Wednesday, April 25, 2018

My Romantic History - Review - Live Theatre

My Romantic History
Live Theatre
24th April 2018

I got to admit I’m not a romantic comedy type of guy, but I thought I’d give this a try anyway. Written by Daniel Jackson back in 2008 and originally set in Glasgow, this play has been adapted across the world and now it was Newcastle’s time. This was a laugh from beginning to end. Highlighting the struggles of what it is to be human and especially how complicated and annoyingly superficial dating can become. There are great one liners right from the off and much to my pleasant and geeky self a few off the hand terminator references.

The stage is sparse, but well put together and the sound minimal, mostly background sounds. Transitions between scenes were seamless and when characters, locations and time periods changed it was always obvious to the audience, thanks a lot to the staging and projectors, which beemed local locations and time periods on the walls.

The play came in three acts, first from Tom’s point of view, second Amy’s point of view and finally a coming together of viewpoints in the finally act. Tom has just moved to start a new job in an office and goes through all the usual annoying pitfalls of working in a new place, the dreaded drinks after work with colleagues you already spend too much time with. The invitations to events so boring you’d literally rather watch paint dry and the awkward small talk you’d rather not get involved in.

Tom is introduced to Amy a work colleague he ends up having drinks with after work and they some how get involved with each other. Technically a three hander, but all the actors play several different parts as the scenes, time periods and locations fluctuate, We see scenes in the form of inner monologues of what the characters really think why they awkwardly interact with each other. The acting is great, one of my favourite lines is “sometimes as a woman if you end up with a man who isn’t a rapist, or a retard then you’ve done quite well”.

Brian Lonsdale plays Tom with a very dry wit and excellent comedic timing, as with all of the actors. Amy is played by Bryony Corrigan who’s sarcastic wit is cutting. Amy McAllister plays Sasha and many other parts such as Tom’s old girlfriends and mates. Her accents and male character portrayals are spot on and she is also very funny. The cast is incredibly versatile and charismatic. The pace is fast moving and has a compelling narrative. The play reveals the fragile and complex nature of love, sex and our need for relationships. Overall one of the best theatre plays I’ve seen in a long while, thoroughly believable and true to life...highly recommended.

Playing at the live theatre until Saturday the 12th May.
Meet the writer talk and Q&A Saturday 21st April after 2pm show
Meet the cast talk and Q&A Thursday 26th April after 7.30pm show

 Frank Cromartie Murphy

Friday, April 20, 2018

Steptoe and Son - The Forum - Review

Steptoe and Son
The Forum, Northallerton
19th April 2018

This has been something of a week for iconic shows. The latest being a stage show of Steptoe and Son from Hambledon Productions. This show is coming to the end of its year long tour this week, and if you didn't take advantage of it while it was in your neck of the woods then you have missed a treat! I caught it at The Forum in Northallerton.

Even before curtains up, you are transported back in time as Ron Grainer's unmistakeable "Old Ned" theme tune issues from the speakers. As the curtains open they reveal a front room, complete with cuckoo clock and skeleton (I forget, did that skeleton have a name?)

This stage production recreates a sample of episodes from the TV series. Each one is excruciatingly funny, from Harold's ball room dancing to Albert eating pickled onions in the bath tub. The actors Jeremy Smith (Albert) and John Hewer (Harold) capture the essence of the two characters - their mannerisms and speech, and especially Harold's laugh - perfectly. The interaction between the two is perfect - both the dialogue and the physical humour is spot on. The affection that the production team feel for the originals is clear throughout the performance.

This production is very funny and stays true to the spirit of the original TV show. It is a fitting tribute to both the writers, Galton and Simpson, and the actors Wilfred Bramble and Harry H. Corbett.

You have a last chance to see it at The Customs House in South Shields this weekend and I would highly recommend you make the trip! I guarantee you will come away humming the theme tune and muttering "You dirty old man...!"

Denise Sparrowhawk

Preview - Temple - Royalty Theatre



Peter Kelly and Lorna Breeze in rehearsal for Temple.
Credit: Royalty Theatre
The next production at Sunderland's Royalty Theatre will be Steve Waters’ political drama "Temple".  The play premiered at the Donmar Warehouse, London in May 2015.

Set amidst Occupy London's occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral in October 2011, the play is a fictionalised account based on rigorously researched fact, of events within the Church of England in reaction to the protests. The powers that be are compelled to close the cathedral’s doors and institute legal proceedings to remove the protesters.

Temple is the second production to be staged in the Royalty’s Studio Theatre this year, following the highly-acclaimed Five Kinds of Silence in January. A strong cast includes Peter Kelly, Lorna Breeze, Olivia Bowern and Nikki Slack. 

Plays remaining this season are Temple (25-28 April), Move Over Mrs Markham (21-26 May) and The Wind in the Willows (25-30 June). 

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

Any queries may be directed to the chairman, John Appleton, on 0797 730 4481 or via e-mail at

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Trainspotting - People's Theatre - Review

People's Theatre
17th April 2017

Back in the 90s, the iconic film was Trainspotting. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone had seen it. Everyone thought it was ground-breaking and un-missable. Everyone except me. I couldn't watch it. I knew of the book - I'm a librarian, obviously I knew about the book. And I knew that Irvine Welsh had written a piece of literature that pushed the boundaries. The film was equally as  ground-breaking - but I just couldn't watch it. I did try but couldn't get past the first few minutes of it - the lives it revealed were the antithesis of mine. I was working class, but I had more in common with the judgmental "posh wifeys" than I did with the cast of this film. So a challenging choice of play for me to come and watch and I admit I came with mixed feelings. There was every possibility that I would hate it, but I hope I am less judgmental now than I was in my shallow youth and I'm prepared to give it a go...

If you think that theatre is the stronghold of the middle classes then this is the production to change your mind. The stage is set with a backdrop of graphic, graffiti riddled walls and dirty broken windows, a heavy bass beat thrums out and a hint of dry ice drifts across the stage into the  auditorium. Our hands are stamped as we enter...Right from the start this is different to anything you might have experienced at the People's Theatre.

This is the story - a good story, told by Mark Renton - of a bunch of friends desperate to find an escape from the mind-numbing mundanity of life. They choose alcohol, drugs, sex, violence. Joe Mclaughlin plays the part of Renton to perfection - Renton is an intelligent addict, he knows his weakness, understands his needs, mocks the "experts" who try to understand him and cure him. He is more self aware than any of them and garners the sympathy of the audience with his mix of callous honesty and naïve vulnerability. Likewise Alison, played by Amy Herdman is a mix of hard-faced attitude hiding a soft underbelly. Between them Mclaughlin and Herdman deliver some of the most lyrical lines of the play - the poetic quality of the words at odds with the subject.

All of the cast perform out of their skins. There are moments of touching friendship, bonecracking violence, and of stomach churning hideousness. You know the toilet scene! I truly thought the woman next to me was in danger of losing her lunch! You will hate Franco Begbie (Adam Lowe), silently beg Tommy (Joe Robson) not to take the hit, and cry over his fate when he does.

You will be shocked, be revolted and be entertained by this group of misfit friends. You will hate them, and you will love them. You will care what becomes of them.

The innovative use of video to develop the back stories and push the narrative forward is brilliant, and powerful music - used sparingly - amps up the atmosphere. This is the boldest, most daring and most powerful production I have seen at the People's. It's not comfortable. It is a unrelenting, and an astonishing piece of theatre. You will leave the theatre questioning everything you thought you knew about addicts, and yourself.
It runs until Sat 21st April and you should not miss it, ken?           

Denise Sparrowhawk

Photos by Paula Smart

The Restless State - Alphabetti Theatre - Review

The Restless State  
Alphabetti Theatre
17th April 2018
This one man show written by Danielle Pearson and performed by Jesse Fox spans three different time lines, from three different people from the past (1989), the present (2018) and the future 2052. The general theme that connected all the time periods was political change. From the end of the Berlin wall, the day after brexit and the future referendum on a one child policy. The stage is sparse, but effective and the one man show switches from monologues to what equates to an audio narration of what is happening. Sound is used often and effectively creates atmosphere when needed, including music, sound effects and sound bites.  
There’s an underlying sense of nostalgia even in the distant future. The locations switch from Berlin (1989), London (2018) and Rome (2052). In the past hope is prevalent, yet the further we get into the future the more bleak we get. Due to the switching and the pace of the piece it can be confusing in places, but all becomes clear at the end. The plot quality varies and is best paced in 1989. Overall this was a very entertaining and evocative hour long piece and it felt something quite different from what I’m used to. If you like something a bit different, I definitely recommend checking this out. 
It runs at Alphabetti until Friday 20th April.
Frank Cromartie Murphy 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Whatever Happened to Vandal Raptor? - Vandal Factory - Review

Whatever Happened to Vandal Raptor?  
Vandal Factory @ TESTT Space  
12th April 2018

Written by Henry Raby
Directed by Natalie Quatermass

Punk is dead. Or is it? Vandal Raptor is a punk band - an imaginary one, dreamt up by Henry Raby. Henry Raby is a punk poet. As people arrive he welcomes us and politely asks if we'd like a badge, and would anyone mind being a gig promoter for the evening...? It doesn't involve much, just one line to read out..?

Once we are all seated, he welcomes us again and encourages us to practice some audience participation for later in the show. He is quietly spoken and too polite for a punk. Henry Raby is probably the politest punk you're likely to meet, but his heart beats with punk passion and conviction. He came to punk in the 00s and regrets the lost chances to see the great bands live. He can only dream of them...and so he has - creating Vandal Raptor, the best and only dinosaur punk band!

Through the course of the hour we learn about Bert, Hog, Izzy and Kim four friends who formed a band and were going to change the world - with three chords and dinosaur lyrics. We hear about their passion for change, for kicking back against the establishment and we see how, ten years after the band split, life and growing up has changed them, moulded them into uncomfortable conformity, blunted the enthusiasm and the passion,

This show is one man's love  affair with punk, it's about rebelling and conforming, about growing up and changing, and staying true to yourself and your beliefs. It's about passion and belief, and not allowing yourself to lose sight of what's important. Through a creative mix of music, poetry, and storytelling Henry Raby gives a tribute to the punk era that is both humorous and sad. He implores us not to allow the rebellious spirit of punk to die - and we end on the Vandal Raptor battle cry - "How do you stop from going extinct? Resist! Resist! Resist!"

The venue TESTT Space is a repurposed corporate office, brown cord carpet hiding all manor of establishment stains, and a dank, damp smell of neglect pervades it - very punk! It has been taken over as a community arts venue, offering workshops, exhibition and performance space and a testing ground for new ideas- not unlike, maybe, the Raptors' vision for the derelict old New Rose Pub.

On my way to the gig I passed a homeless guy in a shop doorway, in the rain. I put some loose change in his tin, apologised that it wasn't much. He thanked me cheerfully and wished me a good evening.  A taxi driver sitting warm in his cab a few metres away called out as I passed by, "He's probably got more money than you and me, love!". Perhaps he has. Perhaps that's how you get rich in this day and age - you sit in a freezing doorway, wrapped in damp blanket and beg for loose change. And perhaps we have more need of a punk attitude than ever. Nothing much has changed - and everything has changed since the punk era. If I had seen the taxi man as I left, I think I might have gobbed on him. Don't accept things the way they are. Do your bit, however small, and Resist! Resist! Resist!

Whatever Happened to Vandal Raptor? is on tour this month - dig out your safety pins, spike up your hair and go see it if it's near you. Details of venues below. 

Denise Sparrowhawk

The New Adelphi89 De Grey St, Hull HU5 2RU
April 15th
Workshop Theatre
School of English
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
April 17th
 Hydra Bookshop
34 Old Market St, Bristol BS2 0EZ
April 18th
 Derby Theatre
15 Theatre Walk, Derby DE1 2NF
April 20th
Harrogate Theatre
6 Oxford St, Harrogate HG1 1QF
April 24-25th
Ovalhouse London
52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW
April 26-28th

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Preview - This Restless State - Alphabetti Theatre

Fuel and Ovalhouse present 
at Alphabetti Theatre 

17-20 April  7.30pm 

 Intimate storytelling and innovative sound design combine in This Restless State, a new collaboration between writer Danielle Pearson and performer Jesse Fox. Weaving together three stories from across Europe at different times – in 1989 around the fall of the Berlin Wall, in London in 2017, and in Rome in 2052 – each considers the personal and political choices we make and the fact that our beliefs and our personal feelings don’t always match up.

 Fuel and Ovalhouse have co-commissioned this new solo performance which comes to Alphabetti Theatre in April  as part of a national tour leading audiences on a journey across our continent’s past, present and future in a story of family, national identity, conflict and love.

Jesse Fox says ‘I’ve been interested in making a show about European identity for a long time. I was defining myself more comfortably as European than British and I realised that this is not a universal experience. As Europe finds itself increasingly plagued by schisms and challenges, I’ve begun questioning my assumptions about how important national identity and a sense of home are to people and I’ve discovered that perhaps being British is more important to me than I initially expected.’

This Restless State builds on the success of Jesse Fox’s recent shows with his company Engineer Theatre Collective, which have seen his work nominated for various Off West End Awards and featured in The New Yorker.

He is collaborating with Danielle Pearson, Playwright in Residence at the Watermill Theatre and the winner of the EU Collective Plays! Competition, and Jemima James - Associate Director on ‘The Encounter’ by Complicité.

Funded by Arts Council England and the Leche Trust. Development supported by Engineer Theatre Collective. Co-commissioned by Ovalhouse.

Tour Dates
14 – 24 March
Ovalhouse, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW
7.30pm | £9, £10 and £15 | 020 7582 7680

7 April
Arena Theatre, Wulfruna St, Wolverhampton WV1 1SE
7.30pm | £10 and £12 | 01902 321 321

11-12 April
Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS
7.30pm | £8 and £10 | 01392 667080

17-20 April
Alphabetti Theatre, St James’ Boulevard, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 4 HP
7.30pm | Pay what you feel | 0191 261 9125

More information at;

Recommended age: 14+
Running Time: 50 mins

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Last Ship -Review- Northern Stage

The Last Ship
Northern Stage
Wednesday 21st March 2018 7pm

Music and Lyrics by Sting
Directed by Lorne Campbell
Designed by Fifty Nine Productions

Apart from a select few, musicals have never been my first choice for theatre so it was with both hesitation along with an open mind for my opinion to be changed that I went along to see The Last Ship, and changed it definitely did.

When settling into my seat before the show started, the sound of seagulls could be heard (a familiar noise with my coming from a seaside town) and an impressive industrial stage setting of a shipbuilders yard set the scene. Members of the cast arrived on stage and danced to the background music that started. As they looked into the audience the local actors spotted and started pointing and waving to (I assumed) family members and friends and this made for a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The Last Ship was inspired initially by Stings 1991 album The Soul Cages and is a personal political and passionate musical telling of family community and ultimately a great act of defiance as the last ship sails.

It tells of life on a Tyneside shipyard where the workers include foreman Jackie White (played by Joe McGann) and his strong and loving wife Peggy (played brilliantly by Charlie Hardwick) The workers are then told that the shipyard is no longer financially viable. That all they've ever known will have to change. Joe McGann plays this role perfectly as a hard but fair man whilst struggling with his own (and for the main) undisclosed problems.We see the workers fight, strike and plan an act of defiance as these proud people (who just want to work) deal with day to day living and tragedy- always with a great sense of hope and resilience.

There is also humour throughout, including asides to the audience and a song led by Mrs Dees (played by Annie Grace) about how she'd been looking for a cuddly man but instead could only find yard workers.
The scene where Baroness Tynedale (played by Penelope Woodman) is attending the yard workers meeting explaining there was nothing that could be done and consequences of strike action was very reminiscent of an 80s female prime minister and the portrayal led to laughter from the audience

Alongside this is the story of a young man (Gideon Fletcher) who doesn't want to continue in his father's footsteps as a yard worker. He chooses to leave the area to become a sailor instead. He left his childhood sweetheart Meg (played by Frances McNamee) with the promise to return but never did, until 17 years have passed. He returns just before the shipyard strike and this is when he learns of ALL that he left behind. As Gideon tries to make amends for leaving Meg and she tells him what happened since his departure, this leads to some beautiful scenes of determination strength and love.

The sets included inside a pub, houses,  streets, as well as the shipyards and were done impressively through projection images, backdrop, lighting as well as the huge metal walkway with metal stairs going up either side. The costumes were well chosen reflecting the style of the 80’s.

I enjoyed that musically there was a live band playing to the side of the stage for this production. The whole cast were very good vocally. Notably for me was when Richard Fleeshman (who plays the older Gideon Fletcher) sang When We Dance (one of Stings previously released singles) Other songs in the show that were previously released included All This Time and Island Of Souls.

The acting by the whole cast was of a very high standard and was superb throughout. The stage was used to great effect and always lots happening, a visual delight and the choreography flawless. The Geordie accents from non Geordies were great and didn't have me thinking what on earth accent is that supposed to be as is sometimes the case. The show was never condescending either which can sometimes happen when dealing with things relating to the North East.
The director states that it is not a musical about the past, it is what we might be and maybe are and this comes across well in the storytelling

As the show finished to a standing ovation Sting joined the cast onstage to take a bow during the second encore and the emotion of it all was felt throughout the theatre. Afterwards a girl turned to me and said how she was needing to reapply all her eye make up and I overheard a conversation from two others saying that they must take their fathers to see this- their fathers who are two retired shipbuilders

The Last Ship continues its 4 week run at Northern Stage until 7th April before embarking on a tour of the UK and Ireland

Belinda Bekki-Winter

John Scott: Delusions - Alphabetti Theatre - Review

John Scott - Delusions
Photo from 

Alphabetti Theatre
Wed 21st March

John Scott's gig on his mental health doubled up as a showcase for students of his stand up course. Each night involves several comedians new to comedy, some doing their very first gigs. They were impressively cohesive and funny,  and if you hadn’t been told it was their first time doing stand up you might not even know it.
John Scott briefly MCed the acts before coming  himself in the second half to do his one hour show (which featured at Edinburgh Festival last year).
It was a witty, clever, political and very polished performance. He delved into his mental health history with a great deal of tact and really gave the audience an insight into having a mental health condition His own condition is bipolar disorder type one, a diagnosis I share, so I can highly relate to the things he was talking about, such as hypomania, feeling like you are Jesus and self harming thoughts.
I thoroughly recommend this show if you're in need of a good belly laugh and have ever wanted to know more about what it's like to suffer with a mental health condition.
Playing Thursday and Friday this week at 9pm.

Frank Cromartie Murphy
Find more info about John Scott at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review - Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense - Royalty Theatre

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
Royalty Theatre
19th March 2018

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is based on the story "The Code of the Woosters" written by P G Wodehouse in 1938. It takes the form of a play within a play as Bertie stages a dramatic representation of the recent events at Totleigh Towers.
It begins with Bertie introducing his idea of the play, which is to be a One Man Show performed by himself. After all, he says, how hard could it be? It very soon becomes apparent that it is considerably harder than Bertie had imagined and he calls on his Butler Jeeves to assist. Fortunately the ever resourceful Jeeves, knowing the shortcomings of his master has anticipated the problem and made arrangements in the form of scenery, and supporting actors. Or to be precise, supporting butlers. He has recruited fellow butlers Seppings and Wilkins to play themselves, and all the other characters in the play - including the female characters. And so we are set up for a play with wobbly scenery, terrible wigs, and unconvincing acting as the two butlers find themselves having to play several characters, often at the same time. They exit suddenly stage left to return seconds later sporting a wig, or a hat, or a frock. It provides for some ridiculous and hilarious moments, most of which are scripted, though on the first night quite a few were not quite, and there was a lot of opportunity for ad libbing, as props refused to co-operate, costumes malfunctioned and the actors swapped character so quickly they confused even themselves!

This is not classic Wodehouse as you might expect it. The script may well use his erudite words but most of the laughter comes from the physical humour. James Errington as Bertie has the challenging job of  keeping the narrative going for the entire play, not so easy when your scenery misbehaves and your fellow cast members are in danger of corpsing. He copes admirably with the trials the performance throws his way. There are quite a few moments that may, or may not, have been scripted, and some that certainly weren't. It's a tribute to Errington's presence of mind that he was able to negotiate his way through all of them and transform them into assets to the performance.

John Seymour plays Jeeves with the most convincing sang-froid of a truly great English butler. Dead pan throughout almost all of the proceedings, he allows himself only the slightest show of disdain, a tad more disgust at one point, and just a touch of butler-ish smugness when required.

The stars of the show however have to be Seppings and Wilkins who swap between characters at a frenetic pace. I think they and the rest of the cast can be forgiven for occasionally forgetting which one they were meant to be playing. Now, pay attention - Lee Wilkins plays (slightly confusingly) Wilkins, Sir Watkin Bassett, Madeline Bassett, Gussie Fink-Nottle and Stiffy Byng. The scene where he has to be both Sir Watkin Bassett and Madeline Bassett at the same time is a classic. Thom Kelly plays Seppings, Proprietor (of the antique store  - a rare silver cow creamer is integral to the story, but you will need to see the play to find out how and why; it is simply beyond the scope of this reviewer to even begin to explain the rest of the plot), Butterfield, and Wooster's Aunt Dahlia. He nails each one but his Aunt Dahlia is an absolute triumph.

The lighting and sound crew are spot on - most notably when the scenic malfunction required a discreet blackout! The set and costumes are a mix of simplicity and ingenuity, adding authenticity and humour to the play.

There is a lot going on in this play, and Alex Goodchild has set himself quite a challenge for his directorial debut. Judging from his comments in the programme and the obvious fun that was being had on stage, I suspect directing this lot may have been not dissimilar to herding cats and mostly it has worked. It may not be entirely perfect. There is a certainly a lot of nonsense. But, it is very funny, entertaining nonsense.

Jeeves and Wooster will be perfecting their nonsense until Saturday 24th March. Get along to it.

Denise Sparrowhawk