Friday, July 27, 2018

The Desert Queen - Arts Centre Washington - Review

The Desert Queen
Arts Centre Washington
26th July 2018

Hands On NE present this new play by David Farn - The Desert Queen: the Adventurous Life of Northern Hero Gertrude Bell
Directed by Neil Armstrong

Gertrude Bell is a name I have heard, without really knowing much about her beyond a vague awareness that she was a female adventurer. I have to admit I am somewhat ashamed that I did not know more about this amazing woman. Certainly I did not know that she was a local hero, nor the extent of her achievements - not just as a bold adventurer but as a political and social reformer.
David Farn's play is an enlightening, informative and entertaining piece of theatre.
Phillippa Wilson plays Gertrude Bell in what is essentially a monologue punctuated by interjections from the various male characters (and a French stepmother) who have an impact on her life. These characters are played by Brian Lonsdale. Phillippa Wilson creates a character who is bold and forthright, honest and sympathetic, with great compassion and humour. Brian Lonsdale bring equal amounts of humour to the play in the cameo roles he plays. He portrays her companions, her father, brother and stepmother and her lovers - he moves from one character to another with a flourish of head gear, or the straightening of his back, or the flick of a hand...each one presented with humour and each one clearly important to, and beloved of Gertrude Bell.
The audience is addressed throughout so that we feel we are part of the play - Gertrude recounts her life story to us - invites to share in the stories, and this makes it feel very personal. We do feel that we know Gertrude Bell by the end of the play.

There is an enormous amount of information given in this play. David Farn has given us the best history lesson, taught by someone with a love of the subject and we come away with so much knowledge without realising we were learning anything at all.

The Desert Queen is on tour until 6th August in various venues across the region and everyone should see it. Tickets are available online at or from the venues.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Tour dates and Venues
27th-28th July - Lit and Phil, Newcastle
30th July Winter Gardens, Sunderland
31st July Little Theatre, Cleadon
2nd Aug Fulwell Community Library
3rd-4th Aug The Exchange, N Shields
5th Aug City Theatre, Durham
6th Aug Customs house, S Shields

Hands On NE are crowdfunding to support the development of the tour. Click the link  to give your support The Desert Queen .

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cats -review- Newcastle Theatre Royal

Newcastle Musical Theatre Company

Newcastle Theatre Royal
24th July 2018

So...... I have been waiting to see this show since they announced it 2 years ago and it didn't disappoint!!

The Music is written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and is based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S Eliot.

Basically it's just poems about cats made into a musical.

Now Newcastle Musical Theatre always put on great shows and I enjoy them all the time but unfortunately not everyone was paying attention especially the people sitting behind me and talking throughout so thank you to them.

This show must have been hard work and I have to say credit goes to the production team including director Sandra Laidler and Liam Gilbert who was MD.

There are many  jellicle cats in the world and we meet lots in this show and I'll try to introduce as many as I can but please don't kill me if I forget (I only have one life not 9).

We see them in their natural habitat and see how they react to each other and their enemies.

Where to bloody start? Well Age before beauty so Old Deuteronomy is the oldest cat and has lived many lives he is admired and loved by the other cats and was played by the wise Ken Allen and I can understand why, his stage presence is amazing.

Paul Dixon needs to have a mention as Munkostrap who just bought something to the role that just grabbed your attention from the start to the finish telling the main part of the story well but breathe and relax dude.

Munkostrap tells us that Old Deuteronomy has the power to give one cat a new life, but who does he chose?

Jack Hindmarch who is a fantastic dancer played the double role of Quaxo and Mistofolees.

Rum Tum Tugger was played by Jamie Douglass who people may remember from West Side Story where he played Tony.

James Forster plays Shimbleshanks really well and he is a good addition to NTMC.
His singing for Shimbleshanks the railway cat was great.

That part was fantastic and really well choreographed by Sandra Laidler.

Lauren Gordon and Bryony Souza Hawkins make a good vocal harmony especially when they sing Macavity who was played by the ever young Ty - Roach Thompson.

Macavity is the Evil Cat who seems to do all the evil things but he never gets caught!!
I'm sure we all know someone like that.

Jellylorum and Jennyanydots where both full of life and had great voices when there wasn't technical problems which you never plan against (Sod's law)They were played by Helen Cash and Nathalie Baxter.

Charles Doherty didn't just play two characters but 3.

Someone who has been in more lead roles than I can remember back in the day is Shireen Gale who plays Griddlebone.
I didn't realise who she was at first but looking back I'm surprised.

Old Gus was played by one of the older men in the show Dan Greener who is only in his 40s I believe.

The terrible twosome Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie were played with so much passion and energy by Bethanie Johnson (who I want to congratulate her as she's getting married in less than 4 weeks) and Carl Luke.
They do cartwheels in quick succession and tonight they pulled it off (Just)!!

This is the only time in the show that there isn't that many people on stage and they had freedom to roam the stage in their mischievous manner.

Shannon Thompson and Laura Wood also need a mention as Victoria and Jemima respectively.

I also have to give a mention to Jessica Carle whose mother I had the joy of coming with (who is also Sandra's younger sister by 5 years she did tell me to say this so don't kill me)!!

OMG I nearly forget Grizabella played by Jojo Hatfield who's voice made my hair stand on end especially when she sang Memory.
Grizabella is an old cat on the edge of society who just wants to be loved.

I'm not going to spoil the ending for you.

The production was amazing and I can't tell you how fantastic the show is you just have to see it.

The Make up was fab and lighting was amazing   the dancing was great and it's definately a show to watch.

2019 is SPAMALOT and its going to be great.

But I have to say this show was PURRRFECT.

Reuben Hiles

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Heaton! - Review - People's Theatre

The People's Theatre
17th July 2018

Heaton! The Peoples Theatre 17th July 2018 presented in association with Shoe Tree Arts.

Heaton! Is a play inspired by local area of Heaton and the Great Exhibition of the North and is an original production for The People’s Theatre. Upon my arrival my ears were greeted with a full band playing, which was nice, the band was also featured in the play and performed at the end. The play itself was a cornucopia of ideas mixing several genres, including musical aspects, live film action, a blend of real and fictitious characters and stories, set against a backdrop of footage on a giant screen (which wouldn’t look out of place in a cinema).

There was a boatload (quite literally at one point) of cast, not all in speaking rolls, some just for the musical elements, which did make it feel like a musical in places, aside from the fact it actually had some plots to it (sorry I’m not a fan of musicals) The quality of the music was actually quite high too. Some of the characters included from Heaton’s illustrious past included: Lord Armstrong, engineer and original owner of Armstrong Park; Sir Ove Arup the engineer of the Sydney opera house; Sir Charles Parsons the inventor of the steam turbine; Lady Katharine Parsons, the founder of women’s engineering society; Colin Veitch, Heaton’s footballing wonder kid who played in a successful Newcastle United side in the 1800s and early 1900s, who was also co founder The People's Theatre and later a journalist with the Evening Chronicle; prominent feminist and suffragist activist Florence Nightingale Harrison Bell; Rachel Parsons, engineer and advocate for women's employment rights; Edith Stoney, mathematician who helped Charles Parsons in his gas turbine calculations.; Jorn Oberg Utzon a Danish architect notable for designing the Sydney Opera House, and finally George Stanley a historian who narrates much of the action.  

What was very nice was the brilliant original music compositions created specifically for this production by Ken Patterson and Richard Scott. The acting was good and in one of the most enjoyable moments the narrator said Newcastle Upon Tyne instead of Newcastle council, (I guess you had to be there!).  One of the reviews from a guy in the audience made me laugh he said “I thought I was going to fall asleep, but I didn’t it was good”. Praise indeed.

There were so many different stories going on in it, too many to mention, but all weaved into a nice overall narrative capturing the early 1900s in Heaton very well. It was also funny in places, - it seemed to have everything mixing the various genres seamlessly. A whole year's work went into the production and it’s evident, you can see the love that’s gone into it - this is people who are clearly proud of their local heritage. The place was packed out like I’ve rarely seen it, I had a blast and learned a lot and you will too. Get down and share in some local pride! 

Frank Cromartie Murphy

Friday, June 29, 2018

Hot Flush! - Washington Arts Centre - Review

Hot Flush!
Arts Centre Washington
28th June 2018

Presented by Washington Theatre Group
Directed by Angela Marshall
Musical Director Tim Jasper

Hot Flush! is billed as the naughtiest musical in town. In case the title hasn't already given you an inkling, you need to know that this is a menopausal musical - following the everyday experiences of three women as they cope - or not - with mood swings, temperature swings, libido swings, you name it - if it swings they cope with it! Four women united in hormonal imbalance and everything that that entails. Their mostly absent husbands bear the brunt of their discontent, the blame for all the unfairness and inconvenience of the menopause laid at their door. Myra's husband leaves her for a younger, prettier woman, Helen's husband rather selfishly dies unexpectedly, Ingrid's husband retires to his shed, while Sylvia's husband simply can't keep up with her HRT induced sex drive.

The four female cast members give strong performances. The delivery of the lines is well timed and punchy - there are a lot of funny one liners in this  - and the singing is accomplished - some of the harmonies are beautifully sung. There were some problems with the sound at the beginning which might have floored some, but they carried on with professional determination. The issue was quickly remedied and the show went on!

Emma Simpson is assured as Myra, the divorce lawyer who is gradually falling apart in the face of competition from a younger woman. Her venom towards her recalcitrant husband is palpable and she delivers some of the best lines of the show including my favourite - "if she was any younger she'd be a foetus!"

Sarah Clarke plays Helen - a woman lost in a world where her husband is gone and their daughter, off at university is drifting away from her. Her character reminds me of Tracey from Birds of a Feather. I think her performance was the most natural feeling of the four. 

Joanne McLernon is well cast as the American Sylvia - strong willed, physical, she drives the four women forward, sometimes intentionally - making them take up a fitness regime, sometimes unintentionally by becoming the source of scandal and threatening the friendships. 

Ingrid Middleton - is a delight as Jessica, pillar of the church and menopausal shoplifter, doggedly avoiding the advances of the amorous vicar! 

Matt Lowe - as the token man in the show has his work cut out - he plays all the male characters from the son, to the husband, to the lover, and an array of other random men that the women encounter - barman, vicar, doctor, Chinese herbalist, referee, security guard...the list goes on. He sports an array of costumes, wigs, hats, and saucy shorts and shows a fair amount of barefaced cheek in his performance and, perhaps not surprisingly considering the number of costume changes, he sports more than a few misplaced wigs!

This is a naughty musical - it is full of cheek, and sauce! It's a little bit rude and a little bit sweary. It's also very funny and women of a certain age will recognise, empathise and roar with laughter at some of the situations. Leave your PC head at home - there's nothing politically correct about four menopausal women and one poor beleaguered man! It's a lot of fun and a credit to the theatre group that they carry it off with a deal of flair.

Hot Flush is only on till Saturday - grab your girlfriends, a fan and ticket and go see it!

Denise Sparrowhawk

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Wind in the Willows -Review - Royalty Theatre

The Wind in the Willows
Royalty Theatre
25th June 2018

The Royalty Theatre are ending their 2017/18 season with a great classic children's story. Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, adapted for the stage by Mike Kenney, tells the unfortunate tale of Mr Toad of Toad Hall, his foolhardy adventures, and the attempts of his riverside friends, Ratty, Mole and Badger to save himself from his folly.

The first thing that sprang to mind at the thought of a stage production of this story, was how would they portray the characters? Would they go down the full animal costume and masks route - unlikely as the costs to do this well would surely blow the budget - or would they eschew the physical  appearance and concentrate more on the mannerisms of each animal?  I'm happy to say that the directors - Andrew Barella and Nikki Slack have opted for a half-way house - or maybe a three-quarter house. Some deft makeup gave each character a just a hint of the physical appearance, a little black nose, a sprinkling of whiskers, (quite dapper whiskers on the part of Ratty), bold stripes for Badger and a green forehead and fringe for Mr Toad. The rest of the characterisation is entirely done through the acting skills of the cast. Damien Wood in the guise of Badger moves and speaks ponderously in his thoughtful deep brock voice. Toad (full of his own importance) pontificates about his own greatness, sidling in and hijacking conversations, he oozes charm one moment and is petulant as a toddler the next. Billy Towers has the audience laughing out loud at the antics of Toad almost from the first moment he appears on stage.

The stars of the show though are Mole and Ratty. Two animals who form an unexpected and lasting friendship. Lee Wilkins excels at the arch look or eyeroll  towards the audience to highlight a ridiculous statement from Toad. Throughout the play he is constantly living his character - even when the focus is not on him, he contributes a look or shrug, just the smallest movement to add something to the scene. His use of facial expression and physical humour puts me in mind of Stan Laurel.

Ratty and Mole messing about in boats 

Rose Whittle bounces around the stage portraying a Mole filled with curiosity, with the attention span of a gnat! Full of enthusiasm for life and adventure she bounces from scene to scene, making friends with everyone and stumbling into her own misadventures. Like the proverbial cat, Mole's curiosity constantly gets her into scrapes, and the practical Ratty is always there to help her out. There is a great chemistry on stage between all the characters but especially between these two, which creates an equally great response in the audience.

The main characters are ably supported by the ensemble cast who play a variety of minor characters from weasels to washerwomen (Julie Carney), Otters to posh ladies (Amy Dowell), hedgehogs to Engine Drivers to Rabbits (Charlotte Bishop and Ben Harrison) and the reluctant Horse, Train Guard and posh gentleman (Aidan Evans) each one adds their own bit of sparkle to the tale.

Mention should go to the technical team under Declan Mather for the music (strains of a spaghetti western), sound effects and lighting which create the sense mystery and magic, suspense and apprehension. And especially to David Farn and John Bailey for the set and props - the motor cars and the boats are an hilarious addition. Costumes are made by Laura Finlay and Sue Bailey and make-up is by Nik Grundison. Altogether they have produced a great set for the show.

This is a fun, warm and entertaining family show and is a fabulous feel good ending to their season. You'll laugh (probably more than you should if Toad's make-up gives way under the heat of the lights again) and you will leave the theatre with a happy smile on your face. What more could you want?

Tickets are just £8 (£6.50 conc) and can be booked online, over the phone 0333 666 3366 or in person at theatre. Full details here .

Photo credit: Royalty Theatre

Denise Sparrowhawk


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Westovians - Preview - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Durham

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Durham,  
Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th July 2018.   

Westovians final show of the year is a comedy written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood. It is an irreverent and anarchic take on the story of the Lindisfarne Gospels. A sketch-based play, featuring around 40 characters played by just three actors, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Durham, covers more than 1400 years of English History in just 90 hilarious minutes. It included encounters with many famous historical figures, including five Kings of England, a Saint, several Vikings and Monks, a Leper, a Spin-Doctor, the Easter Bunny, and of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Tickets are just£8 (Tuesday and £9 (Wednesday – Saturday), and are available online at Ticketsource, or from the Visitor Information Centre at The Word. Tickets will be available from the Theatre Box Office each night during the performance from 10th July. Theatre doors open at 7pm, and the performance starts at 7.30pm. 

Further details on the show are available here .

Watch out for the following outside hires coming up soon too! 

  • Friday 27th and Saturday 28th July – The Blue Flamingos 60’s Review, a live band bringing you hits from both sides of the Atlantic (The Kinks, The Searchers, The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, The Mamas and the Papas to name but a few). Further information is available here. Tickets priced £12.50 are available at the Westovian’s Ticketsource.
  • Friday 14th (7.30pm) and Saturday 15th September (2.30pm/7.30pm) – Ed Waugh’s The Great Joe Wilson, a play with Geordie songs, about the life of the undisputed North East concert hall superstar. It starts Micky Cochrane, Sarah Boulter and Phil Corbitt, and is directed by Russell Floyd, with Joe’s words put to music by Pete Scott. Please see here for further information. Tickets cost £16 and are available at the Westovian’s Ticketsource.
  • Thursday 20th – Saturday 22nd September – the Gilbert and Sullivan Society Concert. Please see their Facebook page for further details.
  • Saturday 15th (7pm) and Sunday 16th December (2pm/6pm) – we welcome back Encore for their Christmas show. Please see their Facebook page for further details.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Preview - Wind in the Willows - Royalty Theatre


Sunderland's Royalty Theatre will close their 2017/18 season with the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows.

Kenneth Grahame’s most famous work has been a family favourite for over a century.  This fantastic new adaptation by Mike Kenny follows the adventures of Ratty, Mole and Badger as they explore the Wild Wood and try to keep Toad of Toad Hall out of trouble.

Ratty (Lee Wilkins) and Mole (Rose Whittle) Credit: Royalty Theatre

A superb cast includes Lee Wilkins as Ratty, Royalty newcomer Rose Whittle as Mole and Billy Towers as Mr Toad. 

The show runs from 25th to 30th June with 7.30pm starts, and a matinée has been included in the run, at 2.15pm on Saturday 30th June. Doors open 45 mins before curtain up.

Tickets can be booked in advance via or on 0333 666 3366, and are priced at £8 (£6.50 concessions).