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REVIEW: Emperor’s New Clothes from Northern Stage & Kitchen Zoo

A Northern Stage & Kitchen Zoo Co-production

The Emperor's New Clothes


12-31 December 2020

Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen

Northern Stage have not allowed a pandemic to stop them delivering a fine slice of family friendly theatre. Their co-production with Kitchen Zoo follows their tradition of presenting a drama that will captivate younger audience members.

This show marks the final Christmas Northern Stage production for Mark Calvert who has been responsible for revitalising this important fixture in the North East’s creative calendar. It is the introduction to theatre for many young people. I remember taking my son along when he was very, very young and watching his face light up. These shows were instrumental in making him a fan of theatre and inspire him to create and perform in shows years later.

The show begins with the cast appearing at the closed curtain to start the show. Scarper and Chase are a pair of chancers who float through life seizing opportunity as it presents itself, regardless of the legality of their actions. Chasing a dog who steals their food results in them ending up in the house of the King. His Royal Highness had been in the search for someone to create his new costumes and he assumes that our chancers are there for the job. 

The plot then follows Hans Christian Anderson’s tale using a mix of songs, puppets, shadow play and careful positioning of props to deliver the famous outcome.

The success of the show hangs on the shoulders of the ensemble cast of four. Hannah Goudie-Hunter and Bob Nicholson and the central pair of chancers: Magnus Scarper and Broderick Chase. They draw the audience into their adventure quite skilfully and help keep the show appealing to a wide range of ages. 

Jeremy Bradfield returns as both the musician and the King, though much of his music-making activity is kept off camera. This is one of the downsides to watching this on download as it has been entertaining in recent years to see him in action on the periphery of the stage. 

Making her professional debut is Simmie Kaur who finds herself gelling the plot together as Laura Lindow’s script allows for some explanation along the way. All four performers get a chance to show their comedic side as the hour long show is full of lighter moments.

Watching online does feel different to being part of a crowd at a live show. Fortunately the sound effects help give the impression that this is a live experience. 

This show is filmed using a number of cameras. The advantage of this is that the little ones get close up with the action and the focus of attention is where the director wants it to go. Everyone is guaranteed the best seat in the house and the sound is perfect during the musical numbers. 

Rather than produce a televisual drama of the type you might see of the BBC’s children’s channels, this is a standard theatre production that has been captured on video. The performers talk to the room rather than to the camera. Perhaps this is a missed opportunity as breaking the fourth wall and addressing the cameras may have helped engage the very youngest of audience members. But like everything else in 2020, we have all had to learn to adapt to new online formats (after all - this is the first review of a theatre stream for the North East Theatre Guide).

A quick aside here: the programme notes suggest that you have a go at running the stream before running any event for the kids at home. We would recommend this too as we tried a couple of set ups before settling on running it through the laptop onto our big TV. We found that, in our case, trying to run it off the phones to the TV was causing the speech to be out of sync with the pictures.

The Emperor's New Clothes gets a lot of things right. It has the engagement that has been the hallmark of Northern Stage’s family Christmas output for many years. It delivers a great tale in a way that should work for kids in Key stages 1 and 2 / ages 5-10. There is enough going on in the hour for adult theatre fans too. This show is too important for the culture of the region to be missed out completely because of our current restrictions. This is a close substitute to the live experience so grab the ice cream or popcorn and enjoy it from your own home. 

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Pamela Raith


Mark Calvert Director & show deviser

Laura Lindow Writer & show deviser

Bob Nicholson & Hannah Goudie-Hunter Show Devisers

Alison Ashton Set and costume designer

Jeremy Bradfield Composer, Musical Director & sound designer

Martin Hylton Movement director

Sam Vivash Lighting designer

Faye Alvi BSL interpreter

Michael Davies Audio description

Meerkat Films Video production


Hannah Goudie-Hunter Magnus Scarper, Dr Harris Tweed,| Mouse

Bob Nicholson Broderick Chase, Professor Real Leather

Jeremy Bradfield King Shirley XII, Strumbley Bass

Simmie Kaur Bogus Mcphee, 1st Minister


The Emperor’s New Clothes will be streamed online from Saturday 12 – Thursday 31 December. Tickets are £15 per household and go on general sale on Monday 16 November.  Northern Stage supporters and members can book advance tickets for £10 from Monday 9 November.

Book online at or call the box office on 0191 230 5151. 

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