Newcastle in the Sky – “stunning, seasonal fayre matched only by views from 100ft”

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When you receive an invitation to enjoy dinner served to you whilst you’ll be suspended from a crane at 100ft, you can either panic and turn it down (definitely considered it for a hot second) or you can face your fear, tell ’em yes and brace yourself to conquer your (my) fear of heights. It’s kind of a fight or flight response; not the last of the air-related puns in this post, don’t worry.

The idea for Newcastle in the Sky was born out of Jacqui McKirdy’s university degree in Events Management and returned this year after it’s debut in 2016. It is a joint venture with her daughter Lauren, and I first met the two ladies at an event they put on earlier in the year – an exquisite ten-course tasting evening by Peace and Loaf, at the historic Alderman Fenwick’s house. I was instantly struck by how passionate they were, not only about food, but about hosting. It was kind of a no-brainer to want to take part in this event. This year, Newcastle in the Sky attracted chefs from eateries like Livello, Brown’s, Hawthorns, Red’s True Barbecue and Chaophraya, amongst others.

The VIP guests were treated to free champagne in the tent on the ground before we were given a safety brief and the experience was explained to us. Once strapped in, and once we realised our chairs could swivel basically 180 degrees, we were ready to take flight. The crane lifts the table to 100ft within about 10 seconds and once up there, you’re basically level with the roof of the Sage. In a word, it’s awe-inspiring. We were even lucky to go up in time for the sun to set over us.

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Our particular flight was catered by the team from Artisan. Head chef Andrew Wilkinson was on hand to serve up a storm; a menu which included seafood, red meat, dessert and perfectly paired red and white wines.

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Our starter consisted of a Lindisfarne oyster with apple, cucumber and horseradish, swiftly followed by North Sea crab salad with citrus cured salmon, fennel and orange. The oyster was the freshest I’ve ever tasted – my previous best was a tequila-soaked beauty from top Gosforth seafood gaff Loch Fyne. Andrew’s blew that out of the water (again, excuse the pun). The crab salad was also great – not something I would normally order, but was a triumph paired with that tender tangy salmon.

A hearty main of Navarin of Northumbrian lamb and seasonal vegetables was up next. There’s something very special about seasonal produce and the carrots, tender stem broccoli and potatoes here didn’t disappoint. And the lamb! The lamb couldn’t have been more tender and beautifully pink. I didn’t snap a photo of the main as my camera died on me. I did ask if there was facilities to charge it but I was met with confusion and a few laughs! Shy bairns and all that…

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Dessert was a vanilla poached peach with champagne, raspberry sorbet and pistachio. Each layer offered up a different fusion of tastes and textures, the granola-like pistachio a clever accompaniment to the smooth tangy sorbet.

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Chef Andrew was visibly a little frustrated at the logistics of serving up his food so high in the sky. With no facilities to heat the dishes (the food is loaded on to the table before take off and served once the guests are suspended) or indeed keep them cool, a couple of the elements couldn’t take, well, the elements. The lamb came slightly lukewarm, and when I say ‘slightly’ I really mean it. The drop in temperature didn’t affect the near-perfect taste of succulent meat but it was clearly frustrating for Andrew. Similarly, the sorbet began to melt once scooped into it’s serving glass. All the more reason to throw the pleasantries out the window, or off the side of the crane, and tuck in quickly!

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An incredible experience I, and the lucky bunch of diners who also got to fly, are not likely to forget in a hurry, Newcastle in the Sky is not only a chance to eat fine food and take in jaw-dropping views of our fine city, it’s a chance to be part of something that feels so much bigger than that. It’s a culinary treat but it’s cultural significance feels much more important. The stunning food is matched only by the views from 100ft up. This is something that our region doesn’t see every day. Bravo Jacqui, Lauren, your whole team and of course the chefs.

This is a venture that has not only took off – it looks set to soar.

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REVIEW: Smashburger – “more Five Guys than fine dining but well worth a visit”

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Nestled in Newcastle’s bustling Eldon Square, Smashburger is one of a plethora of restaurants to have opened in the past year. It’s nestled amongst neighbours as talked-up as Chaophraya and as well-established as TGI Fridays and Ask. But, does Newcastle really need another burger joint?

I immediately went with the Truffle Mushroom Swiss; a beef pattie with truffle mayo, sautéed crimini mushrooms and aged swiss cheese, on an egg bun. Truffle oil is one of those flavours that can be overkill if done wrong and it’s usually an indulgence. But, on a burger? I couldn’t pass on that one.

A friend plumped for the Spicy Jalapeno Baja – fresh jalapenos, guacamole, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun. They were out of guac (a first-world problem if there ever was one) but our waiter willingly substituted it for haystack onions. A fair compromise. We opted for sweet potato fries and Smash fries, which are a pretty dreamy combo of fries with rosemary, italian olive oil and garlic. Both were a great mix of old and new, and the haystack onions were a more-ish addition.

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Ending the night on a high, the chocolate Oreo and strawberry milkshakes were to die for. Well worth the calories if you fancy getting your Pink Lady or T-Bird on.

The service on the night wasn’t the most efficient or attentive and the restaurant wasn’t busy. Although our food came fast, the shakes were forgotten until we’d finished eating. Fingers crossed it’s still just experiencing teething problems.

In what is quickly becoming a saturated market in Newcastle, Smashburger plays to its advantages; it’s more fast food than fancy cuisine, more Five Guys than fine dining. However, whereas it’s surroundings are classic burger joint, tastes like truffle mayo and applewood smoked bacon elevate it to more than just your regular burger and fries. It didn’t quite smash it out of the park on this occasion, but this place is definitely worth a visit.

REVIEW: Orangegrass Thai and Oriental Cuisine – “an authentic taste of Asia, off the beaten track”

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There is no shortage of amazing restaurants to dine at in the North East, each with their own vibe and take on cultures from around the globe. Newcastle has had a major culinary shake up over the past year, and Sunderland has been trying to nip at its heels for a while now, even introducing a rival Sunderland Restaurant Week. And South Shields, known as much for it’s stunning beaches as it’s food, has a plethora of Asian delights on the town’s famous Ocean Road.

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But last week, a well-loved Thai restaurant had it’s relaunch and it isn’t on gastronomical hub Ocean Road nor is it is slap bang in the town centre; a little off the beaten track it may be but believe me when I tell you Orangegrass is worth the detour. Having been to Thailand on a holiday of a lifetime a couple of years back, their cuisine holds a special place in my heart (and stomach) so I take any opportunity to sample it again.

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The venue has recently undergone a refurbishment and menu shake up and, as revealed to a select few on their VIP launch night, it looks great. Grand but intimate at the same time, it definitely invokes the traditional look of Thailand, with large artworks and ceiling lights, all gold embossed and luxurious. The room is dominated by a staircase which leads to a mezzanine with more dining space.

Guests were entertained on the night by traditional Thai dancing, as well as stunning vocals from hometown girl Annabel Pattinson, who serenaded us for most of the night, and impressive magic by Ryan Phelps.

The beef massaman was my highlight; tender pieces of meat that melt in the mouth in a rich peanut sauce. The tangy chicken was another treat, although don’t be fooled by the word ‘tangy’ – this is as hot as Bangkok in the summer. Other dishes on offer included green curry vegetables and traditional Thai salads. Dessert was sticky rice pudding with coconut milk and although a tad too rich for me, suited my sweet-toothed fellow diners perfectly.

We only sampled a few of the wide range the restaurant has to offer, and aside from their sumptuous A La Carte menu, Orangegrass also have set menus starting at £16.95. A takeaway option is available.

Another trip to Thailand may be pricey, but it’s nice to know for an authentic and well-priced taste of Asia, South Shields has got you covered.

Orangegrass Thai and Oriental Cuisine is on 7 Mount Terrace, South Shields, Tyne & Wear NE33 1PN. To book, call 0191 455 8555 or visit their website here.

Photos: Orangegrass

Elton John working with Andrew Lloyd-Webber on new Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat film

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Sirs Elton John and Andrew Lloyd Webber have revealed they are teaming up for an animated film adaptation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

The announcement was made at CinemaCon in Las Vegas by American producers STF Entertainment. The Hollywood Reporter says that Tim Rice is also signed on to work on the project, which will be produced by STX and John’s production company Rocket Pictures, in association with Really Useful Group.

Lloyd Webber and Rice will also be penning new songs for the film.

The title role has been played on stage most notably by Jason Donovan, Joe McElderry and Phillip Schofield. Lloyd-Webber recently revealed that he was eyeing up Liam Payne to play the part.

What’s on? Wicked star Rachel Tucker to perform solo show at Durham’s Gala Theatre

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Musical theatre star Rachel Tucker is bringing her first ever solo tour to the North East.

Following a triumphant nine month run on Broadway as the green girl, Elphaba, in the smash hit musical Wicked, Tucker is embarking on an 11-date solo tour throughout the UK.

Audiences can expect up close and personal performances of musical theatre favourites, along with some classic jazz, soul as well as ‘a few surprises.’

Having played Elphaba for longer than any other actress in the production’s history, Tucker has just finished reprising the role in London’s West End as part of Wicked’s special 10th anniversary cast.

She first rose to fame as a finalist on the BBC One show I’d Do Anything, winning heaps of praise from both Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, subsequently performing at Lloyd Webber’s Birthday In The Park show in London’s Hyde Park and later taking on a range of roles in some of the West End’s best shows, before making her Broadway debut in The Last Ship, a new musical written by the rock icon Sting. She won the 2011 WhatsOnStage award for Best Takeover in a Role for Wicked.

This show will be directed by her husband Guy Retallack, with musical director Kris Rawlinson. The tour is produced by Fane Productions in partnership with Parallel Productions.

The show will take place at Durham’s Gala Theatre on Monday 29 May at 7.30pm. For tickets, click here.

Photo: publicity photo

What’s on? The Woman in Black to terrify in Newcastle once again

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Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s best-selling novel The Woman in Black, which has been called ‘the world’s most terrifying live theatre experience’ is returning to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal next month.

This will be the show’s sixth visit to Newcastle Theatre Royal. It is the first visit since the play was adapted into a film, starring Daniel Radcliffe in 2012, which became Britain’s highest grossing horror film in 20 years.

It tells the story of a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of the eponymous woman. He engages a young actor to help him tell his story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It begins innocently enough, but as they delve further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds. The borders between make believe and reality begin to blur and the flesh begins to creep.

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David Acton will play the role of Mr Kipps and The Actor will be played Matthew Spencer.

The production is directed by Robin Herford, with designs by Michael Holt, lighting by Kevin Sleep and sound by Gareth Owen. The UK tour will mark 27 years since it’s West End debut.

Mallatratt wrote his early plays while working as an actor in Alan Ayckbourn’s Scarborough company. Comic Cuts was written for the Contact Theatre in Manchester and won the Thames TV Theatre Writers Award, and after many regional British productions, culminated ten years later in the West End – retitled as The Glory of the Garden. He has also written adaptations of books for both TV and theatre – including Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. His television work includes The Innocents for YTV, and he adapted The Forsyte Saga for Granada.

The play has terrified over 7 million theatregoers since it first opened. It has become a global phenomenon translated into at least 12 languages and performed in at least 42 countries.

For the rest of Theatre Royal’s Summer/Autumn season, click here.

The Woman in Black is at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Mon 24 until Sat 29 April 2017, playing evenings at 7.30pm, matinees Tue & Thu 2pm and Sat 2.30pm. Tickets from £14.50.  Tickets can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 or book online here.

What’s on? There’s something for everybody in Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Summer/Autumn season ’17

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Whether it’s a dramatic play, a hilarious farce, a stunning dance show or a feel-good musical you’re after, there’s something for everyone in Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Summer/Autumn ’17 season, which was recently announced.

Hollywood legends Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal (above) star in Love Letters (Tue 19 – Sat 23 Sep ’17).  Following a critically-acclaimed Broadway run and sell-out US Tour, this stunning production about first loves and second chances comes to Newcastle for 8 performances only.

The drama continues with Dame Sian Phillips and Derek Griffiths in Driving Miss Daisy (Mon 2 – Sat 7 Oct ’17).  This heart-touching production – made famous by the 1989 Academy Award-winning film – set in Atlanta, Georgia tells of how a profound and life-altering friendship blossoms against a backdrop of prejudice, inequality and civil unrest.

Just married.  Bored already.  Hedda longs to be free…Following a sold-out run at the National Theatre, this modern production of Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece Hedda Gabler comes to Newcastle (Mon 12 – Sat 17 Feb ’18).

It’s time to dust off your leather jackets and pull on your bobby socks as Danny and Sandy fall in love all over again in Grease (Mon 16 – Sat 21 Oct ’17).  Featuring unforgettable songs from the hit movie including You’re The One That I Want, Grease Is The Word and Summer Nights you’ll be ready to hand jive the night away!

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning masterpiece Sunset Boulevard comes to Newcastle for 1 week only (Mon 9 – Sat 14 Oct ’17).  Starring internationally acclaimed musical theatre star Ria Jones as Norma Desmond and with a much-loved score including With One Look, The Greatest Star of All and The Perfect Year, Sunset Boulevard promises to be a spectacular treat for all musicals fans.

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Ria Jones will play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

The Gloria Tour heads to Newcastle Theatre Royal for one night only.  Local star Joe McElderry and special guests from the musical phenomenon Joseph perform smash hits form the new album Saturday Night at the Movies (Sun 30 Jul ’17).  And legends Des O’Connor & Jimmy Tarbuck will take to the stage for a spectacular evening of entertainment (Sun 5 Nov ’17).

The ever-popular Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace return to Newcastle Theatre Royal with hot new stage spectacular Tango Moderno (Tue 26 – Sat 30 Sep ’17).  The Strictly Come Dancing favourites and world champion tango superstars will set your heart racing with passion, thrills and incredible dance.  The beauty of dance continues when Northern Ballet present The Little Mermaid (Tue 31 Oct – Sat 4 Nov ’17).  This stunning original ballet, choreographed by David Nixon OBE, will transport you into a world beneath the waves as a young mermaid is willing to give up everything she knows for love.

The power of Opera North will be seen this Autumn in a season of short operas.  The Little Greats (Wed 8 – Sat 11 Nov ’17) will feature three emotionally charged double bills including Pagliacci, Trouble in Tahiti and Trial by Jury.  Opera fans will be mesmerised when Opera North returns again in 2018 with a season of operatic favourites (Tue 20 – Sat 24 Mar ’18) – Madame Butterfly, Don Giovanni and Un Ballo in Macshera.

And there are plenty of great shows to suit all tastes already on sale in the current season.  Star of stage and screen Sheridan Smith will be reprising her role as Fanny Brice when Funny Girl (Tue 16 – Sat 20 May) comes to Newcastle for 1 week only.

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Olivier nominee Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl

Young Frankenstein (Sat 26 Aug – Sat 9 Sep ‘17) will get its UK premiere when Hollywood legend Mel Brooks brings his classic movie to life on stage in an all singing, all dancing musical based on the 1974 Oscar-nominated smash hit movie,

There’s a jam-packed line up of top-class musicals which includes the feel-good spectacular Mamma Mia! (Tue 28 Mar – Sat 15 Apr ‘17) and the critically acclaimed Sister Act (Mon 19 – Sat 24 Jun ‘17) starring Alexandra Burke and directed by Craig Revel Horwood.  The fun continues when Strictly Come Dancing’s Joanne Clifton kicks up her heels in Thoroughly Modern Millie (Mon 10 – Sat 15 Jul ’17), follow the yellow brick road with NMTC’s production of The Wizard of Oz (Tue 25 – Sat 29 Jul ’17), former Strictly champions Tom Chambers and Caroline Flack star in Crazy for You (Tue 12 – Sat 16 Sep ’17) and the Olivier award-winning West End show Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Tue 14 – Sat 18 Nov ’17) tells the inspiring story of an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent.

Dance fans can look forward to the magic of Ballroom and Latin dance being celebrated in Keep Dancing (Tue 18 – Sat 22 Apr ’17) and the eagerly-awaited Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes (Tue 2 – Sat 6 May ‘17) is set to dazzle audiences in an intoxicating drama where life imitates art with fateful consequences.  Milonga(Fri 16 – Sat 17 Jun ’17) unites Argentinean tango dancers, contemporary dancers and live musicians to create a show that captures the unique style of celebrated choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

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Mel Brooks’ iconic Young Frankenstein is coming to town

Local sisters and Mercury-nominated mavericks of British folk music The Unthanks (Sun 14 May ’17) showcase the extraordinary songs of Molly Drake in a mesmerising performance of her charming and bittersweet works.  And discover the joins of exploring the Wilderness with Ray Mears – Born to Go Wild (Sun 29 Oct ’17).

There will be laughs a plenty in Ray Cooney’s Olivier Award-winning comedy Out of Order (Mon 22 – Sat 27 May ’17) and the fun continues with Henning Wehn (Sun 22 Oct ’17) and the show-stopping 17/18 Pantomime Peter Pan (Tue 28 Nov ’17 – Sun 21 Jan ’18) starring Danny Adams, Clive Webb and Chris Hayward.

The heart-warming and life-changing comedy Shirley Valentine (Mon 23 – Sat 28 Oct ’17) will see Jodie Prenger star in the title role as the Liverpool housewife who heads off to the sun and starts to see the world, herself and the life she let behind very differently.  This, the first major revival of the national treasure, is a must-see for anyone who adored the 1986 Oscar-nominated film by Willy Russell.

Audiences will be on the edge of their seats with spine-tingling drama coming by way of Peter James’ Not Dead Enough (Mon 20 – Sat 25 Mar ’17) starring Shane Richie and Laura Whitmore, the chilling The Woman in Black (Mon 24 – Sat 29 Apr ’17) and Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone (Mon 31 Jul – Sat 5 Aug ’17) which unravels a lifetime of deceit and brings a shocking revelation.

In Running Wild (Tue 9 – Sat 13 May ’17), going to Indonesia with her mum isn’t just a holiday for Lilly; this epic and spectacular production tells an emotional and moving story of love, loss, loyalty and of living for the moment.  The innovative drama based on Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Tue 30 – Sat 10 June ’17) returns to Newcastle after a sell-out run in 2015, and Jane Eyre (Mon 3 – Sat 8 July ’17) plays following a critically acclaimed season at the National Theatre.

Younger audiences will be delighted by Babe, The Sheep-Pig (Tue 13 – Wed 14 Jun ’17) and E.Nesbit’s classic novel The Railway Children (Mon 26 Jun – Sat 1 Jul ’17) is brought thrillingly to life in a stunning new stage production.  Following a smash-hit West End season, the tea-guzzling tiger is back in The Tiger Who Came To Tea (Thu 29 Jun – Sat 1 Jul ‘17).

Tickets for all new shows in the Summer / Autumn ‘17 season go on sale to the general public at 9am on Fri 17 Mar 2017 and can be purchased online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge).

Friends of the Theatre Royal can book new season shows online and through the box office on Mon 13 Mar 2017 and receive discounted tickets as well as other benefits – visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk/support/become-a-friend for more information.

Photos: Samantha Ovens/Johan Persson/Austin Hargrave

Tyneside Cinema puts climate change, migration and the refugee crisis on the agenda

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We’re no stranger to a beautiful picture house here in Newcastle. The city’s Tyneside Cinema celebrates turning 80 years old this year; a landmark achievement for any cultural venue. However, it is much more than just a cinema. Tyneside is now using it’s platform to engage audiences with the most pressing societal issues that we see ourselves confronted with.

In the first of its anniversary series of cultural events, the cinema has created a programme that is set to explore human migration and the refugee crisis through the lens of climate change, during a diverse series of powerful feature films, documentaries, artworks, talks and workshops from Thursday 16 – Sunday 19 March.

The programme, titled Gimme Shelter: Climate Change, Migration and the Refugee Crisis will see filmmakers joined by leading experts to discuss the connection between climate change, natural disasters and migration. The programme is presented in partnership with Climate Outreach and The Climate and Migration Coalition, and with support from Newcastle University Institute for Creative Arts Practice and Northumbrian Water.

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The Age of Consequences

In the next 50 years, climate change is predicted to have even more of a catastrophic effect on the planet. Millions are set to be displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding as well as intensifying drought and further agricultural disruption.

Tyneside Cinema aims to inform and spark discussion through a curated programme focusing on the urgency of action on climate change as well as its very real connection to the current refugee crisis. The programme will help contextualise these issues and cultivate a better understanding of the reasons behind human displacement.

Gimme Shelter will include talks from notable guest speakers including Lord David Puttnam, director George Kurian and Dr Susan Crate who will address the situations in some of the most severely affected locations.

Lord David Puttnam will lead proceedings at the launch on Thursday 16 March, drawing on his thirty years as an independent producer of award-winning films, such as The Killing Fields, Chariots of Fire and Bugsy Malone, and his work in public policy relating to education, the environment, and the creative and communications industries.

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Alongside a unique schedule of films including The Anthropologist, A Syrian Love Story, The Crossing and the regional premiere of The Age of Consequences, visual artist Lucy Wood will unveil the new chapter of her ongoing project Distant Neighbours.

Filmed on location in Al Zaatari refugee camp, Amman Jordan, Wood’s work reflects on the link between climate change and migration with the final installation to be shown at Tyneside Cinema from Friday 17 March – 18 May 2017.

Thomas Peutz, Chief Executive of Tyneside Cinema said: “Film has the power to connect with people and engender compassion, playing an important role in reversing perceptions of ‘the other’ – something which is particularly relevant in today’s political climate. ‘Gimme Shelter’ will shine a light on the epochal changes taking place in our world and tell the stories behind it.”

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Thomas Peutz – Chief Executive of Tyneside Cinema

Thomas added: “The role of the severe three year drought in creating the crisis in Syria cannot be ignored. It made life in many rural areas increasingly difficult and led to many rural Syrians being moved to cities. This increased their population by 30% over three years, creating an influx of newcomers that they were unable to manage. Poverty and widespread discontent were easily exploited to divide people and mobilise them for civil war. Now that we have come to recognise climate change as an important contributing factor and accelerant to instability, not only in Syria but in many conflicts of the world, it is becoming more and more clear that not tackling climate change is negligence on an unfathomable scale.

“The role of humanity in causing climate change is now clear. At the same time, unprecedented movements of people across Europe have forced the issue of migration even further up the political agenda. We invite you to explore the important questions – who will be affected and when? What are the experiences of people forced to move? Who, ultimately, is responsible and what should be done?”

Full listings of all events and tickets can be found here

Hardwick Live returns for 2017 – Here’s who’s on the bill…

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Hardwick Live will return to Hardwick Hall in Sedgefield this summer, with an array of musical legends topping the bill.

The event, which has been dubbed ‘The North East’s biggest live music event’, returns to County Durham on Saturday August 19.

Headlining this year’s show are 90s favourites Ocean Colour Scene (with special guest Pete Doherty). They will be joined on the bill by Buzzcocks, Soul II Soul, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Gabrielle and the Brand New Heavies, amongst others.

The event will also include performance by acclaimed tribute act The Bootleg Beatles, to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Fab Four’s Sgt Pepper album.

Ocean Colour Scene shot to fame in 1996 with the release of the Moseley Shoals album, which spawned a number of hit singles including The Riverboat Song, The Day We Caught the Train and Hundred Mile City.

The Birmingham band got their big break after the album caught the attention of Chris Evans, who championed the album on his BBC Radio 1 show and then used a riff from The Riverboat Song as part of his Channel 4 TV show, TFI Friday.

Libertines founding member Pete Doherty will be returning to his North East roots, after a return to the spotlight following the release of his Hamburg Demonstrations album last year.

New York three-piece Fun Lovin’ Criminals will be bringing their laid-back eclectic mix of soul, funk, hip hop, blues, R&B and jazz to the event. Fronted by the legendary Huey Morgan, the band are perhaps most famous for their 1996 hit Scooby Snacks, taken from the Come Find Yourself album which spent more than a year in the UK album chart.

London singer Gabrielle is a multi-platinum selling artist who boasts two BRIT awards, two Mobos and an Ivor Novello among her accolades.

With early hits including Dreams, Give Me a Little More Time and Walk on By, Gabrielle collaborated with East 17 on the 1996 classic If You Ever, and then enjoyed further success a few years later with hits Rise and Out of Reach, which was used on the soundtrack to Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Also appearing will be British punk legends Buzzcocks who last year celebrated their 40th anniversary and will be heading to Hardwick Live as part of a US and European tour.

Two-time Grammy award-winners Soul II Soul have been stars on the club scene since 1989. Headed by producer/singer/songwriter Jazzie B OBE, the band hit the big time in 1989 with Keep on Moving featuring vocalist Caron Wheeler.

They scored their first number one that same year with Back to Life, which made them a household name the world over and is now regarded as one of the most iconic songs of that era.

Brand New Heavies will return to the region as they enjoy a resurgence of popularity with fans of all ages, thanks to their cool soul and funk sound.

The 90s favourites, whose hits include Dream on Dreamer and Midnight at the Oasis, have had a busy 12 months touring Europe and Japan, and remain in high demand across the world.

As well as big names, Hardwick Live will feature a number of up-and-coming acts from the region and across the UK, along with a number of DJs and comedians.

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(Above) The crowds at previous years’ events

John Adamson, owner of Ramside Estates which runs Hardwick Live, believes this year’s line-up is the strongest to date. “It is a pleasure to be able to announce the return of Hardwick Live in 2017, particularly after its sabbatical last year,” he said.

“And of course we’ve also got the amazing show by Madness the night before so this really is going to be a weekend of incredible music at Hardwick.”

Photos: John Runciman & David Hudspeth

Hardwick Live will take place on Saturday August 19 at Hardwick Hall.  Tickets will go on sale on Friday 10 March, at 10am, priced at £8 children, £15 for 13-17-year-olds and £49 for adults. Day and weekend tickets are available. For tickets, click here. For more information, click here

 

REVIEW: Million Dollar Quartet, Theatre Royal – “a thrilling lottery win for rock ‘n’ roll fans, with a supremely talented cast”

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It’s a story that is so star-studded, it’s hard to fathom that it actually happened. But, Million Dollar Quartet is indeed the true story of December 4, 1956, the night that brought together rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis for one of the most famous jam sessions of all time. It would also be the only time all four legends played together.

The meeting takes place at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, the studio of producer Sam Phillips (Jason Donovan). Three of his old protégés, Perkins (Matt Wycliffe), Cash (Robbie Durham), Presley (Ross William Wild) and new boy Lewis (an electrifying Ashley Carruthers) come together for what would become a jam session to go down in music history. The structure of MDQ is more that of Jersey Boys than a traditional musical; the songs are there less to further the story and more to highlight just how iconic the singers’ back catalogues are. And whilst the story is an epic one in idea, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’s book doesn’t delve into the characters’ (Phillips, in particular) back stories as much as I would have liked.

In one scene, an argument over who owns Blue Suede Shoes (Perkins originally recorded it but Elvis took it to the top of the charts and had his shining moment performing it on The Ed Sullivan Show) opens up an old wound for the former, who is jealous of his old label mate’s catastrophic success in music and Hollywood. However, it’s hard to imagine a stereotypical 1950s, ex-army man like Cash pandering to anyone, let alone chasing after them to see if they were OK after a fall out. The Man in Black: a pacifier? Surely not?

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Regardless of qualms with the book, the boys in the band more than make up for any discrepancies with musicianship.

No stranger to theatre, having previously performed in shows such as Joseph and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Donovan is ironically in one of the only non-singing roles of the show. However, he still manages to hold court and is the glue that holds the show together as Phillips. He lends an everyman demeanour to the legendary producer, allowing him to show not only the pleasant side of the character but hurt and upset, the latter especially when confronted with the revelation that Cash is leaving the label for pastures new.

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Wycliffe is great as the frustrated Perkins, as is Wild as an emotionally immature Presley, clearly out of his depth with the mammoth fame he is achieving. Wild’s Presley is particularly stunning on That’s All Right. I didn’t think I was much of a Johnny Cash fan until I heard Durham’s version of his songs. His Arkansas accent is spot on and near-perfect versions of Folsom Prison Blues and Walk the Line do not fail to impress.

Carruthers is nothing short of thrilling in the role of Lewis. Not only are his piano skills mesmerising but he flawlessly plays the fool in a room full of cool guys. Bordering on slapstick, his comedic timing is set to precision and lines like, “You are so beautiful – you remind me of my cousin!” and his intro of “Jerry Lee Lewis, Ferriday, Louisiana” are great ammunition for his country bumpkin portrayal.

Katie Ray brings some much-needed femininity to the fray as the only girl in the boys club, Dyanne. She’s charismatic and flirtatious as Elvis’ flavour of the month and her big solo number, Fever, is delivered whilst bathed in red light, smoke rising behind her like the recording studio has become a jazz club, as she hops from purring sex kitten to powerhouse diva with ease. The leading players are backed skilfully by Ben Cullingforth on drums and James Swinnerton on bass.

The leads, including Ray, sing together on Down By the Riverside to provide one of the most beautifully understated moments of the show.

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The show finishes with a medley of some of the boys’ biggest hits, with massive numbers like Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line and Hound Dog giving them the chance to go full-out as show men (and woman). With a supremely talented cast, and a score full of million dollar hits, it’s like a lottery win for rock ‘n’ roll fans – make sure you’ve got your ticket.

Million Dollar Quartet is touring the UK until November 4, 2017. For more info and for tickets, click here