitement is building for the return of one of County Durham’s most popular pantomimes this weekend.

The Empire Theatre and Cinema in Consett is staging Snow White from Saturday 30 November to Tuesday 31 December and tickets are selling fast.

Once again, the Durham County Council venue has teamed up with North East actress and producer Leah Bell for the family production, which combines the magic of a traditional pantomime with well-known pop songs guaranteed to get the audience singing along.

There are also dazzling special effects, sparkly costumes and jokes and surprises people of all ages will enjoy.

Shows will take place at various dates and times, including a British Sign Language interpreted performance on Friday 27 December at 6.30pm.

Nicola Dailly, arts programme manager at the Empire Theatre and Cinema, said: “There is such a magical atmosphere in the theatre at this time of year and our annual pantomime plays a big part in that. We are really looking forward to welcoming families to this year’s show. Leah has done a wonderful job at reimagining Snow White for a 21st century audience and I know people will not be disappointed.”
Tickets cost £17 for adults, £15 for concessions and £56 for a family of four with a minimum of one adult. Group booking discounts are also available.

For more information or to book, visit or call 03000 262 400.


Preview: Snow White at South Shields Customs House

Rehearsals In Full Swing Ahead Of Panto Launch 

Snow White
South Shields Customs House
Wednesday 27 November until Sunday 5 January 2020

It’s show time! The curtain is set to rise on this year’s panto at The Customs House this week and rehearsals are in full swing.

More than 25,000 tickets have already been snapped up for Snow White, which is looking to break the audience record set last year by Beauty and the Beast, which was seen by more than 29,000 people.

And while the finishing touches are being put to this year’s production, next year’s panto has also been announced. Tickets for Rapunzel go on sale on Thursday, November 28 – the date The Customs House officially celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Snow White was the first panto to be performed at The Customs House when it opened in 1994 and is being brought back for the first time as part of the anniversary celebrations.

Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, who co-writes the panto with Graeme Thompson and also directs and stars as Dame Bella, is looking forward to tackling the story for the first time in his 45 years of doing panto.  Ray said: “I am very pleased with how the pantomime rehearsals are going. Everyone is working so hard, both in the cast and behind the scenes, to make our 25th anniversary show the most memorable yet.”

The rest of the cast are Davey Hopper as Arbuthnot, Annie Guy as Snow White, Dale Jewitt as Prince of the North, Steven Lee Hamilton as the Evil Queen, Bethan Amber as the Mirror and Charlie Raine and Luke Maddison as skunks Sniffy and Whiffy.

Steven said: “We are all parts of a machine and for that machine to run smoothly, we all have to work together as a team.  A three show day can be a hard slog nearing the end of the week, however you will get the same energy and performance standard. You need each other for that – the audience should never be robbed of a performance! I tend to go into panto mode when we start and cut back on social events or ‘real life’ for a bit. Christmas is a busy time, but the performance must always take priority.”

Luke added: “Going into a professional panto environment should never be underestimated, least of all a Customs House panto. The work and enthusiasm to knock out 75 shows over Christmas is no small feat, but it’s the way in which The Customs House goes about its business that makes me fall in love with it. Mind, it’s going to be hot in that skunk suit!”

Snow White, sponsored by Hays Travel, runs from Wednesday 27 November until Sunday 5 January 2020. Performance times vary. Tickets, priced from £9.99, are available from the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or online at

Preview:Thunder Girls at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

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Beverley Callard Takes 
The Thunder Girls On Tour!

The Thunder Girls
Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House

Covid-19 Update:
‘In light of new government advice, The Thunder Girls shows due to take place on the 22nd-26th September 2020 will be rescheduled to Autumn 2021. As we work to reschedule the show, we ask all ticket holders to hold on to their tickets which will remain valid for the new date. If you are unable to attend the rescheduled date, refunds will be available from your point of purchase’

Tickets are available now online: #Ad

After 30 years as the queen of the street, Beverley Callard is leaving corrie to take the smash hit theatre show The Thunder Girls on tour visiting Newcastle!

Best known for her role as Coronation Street Landlady, Liz McDonald, Beverley Callard announced today that she has quit the Street to revive her role of Roxanne, in the critically acclaimed The Thunder Girls, when the show tours next year.  

Beverley Callard as Roxanne

Tickets for the national tour of the box office smash production, written by Melanie Blake, adapted from her number 1 best-selling novel of the same name, go on sale today.

Beverley Callard & Sandra Marvin 
The Thunder Girls, follows a fictional ‘80s girl group who haven’t seen or spoken to each other in 30 years after greed, envy and ego tore the band and their friendship apart. The play, which also features original music and songs, focuses on the ‘reunion dinner from hell’.   
Carol Harrison & Beverley Callard as Chrissie & Roxanne
Former lead singer Chrissie Martin, played by ex-EastEnders’s star Carol Harrison, is desperate to salvage herself from bankruptcy after being conned out of her fortune by her toy boy husband.  Chrissie organises a ‘re-connection’ dinner, but it’s soon clear that the main course on the menu is revenge.  Beverley Callard plays the role of Roxanne, the former band member who holds the balance of power in the reunion summit - but Roxanne’s wounds are the deepest as Chrissie didn’t just steal her career when she broke up the band, she also stole her man, their manager Rick.   Coleen Nolan also reprises her critically acclaimed role as Anita and Gary Webster returns in the role of Rick.

Beverley Callard as Roxanne
Beverley says: “Leaving Coronation Street is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make but I just couldn’t miss out on playing Roxanne in The Thunder Girls again.   I knew it was something special when I first read the script, but none of us were prepared for the audiences giving it three standing ovations a night! After that we knew we just had to get this show on the road and let more people have the chance to eavesdrop on what is quite literally the Girls Night In From Hell! I’m so proud to be in such a rare show with a four strong ensemble of real women with real life experience, especially as so many men in power said for years that this show wouldn’t be a hit because ‘no one was interested in women over 50!’ – We certainly showed them! The Thunder Girls is, rich in drama, comedy and tragedy, it’s a bit like the Christmas day episode of your favourite soap that you wait all year for! Most important of all, this play is fiercely entertaining and our audiences love it. And I can’t wait to do it all again”.

Carol Harrison Beverely Callard,  Coleen Nolan & Sandra Marvin 
Angela Squire, Producer, says: “Following the phenomenal reaction to The Thunder Girls during its record-breaking Preview run in at The Lowry, Salford, we are thrilled to announce that The Thunder Girls will be hitting theatres all over the UK on its 2020 tour. 

Beverley Callard gave a powerhouse of a performance in the role of Roxanne and we are honoured and overwhelmed that Beverley is leaving her iconic role as Liz McDonald in Coronation Street to reprise her role on The Thunder Girls 2020 Tour.  There couldn’t be a better endorsement of this new work than Beverley's commitment to the role and the show.  Beverley's tour de force portrayal of Roxanne, combining brilliant comic timing with vulnerability, brings the authentic dialogue to life in the most electric way.

Carol Harrison & Sandra Marvin
For us as Producers, one of the biggest achievements of The Thunder Girls so far is that almost 80% of our audience were new to the theatre and the art form. We passionately believe that theatre is for everyone and should not be elitist.  When people who love TV, but think the theatre isn’t for them, come and see The Thunder Girls and have a brilliant night - that is the best ever 5-star review.  It is very exciting that The Thunder Girls is opening theatre doors to a new audience.”

Coleen Nolan As Anita 
Melanie Blake says: “Just as I chose The Lowry, in Salford, for The Thunder Girls world premiere preview because Salford council had housed me when I was once a vulnerable teenager, I have now chosen to commence The Thunder Girls national tour in Stockport, just yards from where I was born, grew up and went to school.   As a proud Stopfordian I couldn’t imagine a better place than the fabulous Stockport Plaza to kick off the next leg of our wonderful journey. I’m overwhelmed by how much the audiences loved the show and our cast and creatives have become a real family. When I saw our incredibly powerful, empowered and talented actresses bring my characters to life, I just knew the preview of The Thunder Girls was only the beginning, I can’t wait for the whole of UK to now get a chance to see our show on tour.”

Photos: © Blake & Squire courtesy of Rob Martin.

Tickets are available now online: #Ad


Preview: A Haunted Existence at Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre

Tom Marshman presents:
A Haunted Existence
Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Tuesday 26th - Saturday 30th November 2019
In the early 1950s, 17-year-old Geoffrey Patrick Williamson was on the Exeter-to-Bristol train when he got into a conversation with another man - also travelling in his train compartment - who accused Geoffrey of making 'improper approaches'. The other man was a Railway Officer in plain clothes. Geoffrey was arrested at the next stop. When questioned, Williamson revealed the names of men he had had sex with, so beginning a domino effect of arrests, prison sentences, aversion therapy and suicide.

A Haunted Existence weaves together history and hearsay to highlight turmoil, stigma and heartbreak and tells the story of Britain's very recent, shameful past. Tom Marshman blends creative technology, music and projection as he retraces a forgotten true story.

Show begins: 7.30pm
Tickets: £8 full / £6 conc.
Age recommendation: 16+
Running time: 60 mins


Preview: Cinderella at Gateshead International Stadium

Fairy-tale Role for Finbar this Christmas

Gateshead International Stadium
Friday 6th to Sunday 29th December 2019

Son treading the same boards as dad Brendan Healy

A young comedian who grew up watching his dad make millions of people laugh on stage and TV is following in his footsteps by joining the very pantomime company that was always close to his dad’s heart.

Finbar Healy at the 
Gateshead International Stadium
(John Millard Photography)
Finbar Healy, son of the late great, comedian, actor and musician Brendan Healy is starring in the Geordie Panto Company’s production of Cinderella. Now in their 3rd consecutive year, the company create a modern theatre arena experience, which includes a 700-seater family-friendly auditorium, state of the art light and sound technology and fully accessible facilities.

Finbar will be playing an Ugly Sister alongside the show's writer, Tyneside comic Maxie Peters, a role he is looking forward to taking on.

“I grew up with the panto in my blood. Dad was a founder of the company back in 1995, when it played to audiences at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre. As a child, I’ve fond memories of helping in all of the different parts of the production from hitting cymbals in the orchestra pit to selling merchandise and even getting up on stage as the cute kid from the audience. I always found it funny when my dad asked me my name.”

The Company is proud of its North East roots and employs, a host of North East talent both in front of the curtain and behind the scenes to bring its unique brand of family festive entertainment.

This year’s production of Cinderella once again has a very Geordie feel to it with “fairy-tale” settings such as Dunston and Jesmond, plenty of Geordie humour and local references and of course, not forgetting the Company’s popular 12 Days of Christmas routine which has had audiences in hysterics for more than 20 years, all of which create the ingredients for a Christmas feast of family entertainment.

Since 2017 the production has had a new home at Gateshead International Stadium. “People are amazed at the auditorium we build from scratch every Christmas”, Finbar says. “In literally one day, this huge empty space within the Stadium’s main building facility becomes a 700-seat arena style theatre. The first magical experience hits you when you walk in and see the fantastic lights, huge stage and the live band strikes up the opening music”.

It’s not just the internal transformations however, that make a visit to this pantomime a fantastic family experience. Located just 15 minutes from Newcastle city centre, with free car parking plus public transport links, including the “Gateshead Stadium” Metro station which is walking distance from the venue thus you can leave city centre traffic jams, parking issues and delays behind.

From Tynemouth, father of three, Finbar is looking forward to involving his children, Adaline (2), Elise (12) and Arya (11 months) in the production just like his dad did with him.

“Kids of all ages just love panto and the Geordie Panto Company is in my blood thanks to my dad. I want my children to have the same warm memories that I have at this special time of year.  Christmas is a time for family, fun and being festive and this is exactly what this panto is all about. We give Cinderella the Geordie treatment and everyone in the audience no matter what age will love it.  Being in this panto has brought me even closer to my dad. He lived and breathed it and I get the feeling that he is watching over me and giving me his blessing and support. It’s almost as if “he’s behind me!”


REVIEW: Aladdin at Durham Gala Theatre

The Jewel in the North East's Panto Crown

Durham Gala Theatre
Until Sunday 5 January 2019

Traditionally the Gala Theatre in Durham is the first of the season. Written and directed by the established partnership of Neil Armstrong and Paul Hartley, they set the bar very high for the panto scene.  Indeed, this could be their year. It is always a pleasure to review panto when a high quality team hit the sweet spot and this is certainly one such occasion. 

Now 1pm matinees are not the easiest to do. The problems can be stacked against success. A younger, quieter crowd who don't always know their role in the three ring circus that is the classic British panto perhaps. Or maybe a cast conserving some energy as they have to go again later in the day. We've witnessed both in the past but neither was an issue at the Gala today. As Neil Armstrong appeared, as the evil Abanazar, he quickly coached the young crowd into the time honoured ritual of booing the bad guy.

Here's the thing we often get asked...don't you get bored of panto? Sure,  we have seen Aladdin many times and wish Disney hadn't had its paws on it, but the Durham team show it is possible to put a fresh twist on the tale.  And to leave the Disney film out of it. So, in the same way last year's Snow White had a radically different dwarf in the usual 7, this year Abanazar has four young mummies to help with the comedy. They're not given any credit in the programme but I'm sure they were in last year's show and they continue to add to this show too.

There is another reason why this production stands on the top tier of the north east pile. They stick to the plot. They tell a story. They don't deviate for a scene just to tick a box or give a star 5 minutes in the spotlight.  The song choice is closer to that of a musical as each number forwards the exposition rather than pad the show out. Clever manipulation of familiar lyrics keep the tale going. For example, the 80s Sister Sledge hit "Frankie" changes from a song about a school caretaker and becomes "Twankies" and song about life in a laundry.

This show, on the banks of the River Wear, is written for the local dialect too. Comic Paul Hartley, as Aladdin's brother Wishy Washy and panto dame Paul Dunn, as Widow Twanky, regularly throw out lines in the local vernacular. This isn't an imported panto with the occasional local reference to Pity Me or Newton Aycliffe chucked in to make it feel local. The turn of phrase used by the two Pauls to describe the courtship between Aladdin (David Hosie) and Princess Jasmine (Eleanor Chaganis) was integral to the script.  It felt subtle but it was there across the piece.

Completing the lineup is Kylie Ann Ford as Chief Inspector Tai Chi, the frequently flying genie Laura Lonsdale supplemented with four dancers who doubled as police, and the occasional brief uncredited walk on part of the Emperor for another youngster. The Emperor has a reoccurring joke about the local dialect too.  The Genie had empathy which is often lacking in the part as they change masters.

Amongst the strong characters,  a mistake, in my opinion, often made with Aladdin is to leave the titular character and his planned intended as weakly portrayed secondary characters. It is pleasing to see in the Durham show that David Hosie is engaging as Aladdin and Eleanor Chaganis is able to portray a strong woman in love rather than a shallow princess who'll fall for the first guy she meets.

The Durham Gala show also features, up on the balcony,  live musicians under musical director Mark Thompson,  who are worth their weight in gold when it takes slightly longer than planned to get through the audience. 

Panto isn't something that can be televised easily. The interaction between the front row and Abanazar or Widow Twanky show the real professionalism of Neil Armstrong and Paul Dunn. Comic Paul Hartley too keeps the introductions short and gets the audience to respond to his arrival each time without a tiresome routine that the kids cannot follow.

Yes, there are plenty of jokes and funny moments. Some seemed more spontaneous (accidental?) than others. We laughed throughout.  Yes, the ring jokes are aplenty too. It was a good laugh and felt like the perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment to counter the wet, dark days that seem to be the norm at the minute.   Aladdin was a great way to spend time with the family.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

Performances of Aladdin will take place at various times between Thursday 21 November and Sunday 5 January. This includes British Sign Language performances on Sunday 8 December at 1pm and Thursday 2 January at 1pm, and a captioned performance on Thursday 2 January at 1pm. There will also be a relaxed performance without loud noises or flashing lights for people with autism and sensory issues on Wednesday 27 November at 1.30pm.

Tickets are priced from £7 to £18, with family tickets starting at £54.

To book, visit or call 03000 266 600.


News: Panto Favourite Hunts Down Bigger Role

Panto Favourite Hunts Down Bigger Role

Snow White
South Shields Customs House
Wednesday 27th November 2019 - Sunday 5th January 2020

There’s no denying that Arbuthnot has built up quite a following since his first appearance in The Customs House panto three years ago.

The hapless hero has become a firm favourite with the youngest members of the audience, which has led to several successful spin-off school holiday shows, including Arbuthnot and Pals’ Wizarding Adventure this October half-term, which was his most successful yet.

Actor Davey Hopper, who was nominated for Best Comic at the Great British Panto Awards last year, returns to the role once again in this year’s production of Snow White and reveals that his character has a larger part to play.

He said: “Arbuthnot is involved in the story a lot more this time. He has a big part to play in the plot, whereas in the past it has often been Dame Bella and Arbuthnot coming on for the comedy element. This time he is very much in the central part of the story.”

Davey, who is originally from Consett but now lives in South Shields, is looking forward to being reunited with his panto mam, played by panto co-writer and director, Ray Spencer, as well as his panto brother, Luke Maddison.

Arbuthnot was first introduced in Jack and the Beanstalk in 2016, as Jack’s brother. Jack was played by Luke, who returns to The Customs House panto this year as one of the animal characters, Whiffy the skunk.

Davey said: “This is my fourth year in panto at The Customs House and I don’t take it for granted. I love every second of it. It is just fantastic how the Arbuthnot character keeps going and people still find him entertaining. It is very flattering.”

Davey is also looking forward to being on stage alongside Dale Jewitt, who plays the Prince of the North, having co-written and performed in the Arbuthnot spin-off shows with him over the last three years.  He said: “I’m really excited that Dale’s in it because he has been involved in all of the Arbuthnot spin-off shows from the very beginning and it’s nice that he’s coming to the big show, if you like.  He is, in my view, one of the best north east actors working currently and I think he’s going to bring something new to the panto.”

Also appearing in Snow White are Annie Guy as Snow White, Steven Lee Hamilton as the Evil Queen, Bethan Amber as the Mirror and Charlie Raine as Sniffy the skunk.

Davey said: “It is great that The Customs House has these performers, who they have nurtured really, who know what The Customs House crowd is about and how supportive they are. And working with Ray again, I fear for my life every time I walk on stage with that man, but it’s great. You never know what’s going to happen next.”

Snow White, sponsored by Hays Travel, runs from Wednesday November 27, 2019 to Sunday January 5, 2020. Performance times vary and ticket prices start at £9.99. Contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or visit