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Saturday, 30 November 2019

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at Whitley Bay Playhouse

The Bench Returns!

Jack and the Beanstalk
Whitley Bay Playhouse
Until Saturday 4th January 2020
Tickets are still available from the theatre box office and online from #Ad

Comic Steve Walls and panto dame Daniel Mawston return for their annual panto at the theatre on the coast. This isn’t business as usual, as the established panto has had an overhaul, and the changes are all positive.  The end result is a perfect family friendly panto in which the adults will laugh as much as the kids.

Happyvale has a problem, up in the clouds is a giant that is causing havoc. Through his henchman Fleshcreep (Guy Mott) he is able to terrorise the people below. The people need a hero and Jack Trott (Harry Downes) is the person for the job, especially after King Crumble (David Burton) offered the opportunity to marry his daughter Princess Jill (Molly Scott).

The show’s action frequently centres around Jack’s brother Simple Simon as Steve Walls enjoys his tenth year at the Playhouse. His stage mother, Dame Patsy Trott, is building a successful panto partnership as the characters work well on stage together. The third source of humour on stage comes in the shape of the return of Damien Patton as Fleshcreep’s sidekick Oddball.  Comic timing from these three actors, and a healthy helping of jokes at regular intervals, means that the audience have plenty to laugh at.

This is probably to note a change in direction for the Playhouse panto. In past years this show has been very safe for very young children. The engaging Steve Walls enrolling them into his gang and humour running very much at a Cbeebies level. This year there are jokes for the adults in the room too. No worries, this is still a safe panto to take your young children to but there will be the occasional line that flies over their head and have the adults laughing.

And the other change? I swear they have finally fixed the sound issues too! Perhaps that was just my old age, but the previous couple of years have been let down by unclear sound – not this year.

This panto crams many of the panto staples into its 2 hour, plus interval, running time. A crazy messy scene, songs featuring lively performances from the professional dancers and “panto babes”, a bad guy to boo at, community singing and even a Spice Girls mega-mix to get you on your feet at the end. Of course the panto features a take-off scene, with that bench, which has the kids screaming at the tops of their voices “it’s behind you!”

There is also a fairy. Except this fairy is Fairy Liquid, performed by Ashleigh Butler, who shot to fame in Britain’s Got Talent, with Sully – a dog with many skills. The usual advice is to avoid performing with kids and animals but both were adorable in today’s show.

This is a show that flew by. Director Charlotte Sheridan gets entertaining performances from a cast that are clearly enjoying working together. Guy Mott is not too nasty as the bad guy, Harry Downes and Molly Scott work well as the panto love story whilst Steve Walls, Daniel Mawston and Damian Patton go from strength to strength as the generators of mirth.

There is a real pleasure when you see a panto that hits the sweet spot. The Playhouse panto has finally found its groove. A great cast and good writing combine to produce a very entertaining show.

Review by Stephen Oliver.
Photos by Steve Brock.

Tickets are still available from the theatre box office and online from #Ad

Thursday, 28 November 2019

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.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

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.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

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

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

Sunday, 24 November 2019

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: RuPaul’s Drag Race at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

THIS WEEK: RuPaul’s Drag Race: UK Season 1
at Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Thurs 28 Nov 2019 at 8:00pm (Meet & Greet to arrive by 6:00pm)

RuPaul’s Drag Race is taking the most sickening talent contest in the world across the pond for the first ever UK Season of the hit TV show! Now, Voss Events and World of Wonder are giving you the chance to see all of the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent of the Queen’s queens LIVE on stage.

Hosted by Drag Queen Extraordinaire Alyssa Edwards and starring the Season 1 contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK including Baga Chipz, Blu Hydrangea, Cheryl Hole, Crystal, Divina de Campo, Gothy Kendoll, Scaredy Kat, Sum Ting Wong, Vinegar Strokes and The Vivienne.