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REVIEW: Aladdin at South Shields Customs House


South Shields Customs House

Until Saturday 6th January 2024

The "Little Panto With A Big Heart" returns to entertain South Tyneside.  It continues to build upon the hard earned reputation of the creative team behind this marvellous pantomime. We laughed, we clapped, we loved it...this show has all of the ingredients of panto at its finest, without the need to break the bank.

The odd thing is that this panto gets lots of repeat business. The audience is full of all ages - the 21 year old celebrating her birthday who has been there "every" year is not usual. The Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson co-written script works on many levels and it grows up as your family gets older.

I did raise an eyebrow at the choice of story this year. It is a tricky show to pull off without upsetting those who get upset at the casting and stereotyping. The clever thing here is staying away from Peking and placing the show in the Customs House's usual spot of "Cooksonville" - after all, the region has plenty of sand dunes of its own without the need to go abroad.

There were two firsts in the show, one at the very start, the other at the very end. It is the first time I have seen a panto open with a song performed whilst the performer is doing aerial work. Shelley Nicholson, as the Spirit of the RIng did a grand job with both dancing and singing - even when upside down. The other first? It is the first time I had the streamers that are launched at the end whack me on the head with a thump!

The show features a great tight knit ensemble. Glen Richard Townsend has, as expect, taken to the comic role like a duck to water. The crowd immediately warm to him and his antics. The comedy also comes from the others as this show is packed with jokes. Be it the 2 police type guards (Caitlin Fairlamb as Spaghetti and Kieron Michael as Meatballs) or Alfie Joey as the Emperor - the funny lines are shared out. Though Dame Bella's character ensures that we all get our fix of Ray Spencer. His natural charming delivery, even when deliver cutting political satire makes him a central fixture to the story.

Of course we have a charismatic Princess (Reanna Sujeewon) and love interest and chaser of lamps Aladdin (Dexter Greenwood) who work well both as a couple and in their engagement with the audience. Plus Misha Malcolm has the presence to deliver the role of Genie.

Steven Lee Hamilton is a marvellous baddie. His stature, coupled with his theatricality, make it difficult to hate him even when he is making life difficult for our on stage heroes. Sure the audience boo him but it is in recognition of a job well done.

I have already mentioned that the show avoided the pitfalls that come with many productions of Aladdin - but there is another really pleasing aspect of the big calls made here. They completely ignore the Disney movie. Aladdin happily existed before the corporation made their version.

The show, as always is full of music. This year they have the balance right: enough songs, but not too many. Funny songs and straight songs. The reworking of Hello from Book of Mormon gave the intro real energy. Hats off to Musical Director Dave Bintley and the Assistant Jen Stevens in making the songs work so well.

This is a traditional pantomime with the elements that you'd expect. The messy scene is messy and very funny; the take off scene follows the usual formula and had the kids screaming from the top of their voices and "babes" added their magic the the dance routines. The community singing descends into assisted chaos too.

I know normally I would go through the story but I feel that pointing out the changes made here would be giving away spoilers. I like the changes that have been made to the regular "Aladdin" formula and it delivers a very local show that knows its audience well. This is not a script that was bought in and customised - this is a locally created show and it shows.

This is a rollercoaster ride of a panto that, once again, punches way above its weight. It is fun as the talented cast deliver the entertainment. This is why we love panto.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos:  Wycombe 89




REVIEW: Cinderella at Durham Gala

Durham Gala
Until Saturday 6 January 2024

The North East pantomime season has begun with the usual curtain raiser - the Durham Gala production. This is a family friendly production that is full of music. It sticks to the story and this pleases the children in the audience. The hard working north east cast deserved the applause at the end.

Starting with a song, the audience are introduced to Buttons, Jude Nelson is the open and friendly face that you need in this role. She gives the audience a simple greeting to use when she appears (too often these "when I come on" routines can be too complicated for the youngsters) and introduces Charlotte Bradley as (Cinder)Ella. A quick bit of exposition explains that her Dad has married and then died in a mysterious accident, leaving No Place Hall to her step mother  (Kris Manuel) and her step-sisters.
Ella is supported by her friend Pipsqueak (Daniel Butcher) - a mouse developing a stand up routine with very cheesy cheese jokes. Her step sisters cause them problems but seem more tragic than grotesque. Sarah Boulter is the very 2023 Monophobia, more worried about maintaining/building up her followers online than enjoying life. Meanwhile Rosie Stancliffe is Philophobia who keeps her head in books but makes up long words in order to claim to be more intelligent than her sibling. In setting these characters slightly differently to the norm gives both talented actors a chance to do something different with the role to the standard panto stereotype. 
The feel of the set and costumes had the feel of the classic Ladybird books. This goes down to the Prince (Lewis Kennedy) and his servant Dandini (Josh Betteridge).
Buttons is trying to develop magic skills which, like the late great Tommy Cooper, start off simple/failing and build up into something special.
Bouncing around on a flying moon is Jessica Brady as the Fairy Godmother. She has a great singing voice and this is put to good use.
On the night we attended the cast faced a tough audience. They persevered to get the audience to get involved with booing, singing and dancing. In this regard it was a strange night. The jokes will probably land differently on another night. Full marks for the effort in trying to make the show interactive.

Cinderella has all of the elements you'd expect in a pantomime but often with a twist. The messy scene and the take off scene don't re-tread the usual formula. The dancers, likewise, are much more than window dressing and get involved in many of the scenes. This is a fun panto with a charming cast that it is safe to take both the youngsters and the grand parents too. There is always a place for such a show.

Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Lee Dobson



REVIEW: Madagascar – A Musical Adventure at Sunderland Empire

The Kids Like To Move It, Move It

Madagascar – A Musical Adventure

Sunderland Empire 

Until Saturday 25 November 2023

Based upon the 2005 film that was full of catchy songs and memorable story, it was only going to be a matter of time before it landed on stage. Back after 5 years, the show is back in Sunderland.

"Alex the lion is the king of the urban jungle, the main attraction at New York's Central Park Zoo. He and his best friends – Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo – have spent their whole lives in blissful captivity before an admiring public and with regular meals provided for them. Not content to leave well enough alone, Marty lets his curiosity get the better of him and makes his escape – with the help of some prodigious penguins – to explore the world."

This is a tale of "be careful what you wish for" as Marty (Francisco Gomes) makes a wish on his 10th birthday... the wish to go to the wild. Alex (Joseph Hewlett), Melman (Joshua Oakes-Rodgers) and Gloria (Jarneia Richard-Noel) realise that Marty has escaped and they follow her. 

The first act covers the film up to going on the boat - and at 37 minutes, it is pretty short. They have kept close to the movie, but, one cannot help feel that they missed an opportunity to occasionally break the fourth wall a little. This story clearly appeals to the pre-teen audience judging by the opening night's crowd reaction, and they would appreciate a little bit more involvement. To prove me case a little the second act very quickly hits that live entertainment sweet spot.

Shortly after landing in Madagascar, our intrepid friends are introduced to King Julien. CBBC /Strictly star Karim Zeroual may be in his knees as the King but his eyes and facial expression are immediately engaging to the young audience and as soon as he starts to "move it, move it" the audience energy lifts. The second hour long act was much better.

This is a show that has made a conscious decision to entertain its target young audience. Unlike some productions, Madagascar sticks to its core audience rather than the adults in the room. It is very safe for the young ones.

The cast work hard: Marty dances around and the skill needed to operate the huge Melman puppet is considerable. Alex, likewise, has enough presence to help recreate the movie.

Having said that, the original movie is fairly light on exposition and this show exposes the lack of material. But the good nature of the show and the songs helps carry the entertainment for the show's young fans. The show finishes with the encouragement for the audience to get to there feet for another rendition of the popular track. 

On the web:

Instagram: @MadUKTour 
Twitter: @MadUKTour 

Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Mark Dawson


Preview: Dear Evan Hansen at Sunderland Empire


ATG Productions And Nottingham Playhouse Present

A New Production Of The Olivier, Tony® & Grammy® Award-Winning Best Musical

Dear Evan Hansen

Sunderland Empire 

19 – 23 November 2024

Book by Steven Levenson

Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Ambassador Theatre Group Productions and Nottingham Playhouse are delighted to announce a new production of the Olivier, Tony and Grammy award-winning Best Musical Dear Evan Hansen.

Directed by Nottingham Playhouse’s Artistic Director Adam Penford, the show will open at the Nottingham Playhouse on 9 September 2024, ahead of a UK tour visiting Sunderland Empire from 19 – 23 November 2024. Casting to be announced.

Director Adam Penford said, “Dear Evan Hansen has thrilled audiences on both sides of the Atlantic since it first premiered in 2015. Evan's powerful story grips and moves people, told through a captivating script and musical score. This first, major, new and exciting UK production offers the opportunity to re-examine some of its contemporary themes and present this brand-new version to Nottingham and around the UK. I'm excited to begin the search for our Evan very soon.”

Packed with some of the biggest musical theatre songs of the last decade, Dear Evan Hansen has a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Oscar-winning composers for The Greatest Showman) and a book by Steven Levenson. Its many awards include the Tony® Award for Best Musical, Olivier Award for Best New Musical and the Grammy® Award for Best Musical Theatre Album.

Today is going to be a good day. And here’s why…

Meet Evan: an anxious high school kid who wants nothing more than to fit in. The thing is, on his way to fitting in, he didn’t tell the whole truth. And now must give up on a life he never dreamt he’d have. As events spiral and the truth comes out, Evan faces a reckoning with himself and everyone around him.

Dear Evan Hansen is presented by ATG Productions and Nottingham Playhouse by arrangement with Music Theatre International.


Dear Evan Hansen will be found on Sunderland Empire’s stage from Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 November 2024. Tickets on sale 17 November 2023 at 10am online at *

*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to online bookings.

Preview: Christmas Carol at Newcastle Peoples Theatre

Join the People’s Theatre next week for a Christmas Eve like no other in this classic festive story.

A Christmas Carol 

Newcastle Peoples Theatre

Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 November 2023

Miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge is about to embark on an astonishing journey through his past, present and future thanks to three ghostly visitors. Can tight-fisted, cruel and bitter Scrooge learn the error of his ways and discover the power of kindness and compassion?

Written in 1843, Charles Dickens seasonal short story A Christmas Carol is as popular and enduring as ever.

Brought to life on stage by Roger Liddle as Scrooge and an ensemble of twenty performers, this celebrated adaptation by Karen Louise Hebden is bursting with traditional carols, live music, dance, spooky ghosts and festive cheer!

Vibrant, moving and heart-warming, this A Christmas Carol promises to be a must-see for the whole family, and the perfect way to get in the mood for the festive season!

A Christmas Carol opens on Tuesday 21 November on the Main Stage. Tickets are available from the People’s Theatre Box Office on 0191 265 5020 (option 2) and online at

And once Scrooge and Co have got you in the festive spirit, the People’s Panto Peter Pan will soon be swooping on to their stage. Tickets are flying for this awfully big Christmas adventure, and the run includes a Relaxed Performance on Tuesday 12 December. 


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Karen Louise Hebden

Date:  Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 November 2023

Time: 7.30pm

Tickets: £16 (Conc. £13.50)

Venue: People’s Theatre, Stephenson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5QF

Box Office: 0191 265 5020                    


Preview: Life of Pi at Newcastle Theatre Royal


Stunning drama roars into Newcastle Theatre Royal

Life of Pi

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 January 2024

Lolita Chakrabarti’s dazzling Olivier Award winning stage adaption of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel Life of Pi - which stars an extraordinary life-size puppeteered Bengal Tiger – is set to delight Newcastle Theatre Royal audiences as part of its first ever UK tour.

Based on one of the best-loved works of fiction – winner of the Man Booker Prize, selling over fifteen million copies worldwide – Life of Pi is a breath-taking new theatrical adaptation of an epic journey of endurance and hope.

Divesh Subaskaran will make his professional debut in the central role of Pi. He is joined by Antony Antunes, who performs as Tiger Hind/Cook/Father Martin, Adwitha Arumugam as Pi Alternate, Bhawna Bhawsar as Lulu Chen/Mrs Biology Kumar, Ralph Birtwell as Mamaji/ Admiral Balbir Singh, Kriss Dosanjh as Father, Sebastian Goffin as Tiger Head, Akash Heer as Tiger Head,  Romina Hytten as Tiger Heart and Hind,  Katie Kennedy-Rose as Tiger Heart and Hind, Aizah Khan as Tiger Heart and Hind, Chand Martinez as Pandit-ji,  Keshini Misha as Rani, Goldy Notay as Amma, Sharita Oomeer as Lulu Chen / Mrs Biology Kumar, Kate Rowsell as Tiger Heart and Hind, Lilian Tsang as Mrs Okamoto/Zaida Khan/Ship’s Captain and Peter Twose as Tiger Head/Voice of Richard Parker/Cook/Father Martin.

After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, there are five survivors stranded on a single lifeboat – a hyena, a zebra, an orang-utan, a sixteen year-old boy and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?

Last year, Life of Pi won five Olivier Awards. As well as Best New Play, and Best Actor for Hiran Abeysekera (the original Pi); in an historic first for the Olivier Awards - the seven performers who puppeteer the Tiger ‘Richard Parker’ were collectively awarded Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The production also picked up awards for set (Tim Hatley, Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell), and lighting design (Tim Lutkin and Andrzej Goulding).

The production is directed by Max Webster, Set and Costume Designer is Tim Hatley, the Puppet Designers are Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, the Puppet and Movement Director is Finn Caldwell, the Video Designer is Andrzej Goulding, the Lighting Designer is Tim Lutkin, the Sound Designer is Carolyn Downing, the Composer is Andrew T Mackay, Dramaturgy is by Jack Bradley, the Casting Director is Polly Jerrold, the Associate Director is Leigh Toney, the Associate Puppetry and Movement Director is Scarlet Wilderink, the Associate Set Designer is Ross Edwards, the Associate Puppet Designer is Caroline Bowman,  the Costume Supervisor is Sabrina Cuniberto and the Props Supervisor is Ryan O’Conner.  

Life of Pi is produced by Simon Friend in association with Playing Field and Tulchin/Bartner.

Award winning writer Yann Martel’s works include The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993), Self (1996), We Ate the Children Last (2004), Beatrice and Virgil (2010) – a New York Times Bestseller and a Financial Times Best Book, 101 Letters to a Prime Minister (2012) – a collection of letters to the prime minister of Canada; and The High Mountains of Portugal (2016).  

Photos by Johan Persson.


Life of Pi plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 January 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


REVIEW: Gerry & Sewell at Newcastle Live Theatre

Gerry & Sewell

Newcastle Live Theatre

Until Sat 18 Nov 2023

Adapted & directed by Jamie Eastlake

Based upon Jonathan Tulloch's The Season Ticket, the story of two lads from Dunston who simply want hope in their lives has now made the transition from sold out shows at Laurels in Whitley Bay to the larger Live Theatre in Newcastle. In doing so this is a first for the Quayside venue. The result is a visceral production that is full of energy and pathos, a show that triggers reactions from the audience at regular intervals. This is a quality piece of fine theatre.

The tale centres around two lads who don't attend school. Instead they try to survive. Whether it is stealing the McDonalds order from a family so they can eat - or trying to get a good price for an abandoned toilet they try their best in life. Jack Robertson appears as Sewell, a loyal lad with a craving for junk food. He will gravitate towards chips or the holy grail that is chicken nuggets. He not be the fastest thinker but Jack's character oozes friendly, almost innocent, charm.

His marra is the ideas man in the partnership. Gerry is creative in his plans and somewhat more quicker footed in most ways. The script allows Dean Logan the chance to  reveal a lot about the inner turmoil the Gerry finds himself in. A chaotic life at home is evident though he tries to hide its full effects. The power in Dean's performance, for me, came when he gave an unspoken stare in a rare visit to school. It said so much in that moment.

The laughs are shared equally between the two, and there's more to it than the simple undertaking the Sunderland are a  poor team. The timing is around 2019 and Mike Ashley is causing problems for the black and white faithful. Even the ones, like Gerry and Sewell, who dream of seeing a match in person - or even better: owning a season ticket.

All of the other roles, including narration and puppetry of their pet dog, from the talented Becky Clayburn, who darts on and off the roof of the metro without missing a beat. 

...and yes there is a Metro built on the set. The Set Guise get the credit for creating a dynamic space for the action to flow through. The action is picked off thanks to Drummond Orr's lighting design. Some scenes find some music with a local theme...the first act starting, for example, with AC/DC's Thunderstruck which has the audience waving their black and white flags before the action really starts.

But the story is not just about the funny side of life. Troubled families, substance abuse and hints of other issues often punctuate the story. Whilst the two lads are trying to save money for their season tickets it is obvious that Gerry keeps moving house for a reason. This undercurrent  leaves a profound impression long after the shows finishes and the laughter and applause from the standing ovation dies down.

Speaking as someone who is not a Newcastle supporter, this is a wonderful play. Whilst strongly linked to our region, it could easily be anywhere in broken Britain. Theatre has the power to be transformative - and this is one such production.  Highly Recommended. 

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Von Fox Promotions


Approx 2hrs with interval

Age rating 15+


Preview: The Drifters Girl at Newcastle Theatre Royal


The Drifters Girl returns to Newcastle Theatre Royal


Having made its world premiere at Newcastle Theatre Royal in 2021, the acclaimed West End musical The Drifters Girl returns to the region from Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November 2023.

Telling the remarkable story of The Drifters, one of the world's greatest vocal groups, and the truth about the woman who made them. Faye Treadwell is the legendary manager of The Drifters who fought for three decades alongside her husband (George Treadwell) to turn Atlantic Records' hottest vocal group into a global phenomenon.

The Drifters Girl boasts an incredible soundtrack of some of the most famous songs in history, including Save The Last Dance For Me, Under The Boardwalk, Kissin In The Back Row Of The Movies, Stand By Me, Come On Over To My Place, Saturday Night At The Movies and many more.

Carly Mercedes Dyer will play Faye Treadwell, alongside Ashford Campbell, Miles Anthony Daley, Tarik Frimpong and Dalton Harris (winner of The X Factor in 2018), taking on the roles of The Drifters.

From the highs of hit records and sell-out tours to the lows of legal battles and personal tragedy, The Drifters Girl charts the trailblazing efforts of the world's first African American female music manager and how she refused to ever give up on the group she loved. Thirty years and hundreds of hit songs later, there is no doubt that Faye Treadwell was and always will be, The Drifters Girl.


The Drifters Girl plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.