Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Talented Mr Ripley - Review - Northern Stage

The Talented Mr Ripley 
Northern Stage 
4th March 2020

The stage is set. We can see a typewriter centre stage as a young man approaches, This man is no other Than Tom Ripley, a somewhat paranoid and confused character, who has trouble feeling comfortable in his own skin. All the cast play different roles at various times in the play and quite interestingly when they aren’t playing a character, they are essentially miming what’s going on in the scene or Mr Ripley’s mind, which at first is somewhat confusing, but you get used to it quickly enough.

I will call him Mr Ripley, because as interesting a character he is, I don’t find him particularly likeable, Calling him Tom betrays his twisted nature somewhat. Sure we can all relate to the aspects of his character, the struggle with light and dark and the awkwardness of human interactions, but this man is after all intelligent enough to see his flaws and rather than working on them, he merely turns them around to his own end, he is a manipulative con man, we get glimpses of why that may be, but it’s not solid enough to explain all his actions.

It takes a while for any humour to seep through, but it does come as we get to know Mr Ripley’s character. He sees himself as an actor and at times we see him visualising being on a film set, enacting certain somewhat twisted ideas, before the director, a kind of representation of his better and more logical side stops him and makes him redo the scene, until the best outcome is achieved.

We begin with Mr Ripley interacting with a rich father, whose son, Richard has left New York for Europe, specifically Italy. Richards father seems desperate to get him back to New York and has tracked down Mr Ripley, who he has somehow identified as One of Richards best friends, to make him a proposition. Find his son and bring him back to see his sick mother, who is dying of leukaemia. Mr Ripley isn’t too keen on this idea at first, until it becomes clear he can use it to his own end. 

Mr Ripley then begins a series of manipulative and personally advantageous decisions and some extremely morally questionable ones. He battles his sexual desires and somewhat represses them. Some of the terms feel a little dated from when this was first written, but remain unchanged to more accurately reflect the times.

This production was very good and treats the source material very well. The acting is great, I particularly liked the actor playing the Italian detective and Richard’s father, although he looks like a younger version of William Defoe, so personally I struggled to shake this from my mind.

Actors miming scenes, other characters and actions that take place in Mr Ripley’s mind worked really well in certain parts and was confusing or distracting in others, but overall an interesting and effective method of adding colour and definition to the story. There’s one specific scene that works particularly well and looks like theatrical gymnastics, but we can tell from the audio what is really going on.

I was aware of the source material and some of the plot points, but I have never experienced the various other sources of this material, so I have no direct compassion, however I think it’s fair to say a lot of the people who have experience other versions of this material, have put this near the top of their lists. Overall an enjoyable watch.

Playing at the Northern Stage Thursday 5th March - Saturday 7th March.
Frank Cromartie Murphy  

The Talented Mr Ripley 
Northern Stage 
Wednesday 4 March

A high-energy performance that gives the audience access to Ripley's mind as he journeys through a series of events taking him from a nondescript past to a future populated with ghosts.

The set is visually stunning, and the members of Faction richly deserve the plaudits they have received in earlier reviews. It's a great piece of physical theatre.

Watch out for the stylised moments where the acting is “cut” to explore the alternative actions being considered by Ripley and the beautiful ballet-like elegance of the stylised depiction of intimacy.

Better than the film. And in a well-loved NE venue. Go.
Catherine Lee

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson – Review - Northern Stage

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson 
Northern Stage, Newcastle 
18th February, 2020

Written by Jonathan Maitland (author of the hit plays Dead Sheep and An Audience with Jimmy Savile), Will Barton is Boris Johnson, no really he is so believable looks and sounds the part without coming across as too much of a caricature. The smash hit play that sold out its London run has come to Northern Stage as part of a U.K. tour.

We open with Boris having an interview with Huw Edwards for the BBC in early 2016 ducking the question of if he was for leave or remain. After which we see the comedic version of the dinner with Michael Gove that changed history: the night in February 2016 when Boris Johnson decided to vote ‘leave’ and a nation’s future was sealed.

Here we see the ghosts of Prime ministers past including Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Tony Blair. Also at the meal fellow MP Michael Gove, the journalist Sarah Vine, Marina Wheeler and Evgeny Lebedev.

Everyone but Tony Blair is Team Leave and slowly but surely wear Boris down to voting leave. 
All the acting is top notch here and mannerisms are nailed. I love that they have localised jokes in here more than once, where Sunderland is truly the butt of the joke and the audience eat them all up.

Fast forward to post-Brexit Britain, 2029. For reasons that may be fact and/or fiction at the time of the performance, Boris, no longer in power, roams the political wilderness. It’s at this point we get what is obviously a rewritten joke in light of recent events the BBC Amazon news channel! This is cutting satire at its best.

Brexit has been a disaster and new PM Dominic Raab, two a’s and a b, is struggling, a new strategy is a foot, could it be time to re-enter the EU?  There are lots of twists here, one of them being what has happened to Michael Gove?  This is one of the funniest bits of the play and had the audience in stitches.

It loses pace somewhere in the middle of the second act, however it picks up near the end and we have yet another jaw dropping twist at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish, but I’m not so sure ardent Leavers or Boris fans would feel the same. There were a few gasps in the audience, especially in the second act and I'm sure this was from the leavers in the audience.

Playing at Northern Stage 19.30 every night from the 18th February to 22nd February 2020, with an extra afternoon showing on Saturday at 14.00
*photo credit Pamela Raith

Frank Cromartie Murphy

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Playing Up 12 - Review - Northern Stage

Playing Up 12
Northern Stage 
Friday 14th February 2020

Playing up is a regular Theatre showcase of smaller plays hosted by northern stage. This as the name suggests is the 12th in the series. Set up by graduates of the live theatre writing course of 2013. There are six short plays in this showcase with various different writers, directors and performers flexing their muscles.

Before any action we get treated to Colin Cuthbert's MCing skills, which revolve around old dad jokes based on what ever play is next. Charming and a so bad it’s good introduction to the night ahead. 

We start the first half off with a comedy called A Bout A Round, written by Debra Fisher and directed by James Barton. Set as Live from the rose and crown pub in Newcastle, with commentary on the banter led one up championship finals. The reigning champion is the resident barmaid (Lisa Powell) and rivalled by the challenger punter Billy (Steve Blackshaw). Commentators Derek (Porle Miller) and John (Peter Dawson) discuss the one up man ship and tactics of the two as they go backwards and forwards in battle. 

The scene is set with a realistic looking bar and a commentary area. It’s quite an interesting concept and has good humour in places. Enjoyable watch.

Next up we have Excuse Me written by Rowena Gray and directed by Sarah Seymour. Interesting premise here, we effectively have a white female social justice warrior out in the field ready to help the downtrodden and minorities turn the tables on the crime stereotypes they face. THIS IS WOKE, very interesting concept executed well by the cast of woman (Sarah Oakland), man (Rizwan Khan) and policeman (Steve Palace).

The last play before the break is Singular Vision written by Lewis Cuthbert, directed by Craig Fairbairn. Picture the scene we are in the last video shop in the UK. With the invent of streaming and DVDs the video shop is on it’s last legs. The staff tom (Stuart Laidler), Ryan (Pete McAndrew) and Peter (Joe Metcalfe) are tasked with somehow bringing in new customers in a somewhat hopeless style. This is mostly played for laughs , with the occasional moment of real solid drama. Good solid effort, my only problem was it was very hard to pinpoint the date , with no mention of blu-ray and the 90s feeling pre dating the fall of video and the rise of DVDs.

We have a break and up next is Where the Butterflies Dance, our first drama focussed play of the night. It’s very clear for the first moments this is not a happy place. Susan (Ruby Shrimpton) and her partner John (Ben Storey) are at odds to put it mildly. It appears Susan has been trapped in what appears to be a loveless abusive relationship. The acting is very powerful here and you really feel for Susan. John is very convincing as an abusive husband, you in no way emphasise with his attitude. Claire (Susan French) comes to visit will she realise what is going on before it’s too late? Watch and find out. Very compelling.

Coffee Morning is up next by Mary Pickin and directed by Brian Green. Two old friends get together in a coffee shop. Barbara (Karen Elliott) and Claire (Gillian Asherley) are too lovely chatty friends with amusing banter. We start off with some amusing mime work and the odd occasional slapstick moment. This is effectively a fly on the wall eavesdrop on two friends gossiping. It’s amusing and short, but not much really happens, more of a sketch.

Finally we round off with Anxious Annie by Elle Douglas and directed by Catriona Burnett.

This is the tale of Annie (Eleanor Beck) and her battle with anxiety. This is a really interesting piece, which moves between various scenes highlighting Annie's plight and giving the audience a real insight into what it is like for a woman like Annie dealing with her intrusive thoughts and dwelling on her actions and others around her. 

There is a brilliant scene where Anthony Broderick, who plays a variety of roles, plays an annoying cbt worker who delivers his material with all the feeling of Maggie Thatcher talking to a coal miner. I loved this scene as a service user myself as it highlights the futility of most services, where it’s more about paying lip service than actually helping anyone effectively. 

This was a nice way to round off the showcase. It has another showing tonight if you are reading this on the 15th February 2020. 

Producers : Lewis Cuthbert, John Harrison, R.G Parker 
Compere : Colin Cuthbert
Technician : Sophie Teasdale
Contact details 
email : 
Twitter : @playingup_tc
Facebook : @playinguptc
Insta : @playingup_tc

Next shows Friday and Saturday 17th and 18th July.

Frank Cromartie Murphy

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff - Review - Northern Stage

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff
Northern Stage
11th Feb 2020

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff - if it were a book it would have the marketing dept. pulling their hair out trying to fit it into their neat category pigeon holes. It doesn't quite fit any of the known labels. It's folk music, but it's not a gig, it's theatre but there's not really any  acting, it's a story with songs, but I wouldn't call it a musical... I can see the marketing guy scratching his head. And I can hear my friends' puzzled and not entirely convinced response when I tell them I'm going to a show about a guy from Stockton performed by three folksingers from Stockton. They don't get it.

And yet, last night I sat in a pretty much packed house at Northern Stage and heard and saw the most moving piece of theatre, and I know that others in the audience shared that experience. Some were folk music fans. Others were not, they were there as theatre or music fans, and quite a few didn't quite know what to expect from almost two hours of folk music...I confess to knowing the Young Uns, they have performed in the library where I work, so knew what to expect in terms of music and stories. I knew that the singing would be fantastic - the harmonies heavenly - and the storytelling between the songs would be engaging and entertaining. But even I didn't quite expect what I experienced last night.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is more than entertaining. It's so much more than songs linked
together with a bit of storytlling. This is a truly moving narrative - the story of an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.  The music lifts you up, and plunges you back down - from the boot stomping marches to quiet, soulful grief.  Video graphics on the back drop etch out images that form into places, and faces that form gradually and surprise us when the image suddenly becomes clear. Images of the friends left behind, of the friends lost in battle. And interspersed within it all is the actual voice of Johnny himself - recorded for, and used with kind permission from, the Imperial War Museum.

The three guys are unassuming, they walk on and sit on the edge of the stage to introduce themselves -  we got a bit of ribbing from David Eagle for our lack of applause for this understated entrance. And this sets the tone for the evening. The guys - immensely talented though they are - are not the focus of the evening. The focus of the evening is Johnny Longstaff.

His story takes us from poverty in the streets of Stockton, to London via the Hunger marches of 934, and to Cable Street and from there to war in Spain. Johnny Longstaff was just 15 yrs old when he started his adventure, and just 17 yrs when he went of to Spain to fight fascism. he too is so unassuming and modest in his own recounting of the events he took part in - life changing, world changing events. Johnny's story is one of heroism, and activism, and modesty.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff  is sung, and told, and illustrated with humour, and love and respect.
The emotion radiated out from the performance and was fully absorbed by the audience last night.

I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War before last night. I was shamefully unaware of the sacrifices made there. I know and understand a whole lot more about it now.

Johnny Longstaff's son was in the audience last night. I had the good fortune and honour to speak to him in the bar before the show started. I can only imagine how he feels to see his father's story transformed into this heartfelt and amazing show. He hoped for one song from his father's story. What he got was so much more. Thanks to  Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, Johnny Longstaff and others like him are no longer unsung heroes.

The ballad of Johnny Longstaff runs until 22nd Feb at Northern stage and then goes on tour around the country. If it is coming close to you then do buy a ticket, you won't be disappointed, and it might be an idea to take a handkerchief.
I don't often do standing ovations, but I was up on my feet last night.

*photo credit Pamela Raith

Denise Sparrowhawk

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Thu 27 - Sat 29 Feb

Hull Truck Theatre
Tue 21 - Fri 24 Apr

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Thu 14 - Sat 16 May

Preview - Shadowlands - Royalty Theatre


Sunderland’s Royalty Theatre’s next offering will be Shadowlands, following the later years of the author famous for the Narnia series of books.

The play follows the relationship between Lewis, an Oxford academic and devout Christian, and his American wife Joy Davidman.  Having built up a friendship through mail correspondence, they eventually meet in England and are eventually married. Tragedy soon follows, testing his faith.

Director Andy Barella says, “I first read this beautiful script about 10 years ago and have longed to direct Shadowlands ever since.  Many people will know the stories of C.S. Lewis, but not all will know of his faith and personal life, and that is what we get to explore through this show.”

Lewis himself is played by Billy Towers, who is accompanied in the cast by Helen Bowie, Alex Goodchild and Jacob Hughes.

Tickets are £8/£6.50 in advance, £9/£7.50 on the night and can be booked via or on 0333 666 3366.
Group bookings for parties of 10 or more can be arranged via

Plays remaining this season are Shadowlands (17-22 February), God of Carnage (23 to 28 March), Wait Until Dark (18-23 May) and Dirty Dusting (22 to 27 June).

Photo: Billy Towers as CS Lewis
Credit: Royalty Theatre

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dial M For Murder - Review - People's Theatre

Dial M For Murder
People's Theatre
21st Jan 2020

To launch the new season the People's Theatre have swapped their usual post Christmas Agatha Christie for the equally suspenseful Dial M For Murder by Frederick Knott.
Tony Wendice married his wife Margot for her money. Margot, having belatedly discovered that marriage to a tennis superstar is not all she had dreamed it would be, has an affair with crime writer Max. When Tony discovers the affair he plots the perfect murder - gaining his freedom from a loveless marriage but keeping Margot's money.

In Frederick Knott's play the audience are in on the plot almost from the start. We learn straight away about the short-lived affair. And we know that Margot believes her husband knows nothing about it. We learn that she has gone to great pains to ensure that he did not find out - even so far as paying money to a blackmailer. But so many things don't seem to add up. Is everything quite as the audience is being led to believe - or is there more to this tale? Tony Wendice is a man used to having his own way. And he is a man used to paying whatever it takes for something he wants. He is single-minded, dangerous, calculating, and observant - perhaps obsessively so.

This suspense is played out entirely in the living room of the Wendice's ground floor flat in London. A simple set - sofa, desk, drinks cabinet...three doors - one to the bedroom and kitchen, one to the hall and stairs, and French windows to the garden. all three doors will play an important roll in the development of the plot. The lighting is sinister and dramatic and used to great effect with blood red backlighting from the hall casts shadows across as characters enter and leave the flat. Adding to the atmosphere is the quietly malevolent score, specially commissioned, by James Jones.

The characters are all very different, Alison Carr plays Margot, the dutiful wife who is clearly intimidated by her husband, yet we see a lighter, more carefree side to her character when she is with Max. Sean Burnside is chilling in the role of Tony Wendice, switching from affable host to scheming murderer in the flick of a red spotlight switch. Robbie Close is the cheerful, but lovelorn Max Halliday, who appears easy going but has the presence of mind to see through Tony and is loyal to Margot to the end. I couldn't help but feel she didn't quite deserve him!
Tony Sehgal plays Lesgate (or Swan, or is it Wilson?), the hapless opportunist ex-con, who falls victim - in more ways than one - to Wendice's plotting. And finally there is Inspector Hubbard. The down to earth detective who unravels the mystery. Brilliantly cast in the role, Emma Weetch bring a touch of humour like a breath of fresh air, puncturing the tension -  imagine a female Columbo, with more style and a London accent and you just about have her. As much as the music and lighting created the atmosphere and ramped up the suspense, she burst it and brought us back down to earth. She was the star of the show for me.

Dial M for Murder is a well directed, well staged production and a great start to the Spring season!
It plays until Saturday 25th January.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Preview - Two - Royalty Theatre


Credit: Royalty Theatre

Sunderland’s Royalty Theatre will begin the year with Jim Cartwright’s comedy Two.

The Royalty’s latest studio production depicts an evening in the lives of a bickering husband and wife, and the many punters visiting their pub, from wannabe womanisers to little old ladies having a relaxing drink.  But behind the hustle and bustle of the busy bar, there’s a tragic history.

Directory Beth McAneny says, “I'm very proud to be directing this great comedy – I've loved it since studying it at college and jumped at the chance to be involved in the production.”

All fourteen roles are played by just two actors, real-life couple Olivia Bowern and Dominic McDonough, who perform around a bar built for the show in the Royalty’s studio space.

All tickets for this production are £6.50 and are strictly limited to 60 per evening, with the show running from 22 to 25 January.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Preview - Miss Crispy 1988 - Gala Theatre

Journey back to the 1980s for a play that is packed full of fun and flavour

Shoulder pads, tiaras and cheese and onion crisps – beauty pageants and North East factory lines collide in a must-see play set in the 1980s.

Miss Crispy 1988 tells the story of a group of female friends whose working life at a Teesside crisp factory is turned upside down when they are invited to enter a beauty contest. 

The production is set to entertain audiences at Durham’s Gala Theatre at 7.30pm on Friday 17 January and is inspired by the stories of workers at The Crispy – the nickname given to the KP crisps factory in Billingham. 

The factory was a major employer in the area in the 1980s and theatregoers can look forward to big hair, legwarmers and plenty of Northern wit in this nostalgic yet moving comedy about female friendship, love and overcoming adversity. 

Miss Crispy 1988 was written by David Tuffnell and is produced by Less is More, a Middlesbrough-based theatre company with a passion for telling stories from working-class communities. It received rave reviews when it first toured the region in 2013, and the Less is More team cannot wait to bring the show to the Gala.

The theatre is close to the heart of the play’s director Laura Lonsdale, who is currently appearing as the genie in this year’s Gala pantomime, Aladdin. Laura previously taught at the Gala Theatre Stage School and has gone on to cast many former students in the shows she has directed over the years. 

Laura, from Middlesbrough, said: “It’s always a joy to come to the Gala Theatre. County Durham audiences are a pleasure to perform to and I know they will love Miss Crispy 1988. It’s the tenth anniversary of Less is More this year and what better way to celebrate than to tour a show that epitomises what we are all about; honesty, drama and humour.”


David added: “I think Miss Crispy has received such a positive reaction because it’s a story that is set in our region with characters people can relate to. Those of us who lived through the 1980s will enjoy the sense of nostalgia it evokes – the music, the clothes, the big perms.  

“However, the 1980s were also an important period in history and a time of great change, especially for women. This is explored in the play through the thoughts, experiences and ambitions of five unique but very relatable female characters.”

Tickets for Miss Crispy 1988 are priced at £15, £13 for concessions and £12 for Gala members. To book, visit or call 03000 266 600.