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REVIEW: Adventures Of Robin Hood In Cooksonville at South Shields Customs House

The Adventures Of Robin Hood In Cooksonville

South Shields Customs House

Until Saturday 7th January 2023.

The "Little Panto With A Big Heart" returns to 'normal' pantomime with a show that is an absolute cracker. Co-writers Graeme Thompson and Ray Spencer how utilised their talents to create a script that is continuously engaging with the audience. It is a show that makes you laugh - and you keep laughing. The show, famed for punching above its weight, and winner three times of our most entertaining panto, has found its mojo again!

The show has a mix of regular faces and some new hands. Marquelle Ward is first to appear as Robin Hood, taking advantage of some higher perches at the side of the stage. Soon after "business as normal" is signalled as audience favourite Davey Hopper appears as Arbuthnot. His pleasant demeanour  quickly gets the audience onboard with his antics. Soon they reply to his "Arr" with a loud "Butt". Davey's physical comedy is matched by the comic timing as he sets up Ray Spencer, who appears once again as his onstage mother Dame Bella Ballcock. Ray, who also directs, is keen to deliver a traditional panto. Thus the classic popular elements like a take off scene are there.

Hopper and Spencer hit peak comedy with the messy scene. Normally a chaotic highlight, tonight it was more slapstick than normal. Some pantos may give a small scene but this panto always finds more foam and splodge than the rest.

The baddie this year is the Sheriff of Nottingham (even though the tale has been relocated to "Cooksonville" as per usual for the Customs House. Steven Lee Hamilton gives a elegant performance as the guy the kids want to boo at. He is assisted at getting Maid Marion (Lucy Elizabeth Davis) to marry him by the Brain Twins (Kieron Michael & Susie Barrett).

Completing the line up this year, fresh off his Radio Newcastle breakfast show, as Alfie Joey. We know, from his run on Britain's Got Talent as one half of the Mimic Men,  that he is good at impersonations - but this show asks him the play the Merry Men. All of them. Roll over Alec Guinness and Alfie is the master of the quick costume change - even with Little John on stilts.

In addition to the word play in the script there are some songs - but not too many. The audience are given the chance to witness some great singing. Lucy Elizabeth Davis and Steven Lee Hamilton deliver their songs with intensity. Perhaps the surprise was Davey Hopper whose song particularly suited his range. 

So there you have it. 2 hours and 45 minutes (including interval) of comedy, songs and a fun story. It is a fun show that was well worth the trek down to Shields to see it.  It might be loose with the Robin Hood tale but it is tight with the spirit of Panto. Be wary of expensive imitations.

Review: Stephen Oliver


The Adventures Of Robin Hood In Cooksonville, sponsored by Hays Travel and Colmans, runs from Thursday 24th November 2022 and runs until Saturday 7th January 2023. Tickets priced from £12 as available online at, in person from The Customs House box office, or telephone 0191 454 1234.


Preview: 1902 On Tour


On Tour:

Whitley Bay Laurels,  Thursday 1 –  Friday 2 December 2022

Blyth Spartans, Sunday 4 December 2022 

Middlesbrough Academy 17,  Monday 5 December 2022

Saltire Sky Theatre announces their tour performance dates for the smash hit show 1902. The show has graced sold-out audiences at The Edinburgh Fringe for the past five years, having picked up the Broadway Baby Bobby Award in 2021 and later an Off West End Award in the ShortFest Category in 2022. The show will be performing in Whitley Bay, Blyth, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Halifax, Manchester, Southend and London.

The show follows four young wannabe football hooligans in their quest to see Hibs win the Scottish Cup Final. Pub theatre at its finest, this immersive production takes an access-all-areas approach to working class life in Scotland. Grab a pal, grab a pint and get yourself along to see this electric piece of new writing, and find out what all the fuss is truly about.

Founded in 2016, Saltire Sky Theatre has worked tirelessly to create immersive and lasting theatre experiences that bring stories to the people. Specialising in new writing and modern classics, with a mantra of making theatre for those who don’t necessarily go to the theatre, the company have endeavoured to keep theatre accessible for the working classes.

The cast for 1902 includes new and returning performers: Bailey Newsome as Deeks, Xander Cowan as Sambo, Kieran Hamilton as Zippy, Josh Brock as Craig Turnbull, Ella Stokesy as Mags, Sands Stirling as Tony and Nadav Burstein as the Musician.

1902 is written by Nathan Scott-Dunn and directed by Nathan Scott-Dunn and Sands Stirling. The show is produced by Mitch Donaldson and Gabriella Sills.

On The Web:

Facebook & Instagram: @SaltireSkyTheatre  

Twitter: @SaltireSkyTC



Laurels, Whitley Bay 01/12/22 – 02/12/22: 7:30pm 

Blyth Spartans, Blyth 04/12/22: 6:30pm

Academy 17, Middlesbrough 05/12/22: 6:30pm


REVIEW: White Christmas at Sunderland Empire



White Christmas

Sunderland Empire

Until Saturday 3 December 2022


Nikolai Foster’s reimagining of perhaps the most iconic Christmas musical film of all time for The Curve Leicester has high production values, imaginative staging, great choreography and slick direction. 

The show simplifies the back story of the leading male characters and features different numbers to the film, whilst including its signature songs. Some strong leading performances and a hard-working, polished ensemble ensure that the audience gets its festive fix and has a good time, whilst some devotees of Irving Berlin’s songs and the film might be left pondering the rights and wrongs of celebrity casting.

The show tells the story of two US army buddies, who make it big on the cabaret circuit and become successful variety producers. When one decides they should follow a sister act to Vermont for Christmas, they encounter their old general, now an innkeeper with a failing hotel, blighted by an unseasonable hot spell. They set out to rescue him by bringing their show to the inn and experience the ups and downs of showbusiness romance, before the inevitable happy ending.

The show looks great, the stage design by Michael Taylor moving slickly from 
war-torn France to a New York TV studio, through a most effective train carriage scene to the inn where most of the action plays out. Diego Pitarch’s costume designs contribute to the period feel and adorn the musical numbers beautifully.

Driving the show forward is the flawless performance of Dan Burton as Phil Davis. Irrepressible, engaging and full of energy, he is a true triple-threat performer. Dancing with great flair, singing with an appealing and effortless baritone and playing the comedy for all its worth. Matching him with a solid song and dance performance is Monique Young as Judy Haynes and they deliver songs like The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing, a hit from the film, and the ageless standard I Love A Piano, with great style.

The choreography of these and the other numbers by Stephen Mear CBE is in the grand Hollywood manner and gives just the right nostalgic feel to the songs, as does the style of the faultless ensemble’s delivery of the steps.

Given the tough job of following in Bing Crosby’s footsteps as Bob Wallace is Jay McGuiness, best known from pop band, The Wanted, and as a Strictly Come Dancing winner. He gives a performance that, though pleasant, seems to be scaled more for the TV screen than the stage. His light pop voice is an odd fit with Berlin’s score and is lost at times in the orchestrations. Unsurprisingly to Strictly fans, he dances very well, more than holding his own in the big numbers. Local girl Jessica Daley does a good job with the understated role of Betty Haynes and delivers her numbers well.

Providing sterling support is TV veteran Michael Starke as General Waverly, in a finely-judged performance that makes the audience believe he was an inspiring leader of men. Oddly, the character’s name has been changed from Tom in the film to Henry in the show. One wonders why.

Stage legend Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s daughter, no less) as hotel concierge, Martha, reveals an unexpected past as a Mermanesque singer and the audience enjoyed her antics and those of the General’s starstruck granddaughter, Susan, played by Lucy Warway.

All in all, this is a lavish, well-staged, warm-hearted production which clearly gave the audience the nostalgic holiday feels.

Review: Jonathan Cash

Photos: Ellie Kurttz


White Christmas will hit Sunderland Empire’s stage from Monday 28 November – Saturday 3 December 2022. Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at *


Preview: Goldilocks and the Three Bears at Newcastle People's Theatre

Roll up! Roll up! The People’s Panto is back!

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Tom Whalley
Newcastle People's Theatre
Saturday 10 – Sunday 18 December 2022

The People’s Theatre in Heaton are bringing in Christmas with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a big top adventure for the whole family!

Molly as Goldilocks

Dame Gertie’s Circus needs a miracle after its honeypot of pennies is accidentally stolen by three porridge-guzzling, talking bears. Can Dame Gertie and her son Silly Billy save their circus? Are the three bears the new star attraction they’ve been searching for? And what is dastardly Ringmaster Heinkel, owner of the rival circus, up to?

Join Goldilocks, Silly Billy, Dame Gertie and friends to find out in this all-singing, all-dancing, festive treat that’s just right!
Steve Robertson
Photo: John Brown

Audience-favourite Steve Robertson returns as the hilarious and saucy Dame, with Molly Winton making her People’s Panto debut as Goldilocks in this fun-filled Panto by local writer and actor Tom Whalley!  

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is playing at the People’s Theatre from Saturday 10th to Sunday 18th December. Tickets start from £13, and a ‘Family Ticket’ can save you money. There is a ‘Relaxed Performance’ on Tuesday 13th at 7pm, during which there will be a BSL interpreter on stage. Many of the performances are now full, so don’t hang about to get your paws on a ticket and book now! All details and booking at


REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at Durham Gala

Sleeping Beauty

Durham Gala

Wednesday 23 November - Sunday 8 January 2022

Written by Gary Kitching

Directed by Rachel Glover

Panto season is here again. A chance for families to enjoy a live show together. Durham Gala’s show has a new team this year and they have created a show that is both safe and has plenty for the family to enjoy.

There are a number of classic panto moments - a messy scene and some community singing to name but two. But this show is not afraid to mix things up a bit. The shout outs taking place as part of the guest list to the Princess’s birthday party is a nice touch. And then there are the flying badgers!

Gary Kitching has written a panto that likes to tell the story of Sleeping Beauty with elements of panto thrown in rather than having a generic panto with the story occasionally mentioned. This means that the little ones will have more of a clue what is going on.

The show opens with Lauren Waine making friends with the audience as Hester The Jester. Lauren is blessed with being a funny comic and being able to get the kids onside. She is supported on the comedy side by Jacob Anderton as the King who creates experimental flavoured ice cream. His ice cream exploits give the show an opportunity for a messy scene which was a rare deviation from the main story.

We need a baddie to boo at and Zoe Lambert’s arrival as The Evil Witch Karen gives the show a chance to have another dig at Disney and their lawyers. These stories existed before Disney made films and copyrighted various elements of them. It is rare for a panto to actually point this out. The show takes advantage of the layout of the Gala theatre and the cast will occasionally appear from one the entry points to the stalls. I hope those in the circle are able to follow such events too. Zoe often makes direct reference to the audience smashing the fourth wall.

The Evil Witch puts a spell on the King’s newborn daughter as a result of not being invited to a party. The show isn’t afraid to update a few plot points and hence it is a rose that will prick the Princess on her 16th birthday rather than a splinter on a spinning wheel. After all - who has a spinning wheel these days?

Fast forward nearly 16 years and Chloe Jane Millar appears as Princess Briar Rose - literally the only Rose in the kingdom as the King has ordered the destruction of all roses since the curse was set. She is joined by Jude Nelson as the energetic loyal Sammie the Dog, who likes chasing squirrels. Rose is looked after by Nanny Fartoften who, surprisingly enough, gives Steve Byron a chance to blow off some wind. Heading over to meet Rose on her 16th birthday is the egocentric Prince Chad (Benjamin Storey) who only loves himself. Nanny and the Prince help to add to the comedy side of the show.

Supporting all of the principal cast are a hardworking  ensemble who need to be very quick in changing costumes as they appear as guards one minute and the Prince’s entourage the next. James Carson, Rebecca Cunningham, Ebonie Fletcher, Olivia Jones, Eleanor Monaghan and Harvey Morris are the glue that keep the show going.

The second act was, in my opinion, much better than the first. The characters were going down well with the audience as the pace picked up. The panto stepped up a gear.

There is a live band on the circle of the venue under musical director Joshua Tarrier. Each of the principals gets a song, for example, Prince Chad gets to sing “I’m Beautiful” to James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful and Nanny points out the the Children Are Our Future. At least the songs fitted the characters rather than just being recent hits stuck in due to the young audience’s familiarity with them. 

This is a different Sleeping Beauty. It feels modern without being overly woke. There are powerful female characters without making a big deal of it. There are no inappropriate moments (beyond a few fart jokes) that make you cringe. It is warm, friendly and safe for the children. You might think all pantos are like that - trust me there is at least one in the North East that will cross the line, repeatedly, if past performances are anything to go by.


Review: Stephen Oliver


Cast & Creatives:

Hester the Jester – Lauren Waine

Briar Rose – Chloe Jane Millar

Sammie the Dog – Jude Nelson

Nanny Fartoften – Steve Byron

Evil Witch Karen – Zoe Lambert

King Archibald of Durham-ion – Jacob Anderton

Prince Chad of Middles-boroughly – Benjamin Storey

Ensemble – James Carson, Rebecca Cunningham, Ebonie Fletcher, Olivia Jones, Eleanor Monaghan and Harvey Morris

BSL Interpreter – Caroline Ryan

Musical Director – Joshua Tarrier

Choreographer – Helen West

Costume Designer – Emily Baxendale

Lighting Designer - Elliot Nelson

Sound Designer - Connor Thompson


There will be British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performances on Saturday 3 December, 1pm, Wednesday 4 January, 6pm (also captioned) and Tuesday 13 December, 7pm as well as a relaxed performance on Friday 9 December, 1pm.

Approximate running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including interval


Tickets are priced from £7, with family discounts available, and can be purchased by calling the theatre’s Box Office on 03000 266 600 or online at


Preview: White Christmas at Sunderland Empire




Jay McGuiness, Lorna Luft, Michael Starke, Dan Burton, Jessica Daley & Monique Young to star in UK Tour of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas - The Musical


White Christmas

Sunderland Empire

Monday 28 November – Saturday 3 December 2022



Jamie Wilson, Mark Goucher, Gavin Kalin and Kevin McCollum are thrilled to announce the principal casting for Made at Curve’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas touring the UK this winter. The production will star Jay McGuiness as Bob Wallace, Lorna Luft as Martha Watson, Michael Starke as General Waverly and Dan Burton, Jessica Daley and Monique Young returning in their roles as Phil Davis, Betty Haynes and Judy Haynes respectively.

Jay McGuiness’ theatre credits include Josh Baskin in Big The Musical at the Dominion Theatre and Rip It Up at the Garrick Theatre, both in London’s West End. He also starred as Sam in new musical Sleepless – A Musical Romance at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre. Jay is best known as a member of boyband The Wanted, as well as winning BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2015.

 © Ellie Kurttz 2022

Hailing from theatrical royalty, Lorna Luft is an iconic star of stage and screen. Her credits include the role of Fran Kubelik in the original Broadway production of Promises, Promises, and the original Off-Broadway production of Snoopy! as Peppermint Patty. Lorna previously played the role of Martha Watson in the 2016 US tour of White Christmas. Her film credits include Grease 2, Where The Boys Are, 54 and My Giant.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

Michael Starke most recently appeared in the UK and Ireland tour of Waitress as Old Joe. Further theatre credits include the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, Monsignor Howard in Sister Act, and the Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, all part of national tours. Michael is best known for his role as Thomas 'Sinbad' Sweeney in Channel 4’s Brookside, which he played for 16 years.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

Dan Burton reprises his role as Phil Davis, a part he played in this production of White Christmas on tour, at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End and at Curve, Leicester. He was nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance as Tulsa in Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre and his other West End credits include Jersey Boys, The Pajama Game, Chicago, Legally Blonde, Betty Blue Eyes and Guys and Dolls at the Royal Albert Hall.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

Jessica Daley returns to the role of Betty Haynes, having previously toured with this production of White Christmas. Her additional theatre credits include the UK and Ireland tours of An Officer and a Gentleman and The Sound of Music, the international tours of Evita, Les Misérables and Grease The Musical and Mamma Mia! in the West End.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

Monique Young reprises her role as Judy Haynes, a part she initially played in this production of White Christmas at Curve, Leicester. Most recently Monique appeared as Louise in the Buxton Opera House revival of Gypsy: A Musical Fable. Her further theatre credits include cover Winifred Banks and the title role in Mary Poppins in the West End, Penny Pingleton in the UK tour of Hairspray, alternate Dale in the UK tour of Top Hat, and Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street and Kathy Seldon in Singin’ In The Rain both at the Theatre Du Chatelet.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

A romantic comedy to warm hearts of all ages, White Christmas features the beloved songs “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, “I Love A Piano”, “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” and the most famous festive song of all… “White Christmas”.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

White Christmas has Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin and a Book by David Ives and Paul Blake. It is based on the original production by Curve Artistic Director Nikolai Foster (Annie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s). It is directed by Ian Talbot OBE (High Society, Anything Goes) and choreographed by two-time Olivier Award-winning choreographer Stephen Mear CBE (Mary Poppins, Gypsy). Set Design is by Michael Taylor and Costume Design is by Diego Pitarch. Musical Supervision is by Stephen Brooker, Lighting Design by Mark Henderson and Sound Design by Tom Marshall. Orchestrations are by Larry Blank with New Musical arrangements by Jason Carr.

© Ellie Kurttz 2022

Presented by special arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of R&H Theatricals.

White Christmas is produced by Jamie Wilson, Mark Goucher, Gavin Kalin and Kevin McCollum with Hunter Arnold, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Laurence Myers, InTheatre, Curve and Carlos Candal.



White Christmas will hit Sunderland Empire’s stage from Monday 28 November – Saturday 3 December 2022. Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at *


*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to telephone and online bookings. Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge.


Preview: The Devil Danced in Our Eyes on tour

 New one-man show is a funny and moving tale about family, sexuality and the internet

Touring the North East of England from Wednesday 30 November to Thursday 8 December 2022 and Wednesday 8 to Saturday 18 February 2023 as part of LGBT+ History Month

The Devil Danced in Our Eyes 

A funny and moving tale about family, sexuality and the internet told with original live music 

Co-written by Jonluke McKie & Allison Davies

Performed by Jonluke McKie 

Directed by Amy Golding 

Live animation by Simon Cole 

This Winter audiences across the North East of England are being invited to see The Devil Danced 
in Our Eyes a funny and moving tale about family, sexuality and the internet co-written and performed by Jonluke McKie. 

Featuring original live music audiences will be able to meet 15-year-old Jamie whose mum stopped coming out of her room when his Granda Frankie died. Left to his own devices Jamie’s been spending more and more time online - scrolling through the digital realm of pixels, kilobytes and the occasional adult chat room. But when he meets ‘Windsor_56’ everything changes. 

The show, which has been co-written with Allison Davies and directed by Amy Golding, will open at Alnwick Playhouse on Wednesday 30 November and Thursday 1 December before touring to The Exchange in North Shields on Friday 2 December, Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham on Saturday 3 December, Central Bar in Gateshead on Wednesday 7 of December and Gosforth Civic Theatre on Thursday 8 December. In February 2023 as part of LGBT+ History Month, the production will return to the stage heading to Gala, Durham on Saturday 11 February, Blyth Library on Wednesday 15 February and Cramlington Library on Thursday 16 February before ending at Newcastle’s Live Theatre on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 February. 

Equipped with his guitar and loop pedal The Devil Danced in Our Eyes features the soulful vocals of Jonluke McKie alongside beautiful animations created and projected live each night by Simon Cole. As Jonluke explains: “I’m a queer artist who grew up in a Benefit class home in Sheffield. The show is semiautobiographical; I wanted to tell the story of a young person like me, growing up on the margins of society, exploring his sexuality on the internet, which is both liberating and ultimately unsafe. The end result is half gig, half play, and I’m delighted to be bringing it to theatre, music and community venues all over the region.”

Recent research shows that 50% of LGBTQAI+ people have experienced depression and three in five have experienced anxiety (Stonewall) and that children and adults living in households in the lowest 20% income bracket in Great Britain are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest ( Arts Council England’s Let’s Create strategy acknowledges that taking part in cultural activity can ‘support mental health and wellbeing’. The Devil Danced in Our Eyes has been created with these factors in mind. To coincide with the production the team have been working with a group of 15 sixteen to twenty-five-year-olds giving them the opportunity to take part in high-quality creative workshops including animation, songwriting, theatre-making and performance which are all key elements of the show. This activity has been supported by Live Theatre.

Jonluke added: “The show is based on my experiences growing up in the early noughties but is set today, so we wanted to involve young people in the making process, to help us explore what it means to be a young queer person today. More than this, we wanted to offer an opportunity for young people, many of them LGBTQIA+ and/or working class to create a supportive network of peers; to enable and empower them to explore and express their identity.”

Tickets for The Devil Danced in Our Eyes at theatres and music venues are £15 to £7 and £3 at libraries. The performance is suitable for people aged 16+ and includes descriptions of depression in a family, sexual content and sexual and homophobic violence towards a minor. To find out more visit

The Devil Danced in Our Eyes has been made possible with funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and with kind support from Live Theatre, Curious Arts, CaroleW Productions, Gosforth Civic Theatre and Alphabetti Theatre.

Tour Venues & Dates 

November/December 2022 

• Wednesday 30 November, 7.45pm - Alnwick Playhouse 

• Thursday 1 December, 2.30 & 7.45pm - Alnwick Playhouse 

• Friday 2 December, 8pm - The Exchange in North Shields 

• Saturday 3 December, 7.30pm - Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham

• Weds 7 December, 8pm - Central Bar Gateshead

• Thursday 8 December, 7.30pm - Gosforth Civic Theatre 

February 2023 - LBGT+ History Month

• Wednesday 8 February, 7.30pm - Middlesbrough Town Hall 

• Saturday 11 February, 8pm - Gala, Durham 

• Wednesday 15 February, 6.30pm - Blyth Library

• Thursday 16 February, 6.30pm - Cramlington Library

• Friday 17 February, 7.30pm - Live Theatre, Newcastle

• Saturday 18 February, 7.30pm - Live Theatre, Newcastle