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

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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

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

 

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

WATCH: James Corden and co do Carpool Karaoke – Christmas style

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It wouldn’t be Christmas without a sing-along and James Corden has taken his Carpool Karaoke to heights even Mariah Carey’s head voice would struggle to reach.

The latest clip, part of Corden’s US talk show The Late Late Show, features a slew of past guests singing All I Want For Christmas (Is You) including the song’s originator Mariah, as well as Adele, Chris Martin, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Lady Gaga, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Gwen Stefani and Elton John. It’s the most star-studded edition of the British talk show host’s popular segment yet. It begins with Corden asking Carey, who is currently performing in her holiday-themed show at the Beacon Theatre in New York, what the best gift she could receive would be. “I want you sing my song!” she tells him, before launching into one of her biggest hits.

It also tops of a stellar year for the host, having hosted the Grammys, Brits and the Tonys, starring in films Trolls and Norm of the North and being outed as quite possibly the nicest man in showbiz.

Watch the video below:

INTERVIEW: PlastiQ on pretending to be Lady Gaga, going “totally off the rails” and gracing the stage at the O2 Academy

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Newcastle DJ and cabaret performer PlastiQ is on the bill of what promises to be one of the most exciting shows of the year for drag fans. Stars from mega hit US TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as home grown talent and the odd living legend, will be taking to the stage at the O2 Academy Newcastle next month for the Klub Kids Comedy Christmas Extravaganza.

And looking at the now polished performer who is quickly becoming one of the best-known faces in North East drag, she’s certainly come a long way from once being described by Boulevard’s Miss Rory as “a little bit sloppy and a little bit messy.”

“I first got into drag for a talent competition back when I was a member of the youth Parliament (really) in 2010,” she tells me. “It wasn’t really drag – I was pretty much a boy in a lace jumpsuit and blonde wig dancing around the stage pretending to be Lady Gaga.”

Donning wigs and commanding an audience would become more prominent in her life when she entered Drag Idol, an X Factor-style contest for amateur drag queens, last year, which she describes as her “first true attempt” at drag. 

“My make-up was shocking but my outfit was cute.”

Each week in the competition, much like The X Factor, the performers take on a theme as they are eliminated one by one before taking to the grand stage at Boulevard in the final. Although there was no backstabbing or Showgirls-style sabotage in the race for the crown. “Drag Idol never felt like a competition. I feel we had a really strong year and it gave birth to a lot of the new drag queens that have become regular faces on the Newcastle scene,” she says, with a flip of Marilyn-esque blonde hair. “But everyone was really good friends and we all wanted to see each other succeed.

I was happy with my experience and owe my entire career to it.”

She came third in the contest and went out on a high, with praise from the judges and local press, although the good times didn’t last for long. “After Drag Idol, if I’m 100 per cent honest I totally went off the rails. The popularity of the competition opened me up to a lot of people who were poisonous to my life without me realising. I fell into the wrong crowds and doing things I really shouldn’t have been and it wasn’t until months afterwards I started getting my life together. I have no regrets when it comes to the decisions I made following the competition, I’m just glad I learnt from them.”

Weeding out said ‘poisonous’ influences allowed PlastiQ to kick start her career properly. “When I finally sorted myself out I started working for Project:Homo in Sunderland. Then around Newcastle and I think I’ve worked everywhere now!

In January, I had the pleasure of performing in an interim show at Funny Girls in Blackpool and hosted the main stage at Newcastle Pride with the fabulous Gloria Hole.”

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Above: Hosting the main stage at Newcastle Pride with Gloria Hole

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The Christmas Comedy Extravaganza, which will play host to Drag Race alum like Alaska and Willam, as well as legendary drag queen Lady Bunny and Newcastle’s own Miss Rory, is being produced by Klub Kids. The alternative club promoters, headed up by DJ and businessman Andrew Hoyle and inspired by the cult film Party Monster, has become one of the most popular outlets for more left-of-field performers. What do you expect from a company whose newest club night is called Hooker Knees?

“Klub Kids has opened a lot of opportunities for me, including the Christmas Comedy show. It was a really exciting opportunity for me and obviously I jumped at the chance,” she says, adding that she is most excited to see ‘legendary’ drag queen Lady Bunny perform. “I’m looking forward to it as it’ll give people an opportunity to see me in a different light as most people aren’t aware that I do stand-up as they’re so used to seeing me in a DJ box.”

And after the show is over?

“I’ve loads of things in the pipeline. I’m going to continue working with Gloria and Anna (Morphic, another Newcastle queen) on our shows. I’m also working on producing a solo show that I hope to debut next year at some point. It’ll be a good mix of cabaret and stand-up. Well that’s the hope!

I have a lot of TV stuff that I wish I could say more about but I’m sworn to secrecy. But it’s all very exciting!”

She may have lost the Drag Idol competition but she won a host of fans, and in bagging high profile gigs, she’s proving all that glitters isn’t always gold…sometimes it’s PlastiQ.

Klub Kids Newcastle presents…Comedy Christmas Extravaganza is at the O2 Academy on December 11. For tickets, call the box office on 0844 477 2000 or online here

Photos: LAH Photography, Louise Crosby and Junkyard Studios

REVIEW: Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica, Theatre Royal – “brimming with the attributes one hears so much about and anticipates so greatly. High drama, personified.”

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I’d heard so much about Leeds-based company Opera North before attending one of their productions, that I forgot this was actually my first opera – ever. In a sea of fur coats and suited gents shouting ‘brava!’ I wondered whether they could make it accessible to me.

Part of their current season, this double bill – Puccini’s Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica – proved the perfect introduction to the art form for an opera newbie in that both shows were only one act each. Both were brimming with the attributes one hears so much about and anticipates so greatly; drama, affairs of the heart, murder and the longing for forbidden love, if you plan on seeing the production when it moves to Salford, Nottingham or Edinburgh, you’re in for quite a treat.

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Il Tabarro began the night’s performances. Set on a docked barge, we are introduced to Michele, his wife Giorgetta and a band of men who work for them. We soon learn that Giorgetta and worker Luigi are in the throes of a passionate affair, one that has not gone unnoticed by Michele. Luigi tells Michele that he wishes to leave the barge, but Michele persuades him to stay. When he learns of Luigi’s reasoning, that he can no longer bear the thought of sharing her with someone else, he seizes Michele and forces him to confess – resulting in Michele gruesomely murdering his love rival and hiding his body beneath his cloak. Giorgetta, after being reminded of the love she has for her husband, returns to Luigi and begs to be enfolded once more in his cloak. Luigi then opens the garment to reveal her lover’s corpse.

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Ivan Inverardi and Giselle Allen are a dynamic match as Michele and Giorgetta. He is brooding and overbearing from the start, whereas her vulnerability and longing to be loved is the perfect contradiction. David Butt Philip brings great masculinity to his role as Luigi and anchors the piece, flitting between interaction with the other two. All three, along with the rest of the company, deliver stunning vocal performances – the beautiful singing heightens the eerie setting of the barge further, especially during the dance scene at the beginning of the piece. The finale atop of the boat is menacing and upsetting in equal measure and the grand reveal of Luigi’s dead body by Michele is everything you would expect from the piece – high drama, personified.

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Suor Angelica takes us on a more traditional journey. Set in a convent, Sister Angelica is in inner turmoil over the child she gave up years earlier. She wishes for nothing more than news from home, which she finally gets from visiting aunt, the Princess. She has come to inform Angelica that her sister is to be married and also, with reluctance, reveals that the child Angelica gave up has died. Alone and devastated, she prepares a fatal potion and as she takes her own life, she prays for mercy.

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In my opinion the superior of the two pieces, Suor Angelica was stunning. Made up of an all-female company, led fiercely by Anne-Sophie Duprels, it felt more like what I was expecting from my first foray into opera. Duprels’ innocence at the beginning, followed by her strength, or arguably weakness, as she kills herself had me in her grip throughout. The finale, as she walks naked towards her child in heaven, was emotional if a somewhat bizarrely modern contrast to the otherwise simplistic production. Soraya Mafi as Sister Genoveva and Louise Collett as the Monitor Sister were other standouts, although the whole cavalry of nuns could not be faulted. Like in Il Tabarro, the convent setting was used sufficiently and provided context for the stripped back simplicity of the nuns’ existence.

Conducted by Jac Van Steen and Anthony Kraus, the orchestra was lovely, although I wish I could have heard them a little clearer. They seemed somewhat restrained and therefore didn’t fill the entire theatre like one would expect from such a large band.

Opera North has made a new fan in me. Murder, love triangles and nuns in despair – what’s not to like? Add to that a gaggle of homegrown performers, as well as fantastic international talent, and you have an irresistible show. By the end, I found myself wanting to join in with the chorus of ‘brava!’ and next time, I think I just might. (Editor’s note: no fur coat needed.)

Opera North will continue their season in Salford, Nottingham and Edinburgh. For tickets and more details, click here

On the Toon…My night at the inaugural Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards

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Last week saw the people behind the North East’s best businesses mix with the beautiful people of television, and the odd celebrity guest, as the first ever Tyne and Wear Lifestyle Awards took place.

Newcastle’s Discovery Museum proved a beautiful venue for the great and the good to assemble as prizes in categories like Best Bar, Best Fashion Retailer and Best Live Experience were handed out. And as special guest, pop star Sinitta, said, it was the perfect opportunity to find out just where you can get the best cup of coffee in the North East, where you should be checking in for the night and where you should be getting your hair did!

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(The grand Discovery Museum, our venue for the night)

The Lifestyle Awards is the brain child of PR guru Jason Gale, who was in attendance on the night along with his partner Sinitta. After public voting, a panel decided on the eventual winners.

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(Me and special guest Sinitta)

As an awards do newbie, I was grateful and relieved to be introduced to a fellow blogger on arrival. Also riding solo, Pixie Tenenbaum (below) a fashionista I had heard lots about through mutual friends, became my date whether she liked it or not. After posing on the red carpet and grabbing a complementary glass of fizz, we were frantically pulled aside by the lovely Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown, Made in Tyne and Wear’s hit TV show, for a live interview. We ended up having a ball together – our table was a mix of Made TV talent, PR and the lovely Donna Petch, who is behind the marketing powerhouse The North East Hub. We dined on a delicious three courses, ranging from a Geordie delicacy with a twist (ham hock terrine with a peas pudding sauce and fresh stottie) to corn-fed chicken supreme with gratin dauphinoise to a Sicilian lemon tart with macerated berries and cream. All superb.

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(Fashion blogger Pixie Tenenbaum)

Entertainment was provided by The Mimic Men, an impressionist double act last seen storming Britain’s Got Talent, and the rowdy room was kept in check (just!) by hosts from Made in Tyne and Wear, Peter Darrant, and the lovely Hazel and Mel (below).

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(Hosts Hazel Pude and Melissa Crawford from The Lowdown)

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(Two of the winners of the night – Mister Woods took home Best Coffee Shop)

It was wonderful to see the eclectic mix of talent our region has and lovely to not only recognize a lot of the winning faces but also make new friends. It is events like this that really shine a spotlight on regional businesses and let the rest of the country know what we already do; that the North East is a truly unique place to live.

A big thank you to lovely Fran from Made TV for the invitation and looking after us and the rest of the team for helping pull off a fantastic event. Sore heads all round the morning after, no doubt. Looking forward to the next one.

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The full list of winners:

Best Coffee Shop – Mister Woods

Best Pub – City Tavern

Best Fashion Retailer – Have To Love

Best Hair and Beauty – Patrick Forster Barber and Shop

Best Hotel – Malmaison

Best Bar – The Botanist

Best Cultural Attraction – National Glass Centre

Best Restaurant – River Beat

Best Club – House of Smith

Best Fitness Facility – Model Health

Best Live Experience – Great North Run

Legend Award – Colin Burgin-Plews (Big Pink Dress)

WATCH: Coxhoe’s Sam Lavery takes on James Arthur in week one of The X Factor

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She’s the local girl with the big voice, a voice which has taken her all the way to the live finals of the biggest singing competition in the country. And tonight, Sam Lavery, from County Durham, sailed through to the next round with her rendition of a former winner’s single.

The 17-year-old performed Impossible, which was originally released by US singer Shontelle, but was a number one hit for James Arthur, who won the show in 2012.

Her performance was praised by all of the jobs, with her mentor Simon telling the audience that she had huge potential as an artist.

Brattavio were booted off the show, after landing in the sing-off against Finnish diva Saara Alto. They’re version of The Only Way Is Up by Yazz wasn’t enough to beat Alto’s belting take on Sia’s Alive. Next week will see the 10 remaining acts tackle the songs of Motown.

Watch Sam’s performance below:

The X Factor returns next Saturday at 8pm on ITV1.

Photo: ITV X Factor

Solange: Why new album A Seat at the Table should see her taking her rightful seat in the music industry

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It’s hard to make your mark on an industry so undeniably dominated by your relative. Just ask 3T, the boyish trio consisting of Michael Jackson’s nephews, or Kylie’s younger sister Dannii. Even Daniel Bedingfield, who came to the fore years before little sister Natasha, saw his star outshined when she came trotting out to the sound of delicious noughties pop hits like These Words and Unwritten.

Solange Knowles, younger sibling of Beyonce, has shoehorned a lot into her young life: she soundtracked a Disney Channel series (The Proud Family), acted in the direct-to-video cheerleading film Bring It On: All or Nothing, co-founded fashion label House of Dereon and has released three albums dabbling in genres from the retro Motown-inspired to ultra-modern neo soul.

She hasn’t produced a pop banger or anthem for the masses, though – although arguably should have. 2013’s Losing You was a seminal moment. Slick and stylish, the song heralded a new, mature direction for Solange. She famously performed the track at Coachella where she was joined for an impromptu dance-off with her big sis. The song came accompanied with a stunning music video which saw her traipsing around Jamaica in a variety of high-fashion ensembles and was part of a modern, neo-soul movement that also showcased the talents of  Miguel and Frank Ocean.

INDIO, CA - APRIL 12:  Singer Beyonce (L) performs with her sister Solange onstage during day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

INDIO, CA – APRIL 12: Singer Beyonce (L) performs with her sister Solange onstage during day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

Does new long player, A Seat at the Table, feature her long-awaited smash hit? No – nor does it attempt to. But it does have a lot to say. Covering issues as serious, and more relevant than ever, as feminism, racism and most prominently the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Solange has a strong political voice. It features interludes from US rapper Master P, as well Solange’s mother, Tina, who delivers an empowering statement on being proud to be black. Such interludes make the album feel like more of a conversation with melodies, than a record. It should be listened to as a whole piece, rather than track-by-track, as it is thematically unified. Chronicling the modern struggles facing black women, it not only touches on the recent tragedies of police brutality against the black community, but also the history of violence directed towards Knowles’ ancestors.

Opener Rise is a striking jazz number that shows the beauty of her voice, and Don’t Touch My Hair specifically confronts the way black women are devalued in society, whilst Cranes in the Sky unashamedly documents her self-coping mechanisms like drinking and sex:

“I tried to keep myself busy/ I ran around in circles/Think I made myself dizzy/I slept it away, I sexed it away”

Where Do We Go and Weary are also favourites of mine. More up-tempo than the others, the latter features lyrics about really trying to find your place and make a mark on the world. Scales is the highlight; a duet with Kelela, it is a critique on those who hold superficial things in higher regard than spirituality:

“And that armor in your mouth/You’re gonna shine/ Your wrist talking/ Boy, it’s only time”

The thing that makes the album so special is how it interlinks throughout. The aforementioned interludes really do paint a beautifully poignant portrait. It is spiritual, sensual, mature and artistically coherent, and demands those listening to be confident and true to themselves. There is little more a modern R&B album should be.

She’s had more column inches in recent years for her elevator antics, where she (literally) laid into brother-in-law Jay-Z at the Met Gala in 2014 and the subsequent photos that followed appearing to show them playing happy hip hop families again.

But it’s time we listened to the music. And not only that, it’s about damn time Solange received the high praise from the masses said music warrants. Ignoring her contemporaries’ penchant for sex, bottle poppin’ and being ‘drunk in love’, she could be one of the most relevant pop stars singing today. Take your seat, Ms Knowles – you’ve earned it.

A Seat at the Table is out now.

Watch the video for Don’t Touch My Hair below:

Watch the singer’s songwriting process and the sessions that shaped her new album below:

Images: solangeknowlesmusic/Youtube