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Oct 8th

Sleeping Beauty & Peter Pan Previews

By Steve Burbridge

As the region’s theatre’s turn their attention to the festive season, STEVE BURBRIDGE takes a look at what is on offer in Darlington and Sunderland this Christmas.

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A North East theatre has announced that the cast of this year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, will be headed by a real-life husband and wife dream team.

Darlington Civic Theatre’s seasonal spectacular will once again star popular panto performers, Linda Lusardi and Sam Kane.

They say that happy endings only ever occur in fairy tales, but it was back in 1998 that Linda Lusardi, who was appearing as Snow White at the venue, met her real-life handsome prince in the form of hunky Sam Kane. They fell in love and the rest is history.

Fourteen years later the couple, who are now married and have two children, will be spinning the magic again and marking their fifteenth Christmas season performing together.

With a 25-year career in film, television and stage, Linda has starred in pantomimes across the country and will be taking on the role of the evil Carabosse. Sam, who has been a stalwart of musical theatre for many years and is well-known for his appearances in Brookside, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, plays the henchman and also directs the production.

The cast also includes Darlington’s very own former Pop Idol contestant, Zoe Birkett, in the title role. After finishing fourth, behind Will Young, Gareth Gates and Darius Danesh, she went on to have a successful singing career. Zoe returned to Darlington to take the lead role in the Civic’s 2007 pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

South Shields-born playwright and pantomime dame extraordinaire, Philip Meeks appears as Nurse Dolly, and comic Andy Jones is Muddles.

Jon Conway, executive producer of Sleeping Beauty, said: “Darlington Civic Theatre’s annual pantomime provides a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to come together and enjoy an unmissable visit to the theatre. We are delighted to have Linda and Sam leading a superb cast and I’m sure Sleeping Beauty will prove to be our best pantomime yet.”

Sleeping Beauty is produced by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s largest pantomime producer, and features an abundance of comedy, stunning sets and fabulous costumes and has the Civic Theatre’s hallmark of value-for-money and outstanding entertainment for all ages.

Lynda Winstanley, director of the theatre, said: “Here at the Civic, we love panto – Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. Make sure you make a date to join us.”

Sleeping Beauty is at the Civic Theatre, Darlington from Saturday, December 8, 2012 until Sunday 20 January 2013. Tickets are on sale now and are priced from £13.50 to £21, with concessions available. To book call 01325 486 555 or log on to www.darlingtonarts.co.uk

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This year’s pantomime at Sunderland’s Empire Theatre will not just be a fight of good against evil, it will also be a battle of the soaps!

Emmerdale goes head to head with Hollyoaks as Tom Lister, best known for playing ladies man Carl King, performs as dastardly Captain Hook, and Sarah Jane Buckley, who achieved notoriety as crazy Kathy Barnes, stars as the kindly Mrs Darling in Peter Pan.

The Wearside venue, which dropped the traditional festive panto for the last two years in favour of blockbusting musicals Legally Blonde and White Christmas, is promising a swashbuckling adventure which will be a treat for both young and old.

Audiences will be flown away on a magical journey to Neverland. With spectacular costumes and sets, stunning effects, jokes, songs, dancing and lots of audience participation, the story of the boy who never grew up will be brought to life by a stellar cast.

“Panto is such a wonderful experience,” said Sarah Jane Buckley. “Peter Pan is such a great story and lots of fun. I just love seeing children coming to the theatre. Some people ridicule panto but I see it as a great way to give children a real theatre experience which is massively important.

"If just one child grows to love theatre as a result of seeing our panto, then I feel we will have done our job.”

Sarah Jane cites Peter Pan as her favourite pantomime, having performed as Mrs Darling in Malvern, Rhyl, Tunbridge Wells and Lowestoft. Sunderland marks her fifth consecutive season in the role.

And the actress loves the challenge of a dual role, too.

"I play Mrs Darling quite straight but then play the Magical Mermaid as a real, down-to-earth Liverpool lass, heavy Scouse accent, the works. It’s such fun and a real hoot.”

Sarah Jane garnered rave reviews for her performance as Eva Cassidy in the musical based on the tragically short life of the shy songstress, Over The Rainbow. She also has an impressive list of other musical theatre credits including roles in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Oliver!

The cast also includes kids’ favourites Sy Thomas (CBBC’s The Revolting World of Stanley Brown) as Smee and Katy Ashworth (CBeebies’ I Can Cook) in the title role.

Peter Pan is produced by UK Productions, one of the country’s leading producers of musical theatre and pantomime, with arrangement from Great Ormond Street Hospital and Samuel French Ltd.

Ben Phillips, Sunderland Empire general manager, said: “As a huge fan of pantomime I can’t wait for Peter Pan to swoop down on to our stage this Christmas. It will be a show that will not fail to delight.”

Peter Pan is at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland from Thursday, December 13, 2012 until Saturday, January 6, 2013. Tickets are on sale now and are priced from £10 to £25, with concessions available. To book call 0844 817 3022 or log on to www.atgtickets.com/sunderland

 

Sep 26th

The Nolan's Bid A Fond Farewell On Final Tour

By Steve Burbridge

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The announcement that The Nolan’s are going out on the road one last time marks the end of a showbiz era. Their 19-date farewell tour, which kicks off in February next year and includes a gig at Newcastle City Hall, is entitled In The Mood For Dancing . . . One Last Time and it promises to be a nostalgic and reminiscent affair. The sensational sister act decided to bow out in style after being overwhelmed by the reaction to their 2009 reunion tour, I’m In The Mood . . . Again! So, it seems timely to take a fond look back at the frenzied reaction to their reunion tour and a poignant look forward to their final farewell.

They put an entire generation in the mood for dancing back in the ’70s and ’80s with their wholesome brand of pop, which preceded The Spice Girls, Bananarama and Girls Aloud, and earned themselves a place in British chart history as one of the most successful girl groups ever.

Thirty years later, in 2009, The Nolan’s reunited for what would turn out to be the most talked-about tour of the year. When Bernie, Linda, Maureen and Coleen revealed that they were getting back together to tour the UK, the announcement even made the headlines on News at Ten.

Box offices around the country were inundated with calls and venues sold out in a matter of hours, as fans snapped up tickets like hot cakes, prompting a number of additional dates to be added onto the tour.

Packed with a combination of classic diva anthems - such as I Will Survive, It’s Raining Men and Holding Out For A Hero - and the biggest hits from their own back catalogue, including Attention To Me, Chemistry and everyone’s favourite, I’m In The Mood For Dancing, The Nolan’s took Newcastle by storm when they performed at the Metro Radio Arena that October.

But the Newcastle gig almost never happened.

“On the last tour, Newcastle wasn’t in there to begin with,” Bernie remembered. “But we went to Newcastle to do an interview for something else and there was murder – we had emails and letters asking: ‘Why aren’t you coming?’. So, we put a date in for Newcastle and it was absolutely fantastic.”

Having slung the spandex, banished the boob-tubes and parted with the platforms, the costumes were sophisticated, stylish and yet equally as sexy. And for those who still appreciated a bit of glitzy glamour, there were sequins, stiletto heels and curve-enhancing cocktail dresses galore.

The show was a spectacular mix of incredible vocals, beautiful harmonies, hunky male dancers and sensational choreographed routines and it quickly developed into an enormous party, with women of all ages taking to the aisles and dancing around their handbags.

The success of the tour wasn’t only due to the high production values associated with it, but also to the fact that the likelihood of it happening, in the first place, seemed slim. Each of the sisters was busy with their own highly successful solo careers.

Bernie had established herself as a serious actress, playing leading roles in series’ such as Brookside and The Bill. Linda and Maureen were scoring success in the world of musical theatre, most notably for their portrayals of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, and Coleen was a popular presenter on daytime television programmes such as Loose Women and This Morning.

So, the reaction to the tour far surpassed the expectations of the Irish sister act and they were genuinely overwhelmed by the loyalty and support of their fans.

“It was the most fun I think we’ve ever had,” said Maureen. “It was just amazing - pure unadulterated cheese and such camp fun! And the reaction we got from the public was just fantastic, we were so grateful.”

Bernie added: “We have high hopes for Newcastle on this farewell tour. We insisted that the city was put in this time, so I hope they don’t let us down.”

As if we Geordies would!

Steve Burbridge.

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 23rd

Cinderella Preview

By Steve Burbridge
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Pantomime Cast Have A Ball At  Cinderella Press Launch

Well, that’s it – no more bank holidays this year, the kids are back at school, the football season is well underway and the holiday tan is fading fast, which can only mean that summer is really over.

Although it may still seem too early for most of us to turn our attentions to the festive season, that’s exactly what one Tyneside theatre did last Wednesday.

Whitley Bay Playhouse unveiled details of this year’s glittering pantomime, Cinderella, and guaranteed that it will be even more magical and spectacular than ever before.

The star-studded cast will be headed by former Hollyoaks actress and Dancing On Ice contestant Jennifer Metcalfe as Cinders and Keith Jack, star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as her Prince Charming. David Drewitt and Danny Jay will be donning a whole host of outlandishly fabulous frocks as The Ugly Sisters, whilst David Burton marks his 35th year in Pantoland as the beleaguered Baron Hardup.

There will also be plenty of home-grown talent, too.

Sunderland’s Suzanne Richardson, star of West End shows including The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and Phantom of the Opera, will be waving her magic wand and making dreams come true as Fairy Godmother, whilst the North East’s favourite comic Steve Walls is back by huge public demand and playing Buttons.

Producer of Blue Genie Entertainment, Gary Telfer said: ‘We’re really looking forward to producing Cinderella this year, which has to be the most popular pantomime of them all. Every girl wants to be Cinderella and meet a handsome prince at the ball.

‘Cinderella has a great cast and we’re expecting yet another busy season.’

There will be some particularly magical treats in store this year, including amazing costumes, fantastic dance routines, and the most amazing transformation sequence ever staged – including real Shetland ponies.

‘The Playhouse panto just gets bigger and better every year,’ said Steve Walls. ‘I’m really excited to be part of the cast of Cinderella. And I’ll be home for Christmas again, too!’

Jennifer Metcalfe said: ‘This is every little girl’s dream and I can’t wait to step into Cinderella’s slippers.’

Blue Genie Entertainment are the same creative team that produced last year’s record-breaking panto, Aladdin, at the Playhouse.

A spokesperson for the venue said: ‘Those who wish to go to the ball ought to act quickly as tickets are selling fast. To avoid turning into a pumpkin and missing the greatest panto in the North East, book now.’

Cinderella is at the Playhouse, Whitley Bay from Tuesday, December 18, 2012 until Sunday, January 6, 2013. Tickets are on sale now. To book call 0844 2772771 or log on to www.playhousewhitleybay.co.uk

 

Sep 19th

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Steve Burbridge

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Darlington Civic Theatre

Having to write a review of a show that you have already reviewed on two previous occasions can be something of a daunting task. Will you find something new to say about the performance? Will you merely repeat and rehash what you have already written?

Thankfully, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presents no such problems! Like your favourite perennial garden plant, it is a show which seems to come round every year. And, every year it looks stronger and seems to bloom and flourish with more vibrancy than ever before.

Former Any Dream Will Do contestant Keith Jack is still occupying the title role. Despite having settled into it very well, his performance shows no signs of complacency at all. At the risk of repetition, “his portrayal of Joseph struck exactly the right balance of vulnerability and heroism and he made the part entirely his own. From his first appearance, right through to curtain call, Keith captivated the audience with his stage presence and vocal talents. He handled all his musical numbers with aplomb and hit each note with precision and perfection. Keith suited the role visually, too.”

To add to my previous comments, though, Keith’s time in the role has strengthened his own confidence, which tangibly comes across to the audience in his consummate performance, and makes him a quintessential Joseph, in my opinion.

As with all long-running touring productions, there have been a number of cast changes since the show was last in Darlington, in 2010.

Recently-graduated Lauren Ingram makes a fantastic impression in the role of Narrator and shows great promise for the years ahead, whilst Luke Jasztal relishes his role as the pelvis-thrusting Elvis-style Pharaoh.

The actors playing Joseph’s brothers all performed with boundless energy and enthusiasm, and there were some quirky interpretations of some of the songs. One More Angel In Heaven was performed in a country and western style, complete with Stetsons; Those Canaan Days was given a Parisian flavour and there was even a Caribbean Calypso number thrown in to extol the virtues of Benjamin, the youngest brother. I am still not certain why the style and setting of these musical numbers was shifted away from Ancient Egypt but, you know what, it didn’t really matter anyway!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a show that has its tongue very firmly placed in its cheek for the most part and in no way takes itself too seriously. However, there is a moral of forgiveness and reconciliation at the heart of the story as well as all the fun and froth. It’s still a biblical box-office hit and a guaranteed theatre-filler!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 22 September 2012.

 

 

Sep 13th

Calendar Girls

By Steve Burbridge

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CALENDAR GIRLS

ION Productions at the Customs House, South Shields

There’s not a lot you can say about Calendar Girls that hasn’t already been said. The show, which tells the true story of twelve extraordinary members of the Women’s Institute who give their annual calendar a very untraditional twist to raise money for an extremely worthy cause, is now a global phenomenon. In 2003, it was made into a feature film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters and, having enjoyed a run in the West End and numerous national tours, the rights have been released to amateur and semi-professional groups for a limited period of eighteen months.

Not only does this inspirational stage production have the power to make audiences both laugh and cry, but it is also performed by a consummate ensemble cast.

Patricia Whale is Chris Harper, the ebullient driving force behind the calendar idea and her performance is engaging and energetic.

Audreyann Lee Myers provides the perfect contrast as Chris’s best friend, Annie Clarke, the bereaved woman whose husband’s death is the catalyst for the creation of the ‘alternative’ calendar and her portrayal is skilfully subtle. There is also an intensity to the scene where Chris and Annie have a confrontation and, subsequently fall-out, which was somewhat lacking in the film starring Mirren and Walters.

Angela Hannon relishes the role of the snooty chairman of the Knapley WI group and never misses an opportunity to steal a scene with a bitchy comment. She takes Marie’s pretentions to the verge of caricature but always retains the believability of the character.

Jo Smart also provides much hilarity with her portrayal of Jessie, the retired schoolteacher. Her ‘no front-bottoms’ line had the audiences in stitches and her delivery was punchy and spot-on throughout. Kay Miller is the unorthodox vicar’s daughter, Cora, and displays a rather impressive singing voice. Ashley Lamb plays Ruth, the most timid of all the women, whose philandering husband is playing away with a bimbo beautician (Carly Nelder). Laura Dollimore provides much of the glamour with the hair-tossing, golf-playing character of Celia.

In a cast that is dominated by such towering female talents, it would be easy – but extremely unfair – to overlook the contribution of the actors who perform less high-profile roles. Paul Dunn gives a heartfelt portrayal of John Clarke, who dies of leukaemia, Graeme Smith is effective in his doubling-up as photographer, Lawrence, and television director, Liam and Mark Lamb is a suitably downtrodden Rod Harper.

Finally, Carol Cooke plays both Brenda Hulse and Lady Cravenshire.

The entire production and technical team are to be commended too, particularly director Gareth Hunter and designer Chris Allen. Calendar Girls is a triumphant piece of theatre that should occupy a date in everyone’s diary.

 Runs until Saturday 15th September, 2012

Sep 5th

HAIR - Nice Swan Theatre Company

By Steve Burbridge

HAIR - Nice Swan Theatre Company at The People's Theatre, Newcastle

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Any production staged by Nice Swan Theatre Company is always worth a trip. The sheer talent, commitment, exuberance and chutzpah involved makes for a thoroughly engaging and inspiring evening.

Following their successful productions of Spring Awakening, in 2010, and West Side Story, in 2011, they returned to the stage of The People’s Theatre last night with a stunning revival of Hair, the rock musical which tells the story of a group of politically-active hippies of the age of Aquarius, living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War.

Hair puts rock music and the culture that went with it on stage in a show which has a strong effect on everyone, and acts as a bridge between generations and viewpoints. What looks like incredible chaos is actually incredibly organised chaos! The show has a vitality, a timelessness and a meaning that outlives the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in America.

When the West End production was first staged in September 1968, the original London ‘tribe’ launched the careers of Paul Nicholas, Elaine Paige, Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry, to name a few. Without a doubt, this current North East production has some future stars among its ‘tribe’.

The entire cast deliver solid performances and it always seems so unfair to single out individuals. However, I must make mention of Thomas Whalley (Berger), Dale Jewitt (Claude) and Dylan Stafford (Woof), each of whom delivered compelling characterisations which were entirely convincing.

From a musical point of view, Beth Macari (Dionne) stole the show with her soulful vocals, with Quentin Whitaker (Walter) coming a close second. The musical numbers, which include the phenomenal Aquarius, I Got Life, Let The Sunshine In and, of course, the title song were delivered with enthusiastic relish.

Indeed, the entire production values are of the highest possible standard, with not even the most minor detail being overlooked. The simple but effective set was dominated by a fabulous psychedelic camper van (with a P3 ACE registration plate!) and a huge dream-catcher, and Kirsty Emery is to be commended for her innovative design.

Producer Jamie Gray, Director Jane Hutchinson, and Choreographer Stephanie Smith have collaborated to create a production which is never anything less than astounding on every level and is guaranteed to send you home higher than any of the illicit substances featured in the show.

Not to be missed!

 

 Runs until Saturday 8th September, 2012.

Aug 14th

Dirty Dating.com

By Steve Burbridge

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Pauline Fleming Productions is proud to announce the world premiere of their debut production, Dirty Dating.com, a laugh-out-loud comedy play about dating! Everyone’s done it but not everyone has Speed dated. How wrong could it go?

A group of girls discover the pitfalls of dating and seek their revenge in this hilarious new comedy written by Pauline Fleming (star of Coronation Street & Brookside). Actress-turned-writer-and-producer, this is Pauline’s sensational first play. She speaks from personal experience and that of some of her friends and colleagues, sharing the experience of the dating game in the 21st century.

 

Directed by Ken Alexander, and featuring an all-star cast, Dirty Dating.com celebrates the ‘girl power’ feel of modern day relationships and promises to be the funniest and sauciest play to hit the UK stage this year!

 

The cast is headed by CRAIG CHALMERS (Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat & a runner-up in Any Dream Will Do) and Eurovision disco diva NICKI FRENCH (Total Eclipse Of The Heart & Don’t Play That Song Again). PHIL HEARNE (Blood Brothers) plays the integral character of Henry, whilst GRACE BISHOP, ALAN STOCKS, JO MOUSLEY and JESSICA SCHOFIELD complete the talented line-up.

 

So, put on your dating cap, meet up with your mates and join in the fun as the story unfolds in an empowering piece of ‘feel-good’ theatre.

Adults only! (contains some male nudity – so make sure you book the best seats!)

 

TOUR DATES & VENUES

 

4 - 8    September     Stockport Plaza       

12-14 September     Epstein Theatre, Liverpool (Old Neptune)

18-21  September     Lancaster Grand

28-29 September     Shrewsbury Theatre Severn

Jun 27th

Dry Rot

By Steve Burbridge



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DRY ROT

DARLINGTON CIVIC THEATRE

When Alfred Tubbe (Derren Nesbitt), a crooked bookie, and his two accomplices, Fred Phipps (Norman Pace) and Flash Harry (Gareth Hale), devise a cunning plan to ‘get-rich-quick’ by kidnapping the odds-on favourite horse and replacing it with their own decrepit nag, thus netting a tidy £10,000 in the process, you instantly know that they will have to jump more hurdles than they expect to get past the final post.

Written by John Chapman, and first performed in 1954, Dry Rot ran for more than three years in the West End and is listed in the National Theatres’ Top 100 plays. This latest production boasts a cast which comprises a line-up of odds-on favourites from the stage and the small screen – all of whom are under starter’s orders and raring to go. So, with such good form, why doesn’t Dry Rot romp to victory? After all, the essential ingredients required for a classic farce are all there: secret-doors; physical comedy; misunderstood situations; stock characters and blossoming love.

Part of the problem, I fear, is because the piece feels slightly dated. Add to that some dodgy directorial decisions from Ron Aldridge, which hinder the required split-second comedy timing and flaw the physical comedy, and the die is almost set.

However, it is the stellar cast who collectively save this production – and they do so with admirable talent, flair and panache. Neil Stacey is perfect as the ex-military man turned hotelier, Colonel Wagstaff, and his pairing with Liza Goddard (as his ‘home counties headmistress-type’ wife) works nicely. Evelyn Adams, as Susan, and Bob Saul, as Danby, make a charming love-struck young couple, whilst the slapstick is provided, of course, by Hale and Pace. Throw into the mix Susan Penhaligon as a delightfully ditzy housekeeper (who easily steals every scene she is in!) and you can hardly go far wrong!

Mention must also be made of Sarah Whitlock (Sergeant Fire) and Michael Keane (Albert Polignac) who both take relatively minor roles and make them altogether more important.

This production may not be a dead-cert winner, nor is it the underdog of the race. If you enjoy an inoffensive light-hearted farce then Dry Rot is probably something of an each-way bet.

Dry Rot runs until Saturday 30 June 2012.

May 24th

Dancing Queen - Darlington Civic Theatre

By Steve Burbridge


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Dancing Queen – Darlington Civic Theatre

Well, the marketing material promised a ‘high octane, musical extravaganza . . . featuring a dynamic cast of singers and dancers, beautiful costumes and dazzling choreography’. On the basis of that hyperbole, Spirit Productions should be reported to the Trading Standards Commission for false advertising.

The far less impressive reality that was Dancing Queen was a tacky camp-fest of ABBA hits, medleys of ‘70s disco classics, and a compilation of highlights from the score of Saturday Night Fever. That, in itself, would have been bearable – and, perhaps, even fun – if the deliverance had not been so disappointing.

The ‘four amazingly talented lead singers’ (Simon Bulley, Jennifer Harding, Aston Dobson and Jessica Parker) merely sang along to pre-recorded back tracks, indicating that none of them possessed the vocal prowess to tackle the songs without such help and calling into question their suitability as ‘leads’ to begin with.

The company of 16 dancers struggled to get through the overly-ambitious and unnecessarily complex choreography in synchronisation and there were a number of occasions when I thought the male members, all of whom were shorter in stature than their statuesque female colleagues, might even drop them during the frequent, clumsily executed lifts.

The ‘Broadway Style’ production pieces may have been perfect for Pontins, brilliant for Butlins (the guys even performed one section in their redcoats!) or catered towards cruise ship audiences, but they fell significantly short of what the average theatre-goer might expect. And as for the glittering costumes, I would suggest that every panto dame and drag queen checks their wardrobes at their earliest convenience!

To me, this shambolic show is nothing more than a cynical attempt, by the production company, to fill a theatre and make a pot of money ‘hot on the heels of the huge success of the Broadway musical Mamma Mia’.

It’s a short-sighted strategy in the long run, as most patrons can only be conned once.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 26 May 2012.

 

May 10th

Yes, Prime Minister - Darlington Civic Theatre

By Steve Burbridge


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YES, PRIME MINISTER – DARLINGTON CIVIC THEATRE

The stage version of the much loved BBC hit TV series, ‘Yes, Prime Minister is now touring in a hilarious, award winning new version written specifically for the theatre by original writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Following a fantastic season in the West End and at the Chichester Festival Theatre, Jim Hacker (Graham Seed) and Sir Humphrey Appleby (Michael Simkins) have arrived at Darlington on the last stop of the production’s tour and they face a country in financial meltdown.

Heading the coalition government, the PM is staring disaster in the face. The country is on the brink of economic crisis and there is just one grain of hope – a morally dubious deal with the Foreign Minister of Kumranistan - but great institutions have a way of riding punches and bouncing back unscathed – will it prove so for Jim Hacker and his team of close advisors?

Much like its original television counterpart, this stage version takes a satirical sideswipe at what goes on behind closed doors in the corridors of power at Chequers. A sumptuous set, designed by Simon Higlett, provides the backdrop for an evening of biting wit and topical humour. Yet, although the decision to contemporise the piece is, on one hand, its greatest strength, on the other, it is the biggest flaw of the piece.

Rather than subtly integrating modern inventions and issues, including the BlackBerry and the global warming debate, they are almost introduced with cue-cards. Add to that constant references to politicised pop stars, such as Bob Geldof, Bono and Annie Lennox, phone-hacking fiascos and Bill Clinton’s extra-marital activities with Monica Lewinski, and the production begins to feel that it has been written in much the same way as a housewife writes a shopping list.

This is a real shame as it detracts from the consummate performances given by a cohesive company of actors. Graham Seed’s Jim Hacker is brimming with Blairisms and his characterisation is compelling. Michael Simkins, as Sir Humphrey, is understatedly smug and Laura Murray is suitably abrasive as the Special Adviser (or SPAD if you prefer the Whitehall jargon). Supporting roles are delivered with aplomb by Sam Dastor, Tony Boncza, Simon Holmes, Angus King and Sarah Baxendale.

Jonathan Lynn’s direction sometimes allows the pace to flag and, inevitably, the attention begins to wander. I couldn’t help feeling that if the direction had been slightly sharper and a couple of lengthy monologues had been trimmed, then we might have been bestowed with a production that did something more than just walk in the shadow of its televisual predecessor.

Ian Cain.

Runs until Saturday 12 May, 2012