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REVIEW: Cabaret at Sunderland Empire


Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 1st February 2020

Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Book: Joe Masteroff

Cabaret started life on the stage before it was turned into a major film in the 1970s. There are a few significant changes between the two however, in our opinion, the stage show is much better than film. Indeed, THIS particular production of Cabaret is well worth seeing as it manages to control two central themes, against a background of political upheaval in Germany, without confusing the audience. But Cabaret is much more than that as a consistently remarkable cast put on a real show at the Sunderland Empire.

Not everyone has seen the film. So, let’s start with the story.

The tale begins on New Year’s Eve, in Berlin, as 1930 is turning into 1931.  American author Cliff Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty) has just arrived and he is in need of somewhere to stay in order to write his new book. Lucky for him he bumps into Ernst (Nick Tizzard) at passport control who seems to be smuggling perfume in order to make a bit of money on the side.  Ernst recommends taking lodgings at Fraulein Schneider’s residence. He also suggests that they meet up later at the Kit Kat Klub. Schneider (Anita Harris) offers him a room and Cliff quickly meets up with the other characters at the house including fruit seller Herr Schultz (James Paterson) and Fraulein Kost (Basienka Blake) who seems to have lots of sailors popping by.  

The Kit Kat Club may a dark, bawdy and shameless venue which aims to entertain. Emcee, performed by the enigmatic John Partridge, leads the opening number Wilkommen and he is supported by a very tight dancing ensemble. In fact, the clubs scenes all benefit from, at times sensual, but always very dramatic, dance and catchy memorable songs. The Emcee really cuts it by breaking the 4th wall with the Sunderland crowd on occasion, but not too much. Adding to the ambience is a live band, under musical director Phil Cornwell, sat behind in raised position who did not put a note wrong all night.

It is at the club that Cliff meets English entertainer Sally Bowles (Kara Lily Hayworth) who is sacked and decides to move in with Cliff. The story then looks at this couples relationship whilst, at the same time, moving the action back to the club to see the bigger picture, including the political turmoil of German in the early 1930s.

Cabaret’s design helps to set the atmosphere. Lighting (Tim Oliver) picks out action but also keeps some stuff deliberately in the shadows.  Sound (Dan Samson) too is sometimes changed to reflect the setting/venue. Having some of the set pushed on meant its arrival was sometimes choreographed (Javier De Frutos) into the action too.

The Fraulein Schneider lodging house scenes felt more separate from the club scenes and that clarity helped make this a better experience than the much-loved movie in my opinion. The issues around Fraulein Schneider were well captured and Anita Harris has a stunning voice. Charles Hagerty’s Cliff Bradshaw seemed less pathetic and naive than in the movie too. Likewise, Kara Lily Haworth’s Sally captured the free spirit of the time. James Paterson conveys the confidence that everything will be alright as the Jewish Herr Schultz, despite the various warning signs.

There is some nudity in the show, but it is not on stage for an excessive time.  Indeed, used to make a statement at the end.

The undercurrent of impending political change is not laboured but hangs in the air from the start.  The sequence of historical events flows organically across the piece. The later stages of the show are less of a shock as the political themes overlap with the residents of Fraulein Schneider’s house.

Cabaret is well worth seeing. It has plenty to offer as a piece of theatre. There is no ‘mega mix’ to get everyone standing at the end (unlike a lot of modern musicals) but Sunderland still gave it a well-deserved standing ovation.  The ensemble worked so hard to entertain in this five- star performance.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: The Other Richard

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NB: Officially the show is marketed as “Recommended 13yrs+ Please note this show contains nudity, strong language and adult themes.” Yes, there is both male and female nudity. Parents will know best if it is suitable for their children.


Preview: GUY: A New Musical to tour across the North East

Leo & Hyde’s
GUY: A New Musical to tour across the North East this February

The award-winning modern-day gay love story for everybody tours the North East, in a new version with more bops than ever before.

GUY: A New Musical premiered in 2018 at Hope Mill Theatre and The Bunker, and was the winner, of Best Show at the Birmingham Fringe Festival 2018 and winner of Buxton Fringe Award for Best New Writing 2018.

Two years later, GUY is touring the North East, sharing the story of a fat, gay, nerdy man looking for love. Combining electronic, pop and musical theatre, GUY is Queer As Folk meets Bridget Jones with a catfishing musical twist, leo&hyde’s award-winning GUY gives you 12 heart-pounding electronic pop anthems and witty, heartfelt story about modern dating through a diverse cross-section of gay men. GUY is a reminder that the only person you should be is yourself: #nofilter.

leo&hyde is a multi-award-winning musical theatre partnership, based in Manchester. They use current music to tell stories about modern life, technology and social media. Our work has been performed at The Lowry, Hope Mill Theatre, The Arcola, The Everyman, The Other Palace and The King’s Head Theatre, amongst other venues. 

The company was set up in 2016, led by Cumbrian composer Stephen Hyde (shortlisted for the Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer 2018) and Mancunian writer / producer Leo Mercer (
a Stage One Producer).

Stephen and Leo commented: “We can't wait to bring GUY: A New Musical to the North East. We were delighted to be chosen by these six venues to bring GUY to the North East - we’re big believers that a gay love story can speak to the entire world, and can’t wait to share this musical with you!”

GUY starts a tour of the North East with a date at Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham on 3 February followed by Alnwick Playhouse, Saltburn Community Centre, Arts Centre Washington, Barnard Castle, The Witham, then finishes at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre on the 8th February.

Critical Reception

✭✭✭✭✭ Fairy Powered - “This is a show that has all the tools it needs to succeed… a beautiful score by Stephen Hyde and a great book by Leoe Mercer”

✭✭✭✭✭ Theatre Box - “Exceptional cast… catchy [music]… a joy to watch”

✭✭✭✭✭ Boyz - “A fabulous mix of electric, synth-pop, punk, funk, rap, disco and high energy that will blow your socks off”

✭✭✭✭1/2 Manchester Theatre Awards - “Excellent… lean, fast-moving and contemporary”

✭✭✭✭1/2 Reviews Hub  -  “[An] irresistible rom-com of the highest order… The acting is first class, the singing is excellent and the songs are very catchy. Hyde’s music [...] seems refreshingly contemporary... there’s not one dud song in 90 minutes… Mercer’s lyrics are just as keenly observed and are often very funny.. Slickly performed with [...] infectious energy... leon&hyde are a formidable partnership... the show has the potential to be very big indeed”

On The Web:

The Tour:
03.02.2020. Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham
07.02.2020 Barnard Castle, The Witham
08.02.2020 Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre

Preview: Friends The Musical Parody at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre

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The first UK Tour of Friends The Musical Parody is coming to Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Sunday 1st November 2020 at 6pm (Doors: 5pm)
The New York and Las Vegas hit musical, Friends! The Musical Parody, is coming to Tyne Theatre & Opera House on Sunday 1st November 2020.
Following huge success in the US, Friends! The Musical Parody will be going on tour for the first time in the UK and Ireland.
This hilarious musical lovingly lampoons the hit TV sitcom which became a cultural institution with millions of fans across the globe.

Like the original television series, it follows the lives of six wacky 20-somethings and goes back in time to celebrate and poke fun at some of their most iconic moments as they navigate the pitfalls of work, life, and love in 1990’s Manhattan. 
Led by a talented cast who nail the quirks, the mannerisms and the catchphrases of the TV Show characters.  Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, Joey and Rachel, haven’t gone anywhere and are singing and dancing their way back into our hearts in a delightful musical parody that harnesses the nostalgia for the iconic TV show and takes it to hilarious new places. 
Theatre Director Joanne Johnson said “We’re very excited to welcome the first UK tour of Friends – The Musical Parody onto our stage. It’s had huge success in America and the TV series still is a huge phenomenon to this day. Fans of the TV show won’t want to miss out on this.”
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REVIEW: Sinderella Adult Panto at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

Joe Purdy Productions presents:
Sinderella Adult Panto
Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Fri 24 Jan 2020
and then on tour

This was panto show number 14 of the season for us, and we were with the loudest audience. This crowd were really up for a good time. Even over the loud pa system, the audience could be heard yelling for Buttons when someone was going to steal his present or heard laughing as the performers described what they’d do if they were not in panto. SInderella is not a quiet panto. It is not for the faint hearted. And yes, it is rude. I wouldn’t take my mother to it. But do you know what? We loved it.

As each actor appeared on stage, I realised that the bulk of the audience were familiar with them, as each one, with a couple of exceptions, has appeared on some television programme or other. By the reaction of the audience, they feel that they already know them and love them and were excited to meet them afterwards. As for me: well I don’t see that much TV do I? Having said that – they all appeared comfortable with entertaining on stage with an audience that they can hear giving them immediate feedback. Only one gave a vibe that they are not entirely sure with is going on with this “panto” format, but that vulnerability was charming as they reacted to the audience’s reaction to the script.

Stacy Layne Matthews, from season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, appears first as Fairy Henny who is armed with rhyming couplets on her she is going to sort out Cinderella’s love life. She is met by another Rupaul favourite: Davina De Campo as Baroness Divina Hardon who has married Baron Hardon and is moving into Hardon Hall with her 2 ugly daughters. Davina is a wonderful performer that works the Newcastle crowd well.

Glasgow’s Julie Hutchinson Alberts plays a pretty straight Cinderella and the script lets the others around her say all of the naughty things that makes show an adult panto. Cinder’s best friend is, of course, Buttons, and producer Joe Purdy has played a blinder by recruiting the South Tyneside panto legend Davey Hopper to the role. Naturally entertaining, this lad helped tie together the various panto elements and remained comical throughout. He was clearly having fun in the more adult role but that did not stop a few yells of “Arbuthnot” from the crowd as some fans of his Customs House performances were in for this performance.

Sometimes, in Cinderella, you end up with a fairly boring Prince and side-kick. Thankfully that was not the case here. Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Rob King seemed to fit in well into the action as he makes his theatre debut as Prince Charming. He was a part of a great double-act, playing the straight guy next to David Potts as Dandini. Potts was a vibrant character in his own right rather than a subservient extra.

The Cinderella story also relies on two ugly sisters, and this show has a right pair! Lapping up a number of opportunities to be as cruel and as crude as they can get away with are Jamie Campbell and Troy Haris as Fifi and Frieda Hardon. At least Jamie was someone that, as a theatre-goer, I was familiar with as he is the actual Jamie in Everyone’s Talking About Jamie (which will be appearing at the Theatre Royal from March 30th). These two uglies were happy to interact with the audience and Baroness Divina, trading insults and getting as many “ew”s as laughs as they were often disgusting and loving it.

The show is complete with four dancers (Ross McNally, Blake Wilson, Kris Gazey and Steph Knight) that often added to adult theme with their routines.

This is a really funny show. Even though it over ran slightly and was just under the 3 hour mark (with interval) – that was more down to the audience than anything else. It looked like a proper panto and featured people know for TV, but the jokes were definitely not for television and each one understood the nature of the three-ringed circus that is live panto. It actually stuck to the Cinderella narrative fairly closely but wasn’t afraid to point out how, for example, Cinders should keep her mouth shut at times – or what was more likely to have happened at the ball.

Review: Stephen Oliver

The tour continues around the UK: and appears back in the North East at the Middlesbrough Theatre on the 6th and 9th February – tickets:


REVIEW: Ordinary Days at Newcastle Northern Stage

Presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of R and H Theatricals. 
Ordinary Days
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 25th January 2020

Stage 2 is playing host this week to the venue’s debut by the Oxi-Morons Theatre Company. They have revived a musical that looks at the life’s of four New Yorkers over the period of 24 hours. The powerful lyrics provide a rich tapestry of modern life. Thanks to four engaging actors, accompanied by live music from Ray Taylor on the piano, the audience was immersed in a potent tale.

The soundscape of a bustling city centre greets the audience as they arrive. Car horns blare as you take in the set made up of stalls, Virginia Woolf quotes and a crossword.

" A life that goes on changing is a life that goes on living " Virginia Woolf.

It is September 11th 2008 and four people are preparing for another day in the Big Apple. Gram Cummings is first to appear as Warren who is house sitting for an artist who is currently incarcerated. He tries to keep the work of the unnamed painter alive by giving out leaflets that he has designed which are covered in quotes. Despite his outwardly confident entrance, Gram manages to convey that sense of a fragile personality who clearly has a detailed back story that has put him into this position.

Eilidh Talman then introduces Deb, who is trying to graduate but has lost the book that contains all of her notes that she needs for her thesis on Virginia Woolf. Her supervisor has clearly made it clear that there are no excuses for a late submission and that stresses her out.

In the third flat are a couple that are moving to the next stage in their relationship. Jamie Brown is Jason, a lad who is tired of running backwards and forwards between the two locations and he is unpacking his stuff in Claire’s apartment. Tension is building from the off as Claire is less keen on moving her stuff out of the way. Melanie Carss is terrific as the reluctant flatmate who doesn’t want to explain why she is keeping her yearbook or a jumper that she never wears.

This show features over 20 songs that both convey feelings and push the narrative along. There is no need for dull exposition when Adam Gwon’s well chosen phrases for the lyrics tell the audience all that they need. The bonus is that this propels the show along at a decent pace – which is also helped by the omission of an interval, that also sustains the tension.

Yes, there is going to a link between the characters but it isn’t as contrived as a television sit-com.  Some of the back story to some of the characters will be revealed but the audience is treated with intelligence and not everything is revealed or explained. I found myself pondering over these well-formed individuals on the drive home. And that is the magic of this production is that you care about these people. Without that emotional attachment, the show fails. It is through the performances that you form such a bond. Jamie Brown and Melanie Carss show that a lack of communication can add to stress whilst Eilidh Talman shows the stress of work deadlines that others don’t understand. Gram Cummings shows a fully formed and complex character that has so much to offer.

For a show that is made up of many songs and is almost entirely sung through, it does feel different for a musical. Light and nimble rather than trying to force itself into a traditional format. 

This is wonderful show that was a pleasure to watch.

2020 is proving to be a great year for theatre already!

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos by Michelle Bayly
£15 / £10 concession
Box Office: 0191 230 5151 or online at
BSL signed performance Saturday 25 January 2pm


Preview: Snow Queen at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Scottish Ballet Returns to Newcastle With a Stunning Seasonal Spectacular

The Snow Queen
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Wednesday 12 - Saturday 15 February 2020

The ever-popular Scottish Ballet make a dazzling return to Newcastle Theatre Royal with a seasonal treat for the whole family. In celebration of Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary year, The Snow Queen will be playing its only tour dates in England from Wednesday 12 – Saturday 15 February 2020.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved tale, which was also the basis for Disney’s hit film Frozen, Scottish Ballet’s The Snow Queen is a story of love and friendship that will delight audiences of all ages. The action is driven by three central female characters: the brave young Gerda on a quest to rescue her true love, the enigmatic pickpocket Lexi at her side, and the powerful Snow Queen at the centre of it all.

Created in collaboration with multi-award-winning designer Lez Brotherston, The Snow Queen will take audiences from a bustling winter’s market, through a fairytale forest, and into the icy realms of the Snow Queen’s palace. The production will include a colourful cast of characters dressed in a total of 111 custom-made costumes, from a circus ringmaster and his troupe to dancing snowflakes and, of course, the dazzling Snow Queen herself. 

Set to the music of Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the specially adapted score by Richard Honner will be performed live by the full Scottish Ballet Orchestra. One highlight will be an on-stage violin solo, set to send shivers down audiences’ spines as the choreography, design and music come together for dramatic effect. 

Christopher Hampson, CEO / Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet, said: “It’s been an extraordinary year for Scottish Ballet, and I’m thrilled that we bring our 50th anniversary celebrations to a close with the world premiere of The Snow Queen. Unpicking this fairytale to bring out its most compelling characters and focusing on their journeys has been a rewarding process. Working with the brilliant Lez Brotherston, we have reimagined the story in a spectacular new world and I hope it will entertain and delight audiences of all ages.”

Photos: Andy Ross

The Snow Queen plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal Wednesday 12 - Saturday 15 February 2020 playing evenings at 7.30pm and matinees Thursday 2pm and Saturday 2.30pm.Tickets from £15.50 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

Preview: Peter & Petula’s Slumberland Sing-Along at South Shields Armstrong’s Bar

Customs House Panto Star Swaps His Elf Uniform For PJs
Peter & Petula’s Slumberland Sing-Along
South Shields Armstrong’s Bar (Formally The Armstrong Hall)
Thursday 20thFriday 21st February 2020
Customs House ‘Santa’s Naughty Elf star Wayne Miller celebrated eleven years of bringing Santa’s Naughty Elf to life and last years The Elves & The Shoemaker saw him in his final Elf performance as Elfluent the elf.
The ‘little panto for little ones’ was devised by The Customs House Executive Director Ray Spencer in 2009 to complement the main house panto, with the aim to be more accessible to children under seven and their families.Giving a more suitable first time theatre experience for the little ones.
Wayne, who also wrote and directed the shows, said: “I always said I wanted to get to the 10-year mark and I did, it was really special. So I decided my eleventh year would be the time to say goodbye to Elfluent and let the next generation of panto performers elevate their little panto to the next level.”
He added: “Santa’s Naughty Elf has meant so much to me as a performer, as a writer and as a person. It became so personal, getting to grow with our audiences who came back year after year.” added Wayne
Audiences he hopes return to the growing panto universe of Peter Plank. The actor and writer created the panto character two years ago, to entertain in the none festive holidays for families. Over the past two years Peter has been in many popular adventures. One of which was a Slumberland Sing-Along, which was first seen at The Westovian Theatre in South Shields. The show Peter & Petula’s Slumberland Sing-Along is back by popular demand this February.
Wayne says: “The first time we performed this show, we got such a wonderful response with the audiences. They asked us when they could see it again, so we decided to bring it back for a short run this February Half Term. They really seemed to love seeing the hapless and hopeless Peter Plank as much as I love playing him!”
The show tells the story of Peter and his sister Petula who decide to have a sleep over, inviting everyone to join them in PJ’s and with teddy’s for a night of song and dance. They bring to life weird and wonderful family members and things that go bump in the night…bumps that are not too scary though, as this is a mini pantomime for the mini ones.
“We wanted this show to follow in the same style as Santa’s Naughty Elf, perfect for the mini ones. Not too long, interactive with plenty of silliness. Something Wayne has become well known for” adds producer Stacy Walton.
Walton-Gunn Productions continue to produce perfect panto fun for North East audiences and hope the return of Peter & Petula’s Slumberland Sing-Along is a fun start to the first school holidays of 2020. There are only three performances at Armstrong’s Bar ( Formally The Armstrong Hall) so grab your tickets to the show from . Tickets are priced at £7 and £24 for a family ticket.