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REVIEW: Greatest Days at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Greatest Days

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 3 June 2023

The jukebox musical featuring the hits of Take That lands in Newcastle this week. Featuring former Hear'Say member Kym Marsh and her daughter Emlie Cunliffe, this is a show that is more than emotional rollercoaster than one expects.

Kym Marsh as Rachel - Photo: Alastair Muir

Jukebox musicals with the music of a single act tend to either do a story about the band or a story that has nothing to do with the band. This musical goes down a refreshing third route as the Tim Firth book explores the fans behind "The Band". In doing so it immediately presents a story that is relatable to the bulk of the audience. The are depictions of the young fans in the 90s and the grown-ups in the current day thus giving everyone watching a chance to reflect upon their own youth. Whilst not everyone in the audience is necessarily a fan of music of Gary Barlow - they will have had a teenage obsession that felt more important at the time than it does now. Tapping into the collective experience lifts the show's narrative. 

The audience are introduced to a gang of four teens, from the north west, who are excited to watch their favourite boy band on Top of the Pops. They hang on to the every lyric. They learn the dance moves.
Kym Marsh as Rachel & Emilie Cunliffe as Young Rachel
- Photo Alastair Muir

Young Rachel (Emile Cunliffe) immerses herself into the music by imagining the band are present in the room. This helps block the nightmare reality of two parents at war with one another. It also gives opportunity for the vocal and dancing talents of The Band to make their first appearance. Kalifa Burton, Jamie Corner, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne and Alexanda O'Reilly are expected to sing and move around the characters as well as rearranging the set from time to time. They work really hard to make the show flow.
LtoR Regan Gascoigne, Archie Durrant,
Jamie Corner, Kalifa Burto & Alexanda O'Reilly Photo: Alastair Muir

Rachel's best friend is Debbie, performed on press night by understudy Bayley Hart. You would never guess that this was a performance by an alternate as Debbie became a character that the audience quickly felt a rapport for. Debbie wants to be the bridesmaid when Claire fulfils her dream of marrying The Band. 

Mari McGinlay appears as the diver Claire who trains hard and hopes to appear in the Olympics. Kitty Harris struts around as Young Heather - a lady who is popular with the lads given the copious graffiti to that effect around the groups hanging around spot. Completing the gang is conscientious Young Zoe who is the one who works hard at school and wants to go to university. Hannah Brown gets the delicate balance right of wanting to do well in her studies but still having a bit more about her. Here lies a potential trap as we are presented with five stereotypes, five different teen personalities. Is the love of The Band sufficient to pull very different types into the same friendship group? One suspects not, but it helps the audience identify themselves at that age by covering the bases.

Debbie wins tickets to go to Manchester to see The Band. Of course her friends are going to go along. It isn't even 9am but they consider bunking off school in order to get ready. A complaint of "what am I going to wear?" is quickly dismissed by the suggesting of 50p in a charity shop will sort things out.
Photo: Alastair Muir

The show then swings into a brief concert mode. A chance for some moves and a medley of Take That hits. The Band encourage some audience participation in the form of some clapping. Another positive decision that they got right in this show is the use of a talented live band, under musical director Zach Flis. It feel like more energy goes in to the performance compared to a similar show using a pre-record.

The group wait at the stage door the The Band to appear but eventually realise that the band don't hang around and walk straight off stage to the tour bus. Debbie picks up some wristbands for the group to remember the evening by. The audience also get one of the regular appearances of "Every Dave" - Alan Stocks adds regular humour to the script as a roadie one minute and a bus driver during the next.

Then something happens. No spoilers here. All I will say is that it created a talking point for the interval. 

The story then propels itself to the modern day. 
Rachel wins a radio competition for 4 people to head off to Greece to see the reformed Band. Rather than taking her rock music loving partner and the couple that they do pub quizzes with, Rachel decides to get her schoolmates back together for the trip.
Photo: Alastair Muir

The school friends, performed by Rachel Marwood, Holly Ashton, Jamie-Rose Monk and Kym Marsh, have gone on in their own direction,  following paths that, shall we say, provide some amusement for the audience. As is often the case,  the dreams and anticipation of teenagers often get hampered by real life as adults. 
As they arrive at the,airport I was struck by the decision to colour code each actor. The colour given to their young selves is replicated in the adult form and the colour of their luggage.  I guess it helps with tracking them.

The story works as fans of bands often enjoy the bands second or third incarnation. I know I have seen a number of bands recently that I never had the chance to in the 80s and reacquaint myself with acts I loved in the 90s. It is big business as Blur will testify as their recent City Hall appearance sold out in minutes rather than days. Nostalgia sells. How else does Kiss get away with charging a three figure amount for yet another final tour. I digress. Back to this show.
Photo: Alastair Muir
I should at this point declare I was never a fan of The Band myself. Nothing wrong with the music but it was played to saturation at the time. I was not exactly their target audience.  That didn't stop me enjoying this show. Whilst I was into other bands, I got that fan element.  I too have discovered a band I love I playing and ensured I got there. I also know how close school friends end up on different paths.
Photo: Alastair Muir

This musical works on that human level. Add it great performances from a tight ensemble cast, a great live band plus The Band themselves and it makes for a fun package. Will you like it? I think most people will know the answer to that before they get the tickets. All I'm saying is that I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Review: Stephen Oliver.

Tickets available from the Theatre Royal:  


Preview: Sister Act at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 Best Musical Bar ‘Nun’ Comes To Newcastle Theatre Royal


Sister Act

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Monday 19 – Saturday 24 June 2023

Brace yourselves sisters! The heavenly smash-hit musical Sister Act ­heads to Newcastle Theatre Royal during June 2023.

We caught up with TV favourite Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) who plays Mother Superior alongside Sandra Marvin (Emmerdale, Waitress) who plays Deloris Van Cartier and West End sensation Lizzie Bea (Heathers The Musical, Hairspray) as Sister Mary Robert to find out more about this sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship, sisterhood and music.

You’re well known to many as Dorien Green from Birds of a Feather alongside your stage work, which includes an Olivier-nomination for Young Frankenstein. What are the key differences between the disciplines of stage and screen, and do you have a preference?
If you asked me why I came into the business, it would be because I love theatre. I went to drama school in the 60s, and it was a very different world then. I grew up doing theatre and started first when I was seven. Theatre was always what I was destined to do and then gradually television took over. Birds of a Feather came along in 1989 and has never been off since! I love television, I love the opportunities television brings, but if I had to choose it would be theatre because I love the connection with the audience. With television can always do it again, whereas with theatre it’s a question of doing it that night and that’s your one chance.
I think theatre is where my heart is. I love the atmosphere and the family you build. I love to stand in the wings and watch other people work. I also love what theatre can do to an audience. Live theatre can change people’s lives.

In Rehearsal. Lesley Joseph 'Sister Lazarus'. 

Sister Act is a much-loved movie as well as a musical. Were you aware of the show before joining?
I saw Craig Revel Horwood’s Sister Act revival with Alexandra Burke, so I was very aware of the show before I joined. The musical doesn’t have the music from the film, but it’s Alan Menken’s music - who is a genius. He’s been to see our show twice and loved it! I think people love the production because of the great music, and it’s very much an audience show. You leave feeling so uplifted. We were playing in London to 3,000 people per night, with every show packed full of people waving their arms in the air at the end and just having a fantastic time.

Can you briefly summarise the plot (without spoilers), and tell us about your character, Mother Superior?
Well, Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her boyfriend shoot someone and gets put into hiding in a convent. Mother Superior who runs the convent is a very religious person, and suddenly into her world comes this woman who is a singer, who wears short skirts, who’s full of bling and very over the top. It’s about how these two worlds combine and ultimately rub off on each other.

Mother Superior is quite strict and holy. She provides the juxtaposition of strict religious beliefs against this entirely over the top being, which is Deloris Van Cartier. You need the two extremes to rub up against one another, and quite a lot of sparks fly.

You appeared on Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome and met the Pope, what was that like and were there any elements of that experience that you’ve drawn on when playing Mother Superior? 
Funnily enough whenever I’m in the show I do always think of this moment. I had half an hour with the Pope and I blessed him and made him laugh, and he gave me a medal to celebrate his six years in the papacy. I’ve always had a spirituality about me. I love going in churches. Whenever I go into a church I will always light a candle for both of my parents and Linda Robson’s mum, and say a quiet prayer. That’s a spiritual thing more than an actual religious thing. I always find churches very healing in a way. It’s a place to sit, contemplate and meditate, and you can come out feeling a slightly better person.

Sister Act features a fantastic score by the multi award-winning Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid). How would you describe the soundtrack, and do you have a favourite number to perform and/or watch? 

I think the soundtrack is amazing. I must say, the audience responses so far have made me feel like we’re doing a pop concert. My favourite song is one that Mother Superior has called ‘Here Within These Walls’ where she describes what life is like in the convent, and how the outside world is full of sin, but inside you find God and you find yourself. It’s a beautiful number, but probably the most serious number in the show to an extent. The other number I love is when Deloris first takes over the choir and she teaches them to sing and brings out their voices. It’s called ‘Raise Your Voice’. The audience just go wild. Up until then you’ve only heard the nuns sing very badly. It stops the show!

What do you hope audiences take away from this new production?
I think audiences will take away a reinvigorated love for live theatre. It’s a production that also says something about community, and that’s one thing that the lockdown showed us was important – caring about your neighbours, caring about your friends, and helping those in need.

It’s an absolutely joyous musical! To see the audiences at the end, where they stand waving their arms and singing along, they rediscover the joy of theatre.

Is there a piece of advice you’ve received or that you would pass on to anyone hoping to go into the creative industry?
I don’t know if you remember a man called Quentin Crisp, he was very flamboyant and wonderful, and way before his time. He was avant-garde and he was an amazing character. He always used to call me ‘Miss Joseph’. His piece of advice was, ‘Miss Joseph, believe in fate, but lean forward where fate can see you’. I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I could give to anybody.

Photos: Manuel Harlan



Sister Act plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 19 – Saturday 24 June 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


Preview: The King and I at Newcastle Theatre Royal


The King and I

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 May 2023

Following a critically acclaimed Broadway smash-hit run and a sold-out season at the London Palladium, the multi-Tony Award-winning production of The King and I comes to Newcastle Theatre Royal as part of a stunning UK tour, playing Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 May 2023.

This gloriously lavish production will be brought to the stage by an internationally renowned creative team under Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, My Fair Lady, To Kill a Mockingbird) and will feature a world-class company of talented performers and a full-scale orchestra.

Seasoned musical theatre star Annalene Beechey (The King And I UK & International Tour/ Marguerite/ Wicked/Phantom of the Opera) will reprise the role of Anna Leonowens, joining Broadway star and film actor Darren Lee (Hackers/Sisters/Chicago/Guys and Dolls) who will play the title role of The King of Siam, a role he first played in New York in 2016. 

Joining Darren Lee and Annalene Beechey is Dean John-Wilson (London Palladium prodction of The King and I/Aladdin) who will reprise his role as Lun Tha, Marienella Phillips (Henry V/Carmen) who will play  Tuptim alongside Cezarah Bonner who returns as Lady Thiang, the King’s head wife,  Kok-Hwa Lie (2020 UK Tour of The King And I/ Rent) will play the role of Kralahome, Caleb Lagayan (Les Misérables) will play Prince Chulalongkorn, Sam Jenkins-Shaw (The Night Watch/Jane Eyre) takes the role of Captain Orton/Sir Edward Ramsay and Maria Coyne (Phantom of the Opera/Wicked) will be the Alternate Anna.

Set in 1860s Bangkok, The King and I tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist King, in an imperialistic world, brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children.

The King and I is a sumptuous, timeless romance from the golden age of musicals, adored by the public and critics alike – and boasting one of the finest scores ever written, including ‘Whistle a Happy Tune’, ‘Getting to Know You’, and ‘Shall We Dance’.

The critical acclaim for Bartlett Sher’s production has been phenomenal.  When the show opened at the London Palladium in 2018, West End critics heaped praise on the show: the Daily Mail “left the London Palladium on a bright cloud of music”, while the The Times awarded the show “Five stars for a sumptuous King and I” declaring it “a hit”. Daily Express hailed it “London’s theatrical event of 2018” whilst The Daily Telegraph concurred proclaiming the show “looks and sounds ravishing”. Another five stars were awarded from the Sunday Express and the Financial Times called it “simply spellbinding”.

North East Theatre Guide review of 2019 tour:

Photos: Johan Persson


The King and I plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 May 2023 playing evenings at 7.30pm and matinees Wed and Thu 2pm and Sat 2.30pm.Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 0191 232 7010.


REVIEW: The Sunderland Story at Sunderland Empire


The Sunderland Story
Sunderland Empire
Wednesday 17 – Saturday 27 May 2023.

A show about the passionate fans, from a passionate city, of a passionate team is enjoying a two week exclusive run at the Sunderland Empire. 

I've seen a number of theatrical performances trying to convey the emotional attachment that fans have about their club. Rarely do they have the impact of this show. This is, in no small part, down to the show happening in a much bigger venue. This show regularly smashes the fourth wall, and when it does, hundreds of fans join in. Just like a match, this is very much a communal event. 

The production which follows the Carter family features an entirely local cast starring Joe Caffrey as Billy Carter (dad), Jayne Mackenzie as Ruby Carter (mam), Ainsley Fannan as Kevin Carter (son), Jude Nelson as Neila Carter (daughter), Peter Peverley as family friend Charlie Thompson, and James Hedley as The Busker.

Cast captured with Producer Peter Hackett centre

On the stage is a resident band, aptly named the Black Cats, who not only accompany the singing, they often chip in - sometimes as fans of the opposing side. For this is Sunderland-The Musical. The audience know all the words too.
The basis of the story is the wake of a beloved Grandfather- and Sunderland fan - becomes a re-education of one of the grand kids. An excuse,  if you need one, the tell the story of Sunderland AFC. 

As the tale head towards more recent times, the audience reaction changes. They recognise the players on the screen. They know the tales of the hard fought battles. Eventually they hit the era that the members of the audience recognise. 
Just like a nail biting cup match, the tension and the atmosphere builds in the theatre audience. Their reactions becoming more heartfelt. 

Production Photos: David James Wood

But that's not the only part of the show. This cast involves actors who have been performing around our region.  They know each other and that chemistry onstage cannot be faked. They also include the audience in the "private" jokes. 
Keeping a fact heavy script interesting was challenging and they pulled it off.

On press night a number of Sunderland stars had been invited along. It was a nice touch to see members of the 73 Cup winning team on stage getting a proper acknowledgement. The final guest appearances included Tony Mowbray. The recent exploits of his young team in the play offs were loudly recognised with a standing ovation. 

As a non-Sunderland fan I have to say that I was moved. Clearly the show, like the team, gets under the skin. It finds the pulse of a proud city. Fans of the club will not be disappointed. 

Review: Stephen Oliver

Tickets are available online from ATG Tickets: 


Preview: Meat Loaf by Candlelight at Stockton Globe




Global Sell-Out Show

Meatloaf By Candlelight Comes To Stockton Globe This Summer


Meat Loaf by Candlelight

Stockton Globe

Saturday 15th July 2023



Direct from a critically acclaimed, sell-out tour of Australia, Meat Loaf by Candlelight is ready to rock out at Teesside’s newest live entertainment venue this summer, in a production not to be missed.

Stockton Globe welcomes Meat Loaf by Candlelight to the Stockton stage on Saturday 15th July 2023 in a production led by stars of the West End and International productions of ‘Bat Out of Hell’. The production is set to bring an incredible rock atmosphere juxtaposed by the soft ambience of candlelight, all to the songs of the iconic, industry heavyweight that was Meat Loaf. Featuring some of the most iconic songs of all time including Anything for Love, Bat Out of Hell, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad, Dead Ringer for Love and many more!

Producer Daniel Wood said: ‘It is so exciting to bring the show to Stockton, and in such a beautiful venue. The stage will be bathed in candlelight as our stellar cast perform the hits of Meat Loaf like you’ve never heard them before!’

West End Star & fellow producer Simon Gordon said: ‘We have played to sold out audiences across the world for the last year, most recently in Australia, so it’s really special for all of us to bring the show back to the UK and to perform on home turf again’.

Reviews of Meat Loaf by Candlelight:

 ‘‘The best tribute to Meat Loaf Ive ever seen!’’

 ‘‘A must see for Meat Loaf fans everywhere’’

 ‘‘Outstanding vocals, epic band – do not miss this show!’’


For Crying Out Loud... book your tickets now! This unforgettable experience is guaranteed to make your Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through!


On The Web:

Facebook: /ConcertsByCandlelightUK

Instagram: @concertsbycandlelight

Twitter: @CByCandlelight



Meat Loaf by Candlelight arrives at Stockton Globe on Saturday 15th July 2023. Tickets can be purchased from ATG Tickets:

Preview: The Commitments at Newcastle Theatre Royal



The Commitments

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Monday 26 June – Saturday 1 July 2023


Following a sell-out run in 2017, the world’s hardest working and most explosive soul band – The Commitments – are set to burst back onto the Newcastle Theatre Royal stage.


Nigel Pivaro

And no one could be happier than its creator, Irish writer Roddy Doyle.

Roddy Doyle
“The original stage show of The Commitments in 2013,” he says, “was a brilliant experience from my point of view.  It stayed in the West End for over two years. Then it went on a successful tour.”
Nigel Pivaro, James Killeen

Nigel Pivaro, erstwhile lovable rogue, Terry Duckworth, in Coronation Street from 1983 to 2012, will take the pivotal role of Da, Jimmy Rabbitte’s father, while Andrew Linnie, sax player Dean in the original West End production and then Jimmy Rabbitte himself on tour, will be directing.

 L-R James Killeen, Ciara Mackey, Eve Kitchingman, Guy Freeman
For the original West End production, Roddy lived in London for 12 weeks, attending rehearsals every day, doing daily rewrites. “I attended every preview and then the meetings the next day as we discussed what was and wasn’t working. My role this time round has been less vital although sitting in on the read-through with the new cast was just terrific.”

L-R Eve Kitchingman, Ciara Mackey, Sarah Gardiner 

He’s not counting his chickens but, if the reception to this latest production is anything like the way it was greeted almost 10 years ago, he’ll be a happy man. For the Sunday Times, "A sweet-soul, solid-gold, five-star blast.” The Telegraph declared it “touched the sublime”. And The Times deemed it “unstoppable fun”.L-R Eve Kitchingman, Conor Litten, Stuart Reid, Ciara Mackey, Sarah Gardiner

L-R Eve Kitchingman, Conor Litten, Stuart Reid, Ciara Mackey, Sarah Gardiner

Has he felt emotional returning to this first work of fiction? “It’s brought back a lot of memories, yes. I was a geography and English teacher at the time when I wrote the novel. I wanted an excuse to bring a bunch of young people together in book form and capture the rhythm of Dublin kids yapping and teasing and bullying.

Ryan Kelly

“But I needed to find a setting outside school and that’s when the idea of a band came to me. A big band with a brass section and backing vocals as opposed to three or four young men that was the norm back then.”

Ronnie Yorke 

Roddy has resisted the temptation to update the action. “The vibrancy is still there but so is the tension caused by lack of communication. For instance, will Deco, the obnoxious lead singer, turn up on time? These days, you’d track him down on your mobile in no time at all. But there wasn’t that option in the late 80s. And I chose ‘60s music – Motown and Memphis soul – because, at the time, it felt timeless.   Thirty-five years later, I was right.”

For a long time, Roddy was a teacher who wrote on the side. “I loved teaching and the holidays were great, a time when I got into the habit of writing. I wrote The Commitments in 1986, it was published the following year and I was working on the screenplay in 1988. But I was still teaching up until 1993.”

The Snapper and The Van followed in 1990 and 1991 respectively and, along with The Commitments, make up what is known as the Barrytown Trilogy. Then, in 1993, Roddy hit the jackpot. His novel, Paddy Clarke Ha, about a rumbunctious 10-year-old living quickly changing north Dublin suburb in 1968, won the prestigious Booker Prize. Roddy was 35.

 James Killeen

“I was delighted. It was a great compliment although I can’t remember what I said in my acceptance speech. But I do recall then being taken away to be interviewed when all I really wanted to do was get back to the table and share the moment with my wife and publisher.

 James Killeen and Ciara Mackey

“But it felt as if I’d instantly become public property, and I didn’t like it. What I wanted more than anything was to go back to Ireland and live as near a normal life as possible. I deliberately continued to use public transport, for example. But now, almost 30 years later, I can take it in my stride.”

 Michael Mahony, Stephen O'Riain, Guy Freeman 

Pick up any of the early books, in particular, and you could almost be reading a screenplay. “That’s true. I think that the best way of establishing characters is to get them talking. That’s especially true of The Commitments – and it gave me a template which I used for some years. The fact is, we talk a lot in Ireland.”

He has an attic office in his home where he writes. But, since the lifting of lockdown, he’s acquired a room in the city centre where he’ll also write. “At one level, I was asking myself why I’d want another office.

“But it struck me as a good idea to get out of the house and walk around and experience Dublin opening up, coming alive again. It’s been really interesting. Also, my children are grown up and no longer living at home. So I’m not surrounded by the rhythm of their speech.” 

His is a disciplined approach to work, usually writing from nine until six each day. “But I’ve become a bit more relaxed as I’ve got older. There’s nothing quite as nice as going to see a film at the cinema in daylight. And, I never don’t feel guilty.”

Whatever came afterwards, The Commitments will always hold a special place in Roddy’s heart for the simple reason that it was his first published book. And at 65, Roddy remains prolific with twelve novels, three collections of stories, eight books for children, a book he co-wrote with Roy Keane and, of course, a stage musical under his belt so retirement seems unlikely. He was once quoted as saying that he hoped to die mid-sentence.

He laughs. “Well,” he says, “it might be nice to get to a full stop.”

Photos: Ellie Kurttz


The Commitments  plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Monday 26 June – Saturday 1 July 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.