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REVIEW:The Odyssey at Sunderland The Fire Station

The Odyssey: Episode 4 – The Island of the Sun 

Sunderland The Fire Station 

Saturday 29th April 2023

The National Theatre's Public Acts has toured across England. A different episode is held in each location using a cast that is mainly drawn from the local community. The penultimate episode took place in Wearside this weekend.

This was our first visit to the Fire Station. Whilst we regularly visit the Empire next door, it is usually dark and so it was nice to spend some time looking around in the day light and enjoy some food. A word of warning here though... we should have booked in advance as a few of the eateries were fully booked when we arrived. Afterwards we hung around and watched a band in the Peacock. In short, this area has undergone a big transformation in recent years and by the look of the work behind the Peacock - that work continues.

The Fire Station opened in 2017 as a multi purpose venue. It is as happy hosting music as well as theatre. We were told that the stage can be take right back if the band wants a mosh pit at their event. It is a smart place that feels very welcoming. The cool jazz playing as we awaiting the auditorium doors to open was a nice touch. Once inside we saw that the venue has been developed with good sight lines, comfy seats and good acoustics in mind. I also appreciated some decent leg room too. This is clearly a positive addition to the region's cultural scene.

On to the play...

The concept seems an interesting one. Take a big legend of a story. Split it into 5 episodes: each one written and directed locally, featuring a cast that draws from the local community. The problem comes in that most audiences will only see the one fifth that reaches their town and so the 70 minute performance has to pretty much stand up as a complete chapter in itself. Tasked with making this challenge word was North Shields based Lindsay Rodden and prolific local director Annie Rigby (whose Best In The World was the actual catalyst for the North East Theatre Guide back in the day - but that's another story...!) The end product largely worked. Rodden's script encapsulated the local pride and wicked sense of humour. Rigby's direction of a community cast created a performance that was well paced and enjoyable.

On to the story covered by this episode. As the programme summarises: Once back on course after the events on Aeolia, Odysseus and their depleted crew are in need of a rest. They hope to find The Island of the Sun where they can regroup, even though the island is filled with temptation. First, they must pass through a perilous storm and battle Scylla, a 6-headed sea monster. Odysseus has a choice to make : to continue on this path or to risk losing more of their crew.

Lindsay Rodden has framed this episode as a celebration and re-enactment  by the community. Led by two fine local professional actors - Christina Berriman Dawson (as Alwen) and Steven Stobbs (appearing as both Ishy and Zeus),  the large community cast do a cracking job to deliver the story. Casting has found some real stars who are able to carry the necessary emotion and enthusiasm. 

The Island of the Sun is an interesting partnership between the National Theatre and both the Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire. It helps bring the local community closer to culture and to a great local venue. The cast have created something they are proud of and will last in their memories. Well done.

Review and Photos: Stephen Oliver



Elf The Musical announces festive spectacular live from Utilita Arena, 

Elf The Musical
Newcastle Utliita Arena
Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 December 2023

Elf, the hit Hollywood blockbuster movie has been supersized into a live arena spectacular and will be heading to Utilita Arena Newcastle this December 30th and 31st. Three shows will take place across two days including a morning performance on New Year's Eve.

The huge production features amazing film backdrops plus a mobile stage that travels the auditorium so everyone gets a close-up view of the action. Expect a festive extravaganza featuring an indoor snowstorm, a giant candy cane journey from the North Pole and aerial cirque stars. The well loved story will be recreated by a large cast of performers with West End star Steven Serlin taking on the lead role of Buddy the Elf.

Producer and Director Jon Conway says: "This is the fourth year we have presented this epic version of the Broadway and Hollywood hit as part of the
World’s Biggest Pantomime brand. ‘Elf’ is always one of the most popular Christmas films and ‘Buddy The Elf’ a truly iconic character. We are returning to some venues and have made the show even bigger and better with new features to make it a really thrilling experience. We are keenly aware of the economic climate and are one of the few shows to have reduced our prices from Elf’s last visit for an affordable family outing! One of the best sights is the audiences dressing up for the show, especially the dads in elf Christmas sweaters! This is an unmissable Xmas treat."

Tickets for Elf The Musical live from Utilita Arena Newcastle are now on sale from:

The JoWhereToGo Podcast: Live music, comedy, theatre & more in Northeast England. New music, old music and a bit of what we fancy!
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REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 29 April 2023 

The New Adventures returns to the Newcastle Theatre Royal with Sir Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty for two weeks.  It shows how a dance production with no spoken dialogue can tell a story effectively. Coupled with incredible dancing and a sense of humour, Sleeping Beauty is a real treat.

The show is marketed as a gothic romance. The sumptuous costumes and lavish sets certainly give the first half a gothic feel. It is also most certainly a romance too. But I'd add in the words 'fairy tale' and the Fairies have plenty of action in this show too.

Running just over 2 hours, with the interval, the show comprises of four acts - with the interval acting as a pivot between the modern day of the second half and the origins that took place a hundred years ago in the two acts that make up the first act. It is worth noting that the cast changes from show to show.

The action begins in 1890. Queen Eleanor (Stephanie Billers) and King Benedict (Danny Reubens) are unhappy as they don't have a child. They rely on the dark fairy Carabosse (Jackson Fisch) to help then with putting them in the family way. Unfortunately, when the child is born they forget to give Carabosse their due and so the fairy puts a curse on the young infant.

At this stage the infant is represented by one of the most animated and adorable puppets you can imagine - drawing plenty of response from the audience as it performed. Certainly it gave the palace footmen (Bertie - Isaac Peter Bowry and Archie - Rory MacLeod), Flossie the Maid (Megan Ferguson) and Nanny (Sophia Hurdley) the run around. This phase of the show help set the humour levels as the child had a mind of its own.

The show then moves to 1911 as Princess Aurora (now performed by Katrina Lyndon) comes of age. Between the scenes, text appears on the curtain to fill the audience in on the story - not too dissimilar to a silent movie. This way we know that Carabosse has died and the assumption is that the curse has gone with them. However their son, Caradoc (also played by Jackson Fisch) has not forgetten and is hanging around awaiting the opportunity to offer a rose for the young Princess to prick herself with. Alas Caradoc also manages to effectively drop the Gamekeeper Leo (Stephen Murray) in it as he is getting on too well with the Princess.

The interval then represents the 100 year interval as Aurora sleeps...

Act 3 brings the show into 2011. It is an era of hoodies and selfies and the costume transformation and posing for selfies at the gates to where Aurora lies brings the show rapidly in to the present day. Once we get past the gates and the assorted fairies take over then we are transported into a more gothic modern day. It gets very Tim Burton in parts - and that's a good thing in my opinion. The fourth act brings the show to "Yesterday" and Aurora's wedding. No spoilers here about how the show is told.

Needless to say the pace is effective and keeping the story going. Unlike traditional ballet, the action is closer to the storytelling than just a lot of spinning around for the sake of it. (Sorry if I come across as a 'dance heathen' there...but sometimes, in other shows...) Apart from the puppetry, the other amusing highlight for me was when Tchaikovsky's music stops and a dancer kicks the phonograph before it starts again. It was a small thing but it typified the general sense of humour at times. This is no po-faced production.

I really enjoyed this production. I loved the gothic fairy tale feel. A great cast performed with such precision and enthusiasm. Their energy permeated around the auditorium. This was also a fine example of storytelling too. Sleeping Beauty is a wonderful show.

Review: Stephen Oliver


Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 18 – Saturday 29 April 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010. 

The JoWhereToGo Podcast: Live music, comedy, theatre & more in Northeast England. New music, old music and a bit of what we fancy!
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REVIEW: ‘Juggling’ by Ian Smith at Laurel’s Whitley Bay


Laurel’s Whitley Bay

Until Saturday 29 April 2023

Juggling is a two-hander play that takes a humorous and anarchic look at the lengths to which people have to go, to earn a living in this harsh economic climate. Tour-de-force performances and a funny and inventive script keep the laughs coming whilst providing some poignant moments and a satisfying twist in the tale.

Neve, played by Becky Clayburn, is working as office manager at ‘the world’s worst delivery service’ in Gateshead, whilst also doing cold calls and being a children’s entertainer. She is slowly sinking under the combined pressures of trying to make ends meet whilst nursing a gambling habit, and dealing with a stream of complaining customers whose packages are lost in transit or in the company’s defective tracking systems.

A science and philosophy graduate, she is well equipped to analyse and comment on her plight and has a nice line in put downs and palpably false excuses. This is definitely life writ large and the style leans towards theatre of the absurd rather than realism. Clayburn plays it to the hilt, wisecracking her way through a stream of callers, all portrayed in engaging caricature by Adam Donaldson, ranging from a sweet old lady to an east end hard man. Neve’s response to the latter’s threats and abuse makes for one of the highlights of the evening.

Also played by Donaldson, appearing on a makeshift screen via Zoom from the golf course at St. Andrew’s, is Neve’s boss, an entitled, dim-witted rich boy, desperate to locate a package he’s waiting for.

Neve is meanwhile trying to sell funeral plans by cold call, using an impressive range of voices, and to arrange a date with the chav-tastic Gary, who is deeply in love with his souped-up Vauxhall Corsa.

As if to bring an extra level of surrealism, Neve then dons clown make-up and a garish red wig to act as clown to a children’s party via Zoom, where she makes it clear she is no good at the titular juggling. As she is still handling calls, chaos ensues and the comedy reaches a new level.

The situation comes to a head when the boss, somewhat improbably, arrives in the office to find his package. Its contents threaten to derail Neve’s already shaky existence.  There is no need to reveal the outcome but, suffice to say, this Gateshead lass is made of sterner stuff.

Juggling works well in Laurel’s friendly and intimate performance space, the jokes are plentiful and at times very funny indeed and both performers bring a whole lot of talent and commitment to the piece. The audience was thoroughly entertained but left with some food for thought about the very real issue underpinning this story – that business in Britain today seems to have forgotten an important biblical message, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire.’

The play runs until 29 April.

Review: Jonathan Cash


Tickets are available from


Preview: Strictly Ballroom The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 Strictly Ballroom Foxtrots Into Newcastle Theatre Royal


Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Monday 1 – Saturday 6 May 2023 

Baz Luhrmann’s smash hit musical Strictly Ballroom is set to sweep audiences off their feet when it sashays in to Newcastle for a glittering week-long run in May 2023.

Former Strictly Come Dancing champion, Kevin Clifton stars as Scott Hastings alongside Dancing on Ice finalist and Coronation Street star, Faye Brookes, in the lead female role of Fran.

Directed by the fab-u-lous Craig Revel Horwood – who also choreographs alongside Strictly Come Dancing's Creative Director, Jason Gilkison – the popular musical show is based on the award-winning, global film phenomenon, Strictly Ballroom.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical tells the beguiling story of Scott Hastings, a talented, arrogant and rebellious young ballroom dancer. When Scott’s radical dance moves see him fall out of favour with the Australian Federation, he finds himself dancing with Fran, a beginner with no moves at all. Inspired by one another, this unlikely pair gather the courage to defy both convention and their families – and discover that, to be winners, the steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom…

Featuring a sublime cast of over 20 world class performers, Strictly Ballroom brings to life iconic songs, including ‘Love is in the Air’, ‘Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps’ and ‘Time After Time’ with dynamic and joyous verve. The show will also feature some amazing new songs by internationally acclaimed artists including Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect. The show’s scintillating singing, dazzling dancing and eye-popping costumes will combine together to bring audiences a story of heart, comedy and drama, and promises to be an unforgettable night under the glitter ball.

Photos: Ellie Kurttz



Strictly Ballroom The Musical plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Monday 1 – Saturday 6 May 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.



Preview: Miss Rory at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre & Opera House



The North East’s “Queen of Comedy” Miss Rory returns to Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre & Opera House

Friday 12th May 2023


Newcastle's own Miss Rory will take to the stage at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House on Friday 12th May 2023 for a high flying, globe trotting adventure. Expect tan lines, good times and plenty of surprises along the way!

After the sell-out spectacle Land of Hope and Rory in 2022, Miss Rory returns to the Tyne Theatre & Opera House this May with her high-flying new one woman show – WINGING IT!

Critically acclaimed, adored by (most of) the public and often hailed as ‘A Tyneside Institution’, Rory’s razor sharp wit will have you laughing until you cry as she departs on a surprise filled, globe trotting adventure in a characteristic no holds barred critique, taking in the whole world as she goes!

Theatre Director Jo Johnson commented: “You never know what to expect from Miss Rory but you can always guarantee she’ll put on a hilarious and spectacular performance! We are delighted to have Miss Rory return to the Tyne Theatre and Opera House as her performances are always well loved by audiences. She joins our growing programme of comedy events for 2023.”

Tickets are priced at £33.50-£27.50 and can be bought from:

Please note that this show is for audiences 16+.

Preview: The Beekeeper of Aleppo at Newcastle Theatre Royal




The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 June 2023

Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of Christy Lefteri’s gripping bestselling novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is heading to Newcastle Theatre Royal as part of a nationwide tour. 

The stunning production reunites the team that produced the international stage sensation The Kite Runner, which proved a huge hit with Newcastle Theatre Royal audiences in 2018.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells the story of Nuri, a beekeeper; and his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.

 On their terrifying journey, they must face the pain of their own unbearable loss alongside incredible danger. Above all, they must journey to find each other again. 

This compassionate and beautiful play is a story of connection - between friends, families and strangers.

Directed by Olivier Award winning Miranda Cromwell (Death of a Salesman – Young Vic, Piccadilly Theatre and Broadway), the production will feature Alfred Clay as Nuri, Roxy Faridany as Afra, Joseph Long as Mustafa, Aram Mardourian as Nadim, Fotakis, Ali and other parts, Daphne Kouma as immigration officer, Dr Faruk, Dahab and other parts, Nadia Williams as Angeliki, Lucy Fisher and other parts, Elham Mahyoub as Mohammed and Sami and Fanos Xenof├│s and Lily Demir as swings.

The creative team comprises Set and Costume Designer Ruby Pugh, Lighting Designer Ben Ormerod, Sound Designer Tingying Dong, Film Designer Ravi Deepres, Composer Elaha Soroor, Casting Director Christopher Worrall, Voice and Dialect Coach Khaled Abunaama, Cultural Consultant Nesrin Alrefaai, Drama therapist Nikki Disney, Associate Director Nadia Emam, Associate Film Designer Luke Unsworth and Video Programmer Edward Freeman.

Director of The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Miranda Cromwell said: “I am so thrilled to be working on this beautiful adaptation of Christy Lefteri’s stunning book. An arresting, courageous exploration of one family’s struggle to deal with the aftermath of losing everything. Deeply moving and visually striking this layered story illuminates their nearly impossible journey to find a way to live again, a way back to each other. It holds a mirror to this moment in our history when so many people are being forced from their homes. It is a call to arms for compassion, understanding, connection and love.”

Christy Lefteri’s novel was the Winner of the Aspen Words Award, Runner up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and one of The Times top three bestselling books of 2020. 



The Beekeeper of Aleppo plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 June 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010. 

REVIEW: Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk at South Shields Customs House

Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk

South Shields Customs House

Until Sunday 16 April 2023

Written by Ray Spencer & Graeme Thompson

Updates and additional material by Davey Hopper

Directed by Davey Hopper

Photo: Stephen Oliver

The panto with a big heart has expanded to include an Easter edition. Arbuthnot is back back but there have been some changes in this, the venue’s first full length Easter Panto. The result is a warm, funny story that had the young audience excitedly taking part in the second act. The final party number had the audience on their feet and that helped ensure the families left happy.

With a flash, Lucy Davis appears as The Fairy of the Forest. She sets up the story and gets the audience quickly on side. I noted at this point that Lucy has a fantastic powerful singing voice, which was used a number of times during the show to great effect.

Bang! After another flash Tom Whalley appears as Fleshcreep. We have seen Tom many, many times and he usually plays the comic - so this is a bit of a departure to see him as the baddie. Unlike many who have played Fleshcreep before him, he has a speed about him which results in him covering much more of the stage than other  tend to do. He was able to be really creepy and throw "that look" before quickly pinging across to the other side. Though he is the creepy servant of the giant, Tom was able to play the role with natural humour. Certainly there was energy in the show. 

Photos: Jordan Embleton

(At this point I should note that on Sunday the role of Fleshcreep will be taken by none other than writer Ray Spencer himself - again, a big departure from his usual role as Dame).

After the usual exchanges between good and dark forces we crack on with the story. Kieron Michael is Dame Trott - a poor dairy owner who is behind on her rent to the Mayor (David McCarthy). She only has the carefree Jack (Aiden Nord) as support and Jack is more interested in starting a romance with the Mayor's daughter Jill (Beth Clarke). 

So far, this is normal Jack in the Beanstalk territory and you know where it is going. But a glance at the title in the poster reminds us otherwise. In a link with continuity of the Cooksonville cannon, Dame Trott has asked her sister Bela for support, and so nephew Arbuthnot (David Hopper) is sent across to help out. As always happens - Arbuthnot also falls in love with Jill too.

A nice feature was to put a party song on at the end -
and invite the parents to get their phones out, a 
move that will help the show spread on social media!
Photo: Stephen Oliver

This is a great traditional panto - and with all tickets at just £15 - it represents much better value for many than the major pantos at Christmas. You still get all of the regular elements of Jack in the Beanstalk. We have Harvey Johnson and Charlotte Purvis in the classic two person panto cow. You get the messy slosh scene as the tarpaulin is rolled out and the cow washing machine leaves David Hopper, as Arbuthnot, covered in more bruises. There is the classic take off scene that has the audience whipped up into a frenzy with shouts of "its behind you!" - again using Tom Whalley's speed to execute it fairly rapidly. We have the recycled jokes ("I hate you - I hate you - I hate you" "Three Hates are 24") and the dancers from the South Tyneside Dance Workshop doing a thoroughly professional job on the music numbers. Even if the regular cast were not where they expected - the dancers carried on and adjusted. The music had some interesting - and at times brave - arrangements from musical director Jen Stevens. One, song, normally done largely acapella with drums, was well crafted into an ensemble piece towards the end.

Behind the scenes the team must have been working hard as props appeared and where thrown off as the show demanded.

The show worked. It took a little while at the start to get the audience on board. It is a personal thing but sometimes pantos go for the solo songs a bit too quick in the piece before the kids have worked out the story. Having said that - the show did stick to the story rather than just being a showcase for the talent. It is a smaller panto cast but they worked really well as a tight unit. As both the local star and director - I have to say that Hopper has been very generous in spreading the opportunities for laughs across the group and this has helped with the evenness of the show. If this is a try out on his ability to direct future full length pantos then I would suggest  that he has done a very good job here.

Regular readers are getting ready for a "but", aren't you? I might be getting older (nothing I can do about that) but I would turn down the volume during the musical numbers just a fraction as it was sad that I couldn't always make out the lyrics. It is a panto and not a rock concert.

It was a fun evening at the Customs House and was well worth a trip to South Shields. Great cast in a traditional pantomime that didn't forget to make the audience feel involved.

Review by Stephen Oliver


Tickets are £15 and are available from the theatre and online from

REVIEW: Dada Masilo’s ‘The Sacrifice’ at Theatre Royal Newcastle

The Sacrifice

Theatre Royal Newcastle

Until Wednesday 12 April 2023

The Sacrifice was inspired by Pina Bausch’s ballet The Rite of Spring but with an original score and using the rhythms and style of Tswana dance, which originated in Botswana. Dada Masilo has created a hauntingly beautiful and exhilarating combination of classical and African dance styles and an apparently effortless marriage of music and dance. Much credit is due to the powerful and emotional score that is played live on stage, particularly the extraordinary vocal performance of Ann Masina, a singer of great power, warmth and versatility.

Dada Masilo is a pioneer of dance fusion, though previously she has worked with classical ballets, adapting the original scores. For The Sacrifice, she has drawn on the dance style of her native Botswana and has commissioned a completely new score, though it was inspired by Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, written for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in 1913 and depicting the rituals of pagan Russia.

 The ballet was controversial when first produced but it has remained in repertoire and undergone a number of reinventions over the intervening period. It was modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch’s 1975 version that inspired Masilo to create this piece.

Drawing on Tswana rituals, as well as the original story, it depicts an African society carrying out various rituals in celebration of the coming of spring, culminating in the choice of a young woman, portrayed by Masilo, to dance herself to death.

Masilo’s work has brought the music very much into the action and in this case, the singer Ann Masina is directly involved in the performance. In the beginning she appears to give a form of benediction to the chosen girl, who is undergoing what looks like a cleansing ritual, and at the end she joins the girl to comfort her in her last moments and sings a heartrending lament.

Being aware of the original score, one might have been disappointed not to hear it but the new score, written and performed by Masina, Leroy Mapholo, Tlale Makhene and Nathi Shongwe, is a thing of beauty in its own right.  It combines African rhythms, using traditional instruments, with jazz, blues and classical influences using keyboards and strings and most persuasively, voice.

There are soaring passages with a pastoral feel that evoke Vaughan Williams or Aaron Copland and in Masina’s tender vocals there are hints of Nina Simone. From this it is clear the music defies genre or classification beyond saying it is highly effective and emotionally powerful. Like Stravinsky’s original, I believe this piece may have sufficient merit to be performed independent of the dance, though the two are so perfectly integrated in performance and one feels the rapport between dancer and musician throughout. 

After Masilo’s solo that opens the piece, there is a joyful and highly rhythmic ensemble section where, one suspects, the Tswana elements are most strongly to the fore. There follows a powerful solo where Thandiwe Mqokeli identifies Masilo as the chosen one and presents her with a lily, the flower we associate with death.

As well as group sections, there follows an athletic and muscular male solo and an achingly beautiful pas de deux before the chosen one starts to fail and is joined by Masina for the previously described denouement. An elegiac dance by the company, carrying lilies, echoing the moment of the families visiting Juliet’s tomb, completes the evening.

Performed essentially on a bare stage with a little projection, the focus is entirely on the dancers who demonstrate technique and athleticism, all in the service of the emotion that runs high throughout. Masilo is a strong and lyrical dancer of great presence and the ensemble provide worthy support. This is an imaginative, moving and powerful dance piece that deserves to be widely seen and celebrated.

The 12 April show marks the end of its tour but one hopes it may be revived in the future, should this magical mix of dancers and musicians be able to be brought together again. 

Review: Jonathan Cash

Photos: Tristram Kenton