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REVIEW: Girl From The North Country at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Girl From The North Country

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 1 October 2022

The musical, using the songs of Bob Dylan, with a story by Conor McPherson, has arrived in Newcastle this week. With approval from the songwriter himself, the show has been popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

The story is set in the winter of 1934 in a guest house in Duluth, Minnesota, a city on the shores of Lake Superior. The local medical man, Dr. Walker (Chris McHallem), introduces the cast. The man running the guest house is Nick Laine (Colin Connor) who is having a run of bad luck. Not only is the bank about to repossess the business, his wife Elizabeth (Frances McNamee) is suffering from dementia which means that she needs care. Their adopted daughter Marianne (Justina Kehinde) is expecting a child and their son Gene (Gregor Milne) would rather be drunk and go through the motions of being a writer than get a proper job.

Some of the guests are also introduced, with Mrs Neilson (performed tonight by understudy Nichola MacEvilly) coming to early prominence as she has started a relationship with Nick whilst waiting for her probate money to come through. In the early hours of the morning two more guests arrive looking for a room claiming to have just met on their way there: Bible salesman cum Reverend Marlowe (performed by another understudy, Neil Stewart) and boxer Joe Scott (Joshua C Jackson). The musical then studies how the various groups interact in the run up to Thanksgiving.

As someone who has never asked Alexa to play any Bob Dylan music I came to this show open-minded. I had heard positive things about it on the grapevine and I love to check out new musicals. I am pleased to say that the show relies heavily on a very strong cast who can deliver characters that you care about. The leads all have the ability to sing well too. The poetic nature of Dylan's lyrics hang over the show, as the live band, who are on stage accompany the singers. The four piece band under musical director Andrew Corcoran add a magical touch to the songs. For the second week in a row I am struck by a show that doesn't go for over the top amplification - rather the natural acoustics are allowed to fill the room. 

The other similarity with last week's show is how the tale holds a mirror to the racism of the time. Unpleasant listening, but it was an aspect of life in the US back then (and still is, by all accounts).

I was struck by two statements made by the audience that I met in the interval. The guy behind me loudly telling his mate that he didn't have a clue where the story was going had me thinking at the start. Another audience member that I knew at the end of the interval then hit the nail on the head - "this is Arthur Miller set to music". Bingo - that's right!

The music is really well delivered but it doesn't forward the plot particularly well. The story is well acted and full of parallels with the modern day but it is somewhat depressing rather than entertaining. The humour side of the human condition is in short supply.

I can see why it got the really positive reviews. I really can. But, if I am to be honest, I cannot see myself actively wanting to see it again. Perhaps after the past couple of weeks I just wanted to be cheered up more? I look forward to reading comments from others about it.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Johan Persson

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Girl From The North Country plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 26 September – Saturday 1 October 2022. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


Interview: Girl From The North Country at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Celebrated playwright Conor McPherson talks about Girl From The North Country which arrives at Newcastle Theatre Royal this week.

Girl From The North Country

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Monday 26 September – Saturday 1 October 2022

The award-winning smash-hit production of Girl From The North Country,

written and directed by celebrated playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir, The

Seafarer) with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan, is coming to Newcastle Theatre

Royal this week.

It’s 1934 in the heartland of America and we meet a group of wayward souls who cross paths in a time-weathered guesthouse. Standing at a turning point in their lives, they realize nothing is what it seems. But as they search for a future, and hide from the past, they find themselves facing unspoken truths about the present.

Writer and Director Conor McPherson said “Collaborating with Bob Dylan has been a unique privilege for me. We have had an amazing journey opening on Broadway and in the West End but I feel particularly excited and moved to finally bring this work to my home town of Dublin and on tour around the UK.”

On a shelf in Conor McPherson’s agreeably cluttered Dublin office stands a row of more than 60 CDs. It was these that Dylan’s management company sent McPherson when the multi award-winning writer/director came on board for the project that would become Girl From The North Country.

In the summer of 2017, this gentle masterpiece, an elegiac and powerful study of family and poverty, love and loss, opened at London’s Old Vic Theatre. The acclaim was instantaneous.

It is set in a down-on-its-luck boarding-house in Dylan’s home-town of Duluth, Minnesota in 1934, when the Great Depression is biting hard. The stories of the drifters and dreamers are elegantly intertwined with more than 20 of Dylan’s songs. It makes for a potent cocktail that has wowed audiences nationally and internationally.

In McPherson’s opinion, the show’s appeal is simple. It is the “universality of Dylan’s music, which is loved the world over. He manages to distil his subjective experience into something people relate to.”

McPherson, known for haunting dramas such as The Weir and Port Authority, had never previously directed a musical and found himself revelling in the novel experience. 

His vision came to him whilst walking beside the sea where he lives; it was a concept with which Bob Dylan was instantly enamoured. The Depression era is a time that continues to resonate with us, McPherson says. “We all wonder how we would cope when the chips are down. When all the distractions of modern life are stripped away, people think, ‘How strong am I?’ The truth is that humans are very resilient and we don’t need a lot of what we think we need.”

McPherson has nothing but praise for the creative free rein that Dylan has afforded him, leaving the writer to select the songs he wanted to include in the show. “I listened to everything and thought I’d see what spoke to me. It had to be that kind of instinctive, personal feeling.” 

How many times has Bob Dylan seen it? McPherson smiles. “I know that he saw it in New York and spoke to our cast afterwards. That first time he sat up the back with a hoodie on; he nips in and out and doesn’t make too much of a fuss.” 

McPherson’s aim has been to pack the cast with performers who “move the air when they come on” and wants the audience to take away with them “an emotional catharsis, a feeling of the mystery of life as they understand it.”

Photos: Johan Persson

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Girl From The North Country plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 26 September – Saturday 1 October 2022. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


Preview: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Newcastle Northern Stage

First look at A Midsummer Night's Dream rehearsal photos with Nadine Shah making her theatre debut

A Midsummer Night's Dream 

Newcastle Northern Stage 

Saturday 29 October - Saturday 12 November 2022 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a co-production between Shakespeare North Playhouse, Not Too Tame and Northern Stage, will be the first Shakespeare production to take place on the Cockpit Theatre stage.

Featuring the voice of BAFTA nominated actor David Morrissey as Oberon, and Mercury nominated singer-songwriter Nadine Shah making her theatre debut in the role of Titania.

Nadine Shah as Titania with David Nellist in rehearsals

It is co-directed by the Olivier-nominated Matthew Dunster – whose past work includes Hangmen and 2:22 A Ghost Story - and Jimmy Fairhurst, the founder and artistic director of Not Too Tame, a theatre company with a mission to make ‘theatre for all.’  Natasha Tripney interviews the team behind this eagerly awaited production.

Jimmy Fairhurst from Not Too Tame in rehearsals

What can audiences expect from your A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Jimmy Fairhurst: There will be everything you want from a good night out. Live music and dancing.

There will be Shakespeare too, but by the end of it, like most good nights out, you'll be exhilarated and ready for a drink, then on to the next place. It’ll also be a shared experience. People will end up communicating with each other, with people that they might not have otherwise met.

Company in rehearsals with Director Matthew Dunster and co-director Jimmy Fairhurst

What made the two of you want to work on this production together?

Matthew Dunster: We’d been trying to find a way to work together. We were both on the board of an organisation for actors from a working-class background and I liked the way Jimmy spoke about his company Not Too Tame, so I just emailed him one day and said, “What do I have to do to work with your company?” Not Too Tame had not done any Shakespeare whereas I've done quite a bit, so we thought that would be a good way forward, working on the show together.

Director Matthew Dunster in rehearsals

You held an open-call audition process for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What was that like?

Matthew Dunster: It was exhausting and exhilarating. There were over 2000 applicants and we saw over 200 across Newcastle and Warrington. We also made a commitment to see all of the third-year graduate students from [recently closed drama school] ALRA in Wigan. Because it was an open-call, it naturally attracted an extraordinarily diverse group of people. And we've ended up with an incredibly diverse company, both in terms of ethnicity, age, and how people identify in terms of gender.

l-r Director Matthew Dunster, David Nellist and Nadine Shah

The show will also include BSL?

Matthew Dunster: My thing about Shakespeare is that it should always open the door wider both in terms of the people who make it and who you invite through the door to see it. In 2017, I did a show called Imogen [based on Shakespeare’s Cymbeline with a grime soundtrack] at Shakespeare’s Globe, which was the last piece of Shakespeare that anybody let me do. It was pretty instrumental in bringing my tenure at the Globe to an end, but I thought it was brilliant and I wanted to pick up where I left off.

In Imogen, I worked with a wonderful actor called William Grint, but his storyline was not the centre of the play. This time we're going to put an actor who uses BSL right in the centre of the story. We're thinking of his role and his [use of] BSL as an intervention in the same way that we're thinking of a non-binary performer who doesn't want their character to be referred to as ‘she’ as an intervention.

Rebecca Hesketh Smith  and Tyler Dobbs

Mercury award- nominated musician Nadine Shah has been cast as Titania. How big a role will music play in this production?

Matthew Dunster: It's constant and ever present. I've been a fan of Nadine’s since her first singles. Very kindly, she's let us have all her catalogue and we're re-mixing things with her. Casting Nadine Shah as Titania is another kind of intervention. At what moment does Nadine start to sing like Titania? At what moment does Titania become this extraordinary contemporary northeast voice?

Jimmy Fairhurst: We've always talked about our work feeling like a gig. There'll be people that will come to see Nadine who may never have seen any theatre in their life. Music doesn't really have class barriers.

You can listen to Eminem and Tchaikovsky and no one bats an eyelid, but the way people think about theatre is very different.

Director Matthew Dunster with Nadine Shah as Titania

You've also got David Morrissey, or at least his voice.

Matthew Dunster: David’s my friend. And he's from Liverpool, so he wanted to get involved. There's been a lot of support, in the northwest, in particular, for the notion of what this theatre could be for the region, and with Titania and Oberon, we thought it would be wonderful if we had one from the Northwest and one from the Northeast, to stretch across the whole of the north of the country, representing the whole of that landscape through these wonderful, recognisable voices.

Rebecca Hesketh Smith and Tyler Dobbs

Jimmy, can you tell me a bit more about the background of your company Not Too Tame?

Jimmy Fairhurst: I was playing rugby league and was about to sign up for Wigan. We were reading A Midsummer Night's Dream in my English class and I was laughing at certain parts when other people weren't. And the teacher said: do you want to join the play? Theatre wasn't even on my radar. But I did it. And then the gates opened.

I told my Dad that I wasn't going to sign up for Wigan (the team that he captained) and I went to drama school instead. I was reading [loads of] plays and I realised that there were [very few] working-class voices. There's no Shane Meadows or Jimmy McGovern for theatre. It felt like there was no one making work for my peers and friends and family at home, for the people who just felt like it wasn't for them.

We formed a company and made a show, which we took to the Edinburgh Fringe. It was set in a real pub, where the audience met real people - the show just seemed to happen. That became our signature. And meant we could reach audiences that some middle-class people in theatre couldn't.

Nadine Shah in rehearsals

Your mission is to make “theatre for all”. What do you mean by that?

Jimmy Fairhurst: There's a caveat to that. When we say “theatre for all” we’re focusing specifically on people who feel theatre isn't for them. The people I grew up with. By making work for people who don’t usually go to the theatre, they can come and go “great, I love this” but more traditional theatre-goers will also appreciate that it’s a highly-crafted work of theatre, it just has a different energy. It's not dumbed down. Quite the opposite. It's just steeped in working class culture.

David Nellist in rehearsals

How does it feel knowing that this will be the first Shakespeare production to be performed on the Cockpit Theatre stage?

Jimmy Fairhurst: I have a personal attachment to it for two reasons. Firstly, we’re an associate company at the theatre, but also because my family are from near here. I grew up in Warrington, which is down the road. The first thing I ever heard about this building was several years ago when my cousin said to me, “Hey, have you heard, we’re getting a theatre?” There was an inclusivity in what he said. He said we’re getting a theatre in the same way that people talk about football. They say: Who are we playing this weekend? Like they’re the 12th man.

Matthew Dunster: If we do this show as boldly and with as much heart as we possibly can, it will be felt around the region, both by audiences but also potential future artists. It is about reframing things. We have to be the antidote to the poison of the tedious introductions Shakespeare, or to theatre, that some people might have had in the past.

Director Matthew Dunster in rehearsals

How do you hope the show will be received?

Jimmy Fairhurst: Whenever we’ve taken our previous work to working men's clubs or gig venues across the UK, one of the things that we hear the most is: why have you come here? That’s really saddening because art is for everyone. We’re just bringing it to those people who feel that it’s not for them. But you can't just give them one show. You have to build up a menu of work that makes them believe over a period of time that: yes, this is for me. That's the challenge for the Playhouse. That’s what it’s got to do.

Nadine Shah, Tyler Dobbs and Rebecca Hesketh Smith in rehearsals

Interview: Natasha Tripney

Photos: Patch Dolan


A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be at Shakespeare North Playhouse from 22nd September- 22nd October, then at Northern Stage from 29th October-12th November. Tickets are available from 


The matinee performance on the 02 Nov will be followed by a post-show discussion.

AUDIO DESCRIBED Sat 12 Nov, 2:00 pm


Wed 9 Nov, 2:00 pm



Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre & Opera House celebrates 155 years with a fresh new façade!


Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre & Opera House celebrates 155 years with a fresh new façade!

Tyne Theatre and Opera House is celebrating its 155-year anniversary on Friday 23rd September 2022.

One of the ways the Theatre is celebrating, is through a lovely new façade revamp – it was time for a bit of a facelift! Canopy cleaning, fresh painting and beautiful new signing provided by Ellis Signs has left the Theatre is very pleased with the sparkling result.

The Grade 1 listed Theatre was designed by industrialist and politician Joseph Cowen in 1867. He envisioned a ‘Theatre for Everyone’ offering warmth, light and escapism to working people during a time of heavy industry when life was hard. Since those early beginnings, the Tyne Theatre has also thrived as a cinema for several decades across the mid-1900s before returning to its original function in the eighties and has delighted audiences with the best in music, comedy, theatre, variety and more ever since.

Theatre Director Joanne Johnson says: “We’re thrilled to be celebrating the Theatre’s 155th birthday and very pleased with our shiny new signage which reflects the newest chapter in the venue’s history. As a Theatre with so much heritage and historical significance in the city, and as a community of theatre-lovers, reaching a milestone of 155 years is very special. We’re excited to welcome new and returning visitors to our beautiful venue for years to come!”

The Theatre’s birthday also coincides with their latest fundraising prize draw: one lucky winner will receive a private box for the upcoming Christmas Panto; Beauty & the Beast. As well as a box seating up to six, the winner’s group will receive a hamper of treats, and a shout-out during the show!

All the money raised from the prize draw will go directly towards the preservation and vital maintenance of the beautiful Grade 1 listed Theatre. It’s open until Friday 31st September and the winner will be notified in the week following. You can head to  to enter.

Other ways to support the Theatre and ensure they see another 155 years of wonderful acts and fantastic events, is to join their Friends’ Club – giving you waived booing fees, exclusive pre-sales, ticket offers and more. You or your business could also sponsor a seat in the Theatre’s auditorium for £150 – which would be noted on the seat in a form of a plaque – and join local comedians Sarah Millican, Chris Ramsey, and Carl Hutchinson who already sponsor seats.

The Theatre is heading into its busiest season, with the likes of Harry Hill, Russell Kane, and Joanne McNally stopping off with new stand-up acts, plus local legends Gavin Webster and Matt Reed. Their genre-spanning music programme boasts pop superstar Gary Barlow to folk’s Steeleye Span, #1 Blues Billboard artist Joanne Shaw Taylor to Bollywood’s Voice of Legends Extravaganza.

The Theatre also hosts debate and discussion, with a fabulous In Conversation programme featuring the incredible chef Yotam Ottolenghi, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, cycling’s Ned Boulting, gardening guru Monty Don and Dragon Den resident Sara Davies shows you how to ‘Craft Your Christmas’.

It's a venue offering ‘something for everyone’, and family favorites coming up include The Smartest Giant In Town and Room on the Broom for the little ones, The Canterville Ghost a gloriously ghoulish vaudeville spectacular for everyone 12+, and this year’s Christmas’ panto, Beauty and the Beast for the whole family.

The best way to keep up with all the latest news and events from the venue is by following Tyne Theatre and Opera House on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now TikTok!

For more information on the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, to book tickets for upcoming shows, or find out how to support them, please see their website:



REVIEW: South Pacific at Newcastle Theatre Royal

South Pacific 

Newcastle Theatre Royal 

Until Saturday 24 September 2022

Julian Ovenden 'Emile de Becque' and Gina Beck 'Ensign Nellie Forbush'. 

The 1948  musical composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan returns to Newcastle with a lavish production and a superb cast.  Superficially the tale is a love story at a time of war. The writers push a progressive (for the 1940s) message about racism in what was a ground breaking musical.  

It is easy to get bogged down in an essay about the themes of this tale. Lets start with this production first! 

The theatre had a few rows of seats removed in order to extend the orchestra pit. In there was a decent sized collection of instruments rather than just a couple of keyboards. The sixteen musicians created a beautiful sound that took advantage of the natural acoustics of this wonderful theatre. Add that to a sound design from Paul Groothuis that kept the volume at a natural, rather than massive amplified level, and the music side of things is set up to really please the audience.

The Prologue starts with a contrast between the native inhabitants of this South Pacific island and the American armed forces before two children start singing. At our performance Ngana played by Lilou Domagala, and Jerome played by George Ray Pang start with the delightful Dites Moi which sets the show up so nicely.

Two of the main characters then enter the stage.  Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) is a French plantation owner who is enjoying the company of American nurse Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck). Between them you have a pair of very strong singing voices that work really well in both solo peices and together. The theme of Some Enchanted Evening will be repeated later in the show and Ovenden is given the opportunity to show his range and tone with a flourish.

Nellie is trying to also organise an entertainment show for the troops on the island and the story looks at the shenanigans between the people who find themselves on the island. There are highs and lows, laughs for the audience and a look at some of the relationships too. At times you need reminding that there is a war on. 

I imagine that when the show first opened over 70 years ago, some of the lines used by the civilian trader Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil) were considered shocking. The dialogue throughout the show is contemporaneous to the 1940s, which is when the story is set and was written. It has not been sanitised for our 2022 sensibilities. I wouldn't imagine that Bloody Mary's lines particularly shock now - but what comes later is likely to.


The score and songs stand up to the test of time. Despite not having seen the show before, I was familiar with a number of songs. I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair is one of the Act One highlights in this vein. Act Two begins with Happy Talk and Joanna Ampil delivers a wonderfully fragile and emotional angle to a well known number.

Whilst the audience enjoys the exploits in this tale, the costume, lighting and set design really stand out. This show has very high production values that one would expect from a West End transfer. It all looks "right".

So yes I did enjoy the lavish production with its great acting, marvelous songs which are performed so well. But...there has to be a but here, the themes are the elephant in the room.

This musical was ground breaking for a number of reasons. It is from a era when musicals where moving from "review" style shows ('and now here's the dancing girls'  etc) to shows in which the songs deliver exposition and move the story on. This musical also tries to tackle some themes head on whilst ignoring others. It tries to make a social statement - but it is of its times.

Obviously, it tackles racism. That was intentional. When a character that you grow to love on stage suddenly shows that they are a massive racist you are left feeling conflicted. The writers wanted to make a statement. How that now lands is not for me, as white middle aged bloke, to answer and I'll leave that for others.

Two other issues also bubble under the surface. The misogyny reflects the times. The men are there to fight, the women are there in an auxiliary capacity. But, just like in their musicals King And I and Sound Of Music, this does not stop Rogers and Hammerstein creating strong female roles. They don't need a man to mansplain on their behalf. Having said that, this show wouldn't pass the Bechdel Test!

The other point is buried in the first lines of dialogue as French plantation owner Emile suggests that HE built the plantation. I somehow doubt it. And I also doubt he is paying his workforce a living wage and thus an undercurrent of slavery is in the air. This is not addressed even though he made one of his staff/servants/slaves his wife and she had two children with him.

Yet despite this...I found it to be a really good night at the theatre that had a discussion going on the way home about both the themes that were addressed and those that were not. The performances are wonderful and this is a lavish production. I loved the large live orchestra and a sound level that was not set to "ear bleed". 

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Johan Persson


South Pacific plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal on Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 September 2022 with evening performances each night at 7.30pm and matinee performances on Wednesday and Thursday at 2pm and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets are priced from £20.00 and can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


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