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18/04/2024

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz at Newcastle Theatre Royal

The Wizard of Oz

Newcastle Theatre Royal 

Until Sunday 21 April 2024

This brash and breezy reboot brings some high energy glitz to the family favourite whilst the terrific cast bring all the heart and humour of the original, cleverly delivering a show that should delight both new audiences and traditionalists alike.

I’m very familiar with this show, both in its original incarnation and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation, but this is the first time I have seen Lloyd-Webber’s version. Understandably, given the age of the show, this makes a much bigger departure from the original. The changes include insertion of new numbers by Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice, for instance, to flesh out the role of the Wicked Witch of the West and to add more of a big finish to the show, the original having a quiet sort of wind-down to the end that may be a little understated for modern audiences.

These songs stand out in their pop sensibilities amongst the gentler songs of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and they vary in their effectiveness, though I enjoyed the Red Shoes Blues, delivered very effectively by The Vivienne, stylishly statuesque and having a great time as the witch. Also, Already Home, though oddly reminiscent of an Abba song, delivers the required power to the finale.

Overall, though, this is an affectionate adaptation, keeping the spirit and much of the text of the original, though there are a few comic lines tailored to modern audiences. It is imaginatively staged, with Colin Richmond’s minimal but effective scenery augmented by Alex Clarke’s colourful video. Scene changes were slickly delivered by the talented ensemble, a comparatively small team who worked like trojans and delivered Shay Barclay’s engaging choreography with panache.

As to the principals, Aviva Tulley had just the right blend of spirit and sweetness for Dorothy, with real vocal power. Benjamin Yates, in the dual role of Hunk and the scarecrow, was excellent. Loose-limbed and athletic, he was charm personified, acting, singing and dancing with equal skill and doing a great job of keeping everything together in his pivotal role.

Femi Akinfolarin was a funny and affecting Tin Man, with some great body-popping moves as he gradually emerged from his rusted state. This seemed like one of the most effective modernisations, presumably resulting from the original casting of Ashley Banjo in the role, though I don’t know if Banjo could have matched Akinfolarin’s acting and singing chops.

In the role of the Cowardly Lion, Nic Greenshields was a delight. Towering over the other characters and solidly built, he naturally had great presence, but his characterisation was terrific. I can personally testify that the role is one of the most rewarding in musical theatre and Greenshields made the most of it. He didn’t miss a gag, verbal or visual, and sang splendidly. I was disappointed that he didn’t get the opportunity to sing King of The Forest but that was probably about balancing the three characters more evenly.

Emily Bull was a perky and strong-voiced Glinda, zipping about on a pink scooter that looked straight out of the Barbie movie, as well as a sympathetic Aunt Em. David Burrows gave solid support as a weary Uncle Henry and a chirpy Ozian major domo.

Touring productions usually need a famous name to get bums on seats and sometimes they turn out to be the weak link. Not this time. Allan Stewart, who you may remember as a comedy impressionist on TV, has had a solid career in musicals and gave a first-rate performance as the bumbling Wizard, all chuckles and warmth. The biggest name, The Vivienne, drag race legend and Dancing on Ice finalist, showed she is a musical theatre performer of real ability and, needless to say, she looked amazing!

So, if some of the musical interjections weren’t to my taste and if the heavily miked ensemble numbers, clearly augmented by vocal tracks, were a bit loud and brassy, these are small gripes. This is a warm-hearted, slick, funny and thoroughly enjoyable show that delivers everything a family audience could want. All credit to the director, Nikolai Foster - and this outstanding cast.

Review: Jonathan Cash

Tickets:

The Wizard of Oz plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 16 – Sunday 21 April 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

15/04/2024

News: Ambassador Theatre Group Becomes ATG Entertainment

 Ambassador Theatre Group Becomes ATG Entertainment, underpinned by a new proposition: “Passion Behind Performance

Ambassador Theatre Group, a leading live entertainment organisation, and operator of both the Sunderland Empire and the Stockton Globe in the North East, today announced that it is rebranding as ATG Entertainment. The transformation is accompanied by a refreshed logo, design language and brand proposition: “Passion Behind Performance”.


“Now is the right time to change our name to ATG Entertainment, modernise our look and strengthen our brand proposition,” said Ted Stimpson, CEO of ATG Entertainment. “Over the past few years, we have grown quickly and, with 64 venues and over 11,500 people across Europe and North America, we are pleased to unify the Group with a brand that reflects the breadth of our business today. We are all deeply committed to supporting our Producers as they put on incredible productions that excite, move and touch our audiences and I believe this is perfectly captured with our new brand proposition, “Passion Behind Performance.”

The new name, refreshed logo and design language reflect the Company’s evolution from theatre operator and capture the increasing variety of its content across music, comedy and events. The brand proposition, “Passion Behind Performance”, powerfully underscores the Group’s ongoing purpose, commitment, and dedication to support and enable producers and promoters to stage shows that entertain over 18 million people each year.

Kaiser Chiefs at Stockton Globe
Photo: Lloyd Stranaghan


Stimpson added: “We are proud of our strong heritage and foundations that have been built over 30 years. The shows created with our producers for theatregoers by the Jujamcyn team on Broadway, and the unforgettable entertainment brought by Mehr-BB to our European audiences, have been transformational to the One Company we are today.”


11/04/2024

Preview: Cluedo 2 at Darlington Hippodrome

Strictly Champion Ellie Leach to Star in Cluedo 2 at Darlington Hippodrome

 

Cluedo 2

Darlington Hippodrome

Tuesday 8 - Saturday 12 October 2024

 

Ellie Leach is to star in the world premier UK tour production of Cluedo 2 which will be coming to Darlington Hippodrome in October.

Starring Casualty’s Jason Durr as Colonel Mustard and Ellie Leach – the reigning Strictly Come Dancing champion – as Miss Scarlett, Cluedo 2 is based on the classic Hasbro board game, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Ellie won the hearts of the nation as she waltzed her way to victory (with dance partner Vito) to win the Strictly Come Dancing Glitterball Trophy in December. She is also known to millions of viewers as Faye Windass in Coronation Street. During her 13 years on the soap, Ellie was involved in various memorable storylines and nominated for numerous acting awards.

Ellie Leach - Photo: Danielle Baguley

West End actor and TV favourite Jason Durr was most recently seen as David Hide in BBC One’s Casualty, (a role he played for seven years from 2016), audiences will also recognise Jason from his numerous other roles, including the motorbike riding policeman Mike Bradley from ITV’s hugely popular series, Heartbeat.

Ellie Leach said: “I’ve really enjoyed bringing Miss Scarlett to life on stage. It’s so much fun to perform this iconic character and to see audiences of all ages having such a good time at every show, so I’m really thrilled to be extending the tour.”

Jason Durr said: “I’m delighted to be continuing as Colonel Mustard in Cludeo 2. The audience reaction during our first few weeks of performances has been fantastic and I can’t wait to bring this hilarious whodunnit to many more audiences around the UK.”

The cast is completed by Jack Bennett (Wadsworth), Hannah Boyce (Mrs Peacock), Dawn Buckland (Mrs White), Liam Horrigan (Mr Black), Edward Howells (Professor Plum), Tiwai Muza (PC Silver) and Gabriel Paul (Reverend Green) with Kara Alberts-Turner, Audrey Anderson and Henry Lawes.

Following the huge success of the critically acclaimed original play, Cluedo is back on stage with a brand new, original comedy mystery, set in the swinging 60’s. Written by one of the UK’s most successful TV and stage writing duos, BAFTA Award winning writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, (Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Dreamboats and Petticoats) and directed by Mark Bell (The Play That Goes Wrong, A Comedy About a Bank Robbery), who will bring the action of this hilarious whodunnit to life.

As the bodies pile up, our colourful characters - The Honourable Mrs Emerald Peacock, Colonel Eugene Mustard, ‘Professor’ Alex Plum, Miss Annabel Scarlett, ‘The Reverend’ Hal Green and the housekeeper Mrs White - move from room to room, trying to escape the murderer and survive the night. Cluedo 2, will keep audiences guessing right up to the final moments, and budding detectives of all ages, from 8 to 80 and beyond, can watch for the clues and unravel the secrets, as they try to work out whodunnit… with what… and where!

 Tickets:

Cluedo 2 runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Tuesday 8 to Saturday 12 October. For more information or to book visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk or call the Box Office on 01325 405405.

Preview: The Wizard of Oz at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 THE VIVIENNE ON BECOMING THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST

The Wizard of Oz

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Tuesday 16 – Sunday 21 April 2024.

 

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner and Dancing on Ice finalist, The Vivienne will play The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz when it visits Newcastle Theatre Royal this month, we caught up with her to find out more about getting into character for her first theatre role...

What can audiences expect when they come see this version of The Wizard of Oz?

It's the most iconic story ever told, I think, and this version is definitely very true to the original movie, starring the amazing Judy Garland, that we all know and love. This version is beautiful, with the costumes, the numbers, the original songs from the film and the new score from Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s produced by Newcastle's own Michael Harrison, and we're also being directed by Nikolai Foster, so we're in the most amazing hands. It's a treat for everyone.

How would you describe your version of The Wicked Witch of the West?

She's glamorous; a Bette Davis, Joan Crawford-esque kind of character. She's fabulous, a strong woman and very misunderstood, but Dorothy's a very strong character too. The costumes are out of this world, they’re created by Rachael Canning, and I tell her it's like The Wicked Witch of the West is going to The Met Gala!

Is this your first stage acting role? Have you found it challenging?

I've acted on TV before, but this is my first theatre role. I pinch myself every day. It's probably been the best experience of my life so far. Just the rehearsal process alone was wonderful - being surrounded by the most amazing, talented and creative people, and for them to welcome me with open arms I feel very blessed. I keep feeling like I'm the one that's ended up in Oz and that I'm going to wake up in Kansas once more and realise it was all a dream. Those iconic lines like 'I'm melting' and 'Fly, my pretties' are screamed into the abyss though, and it's challenging to find the places in my voice where that’s not going to kill me every night!

How do you channel your inner witch?

I've been watching some of my favourite witches throughout the years, like Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus, and I kind of borrow from them. Along with Bette, I'm borrowing from Angelica Houston in The Witches, Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. I've made a concoction of all of them, along with the original Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz film, of course. I actually have a tattoo of her on my leg.

What are you enjoying most about taking The Wizard of Oz around the country?

I love touring. I tour a lot and it's the camaraderie between the cast that I really love. It's like you make a new family every six months once you start a new project, it's about making those bonds as well as getting to put on an amazing show and put smiles on people's faces. Backstage is always so much fun and you can't beat getting to travel around the country. You can't match it. I'm so, so lucky.

Featuring the iconic original score from the Oscar-winning MGM film, including Over The Rainbow, Follow The Yellow Brick Road and We're Off To See the Wizard - with additional songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice - this spectacular production will be a magical experience for all the family.

Join The Vivienne as The Wicked Witch of the West, along with Dorothy, Toto and their friends on an unforgettable adventure down the yellow brick road to the merry old Land of Oz. There’s no place like Newcastle Theatre Royal when The Wizard of Oz lands for its weeklong run!

Tickets:

The Wizard of Oz plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 16 – Sunday 21 April 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

Preview: Wor Bella at Newcastle Theatre Royal

 Local Women’s Football Hero Bella Reay Remembered

 

Wor Bella

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Saturday 27 & Sunday 28 April 2024

 

The incredible story of women’s football during WW1 will be brought to life on the Newcastle Theatre Royal stage later this,  in a heartfelt play penned by local writer Ed Waugh, whose other works include Hadaway Harry and Carrying David.

The North East of England was the home of women's football during World War One. Like the rest of the country, women's football teams were formed to raise money for wounded soldiers, widows and orphans.

After men's conscription was introduced in 1916 and over one million women entered the factories to save the war effort - hundreds of women's football teams emerged, and thousands turned out to watch matches.

The Munitionettes Cup was unique to the North East and the top team in the region was Blyth Spartans Ladies (Northumberland dock workers), who defeated Bolckow Vaughan (a steel works from Middlesbrough) at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough, in May 1918, in front of 22,000 people. 

Blyth's hero of the team was Bella Reay, who scored 130 goals in 33 matches and was the ‘Alan Shearer’ of her day. Now her story is being brought to life on stage at Newcastle Theatre Royal. 

A one-woman show, starring Catherine Dryden and directed by Russell Floyd, Wor Bella is about WW1 women's football through the eyes of Bella and the spontaneous rise, and tragic fall, of these heroic football teams who would attract in excess of 4,000 people to their charity matches.

Chief executive of Newcastle Theatre Royal, Marianne Locatori said: "We are delighted to welcome Ed back to the theatre with Wor Bella. Following the success of Hadaway Harry a few years ago, we are proud to host another North East drama; it is wonderfully inspirational and fully deserves the accolades it has received. We are sure that our audiences will be captivated by the story, and we are proud to once again, be putting North East talent onto our stage.”

Wor Bella marks a return to Newcastle Theatre Royal for Ed Waugh, whose regional classic Hadaway Harry proved popular with audiences in 2017.

A total of 53,000 spectators attended the women’s football match on Boxing Day in 1920 and the Football Association feared women's football would detract from men's football which they controlled.

Supporting workers in industrial battles was seen as political and as women's football teams raised money for destitute families during the Miners’ Strike at the time, on December 5, 1921, the FA banned women's football.

The women's game remained banned in England until 1971.

According to FIFA more than 29 million women and girls now play football worldwide, bringing with it the quest for greater skills, professionalism, struggles against sexism and the battle for equal pay.

 

Tickets:

Wor Bella plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Saturday 27 & Sunday 28 April 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

10/04/2024

REVIEW: Limelight - on tour

CaroleW Productions, with support from Newcastle Theatre Royal, presents

Limelight by Janet Plater

The tour has launched in Newcastle Theatre Royal’s newly refurbished Studio Theatre, Until Saturday 13 April 2024, before touring the North East & Cumbria until Saturday 4 May 2024


Direction Christina Berriman Dawson

Composer Wilf Stone

Design Consultant Lee Ward


A new tale about life backstage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal, by local writer Janet Plater, digs into the social conventions of the time whilst sharing a number of heart-warming moments with the audience at the newly refurbished studio theatre before heading off on tour around the region.


It is October 1854 and a big star is about to arrive backstage before her appearance on the stage. Most of the action takes place in the dressing room that the three actors will share. Dayna Dixon appears as the more experienced and confident rep actor Emily. Gossiping with her is the slightly more naïve Fanny who is more star struck. Caitlin Fairlamb ensures that her character is more star struck and they assume others must know better about what they are talking about.

In this changing room the audience is let into a safe oasis that they can share and freely talk about societal expectations. Whilst Fanny feels that she is only there as her mother works in the costume department, Emily has clearly been around for a while.

Eventually a big entrance is made by the Geordie star Julia St George, who has arrived direct from London in the company of an unseen male star. When I say a big entrance, Julia is in need of the loo though this is quickly sorted. Rebecca Withers delivers a performance that has the assured confidence that one would expect from a big name. Having said that - this is 1854 and Christina Berriman Dawson's direction ensures that the lead rehearses her lines with over exaggerated poise and actions. There is going to be nothing naturalistic about her delivery.

From a theatrical point of view - 1854 is clearly an era of learn your lines and don't worry about rehearsing with others - or considering how their onstage character feels. This leads to a number of lighter moments that the modern audience react to.

Julia, though, is a gossip. On her way to the theatre she became aware that the Newcastle coroner was investigating reports of a dead baby dumped in the pit next to Eldon Square. She is alarmed by these facts and women's place in mid 19th century England is laid out to bare. The three ladies also discuss their relationships and acknowledge the freedoms that they get as actors - especially when Fanny announces that she is meeting someone after the show.

Composer Wilf Stone has added a number of short songs to punctuate the action. The combination of voices in these acapella moments is delightful to hear.

The lighting helps set up the atmosphere in this space. From the "candlelit" beginning through to the quayside fire - the audience get the right impression. After all this is an era when people thought that bad smells where the vectors of disease.


Press night ran at about 90 minutes including an interval. I did finding myself wanting to find out more about the characters. Most of act 2 acts more like a post script in which some loose ends are tied up. The show could probably run for an hour straight through if it was put on the fringe.

Limelight was an entertaining show that I can warmly recommend. Three talented actors help make the characters relatable. The mixture of funny moments and harsh reality checks gives the story texture. Dawson's direction makes effective use of the space available. I also look forward to seeing more shows in the studio theatre too.


Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos taken at Theatre Royal studio theatre

Tickets:

For more details and to book tickets, visit www.carolewproductions.com.


Suitability: 12+ 


Limelight Tour Dates & Venues

Tuesday 9 & Friday 12 April, 7pm - Newcastle Theatre Royal Studio

Wednesday 10, Thursday 11 & Saturday 13 April, 1pm & 7pm - Newcastle Theatre Royal Studio

Tuesday 16 April, 7.30pm - Gala Durham

Wednesday 17 April, 6pm - Blyth Library

Thursday 18 April, 7.30pm - Middleton & Todridge Village Hall *

Friday 19 April, 7.30pm - Newton & Bywell Village Hall *

Saturday 20 April, 7.30pm - Arnside Educational Institute *

Sunday 21 April, 7.30pm - Helsington & Brigsteer Village Hall *

Tuesday 23 April, 6.30pm - Cramlington Library

Wednesday 24 April, 7.30pm - Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham

Thursday 25 April 7.30pm - Arts Centre Washington

Friday 26 April, 7.30pm - Hamsteels Community Centre

Saturday 27 April 7.30pm - Saltburn Community Theatre

Sunday 28 April 3pm - St John's Hall, Meadowfield

Tuesday 30 April, 7.30pm - Coundon & Leeholme Community Centre

Wednesday 1 May 1pm & 7.30pm - North Shields The Exchange 1856

Thursday 2 May 7.30pm - Alnwick Playhouse

Friday 3 May 7.30pm - Trimdon Grange Community Centre

Saturday 4 May 1pm & 7pm - Gosforth Civic Theatre

* These dates are part of the Highlights Rural Touring Scheme.

News: Arabella Arnott and Lindsay Rodden selected for Live Theatre’s South of France residency with Shelagh Stephenson

Arabella Arnott and Lindsay Rodden selected for Live Theatre’s South of France residency with Shelagh Stephenson

North East writers Arabella Arnott and Lindsay Rodden have been selected out of a highly competitive process at Live Theatre Newcastle, to spend a week writing in the South of France hosted by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Shelagh Stephenson.

The groundbreaking initiative has been set up for women over 35 whose creative work has been affected or paused due to child care, caring duties and other life circumstances. Both women will work on new plays with Shelagh Stephenson’s guidance over the ten days in May 2024.

Shelagh Stephenson

Explaining the importance of such an initiative Stephenson said: “Many women feel they’ve missed the boat. It takes a huge leap of faith to write anything at all, confidence ebbs and flow. I wanted to offer a bit of space for writers to work in peace and quiet, in beautiful surroundings, away from domestic responsibilities. (I’ll do the cooking). And hopefully, by the end of the stay, they’ll feel they’ve made some progress with the work.”

Selected writer Arabella Arnott said: “I'm over the moon to have been selected for this incredible opportunity. It's just the confidence boost I needed after a year of battling breast cancer. I'm  so excited to focus on my writing again.”  

Lindsay Rodden added: “I'm blown away by Shelagh's generosity and kindness. I'll be doing nothing but writing, reading and eating - my three favourite activities! I'm looking forward to my first time abroad in ten years, some much-needed quiet, a complete lack of responsibility, and a deep and abiding peace.”

Arabella Arnott and Lindsay Rodden

Live Theatre’s Artistic Director Jack McNamara said: “Writing on home turf is great but sometimes you just have to get away. I am so happy for these two writers and somewhat jealous of the week they will spend in idyllic France thinking, writing and soaking up Shelagh’s brilliance (whilst eating her food). We had a huge amount of interest in this opportunity and pretty much everyone who applied was deserving. So we really hope to keep being able to offer opportunities like this when there is clearly a demand for them. I can’t wait to see what work is created over the week, bringing a sprinkle of France back to the North East.”


To learn more about Live Theatre and get involved see www.live.org.uk