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

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

 

What’s on? The Tempest at the People’s Theatre

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The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, is the latest tale to be staged by Newcastle’s People’s Theatre.

The drama, widely thought to be the last play The Bard wrote alone, will begin performances next Tuesday. It is the latest in the Heaton venue’s season, following successful productions of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest and Antigone by Jean Anouilh.

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Marooned on a remote island, Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan, lives with his daughter Miranda and their two servants: the flighty spirit Ariel, and Caliban, the downtrodden witch-spawned drudge.

Prospero uses his magic powers to conjure up a storm, shipwrecking his wicked brother and his court on the island, placing them at his mercy.

But Shakespeare’s classic is no simple tale of revenge. The political intrigue and sibling rivalry at the heart of the tale are counterpointed by one of Jacobean theatre’s greatest evocations of love at first sight.

Romance and reconciliation win the day, with much roistering high-jinks, melodramatic sorcery, and knockabout comic interludes along the way.

The production is directed by Anna Dobson, who has previously directed pantomime at the theatre.

The Tempest is at the People’s Theatre from Tuesday March 7 to Saturday March 11. Tickets are £13.50 (£11 concessions). For more info, call the box office on 0191 265 5020 or click here

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)

REVIEW: Lads and Lashes, Boulevard – “the perfect antidote to the January blues”

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The grand stage of Boulevard can be a daunting place for the most established of acts. For a relatively new double act still building a fan base, it could be terrifying. But if Lads and Lashes, aka Dixie Swallows and Penny Arcade, were feeling the pressure, they could have fooled us.

Their Christmas show, performed in the ‘purple palace’ for the first time, was a whirlwind of classic drag performances in parts; everything from Cher and Tina Turner to Grease and Rocky Horror, via Frozen, Abba and a bevy of festive frolics and it was these Christmas numbers that were the highlight for me. Although a little odd (it being almost mid-January) they were slick and stylish when necessary and hilariously funny when they needed to be. Rocky Horror and Grease also proved popular with punters, a room full of people doing the Time Warp and swaying in sync to Hopelessly Devoted To You not to be sniffed at. Dixie’s Cilla Black also brought the house down, a number which took in swinging 60s Cilla as well as Surprise Surprise TV host Cilla.

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For me, however, the real revelation here was Penny. Having been unfamiliar with her cabaret act (after having her own act in Turkey a few years back, she was strictly a DJ in the bars of Newcastle by the time I got to them) I wasn’t sure what to expect. She was fantastic. A true pro, great mover and had the lip-synching down. Her version of Jingle Bells was a riot and her take on Danny in Grease was the perfect accompaniment to Dixie’s pill-popping Sandy. An out-of-control Amy Winehouse was predictable but saved by a sped-up, chipmunks-esque version of Valerie which genuinely had me in stitches.

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The pair weren’t backed by a troupe of dancers or any over-the-top SFX, but did the best with what they had. A 20-foot Christmas tree and beautiful costumes were all they to help their numbers along.

The show could definitely have been cut a little shorter but didn’t matter too much as it was interspersed with breaks and witty banter from hostess Phyllis Tyne on the mic.

Was it generic in parts? Absolutely. But was it thoroughly entertaining and the perfect antidote to the January blues? Without a doubt. The show may have been unpolished in parts but that’s the fun with diamonds; and these two are definitely diamonds in the rough. I genuinely look forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeves, whether that’s Easter in June or Halloween in August – count me in.

People’s Theatre to host Agatha Christie whodunnit The Unexpected Guest

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The Unexpected Guest, Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, is the next play in the Heaton theatre’s new season.

The plot sees a young man’s car breaks down one foggy night near a remote country house. Seeking help, he finds his way into the study via the French windows, only to discover the murdered body of its owner Richard Warwick.

But all is not what it seems in this house full of secrets and there’s no shortage of suspects. Was it Richard’s bitter wife who killed him? Could his own mother have fired the fatal shot? Or maybe it was his unscrupulous manservant.

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Christie is one of the best-selling writers of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible. She wrote The Unexpected Guest in 1958, with The Guardian writing that the applause on the opening night “was the equal of that which welcomed her record-breaking triumph, The Mousetrap”.

A recent BBC TV adaptation of her Witness For The Prosecution was watched by millions. The two-part drama starred Andrea Riseborough, who started her acting career at the People’s Theatre.

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Tickets are £13.50 with £11 concessions and are available from People’s Theatre box office or on their website.

Audiences are advised that this production contains smoking and language that may be offensive.

The Unexpected Guest is at running Tuesday January 17 – Saturday January 21. For tickets, call 0191 265 5020, or click here.

Lads and Lashes to serve up a post-Christmas festive spectacular at Boulevard

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If you’re not ready to accept Christmas is over and can’t quite face those January blues yet, there are a couple of lad-ies who might be able to help.

Lads and Lashes, the cabaret act made up of drag performers Penny Arcade and Dixie Swallows, are gearing up to keep the festivities going with their one-off Christmas show next week.

Described as “a mix of old and new, Christmas and camp” it is the most recent of the Lads and Lashes shows. The north east-based act has performed previously at the Quayside Exchange in Sunderland and Newcastle’s Pink Room nightclub, amongst other venues, but this special festive show will see Penny and Dixie take to the grand stage of cabaret venue Boulevard, usual home of Danni Dee and the Broadway Dancers. It will be hosted by fellow drag queen Phyllis Tyne.

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“It’s going to be an evening of traditional camp fun with all the usual favourites you’d expect from me and Penny,” said Dixie, who when not performing cabaret, can also be found DJing in The Bank Bar and The Pink Room. You can read our interview with Dixie from a few months ago, here.

Tickets can be purchased by contacting their Facebook page here or in person at The Bank Bar on Scotswood Road. Standing tickets are £5, seated £15 and front premier are £20.

Lads and Lashes Christmas Special is at Boulevard on Friday January 13. For more information and ticket details, click here

REVIEW: Cinderella – “great performances, sumptuous sets and intricate costumes have the audience spellbound”

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Real-life father/son duo Danny Adams and Clive Webb are in their 12th year of entertaining the festive crowds at the Theatre Royal and they’ve become the main draw of the annual show and local celebrities in the process. Or at least, they are to the hordes of children who hang on their every word. This year’s effort, written and directed by super-producer and local lad Michael Harrison, is no different and the tale of the flighty girl with the blinged-out shoes has never been so good.

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The whole cast put in strong performances. Singer and star of The Basil Brush Show Laura Evans (above) is a prim and proper Cinderella and her stunning voice melds beautifully with that of Will Richardson (below) who plays the dashing Prince. Both tackle both the original numbers and covers of songs like Hold My Hand with ease and have the audience spellbound. Wayne Smith somehow manages to hold his own amongst the mayhem as a very dapper Dandini and has some lovely scenes with Adams, where in this performance (and I’m sure regularly) the two couldn’t contain their laughter. The ugly sisters (a hilariously grotesque Pete Peverley and Steve Arnott) relished their roles as the villains of the piece and their take on the Geordie-lass-doon-the-toon stereotype is just as much for the grown-ups as it is for the kids, who boo and hiss to their heart’s content. Chris Hayward is also back as Rita, the Fairy Godmother, and is as warm and welcoming as ever. He, like Adams and Webb, is a legend of Theatre Royal pantoland.

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The 3D portion of the show has become a staple of modern panto and always goes down a treat. Squeals of glee and tears of genuine terror – and that’s the adults! Some traditionalists may turn their nose up but it really is a spectacle. The show-stopping moment comes courtesy of Cinderella’s horse drawn carriage, which rises up into the gods led by incredibly life-like animatronic horses. I couldn’t help but wish I was seeing it through a child’s eyes.

Pantomime sometimes has a reputation as being a bit ‘chatty’ and isn’t taken as seriously as other forms of theatre. This production, with sumptuous sets and intricate costumes to rival a West End show, dispels that myth. The Fairy Godmother in particular has some beautiful costumes; gone are the wacky comedy frocks, replaced by sequinned gowns a la Boulevard that, actually, put Cinders’ outfits to shame.

The entire show is a treat but it really does hinge on it’s Buttons. Adams’ talent as an entertainer, whether that is physical comedy, charm or magic, knows no bounds. How he isn’t a huge star is anyone’s guess. Although if he was, maybe it would take the shine off the Northern star he has been to us Geordies for the past 12 years of Christmas.

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Cinderella is at the Theatre Royal until Sunday January 15. For more information and to book tickets call 08448 11 21 22 or click here

REVIEW: Chicago – “Sophie Carmen Jones and Hayley Tamaddon deliver a masterclass in sharing the spotlight”

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Its sometimes inevitable that when a stage show that has been turned into a film comes back around on tour again, it can become a little stale. But, not all stage shows are Chicago.

With a score to die for (no pun intended) by Kander and Ebb, the 1920s prison-set story of the all-singing, all-dancing murderesses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who get banged up for offing their blokes, is timeless.

The staging was unsettling at first. Having the orchestra on stage instead of in the pit is a unique take on the show and I initially thought it would be a distraction. But, as in most shows, the musicians are the real stars and huddled on stage like a jazz club ensemble, they end up blending right in.

This show relies on strong performances from its two leading ladies.

Hayley Tamaddon hams it up as Roxie. A more comedic take on the character than I’ve seen before, she shows real skill; I couldn’t help but imagine her as an Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (which she would SLAY) or Guys and Dolls’ Adelaide. Although I would have liked to have seen a more dramatic side to the character and her take can sometimes be borderline slapstick, Tamaddon’s singing can’t be faulted. She shines brightest during Funny Honey and Me and My Baby, and whenever she is opposite her Velma.

The lady in question is played by Sophie Carmen Jones, who is a force to be reckoned with as Ms Kelly. Killer moves (again, no pun intended) and a classic, sultry voice of yesteryear, like a Judy or a Liza, she makes a big impression right from the opening bars of All That Jazz. Seductively prowling around stage and hitting her mark every time to perfection, when she takes to the stand she brings the house down. Her duet with Roxie in the finale, Hot Honey Rag, is a masterclass from both in sharing the spotlight.

Cell Block Tango with the chorus girls is always a highlight and these ladies, thankfully, didn’t disappoint. Sophie Carmen-Jones, Lindsey Tierney, Ellie Mitchell, Nicola Coates, Frances Dee and Chelsea Labadini join Tammadon and Carmen Jones in their guilty lament and show wonderful team work and deliciously evil characteristics.

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John Partridge, perhaps best known to television fans as an Eastenders star but in fact a stage veteran of shows like A Chorus Line and Cats, delivers a confident, assured take on greasy lawyer Billy Flynn. He is slick, smooth and in great voice. His ‘exit music’ All I Care About is a big number to tackle and he does it with ease.

After Jesssie Wallace took her final bow at the weekend, it was up with 90s soul diva Mica Paris to fill Mama Morton’s formidable shoes. But, rich and booming as her voice is, her acting chops are not up to scratch and strong vocals don’t make up for her lacklustre, and at times lazy, turn. Mama should be sexy and sleazy and Paris just doesn’t turn it in.

Neil Ditt, on the other hand, puts in a perfectly passive performance as Roxie’s downtrodden husband Amos. His Mr Cellophane earned him a rapturous applause and hearty sympathy in equal measure.

All That Jazz is the musical’s showstopping moment and thankfully, this production is all that and more. A few offences committed, but not enough to throw the book at it. The cast and orchestra give enough Razzle Dazzle to ensure this classic show isn’t going down yet.

Chicago is at the Sunderland Empire until December 3. For tickets and more information, click here

Photos: Catherine Ashmore