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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Dirty Dancing, Theatre Royal Newcastle – “All the ingredients to give you the Time of Your Life”

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It’s been called “the biggest live theatre sensation of all time” and judging by the reaction from the audience in Newcastle last night – that wouldn’t be such an outrageous statement.

Based on, of course, the iconic 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, this stage adaptation has been a hit throughout Europe, North America and Australia. The year is 1963: America is still innocent, JFK has yet to be assassinated and Martin Luther King Jr. is preparing to deliver his landmark “I have a dream” speech. The plot here follows Frances “Baby” Houseman on vacation with her family at Kellerman’s resort up in the Catskills, as she falls for Johnny Castle, the sexy dance teacher, who teaches her how to move and pair up with him for the big end of summer dance show.

The film is not a musical – so here, the plot is interspersed with songs from it’s legendary soundtrack. Tunes like Be My Baby, Hungry Eyes, She’s Like the Wind and Do You Love Me? are chock full of nostalgia and save the show from becoming your run-of-the-mill jukebox musical. They are performed primarily by supporting players Tito Suarez, Daniela Pobega and Michael Kent, although it would have been nice to see the main cast in vocal action. Some songs aren’t performed at all, but rather just played as they were in the film, which again is something I wasn’t expecting and didn’t necessarily want. Kent gives a touching rendition of In the Still of the Night, though.

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Where another Swayze film-to-musical, Ghost, uses ultra-modern technology and contemporary music to tell its story, this production uses good old-fashioned nostalgia and a hark back to simpler times with great success. It’s quaint set turns and twirls, from dance hall to cabin to the lake, like it could be one the dancers who hoof across it. The K emblazoned on it could as easily stood for ‘kitsch’ as it does for Kellerman’s.

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Lewis Griffiths plays Johnny with pure sex appeal. He has the majority-female audience eating out of his hand right from his entrance and gives great Swayze swagger as he seduces Baby, stands up to Robbie and faces off against Mr Houseman in his daughter’s honour. One scene in particular, where Griffiths rises from bed in barely-there underwear caused genuine squeals from women old enough to know better. He’s a force to be reckoned with, whether on the dance floor teaching Baby the Mambo or comforting Penny off.

Katie Hartland – in one of her first major theatre roles – shines as Baby. She blossoms from awkward beginner to bona-fide dancing queen in front of our eyes and takes us on a touching journey of growth with her. Baby’s sister Lisa’s hula number in the talent contest is performed with great gusto and comedic flair by Lizzie Otley, who gradually becomes more of a scene-stealer throughout.

Carlie Milner’s Penny is, for me, the star of the piece. Not only is the statuesque siren a phenomenal dancer, best shown in the early scenes of hers and Johnny’s fierce partnership, but her truly heartbreaking portrayal of a woman in tearful torment, left with an unplanned pregnancy by a man who doesn’t care was unexpectedly searing, but more than appreciated.

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One of the (many) perks of a show with an ending that the audience is expecting and so passionately wants, is that when it finally arrives, it makes quite an impact. The infamous closing number, (I’ve had) The Time of my Life ends the show on a dizzying high, the film’s iconic choreography matched step by step here and that lift executed flawlessly.

I wasn’t expecting to love it quite as much as I did but there’s something to be said for a show that can reduce a grown woman to teenage pandemonium and a grown man to goosebumps, within the same number. The time of your life? Without a doubt.

Dirty Dancing is at the Theatre Royal Newcastle until Saturday January 28. For more information and for tickets, call the box office on 08448 11 21 21 or click here

Photos: Wizard Productions

REVIEW: The Unexpected Guest – “Alison Carr is mesmerising. A great cast help save an adequate story”

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As far as ‘whodunnits’ go, I’m far more used to being laid out on the sofa with a cup of tea (gin and tonic) watching them unfold on telly. So, to be in the theatre watching the drama unfurl live on stage is an intriguing novelty in itself. Also intriguing is that The Unexpected Guest, written by the grand doyenne of detective stories Agatha Christie, has never been adapted into a television series or film in the UK. And there’s an argument for and against this.

The Unexpected Guest isn’t the most fast-paced of Christie’s plays. We are introduced to the central characters, mean old Richard Warwick (Spoiler alert: he’s dead in his armchair) his wife Laura (Spoiler alert: she’s holding the pistol that killed him) and Michael Starkwedder, a stranger who just so happens to have walked in on a crime scene, all in the first few seconds. The plot, however, is a slow-burner. Starkwedder bizarrely offers to help Mrs Warwick cover up the murder by framing an old rival, whose son was knocked over and killed in a drunken hit and run by Richard years before. This wouldn’t be a whodunnit if it were that straightforward, though, and a slew of suspects come into the fray to muddle with their plans. Slow it may be, but it still has all of the ingredients for a fine drama, so it’s beggars belief why it’s not more well-known. It’s classic Christie; interesting, uncertain and deliciously over-the-top. It keeps the audience’s attention straight through to the finale, or at least it did mine.

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Alison Carr is mesmerising as the unhinged Laura. It isn’t clear to the audience whether the murder of her husband is a crime of passion or pure malevolence, or whether she’s even behind it, and Carr has them hanging on her every movement. Carr is also an award-winning playwright and it is probably these skills, an eye for detail and the understanding of a character’s being, that aid her in giving such an understated yet rich performance, which begins right from her fabulously camp entrance wielding a pistol. Sam Hinton is also great as Starkwedder. His swagger is impressive and his cool, conniving demeanour is a grounding presence in contrast to Carr’s nervous Laura. Richard Gardner is on great form as Sergeant Cadwallender, his broad Welsh accent down to a tee. He was spectacular in the People’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors a few months back and he impresses again here. Callum Mawston also puts in a sweet and studied turn as young Jan, a lad with learning difficulties.

A rich set utilises the stage well, the chair in which the victim is discovered the focal point throughout. Jess Chapman and Vanessa Aiken’s direction is simple and allows the story to unfold without too many distractions. Other than a few gunshots and cigarettes being chain-smoked, the play is played straight.

Not the most obviously thrilling of Christie’s works, but a perfectly good display of her talents as a murder mystery writer. In this case, a great cast help an adequate story become something a little bit more, well, mysterious.

The Unexpected Guest is at the People’s Theatre until Sat January 21. For more information or to book tickets, call the box office on 0191 265 5020 or click here