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Cast Announced: Beauty and the Beast at Sunderland Empire


Charlie Hardwick set to star as Fairy Bon Bon in the canniest panto of them all Beauty and the Beast at the Sunderland Empire this Christmas!

Beauty and the Beast

Sunderland Empire

Friday 8 December 2023 – Sunday 31 December 2023

Tickets are available online now at *

The canniest panto in the North East has been given a beastly makeover for 2023 with a sparkling cast that’ll make audiences shout ooh la la with excitement!

Sunderland Empire and Martin Dodd for UK Productions are delighted to announce that North East - born actress and star of Emmerdale and Ackley Bridge, Charlie Hardwick is set to sprinkle some festive fairy dust over this year’s pantomime spectacular, Beauty and the Beast, in the role of Fairy Bon Bon!

Star of screen and stage, Charlie Hardwick is best known for her role as one of the dales’ most popular characters, the straight-talking Val Pollard for which she won awards for Best Comedy, Best Partnership and Best Exit. Her countless screen credits include her recent role as Sue Carp in school-based drama Ackley Bridge, Sian in Byker Grove as well as many TV dramas including Vera, Our Friends In The North and Eastenders. Her film roles include Purely Belter and Billy Elliot.  


Joining Charlie in this tale as old as time is kids Channel 5 Milkshake! TV favourite Olivia Birchenough as kind-hearted, bookworm Belle and West End star Samuel Wyn-Morris (Les Misérables) as the monstrous Beast.

Back by popular demand is the North East’s Queen of Comedy, Miss Rory (Boulevard) bringing the glamour as Rorina La Plonk along with everyone's favourite Wearside panto comic, the side-splittingly funny Tom Whalley, reinvented as Louis La Plonk. The double act are back for a fourth year and they’re sure to be cheekier than ever before.

Join Belle, The Beast, Fairy Bon Bon, Rorina La Plonk and her cheeky chappy son Louis La Plonk, alongside a whole host of larger-than-life characters, as they are transported to a cursed castle under the spell of an evil enchantress. Can the arrogant Hugo be defeated? Can Belle see beyond the Beast and fall in love with her captor? Will the Beast’s heart be melted by Belle’s beauty?


With side-splitting comedy, sumptuous costumes, fabulous scenery, a thrilling transformation scene and an award-winning script by Jon Monie (Winner Best Script – Great British Pantomime Awards), be our guest for a magical North East panto that's not to be missed!  


Catch the enchanting classic, Beauty and the Beast, roaring onto Sunderland Empire’s stage from Friday 8 – Sunday 31 December 2023. Tickets are available online now at *

*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to online bookings.

The Cast:

Charlie Hardwick

Charlie has just wrapped on the Channel 5 series The Good Ship Murder. She can currently be seen on Channel 4's hit show Ackley Bridge.

Charlie is best known for playing the role of Val Pollard in Emmerdale for which she won awards for Best Comedy, Best Partnership and Best Exit. She also spent four years as Sian in Byker Grove and appeared in many TV series and dramas including Professor T, Vera, Eastenders, Casualty, Our Friends In The North, The Royal, See You Friday, and Catherine Cookson’s Tide of Life and Colour Blind.

Her film credits include Purely Belter, Billy Elliot and The Scar, for which she won best actress at Monte Carlo Film and TV awards. Charlie has also performed in numerous plays and musicals including Sting's The Last Ship, Live Theatre Co's Clear White Light, Two, Your Home In The West and Cabaret (The Emcee), and Lee Hall’s Cooking With Elvis and The Awkward Squad in the West End.

Charlie has been a regular on Loose Women, a presenter for BBC Television and Radio, and sings in a brilliant band of women called Kissed.

Olivia Birchenough

Olivia trained at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, The Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and with the National Youth Theatre.

Olivia has been presenting Channel 5’s leading children’s TV strand, Milkshake! for the last 11 years. Along with presenting on-screen each morning, she fronts the channel’s nationwide theatre tour Milkshake Monkey’s Musical, and Milkshake! Story Den and Bop Box Boogie series. She can also be heard as the voice of Virgin Media.

This summer saw Olivia make her West End debut in the two hander, The Ministry of Science, at The Savoy Theatre.

Olivia was crowned Best Leading Female at both The Great British Pantomime Awards and The Panto Insider Awards in 2017. She’s really looking forward to spending this Christmas in Sunderland in her 10th pantomime for UK Productions.

TV credits include: Meet The Experts! (Boom Cymru); Move and Shake with Olivia! (Channel 5); Milkshake Monkey (Elephant House); Bopping About (Channel 5); Festive Fun and Summer Fun (Ivy House); UEFA Champions League Final Opening Ceremony (ITV).

Theatre credits include: Belle in Beauty and The Beast (Malvern Festival Theatre and New Brighton Floral Pavilion and UK tour); The Ministry of Science (International tour); Cinderella in Cinderella (Mansfield Palace, Blackpool Grand and New Brighton Floral Pavilion); Princess Rose in Sleeping Beauty (Bournemouth Pavilion); Milkshake! Live: The Magic Story Book (UK tour); Mobile (The Paper Birds, UK tour); Milkshake! Party Party Live (UK tour); Power Games (UK tour); Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Bournemouth Pavilion, New Brighton Floral Pavilion and Malvern Festival Theatre); Milkshake! Live: Come Out to Play (UK tour); Pages From The Book Of… (International tour); Rodin Reflections (Sadler’s Wells).

Voiceover credits include: Lets Go Treasure Seeking (Channel 5); ITN; Virgin Media UHD and Virgin Media Fitness Channel; Below Deck (Hayu); Bupa UK; Sofia The First (The Walt Disney Company Ltd); William Hill; Smart Response; Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (Disney Junior); The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning (Disney Junior); Elefun & Friends (Hasbro).

Instagram: @olivia.birchenough


Miss Rory

Miss Rory has appeared at Boulevard Newcastle since the award-winning venue opened in 2010, carving a place in the affections of audiences who visit from far and wide. Becoming a household name in the region and beyond, synonymous with glamour, wit and the edge only a lady like Rory can bring!


Billed as ‘A Tyneside Institution’ by the Evening Chronicle, Rory’s razor-sharp wit and cutting asides along with hilarious observational comedy have led to numerous sell-out solo shows including ‘One Woman’ (Tyne Theatre and Opera House 2016), ‘What’s Up Hun?’ (Tyne Theatre and Opera House 2017), ‘A Christmas Rory’ (Time Square PantoDrome 2017), ‘A Christmas Rory II’ (Tyne Theatre and Opera House 2018), ‘All Hun’s Blazin’ (Tyne Theatre and Opera House, 2020), ‘Land of Hope and Rory’ (2022), ‘Winging it (2023). Rory has also headlined the ever-popular ‘Adult Panto’ season at Boulevard appearing as ‘Rory Godmother’ (Sinderella, 2016) ‘Slave of the Ring’ (Aladdin, 2017) and ‘Mother Nature’ (Jack and the Beanstalk 2018). ‘Fairy Boe Bells’ (Big Dick Whittington (2019). ‘Fairy Hanny’ (Sleeping With Beauty 2021), ‘Magic MiRory’ (Snow White: Rotten to the Core 2022). In August 2019 Rory took the role of ‘Carabosse’ in the family pantomime Sleeping Beauty (Northern Stage, Newcastle)


Miss Rory is also notably popular as host of the Northern Pride event since 2009, drawing crowds of almost 80,000 to the Main Stage at the annual festival. Rory also continues to host high profile corporate functions, including the Graham Wylie Foundation’s ‘Have a Heart’ and the opening celebrations for the 2019 World Transplant Games, held in Newcastle/Gateshead as well as working closely with a number of charities as patron and trustee.


Christmas 2019 saw Miss Rory take to the stage of the Sunderland Empire to play ‘Rorina Hardup’ in UK Productions’ Cinderella, a role for which she was nominated for a coveted ‘Great British Pantomime Award.’ Returning to the Sunderland Empire in 2021 and 2022 Rory played ‘Nurse Rorina’ alongside Su Pollard in ‘Snow White’ and Widow Rorina Twankey in Aladdin alongside Gary Lucy respectively.


Rory has collaborated with many high profile North East brands, including promotional material for Newcastle Airport and Tyne and Wear Metro, as well as TUI and national advertising campaigns for Dazzle Bingo.


Directorial credits include ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ (Tyne Theatre and Opera House/Astravaganza Entertainment, 2017).



Samuel Wyn Morris

Samuel Wyn Morris trained at Guilford School of Acting. Samuel hails from Llanelli South Wales and is a first language Welsh speaker. Most recently Samuel has starred as Enjolras in the Les Misérables UK Tour which visited Sunderland Empire in November 2022. Samuel has previously played Feuilly/ Understudy Jean Valjean and Enjolras in Les Miserables (Sondheim Theatre); Feuilly/Understudy Enjolras in Les Misérables - The Staged Concert (Sondheim Theatre); Ensemble in The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn (Old Vic Theatre); Choir Member in The Olivier Awards: 40th Anniversary Concert (Royal Albert Hall)

Samuel’s television credits include; Featured Soloist/Guest/ Presenter in Heno; Featured Soloist in Noson Lawen & Cwmnida; Featured Soloist in Prynhawn Da.



Tom Whalley

Tom trained at Associated Studios, London graduating with a Diploma in Musical Theatre and studied Drama & Scriptwriting at Northumbria University, Newcastle.


A native Geordie, Tom has made a name for himself as a performer, writer and composer working with a number of theatre companies, directors and creatives in the North East and in London. Following an appearance on BBC Three’s reality series Shoplife, Tom left Newcastle behind for life in London and has since starred in a number of West End productions and UK Tours (Dick Whittington eat your heart out!)


Passionate about Pantomime, Tom starred in his first panto as an ‘Ugly Stepsister’ while still at school and has gone on to start his own company writing and licensing pantomime scripts for societies across the UK:


Theatre credits include: PC Pong, Aladdin (Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl) Maeve of the Ring, Aladdin Goes Pop (UK TOUR); The Emperor of China, A-Lad-In: One Rub, Three Wishes (Boulevard, Newcastle) PC Pong, Aladdin (Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells) Mother Goose, Mother Goose (UK TOUR); The Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland (UK TOUR); PC Pong, Aladdin (Theatre Royal, Bath); Dr Lacloche, Hotel for Criminals (New Wimbledon Studio Theatre); Dame Trott, Jack and the Beanstalk (UK TOUR); Dr Willy Von Whackoff, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (King’s Head Theatre); PC Pong, Aladdin (Sunderland Empire); Glinda/Wicked Witch of the West, Looking for Oz (UK TOUR); Pilate, Jesus Christ Superstar (Durham Cathedral); Ensemble Cover Georg/Arpad, She Loves Me (Landor Theatre, London), Cinderella (Sunderland Empire), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Sunderland Empire), Aladdin (Sunderland Empire).


Television credits include: Shoplife (BBC Three).


Tom is thrilled to be starring once again in Sunderland Empire’s pantomime this Christmas as the ever-cheeky Louis La Plonk for an eighth season with UK Productions.




Catch the enchanting classic, Beauty and the Beast, roaring onto Sunderland Empire’s stage from Friday 8 – Sunday 31 December 2023. Tickets are available online now at *

*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to online bookings.

Jowheretogo Podcast- The Northeast Culture Show :

Previews and reviews of live music, comedy, theatre & more in Northeast England. New music, old music and a bit of what we fancy! Find out what's on in Northeast England: With Jo ; Northeast Music Guide , and Steve : Northeast Theatre Guide

Available now on Spotify

News: Free tickets for Newcastle families at Northern Stage this summer


Free tickets for Newcastle families at Northern Stage this summer

Keep your little ones entertained this summer with three weeks of family shows at Northern Stage from 2 – 19 August 2023. Children and their families can go on an adventure to ancient Greece in There And Back Again, get hands their hands dirty at Claytime and find out about what happens at Alfie’s First Fight.

In addition to the performances, families can sing and dance along to free child friendly DJ sets by Spin City, a multi-genre Global Majority and Queer DJ and performer crew based in the North East of England. Free pop-up storytelling sessions from books selected by Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, will take place inside the theatre and there will be outdoor games on the lawn. Visitors are encouraged to stay and play for the whole day come rain or shine.

Tickets start at £10 and are available at

To help combat holiday hunger and make the theatre more accessible, Northern Stage are offering families free tickets to these three summer shows with a complimentary healthy breakfast or lunch from their Café Bar.

Families with a Newcastle postcode who receive free school meals or are experiencing hardship in some other way can take advantage of this great offer which is funded by StreetGames UK’s Newcastle’s Best Ever Holiday Activity and Food Programme 2023.


To book free tickets please call 0191 230 5151 or email


More information on the summer shows:

There and Back Again: An Odyssey

Wednesday 2 - Saturday 5 August 2023

Follow CBeebies Patrick Lynch as he uses a pioneering mix of live cinema and theatre to take you on a thrilling ride across the magical world of ancient Greece. With miniature sets he directs the lights, camera and action in front of your eyes to show the famous battles, floating islands, one-eyed giants and angry Gods that make up Ulysses’ 20 year struggle to get back home.

The use of multiple cameras magnifies in wide screen our table-top puppetry down to the smallest detail, turning a storm-in-a-teacup into an Aegean tempest, laying out the fundamental fable hidden in this classic of world-literature and proving that no matter how far you roam, there’s no place like Homer.



Wednesday 9 - Saturday 12 August 2023

The award-winning Indefinite Articles present their work for the very young: Claytime, a play with clay, where the audience are invited to participate.

Come to a place where the earth’s natural material meets with children’s imaginations: a world of fabulous forms, amazing animals and morphing monsters.

Each Claytime is totally unique – creating its own world, its own characters and its own stories drawn directly from its young audience. Truly, interactive theatre at its most engaging.


Alfie’s First Fight

Wednesday 16 – Saturday 19 August 2023

Featuring boxing action, surprising plot twists, compelling characters and an inspiring boy hero, this funny and heart-warming show is guaranteed to pack a punch.

Inspired by Oliver’s own experiences growing up without a mum and being coached as an amateur boxer by his dad, the show centres itself around shy twelve-year-old Alfie, as he decides to go in search of his missing older brother, Jacob, when he disappears moments before an all-important boxing match…

On the surface, it’s a simple adventure story. But it’s also about love, loss, family and learning how to fight for what you want.



To book free tickets please call 0191 230 5151 or email


Jowheretogo Podcast- The Northeast Culture Show :

Previews and reviews of live music, comedy, theatre & more in Northeast England. New music, old music and a bit of what we fancy! Find out what's on in Northeast England: With Jo ; Northeast Music Guide , and Steve : Northeast Theatre Guide

Available now on Spotify


REVIEW: Tangerines at Newcastle Alphabetti

Tangerines by Lydia Brickland

Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre

Until Saturday 30th July 2023 at 5pm

A beautifully charming comedy has landed in Newcastle and is well worth a tea time trip to the theatre.

Fast forward 10 years. Princess Charlotte is in her first year at Durham University and has decided to join the Dance Society. It is an obvious choice, after all she has been taking lessons since she was three. The President of DanceSoc has decided to partner her up with, after a security check, Kae. Kae has just left her dance partner and needs someone who can quickly learn her dance routine before a competition.

What makes Lydia Brickland's script interesting is that Charlotte, like many students, is in a position to explore her own feelings away from "that family". She may have little in common with a dance partner from Stockport that was only able to take up dancing at 14 as she was given access to "a scheme." But at long last Charlotte can step away from her public image and explore her own sexuality. A situation made easier as she fancies Rae but not helped by the fact that a security / body guard called Alex is posted outside their rehearsal space.

As the audience enter the venue Romana Meyrat, as Charlotte, is warming up ahead of the first rehearsal. The show only works if the audience accepts that she is developing a relationship with Hannah Mullaney's Kae character. Fortunately both actors quickly develop the onstage chemistry almost as fast as their characters relationship blossoms. The also work well as a dancing pair. The whoops from the audience at the audience show are genuine as they are rooting for the characters.

The story is also full of very funny light hearted moments. The absurdity of a over excited Charlotte trying to fit in with an ordinary person gets many of the early laughs.

So this is that perfect five star fringe show that can be so difficult to find at bigger fringe festivals such as the one in the Scottish capital. Clever script, tight direction and choreography, a cast that you can believe in and a nice couple of twists in the tale make this worth a try.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Jennifer Kehl

Cast & Creatives:

Charlotte         Romana Meyrat

Kae         Hannah Mullaney

Director                                                   Bethany McHugh

Assistant Director         Constance Des Marais

Movement Director & Choreographer Emily Charlotte Jones

Intimacy Coordinator         Katie Burke

Lighting Designer         Carey Chomsoonthorn

Illustrator Sally Mullaney