Friday, July 22, 2016

Write Faster - Review- Alphabetti Theatre

Write Faster
Alphabetti Theatre

When I arrived the show had already started. I wasn’t late, it was just the first indication that this was going to be a night at the theatre unlike anything I’d experienced before.
The (perhaps slightly deformed) brainchild of Richard Stockwell, senior lecturer at Northumbria University, and hosted by Alphabetti Theatre, Write Faster is a concept likely to give even the hardiest theatre soul palpitations. Saturday 16th July saw its 2nd incarnation.
    I was told, whilst at the bar, one of the most important places you can visit whilst at Alphabetti, that if I wanted to I could wander into the auditorium, which I did. I found a hive of industry.
    Ok, some background. The idea of Write Faster is that at 7pm there’s no show, just a title, in this case “The Unscratchable Itch”. At 7pm a team of three writers (Richard, Ali Pritchard of Alphabetti Theatre and Louise Taylor) begin, between them, a paragraph or so at a time, to write the first of 4 scenes. At 7.30 or thereabouts (more “abouts” than “there” on the night ;-) ) the actors, again 3 of them (Rosie Stancliffe, Matt Jamie and Steve Byron) arrive and, having read through the scene once, perform/improvise their way through it as it scrolls across a display screen.
    At this point, if you did come into the auditorium early you’ve had three kicks; watching the bizarre lines appear on the screen as the writers write them, watching the actors read through these lines quickly before beginning and watching them attempt to make sense of that in action. All three were hilarious, and surprisingly thrilling. But there’s more.
    Once the actors arrived on stage the writers had split into two teams. Richard and Ali started on scene 2 and Louise on scene 3. At this point it’s a race. Scene 2 MUST be ready by an obvious time limit. The whole thing is an event and when you factor in the play itself, a suburban tale of a couple trying to spice up their lives by contemplating a ménage a trois with a work friend of the husband (being invented on the fly, remember), also enormous fun.
Inevitably the actors win the race to scene 4, (it’s obviously quicker to perform than write, even in threes) which is being written initially by Richard and Ali and, when she’s finished scene 3, by Louise, on single slips of paper to be passed, live, to the actor whose line it is. To allow for the gap (admittedly quite small) that emerges between scene 3 and scene 4 there’s a pint mug on stage which has pre-prepared slips of paper with actions written on them. If anything thins is the most mysterious part of the process – how are the actions written? Making this work relies on the actors. All good improvisers they’re able to take whatever they find and make it work given what’s now happening (at this point, for example one of the characters was dead, or in the process of dying in front of ours eyes).
    It’s impossible to properly capture the chaos that ensues from the very simple premise “we’ll write a play while you watch”. But it’s probably quite easy to predict. What’s less obvious is how clever it is, in the right hands.
    One of the things I enjoyed most about it was the level of skill required it took to make it work. The actors all have to be good improvisers, and devisers and collaborators. Each made it look very easy. They were having fun. We were in very good hands. When you bear in mind that there had been no rehearsal and only one read-through, it was genius.
    The writers, too, are in the same position. They start with nothing yet the piece ended up fitting a 3-act structure. I suppose you’d expect from people who knew what they were doing, but they’re doing some of this in different teams (scenes 2 and 3 were written separately and god knows how they wrote scene 4, I was too busy watching the action) and bloody quickly. But the way it ends up working is that scene 1 is Act I, scenes 2, 3 and 4 work as ACT II (the proper denouement comes at the end of scene 4) and after the interval we get three monologues “following up” the action, like a sort of epilogue, which rounds everything off into Act III. You end up with a complete story (and a bloody funny one) written to a proper dramatic structure.
The madness and chaos of actually getting it to work contribute to the dramatic success of the piece because really to get it to work you want as few gaps as possible, especially as this story had a “nervous energy” about it – it’s about sex and accidental death – so the frantic nature of the writing contributes to this. The inevitable gap between scenes 3 and 4 (the actors are bound to catch up at some point) doesn’t matter because at the end of scene 3 (courtesy of Louise) they’ve killed their guest (about smack on the mid-point – again perfect story structure) so leaving the actors to “work it out for themselves with prompts” is quite funny (it almost seems as though they’ve done it to themselves) and, for the actors, relatively straight-forward.
So the whole thing ends up looking like it was planned. It’s very clever. And that’s the other thing I liked about it; it’s irony. It starts off looking like some kind of post-structural challenge. It takes apart the idea of a fixed theatrical text. There is no text at all at the start. And much of what emerges is random, notwithstanding that we have three very experienced writers on board. As it takes shape the text acquires more solidity and the words have more meaning but, to begin with at least, we have an infinite number of texts: it’s like a postmodern party game. The actors, too, have no given circumstances and no “character”, or “actions”. Some are given to them as the play progresses but much they have to make up and some depend on the other actors!
But to work the performance relies very heavily on age-old story-telling technique from the whole team. It is, if you will, post-postmodern. It’s a brilliant idea and, especially given that the play itself ends up being so good, very good indeed.
This is fringe performance coming to you very live from Alphabetti Theatre. I’ve not seen anything as funny, as edgy as eccentric or as creative as this for a very long time and this sort of activity deserves our support. If you want to see something new, clever, experimental, done by talented people at virtually no expense, there’s a new face in town.
    Thank you, Richard, for the idea, and thank you Alphabetti for the courage to stage it. Twice! Ladies and Gents Alphabetti need your cash. Go there and buy a drink, its how they make the place run. This show was “pay what you like” and they rely on bar sales to help cover their costs. Go and buy a drink. Better still, go and see a show. You won’t be disappointed.

Matt Cummins

Thursday, July 21, 2016

West Side Story – Newcastle Musical Theatre Company, Theatre Royal - Review

West Side Story
Newcastle Musical Theatre Company
Theatre Royal
19th Jul 2016

After seeing their last production Sister Act I was very much looking forward to seeing West Side Story and it didn't disappoint.
West Side Story is a tale of love and gangs  which is gripping from start to finish.  The Jets and The Sharks., led by two great leaders Riff played fantastically by Dan Dickinson and Bernardo, Ty Roach Thompson. These two seem to be like ghosts in the second half of the show but their presence is still felt.

The Jets and The Sharks and have a dance this is where our two star crossed lovers meet; Maria who is Bernardo's sister played by the amazingly talented lady, Nikki Cunningham, falls head over heels in love with Tony played by Jamie Douglass.
I would love to take a minute to talk about The Jets because these guys were great and they really made you believe that they could be a gang, we have spoken already about Riff but in every team you need the engine and in the Jets you have Action played amazingly by Simon Pinkney. A-Rab played really well by Jack Hindmarsh, Baby John (Curtis Appleby), Diesel (James Mitchinson), Big Deal (Martin Hampton Matthews), Tiger (Daniel Thomas), Mouthpiece Nathan Denton), Aisling Vallely and Carl Luke who plays Snowball.  The star of the Jets is a girl called Anybodys (It couldn't have been Anybody else) played to perfection by the amazingly talent Beth Johnson who was full of energy throughout the show (and her hair grows back really fast!)

The Sharks comprised of Bernardo,  Anita played by Lauren Gordon, Rosalia played by Helen Cash who brings great comedy to the role, Ellen Crake who plays Velma, JoJo Hatfield who plays Consuela, Kara Ferguson plays Somewhere Girl and Savanna,  and finally the star of the Sharks, Chino played extremely well by Andrew Ewart.
Keeping the two gangs from fighting are four brilliantly actors  Dan Greener as Lt Shrank (and you should have seen the crowd of girls that flocked to him at the stage door after the show)) and the wonderfully talented Joe Costigan playing the delightful Officer Krupke, Noel Harris as Glad Hand and finally Ken Allen is brilliant and deserves great praise for the work he does for the company leading the Junior Section of NMTC.

Taking over as MD this year was Malcolm Moffat who does a great job with the baton with his 18 person band (yes it is that many).
The Crew deserve a mention because a lot of the great work they do goes unnoticed unless there are hiccups! The sound and lighting are great - a few little technical glitches but not enoughto spoil the show.

The Ending! Now some people would say that I have a heart of stone but jeez guys the ending nearly had me in tears (Don't believe anybody who says I was crying, they were tears of joy). I'm not going to ruin the ending but it will make you shed tear or two…
Before I finish I just have to give a shout out and an amazing well done to one lady who has worked on this show and the last 2 shows the NMTC have done - the amazingly talented Sandra Laidler. She has done a brilliant job with all the shows that she has worked on and I wish her all success with Copacabana in 2017. The  NTMC will have their work cut out finding a replacement, although of course she couldn't do it without her amazing production team - Chantal Riley ( Dance Captain), Philip Stockley ( Production Manager) Malcolm Moffat (MD) and Julie Macnaughton ( Accompanist).

Once again I would say that this is one show that will make you laugh and cry and take you on a journey and you will come out feeling better and having seen a great show performed by a great theatre company. This show is amazing and I do want to see it again and I definitely think that you should go down to the Theatre Royal box office and get your tickets before they run out.

It Plays until Sat 23rd July. 

Reuben Hiles

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lords and Ladies - Review - People's Theatre

Lords and Ladies
People's Theatre
19th July 2016

Based on the book by Terry Pratchett, adapted for the stage by Irana Brown, Lords and Ladies is a mad tale of magic, folklore and politics...

Disc World has become complacent. Years of peace have worn away the knowledge of what life was like before the elves (whisper it, they come out when they are called) were banished. Those days have sunk into folklore - tales to scare the children, not real.  But the elves have been plotting and they want to claim back their land. The old Witches' powers have waned and there are few of them left. The young people are dabbling in magic and setting themselves up as New Witches with new magic, and they are drawn to the tales of the Elves, seduced by the glamour. The Elves are waiting their chance and preying on the weak to inveigle their way back into the world they once ruled.

The People's Theatre have once again taken on the challenge of a big cast production with over 25 characters. And that's before you even consider the legacy of Terry Pratchett hovering over the whole proceeding! But as usual the People's team have taken on the challenge and presented a blinding production. Magnificent costumes, spectacular sound and lighting, a few clever special effects and some almost perfect comic timing make this an incredible show. We have morris dancers, wizards, witches - old and new. You have to love the teenage emo witches with their carefully ragged outfits and their self-consciously co-ordinated black lace handkerchiefs). An unexpected king and his queen to be, chosen from his subjects ( like all good fairy tales). Wicked elves, a glamourous bad queen and of course, an Orang-utan.
Pratchett tips the wink to all manner of art and literature from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream to modern film ( yes, Arnie gets in there too). If you were thinking it's all sounding a bit panto-ish, you'd not be far wrong, and of course, there is nothing the People's theatre do better than panto and Shakespeare.
The characters are colourful, larger than life, the humour is witty and bawdy, and at times cuttingly sharp. The tale is one of good versus evil, and the dangers of lessons not learned, or possibly forgotten. There's a lot going on in this play - and if you aren't familiar with Pratchett you have to pay attention to keep up with the plot! If you do then you will be rewarded with romance, fight scenes, lots of silliness and much laughter!

Standout performances from Sarah Scott as Magrat Garlick, Kath Frazer as Granny Witherwack, and Val Russell as nanny Og, who btween them save the day! Aided and abetted by the Rude Mechanicals and Sean Og (David Robson). One last round of applause to Count Casanunda - the world's second best lover, played fabulously by John MacDonaold. he deserves an Oscar for coping with that wig!

All in all this is a marvellous feel good production with a serious message about society if you'd care to look for it, or you could just enjoy the spectacle of a well put together hilarious show!

Lords and Ladies plays till 23rd July.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Romeo and Juliet - Review - Theatre Space NE

Romeo and Juliet
Theatre Space NE in Roker Park
16th July 2016

On Saturday evening I joined a bunch of people in Roker Park, Sunderland for an out door performance of Romeo and Juliet. I have a love hate relationship with this play. I think it has some of the most beautiful lyrical writing from Mr Shakespeare but also the most annoying characters, added to this the plot device of the undelivered letter and the unfortunate timing by mere minutes in the final scene and my irritation is complete. I'm quite sure that Thomas Hardy's plots were all inspired by this device of Shakespeare! But enough of that - I was here to review this particular production of Shakespeare's tragedy of the star-crossed lovers not the writing of Shakespeare himself. But you may want to take that into account in the review - it was probably going to be a tough call to get me waxing as lyrical as The Bard himself...

Plays in the Park, it has to be said are a great way to introduce people to theatre - particularly people who maybe would find the idea of going to the theatre a bit daunting. For these, all you do is turn up at the designated entrance of the park and join the crowd. No worrying about finding your seat, or feeling out of place. As we arrive orange behoodied helpers ask for postcodes, and offer advice on where the best place to stand for the start would be. It is all very relaxed, but it is quietly efficient in its organisation. As we wait, watching the rest of the audience gather, the actors also begin to arrive and set up for the first scene.  Drums, guitars, and other percussion instruments are brought on, actors stand in little clusters chatting. We are given instructions from "Adventure Central" on protocols and safety issues during the performance....and then the action begins! Of course Romeo and Juliet starts with a fight scene - those Montagues and Capulets can't pass in the street without a situation developing. Tension builds with single drum beats and the call of "Star Crossed Lovers" and the opposing groups line up, the drum beats burst out and the fight kicks off - fists and feet fly, but no swords yet. The swords and bloodshed will come later - for now the fight is stopped by the arrival of the law and the leaders of the warring families are charged to keep their houses in order. It's a dynamic start - and sets the background and the pace for the play. Against this backdrop of fury and violence we have the contrast of a lovelorn Romeo. Pining for his love who has resolved to remain chaste and will not succumb to his advances. His friends, Benvolio (Steven Blackshaw) and Mercutio (Dale Jewitt), despair of him and he becomes the butt of their many bawdy jokes as they try to cajole him from his despondency. These two are the perfect foil for the seriousness of the warring families - they provide lighthearted relief and bring much humour to the play, reminding us that they are actually mostly just boys and girls, in their teens and full of the rebelliousness and restlessness that such an age brings.

And so, of course, Romeo's broken heart is quickly mended and Rosalyn forgotten once he sees the beauteous Juliet, only for it to be beset with a whole new set of problems when he discovers whose daughter she is! Am not going to spoil it and tell you the whole story - but you know it's not going to end well!

This production is fast paced, full of emotion and humour - surprising for a tragedy! The individual performances are great, the fight scenes beautifully choreographed and the anger and anguish realistic. If accents are a little more north-east England than north-east Italy, I think that can be forgiven.

Stand out performances for me were Romeo - William Davies brought such a mix of youthful enthusiasm and wretchedness to the role, he reminded me of an over-enthusiastic puppy! And Friar Lawrence - played by David John Hopper, again played with such humour yet his character displayed so much empathy with the plight of the young lovers.

I enjoyed the performance immensely - and the characters were not so annoying as I feared! Perhaps the recent anger and recrimination that has been witnessed since the EU referendum resonated with the themes of the play, where the characters all behave irrationally in their anger. Or perhaps the quality of this production won me over?

The last performance is tonight (Sunday 17th) at 7pm, if you can't get there tonight you can see the next productions from Theatre Space NE in parks in Sunderland over the summer - watch for George and the Dragon in Mowbray Park, and then more Shakespeare in Barnes Park with the Taming of the Shrew!

Lady Montague - Natasha-Sofia Goulden
The Prince - Steven Charles Stobbs
Benvolio - Steven Blackshaw
Paris - David McCarthy
Lord Capulet - Rob Reed
Juliet - Natasha Haws
Romeo - William Wyn Davies
Nurse - Corinne Kilvington
Tybalt - Jacob Ernie Anderton
Lady Capulet - Eilidh Talman
Friar Lawrence - David John Hopper
Mercutio - Dale Jewitt

Denise Sparrowhawk

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Preview - Jekyll and Hyde - Gala Theatre

Jekyll and Hyde
Gala Threatre, Durham

The Gala Theatre Stage School (GTSS) is bringing the gripping thriller "Jekyll & Hyde - The Musical", to the Theatre from Sat July 9 to Wed July 13 with daily performances at 7:30pm and a 2:30pm matinee performance on Wednesday. 

Based on the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the show features a score by the multi-Grammy and Tony nominated Frank Wildhorn and double Oscar and Grammy-winning Leslie Bricusse. "Jekyll & Hyde - The Musical" is described by Director Kate Sorahan as "spine tingling". It is an evocative tale of the epic battle between good and evil. The classic story follows a brilliant doctor whose experiments with human personality create a murderous counterpart. Convinced the cure for his father's mental illness lies in the separation of man's evil nature, Dr Henry Jekyll unwittingly unleashes his own dark side, wreaking havoc in the streets of late 19th century London as the savage and maniacal Mr Edward Hyde. madness, tragic romance, and gruesome murder are on the cards, along with fabulous music and songs.

Members of the Cast were out in Durham on Saturday morning singing songs from the production to promote the show - and they were sounding impressive! This show looks set to be as great a success as last year's production of Phantom of the Opera! 

Tickets are just £16.50 (£15 comcession) and available online at

Denise Sparrowhawk

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Pitman Painters - Royalty Theatre - Preview

The Pitman Painters
Royalty Theatre
June 20th-25th 2016

Sadly due to unforeseen circumstances this show has been cancelled. The Royalty are hoping to reschedule in their new season's programme.

The Royalty Theatre has presented a very diverse programme this season with plays ranging from the bleak, dystopian 1984 to the heartwrenching Steel Magnolias. They end the season back home in the North East with Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters

Lee Hall's successes which include Billy Elliot, and (one of my favourites) Spoonface Steinberg, are noted for their social comment. The Pitman Painter's no exception. The play follows the true-life story of a group of Ashington miners in the 1930s who take an art appreciation class.  Their interest soon moves from appreciation of art to the practical and they begin to paint themselves. Their enthusiasm for the class is mixed, but eventually leads them to become respected artists, adopted and sponsored by the local gentry, with their works sought by collectors.  But despite their success, they continue to work in the mine, day in, day out and the play reveals the conflicts that arise as the pitman are taken from their working class background into the world of art collectors and gentry.   

Director Caroline Chapman says, “Since directing an extract of the Pitman Painters at the Miner's Hall, Durham two years ago, I was pleased to be asked to direct the full-length play here at the Royalty.  The play is full of passion for the miners, who come together for an art appreciation class. Life as a miner is so ingrained and becoming a famous painter seems another "class" away. Little do they know how famous their work will become and how their art will be such an historical record of life in the 30s and 40s.”

The play, which has been seen by audiences as far away as Canada and Argentina, in the Spanish adaptation Mineros, features established Royalty actors such as Anna Snell and David Farn, and introduces newer faces such as Kristian Colling and Matt McNamee. 

The Pitman Painters runs from Monday 20th until Sat 26th June. Curtain up is at 7.30pm. Tickets cost just £8 and are available from or by phone on 0333 666 3366.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mobile – Live Theatre - Review

Mobile – Live Theatre Newcastle- 16th of June 2016

Now I don’t know about you but I never thought I’d ever see a piece of theatre so good in a caravan!
Mobile is a interactive theatre piece and I don’t think that’s even the best word to describe it, a journey is probably a better description!
Of all places to watch a theatre show a caravan wouldn’t be the first thing I would think of,  but hey, I did. Along with 7 other participants I went on a journey.
Cindy, the only character in the play, is eccentric and funny and you are drawn into her story about the caravan and how she came to be in it. Cindy is played fantastically by Georgie Coles and you meet her outside. She tries to guess people's name which is hard to do, but she did guess someone's job.
We are taken into the caravan and are handed biscuits - the tea never arrived even though she put the kettle on. (I’m still waiting Cindy!!)
We are then taken on a journey about social class, through great use of the caravan and fantastic visuals from The Media Workshop.
It was a strange experience but an enjoyable one and I don’t think I'll ever have another experience in a caravan quite like this one (and I used to clean them).
If you want an experience that will make you think and reach for the stars, with a twist, then this is the show for you.

It runs until the 26th June.

Reuben Hiles

Jumpy - People's Theatre - Review

Jumpy by April de Angelis  
People's Theatre Newcastle  
14th June 2016

So…  I just saw this funny comedy which reminded me of my youth and reminded me about the future all in one show.
12 years ago I was 16 the same age as Tilly (Amy Herdman)  in 12 years I'll be 40 which is the age of Hilary (played by the brilliant Rye Mattick). The relationship between these characters is a lot like my mother's and my sister's when they were younger - I remember incidents like this between them.
Hilary is married to Mark they are going "through the motions" as Hilary would say, staying together for Tilly, Mark is played by the talented Mark Burden.
What do most young people fight about with their parents? Who they are dating!! Tilly is dating Josh, played to perfection by Joe Robson as a 16 year old who thinks with his dick. Hilary catches the two of them bunking off school and she isn’t very pleased. She goes to see Josh’s parents (#whatdidyoudothatfor) and we are introduced to Roland (Colin Jeffery) and Bea (Sharon Lamont) whose relationship is practically finished. Roland talks about the adventures he wanted to take his son on (which sounds something my dad would have said to me) and Bea is just enjoying her life.
Why is Hilary is a tad scared about Tilly and Josh, you ask? Answer: Lyndsey (Rhiannon Wilson) who is 16 and pregnant. Hilary doesn’t want Tilly to go down that road. Throw into the mix Frances, Hilary’s best friend and confidant who I have to say is a very attractive older lady.

Roland is freed from his hell of a relationship and starts to have feelings for Hilary. Hilary tries to fight similar feelings for Roland #fighthilary.  Roland, Hilary, Mark, Tilly, Josh and Frances all go on holiday together to and are having a great time until it inevitably it all blows up. 

In the 2nd half we find out some important news about Tilly and Josh - it seems like good news at first but after a while it becomes clear that it was not so good.
Roland and Hilary are now free to be together but both are still trying to fight the feelings. By the middle of the second act Josh is no more and we meet Cam (Nathan Hussain) who also falls for Hilary. The feeling is mutual...but what will happen? For that you will have to come and see the play! Suffice to say there is a  bouquet of flowers and it does not end well...Now all men know that if women don’t talk its hell, if it’s a mother and daughter it's even worse (just ask my father) but thankfully, this story does have a happy ending and that’s all I’m saying!

The set changes were amazing and the crew need as much credit as anyone, I’m not going to spoil it but its Wheelie good !! (I crack myself up sometimes!)
The songs that they use are funny as well with songs like Shake it Off, Let it Go and for you old people out there Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye which I was miming along to.

If you’re a parent bring your (teenage) kids along so they can see your point of view and if you’re a youngster bring your parents so they can see it through your eyes if your neither just come for the fun and laughter that you will get from this amazing play!! 

Reuben Hiles

When our reviewer says parents bring your kids he means your teenage offspring - we wouldn't recommend this for littlies! (Duly edited!) DS