REVIEW: Hadaway Harry, Theatre Royal – “seamless storytelling of unforgettable Geordie pride”

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This year seems to be the year of previously unknown true stories hitting it big. But as Hidden Figures, the story of the African-American women who helped NASA put John Glen into space, heads to the Oscars, there’s a story closer to home making waves in the North East.

Writer/producer Ed Waugh and director Russell Floyd have brought the story of North East sports star Harry Clasper to the stage. As a rower, Clasper was the Sir Steve Redgrave of his day, and managed to make it from a working-class upbringing in Dunston to lead eight teams to win the Championship of the World on the Thames at Putney. He also invented and built the slim, light boats and outriggers used by modern scullers. The song of the Blaydon Races was even written for him. 130,000 people attended his funeral.

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Jamie Brown brings boundless energy to the part of Harry. He throws his entire being behind each monologue he reels off in that brilliant Geordie twang, at times like a foreign language to those unfamiliar. To hold a play for almost two hours when you’re on stage alone for most of that time is quite an ask but Brown is unfazed. Near the finale, he mimics rowing in Clasper’s big race for what feels like an eternity and you can almost see the blood, sweat and tears. He gives the character a huge heart and likability in bucketloads.

Wayne Miller plays the additional characters in the story. Everyone from a nosy female neighbour spying and gossiping to an upper-class gent betting on the races to his cockney rival at the Thames regatta. He’s great in all guises and brings great comic relief to a story that is at times grim. He’s also responsible for leading the audience in a rousing sing along of the Blaydon Races.

The simplistic staging consists of nothing but a chest Harry sits on and a podium from under which the other characters appear. There isn’t even a boat – which is testament to the two actors’ seamless performances that the audience believes so fiercely in the story, and in particular the thrilling final moments.

I feel somewhat failed that I had never heard this story before. I was sat in front of a row (no pun intended) of former rowers who chatted passionately and extensively about Harry’s life before the curtain went up and the delight the play brought to them was visible. It would make a great film – a Cinderella story of a boy who came from nothing and became the star of his day. Aside from that, it’s a story that should be taught in schools as an education tool, about history, about sport and about our region.

You may now know the name Harry Clasper but this is a story, and a production, you will be unlikely to forget.

Hadaway Harry is at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal until Saturday February 25, 14.30pm and 19.30pm. For more information and tickets, click here

Bowie and Little Mix win big, a Wham! tribute to George Michael and Adele’s global domination is confirmed: The Brits 2017 round-up

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The night saw performances from some of the music industry’s biggest stars, awards for some old timers  and a few upsets along the away.

Little Mix opened the show, carried in on thrones like the queens of pop they are. Performing Shoutout To My Ex flanked by 70-plus dancers in what could be described as Michael and Janet in Scream meets Gaga in space via RuPaul’s Drag Race, they raised the roof right off the O2 before ascending up out of it on a hydraulic lift.

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Bruno Mars crooned his way through That’s What I Like in a super-smooth performance that seemed to win over a crowd of baying ladies, despite him being dressed as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

 

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Emeli Sande was accompanied by a troupe of contemporary, martial-arts style dancers as she did what she does best. She delivered a dramatic version on her latest track Hurts, and perhaps surprisingly, gave one of the stand-out performances of night.

The 1975 gave a somewhat erratic performance of The Sound. Critics’ reviews of the band flashed on screen throughout with barbs such as “totally lacking the wow factor” and “Is this a joke?” The irony may have been a little lost. Although, choir in tow, the boys still managed to delight the crowd.

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Katy Perry’s rendition of new tune Chained to the Rhythm had all the charisma of the cardboard houses and giant skeleton that shared her stage. The sound team were working overdrive a la Kanye in 2015 with an expletive-ridden performance from Skepta. The grime song was supposed to be in defence of the genre’s bad reputation but with a mostly muted turn, the message got lost in translation.

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Coldplay teamed up with EDM hot shots Chainsmokers to debut their collaboration, Something Just Like This, in the psychedelic setting we’ve come to expect from the band. Man of the moment Ed Sheeran also took to the stage with not only one, but both of his recent singles, Castle on the Hill and Touch, the latter featuring a guest appearance by Stormzy.

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It was a mixed bag with regards to the awards themselves, with some old pros bagging awards as well as some unexpected wins.

Sande, who last year returned to the pop fold with second album Long Live The Angels, beat out relative unknowns Nao, Anohni and Lianne La Havas and veteran Ellie Goulding to bag Best British Female. She sweetly took her sister Lucy up to the podium to collect the gong, dedicating it to her in the process.

The 1975, who last year scored number one albums on both sides of the Atlantic, deservedly beat Little Mix, Bastille, Biffy Clyro and Radiohead to British Band. Lead singer encouraged anyone with a platform to speak out and to “not stay in your lane.” David Bowie was given British Male in a no-contest category with Craig David, Kano, Skepta and Michael Kiwanuka. Michael C. Hall, who is starring in the Bowie musical Lazarus, accepted the posthumous award on the singer’s behalf.

British Breakthrough went to Rag n Bone Man, aka Rory Graham, who had earlier been awarded the Critic’s Choice award for 2017. He thanked his fans for the award in a touching speech and was genuinely buzzing to be gaining momentum, despite being “ten years deep” into his career.

One of the biggest awards of the night, British Single, went to Shoutout To My Ex by Little Mix, beating out big hitters like Zayn’s Pillowtalk and the unshakeable Rockabye by Clean Bandit. The moment echoed girl band predecessors Girls Aloud’s winning moment for the same award back in 2008. It was a hard-earned battle for the four-piece, previously topping charts around the world and breaking records set by a little-known pop group called The Spice Girls in the past few years.

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Other big winners of the night included Drake, for International Male, Beyonce for International Female and in a big upset, A Tribe Called Quest for Internation Group. Adele bagged the Global Success gong but couldn’t attend the ceremony, so thanked fans via video message.

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Following Adele’s tribute to the late George Michael at the Grammys earlier this month, Brits organisers also paid homage. George’s Wham! Bandmates Andrew Ridgley, Shirlie Kemp and Helen ‘Pepsi’ DeMacque gave a beautiful speech about their beloved friend, recalling the beginnings of the band and their relationship. They talked about his talent, his heart and his great kindness. “Anyone who asked for George’s help invariably got it.” The ladies of Wham! broke down in tears as they spoke. “I loved him,” said Andrew. “And in turn, we, you – have been loved.” Chris Martin gave a performance of A Different Corner, duetting with a video recording of the man himself. A lovely touch.

Robbie Williams closed proceedings with Heavy Entertainment Show/Love My Life and delivered a typically showy performance befitting the most decorated artist in Brits history. It wasn’t a vintage year, but it was better than it’s been in a long time – probably, since Williams was last on the stage.

Full list of winners:

British Female – Emeli Sande

British Male – David Bowie

British Group – The 1975

International Male – Drake

International Female – Beyonce

International Group – A Tribe Called Quest

British Single – Shoutout to My Ex, Little Mix

British Artist Video of the Year – History, One Direction

Mastercard British Album –

Global Success – Adele

Photos: Lia Toby, WENN, David Fisher, Shutterstock, REX, Matt Cossick, Empics Entertainment, ITV, Joel Ryan, Invision, AP, Jonathan Lipinski, BBC

REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – “It would be a disservice to call this amateur – it is a stunning production”

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A freezing cold Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre was hot like an Aussie BBQ on opening night for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, as the audience was flung like a boomerang from Sydney to the Aussie outback for one of the most glamorous shows there is.

The musical, adapted from the 1994 cult classic film, follows drag queens Tick and Adam and Berndatte, a transgender woman, as they pile into a tour bus, the eponymous Priscilla, and travel across Australia to perform their cabaret act in a hotel ran by Tick’s estranged wife, Marion. There’s a method in Tick’s madness though – he’s really on the way to meeting his young son for the first time.

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The production is visually stunning. Produced by Liam Glendenning and Astravaganza Entertainment and directed by Dan Cunningham, the man responsible for bringing Boulevard’s Miss Rory to life, it is an accomplished stab at what could be considered the musical equivalent of climbing Ayre’s rock in “full tits and feathers”, an ambition Adam proudly boasts of in the show. It’s no mean feat to stage something of this calibre and to call it an amateur production would feel like a disservice. Glittering grand sets provide the backdrop and of course the “budget Barbie campervan” itself is the focal point. Rotating on stage as to show off her interiors – the bus almost steals the show and is the centrepiece of one of the most fun numbers, Colour My World.

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Keith Wigham is simply superb as Bernadette. He inhabits the character and displays the right amount of fragility as a woman who just wants to find love, mixed with a fearsome protectiveness of her two companions. The latter is shown when Adam is attacked by a group of men and she comes to his rescue like a knight in a chiffon pant suit. Another stunning moment comes courtesy of Bernadette and Bob, the man who she falls for. Wigham’s rendition of True Colours, one of many LGBT anthems included in the show, is beautifully done; not outlandish or played for laughs, but touching and heart wrenching.

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A few technical hiccups (frustratingly near the end of the show) hampered some of the final songs but Jason Jones, as Tick, soldiered on. Jones leads the trio, and the show, with tremendous valour so it was no surprise that the mic problems didn’t faze him. The scenes  between him and his son are emotionally done; the newly-united pair are great together and give the show a real heart. James Forster as Adam completes the main line-up and is like a Tasmanian devil from the minute he steps on stage. The part requires not only a cracking set of pipes but tonnes of energy and enthusiasm and Forster’s turn is overwhelming in the best way possible.

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Other standout performances come from Jack Wonnacott and Josephine Hatfield. Wonnacott’s comic timing is en pointe as Miss Understanding, a hostess of sorts for the evening, and is a rousing introduction to the show (which sets the tone perfectly with a hilarious take on Tina Turner) Hatfield also impresses as one of the three Divas. Her larger-than-life voice, showcased on songs like It’s Raining Men, is incredible.

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Disclaimer: this show isn’t going to be everyone’s glass of champagne. The songs aren’t your usual musical theatre fodder and at times, don’t lend themselves that well to telling a story. But, this is a story full of heart and more relevant than ever in these times where, still, not everyone is accepting of one another. And, if you’re here to sing your heart out and dance in the aisles, don’t be a drag and look no further than Priscilla, queen of camp.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House until Sunday February 12, 16.30 and 20.00. Tickets are priced £16.50 – £22, Concessions £2 off full price tickets Thurs & Sun only. Groups buy 10 get 1 free. (Plus booking fees when booking online or over the phone) Click here for tickets.

Photos: Stagedoor Photography (visit their website here)