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Mar 28th

Bette and Joan

By Steve Burbridge



The long-standing feud between legendary Hollywood screen queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford reached boiling point in 1962 when the pair, who were both experiencing career lows, were thrown together to film a high-risk, low-budget shocker.

The movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, was a surprise hit which propelled both actresses back to superstardom. Davis won her tenth Academy Award for her portrayal of an ageing ex-Vaudeville child star who wages a psychotic reign of terror over her crippled ex-movie star sister (played by Joan Crawford).

Nominated for a further five Academy Awards and an Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a mirthful masterpiece of the macabre which is now widely regarded as a cult classic.

Half a century later, the behind the scenes story of the making of the movie forms the basis of a new stage play, Bette and Joan. Written by Anton Burge, it lifts the lid on the highs, the lows, the tantrums and the tiffs between two of Hollywood’s greatest leading ladies.

It takes a pair of actresses of the highest possible calibre to step into the shoes of Crawford and Davis. Anita Dobson (Joan Crawford) and Greta Scacchi (Bette Davis) grab their roles with gusto and deliver performances which are never anything less than magnificent.

Scacchi, with her poached egg eyes and clipped speech, and Dobson, with her steely glamour and elongated vowels, both look and sound remarkably like Davis and Crawford and they have the audience in the palm of their manicured hands right from the word go.

Burge’s script is beautifully bitchy, crammed full of witty one-liners, and it gives both Miss Dobson and Miss Scacchi a field day. Quite how much the feud has been exaggerated, nobody knows. Yet, that said, the games of one-upmanship these divas engage in an attempt to be top dog, the dirty tricks and the sheer spitefulness between them is all played out in such a way that it is utterly convincing.

The drama takes place in the next-door dressing rooms of Crawford and Davis on the back-lot of the studio set and this allows for the atmosphere to be delightfully intimate – we, as an audience, really feel as though we are being taken into the confidence of each of these Hollywood legends.

Throughout the play, only Dobson and Scacchi appear on stage. Such a piece demands the most compelling of performances if the engagement of the audience is to be sustained. Fear not, with such consummate professionals in the roles, it is impossible not to be entirely captivated.

Indeed, Bette and Joan is the story of two iconic actresses who knew how to make the most of a role. How fitting, then, that it should be performed by two equally accomplished and iconic actresses who, most certainly make the most of portraying them.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs at Darlington until Saturday 31 March and then continues to tour.


Mar 28th

Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Anton Burge

By Steve Burbridge


A new critically-acclaimed play lifts the lid on the back-lot bitching between two of Hollywood’s biggest actresses. STEVE BURBRIDGE spoke to writer Anton Burge to find out more.

The long-standing feud between legendary Hollywood screen queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford reached boiling point in 1962 when the pair, who were both experiencing career lows, were thrown together to film a high-risk, low-budget shocker.

The movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, was a surprise hit which propelled both actresses back to superstardom. Davis won her tenth Academy Award for her portrayal of an ageing ex-Vaudeville child star who wages a psychotic reign of terror over her crippled ex-movie star sister (played by Joan Crawford).

Nominated for a further five Academy Awards and an Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a mirthful masterpiece of the macabre which is now widely regarded as a cult classic.

Half a century later, the behind the scenes story of the making of the movie forms the basis of a new stage play, Bette and Joan. Written by Anton Burge, it lifts the lid on the highs, the lows, the tantrums and the tiffs between two of Hollywood’s greatest leading ladies.

“People are always fascinated by the confrontations between the two women,” says Anton. “But, as a writer, I also wanted to concentrate on the solidarity that they shared as women in the same boat.”

Indeed, Davis and Crawford were remarkably similar – albeit more in terms of circumstance than personality, as Anton points out:

“Both were born soon after the turn of the twentieth century, though Davis insisted Crawford was four years older, both had married four times, both had adopted children, both had complicated relationships with their mothers, both had been abandoned by their fathers at early ages and both were the breadwinners in most of their marriages.”

Although Davis frequently asserted, “We had absolutely nothing in common” , Burge maintains that there remained a grudging respect between the two.

“While their contemporaries were happy to accept retirement, or the odd cameo part, Davis and Crawford fought on for roles that would make it considered acceptable to have an older woman as the lead protagonist in drama. These two incredible star actresses began a fight that, sadly, continues to this day.

It is apparent that the playwright is intrigued by Davis and Crawford, but his body of work also suggests that it is strong women, in general, that fascinate him. Indeed, he specialises in writing for women, about celebrated women, and has written five further plays including Though I Was A Wonderful Actress, No One Would Engage Me Twice, a study of the Edwardian actress Mrs Patrick Campbell; G & I: Going into Battle With Gertrude Lawrence, a musical spotlighting Lawrence’s war work with ENSA; Fanny’s Burning, about the cookery writer Fanny Craddock; Lady Mosley’s Suite, a study of Diana Mosley’s time in Holloway prison, and Whatever Happened To The Cotton Dress Girl?, a one woman show about Bette Davis starring Paula Wilcox.

I’m fascinated by strong women and older women tend to have led more interesting lives. I’m sure the fact that my parents divorced when I was a child and my mother – an amazing woman – raised my sister and I, has a lot to do with that.”

The casting of Bette and Joan reflects this fascination for strong women, with renowned actresses Anita Dobson and Greta Scacchi stepping into the shoes of Crawford and Davis, respectively. So, has a similar rivalry developed between Scacchi and Dobson to that of Bette and Joan?

“I bet if this were a play about two blokes, you wouldn’t ask me that question,” Anton retorts. “But, no, there hasn’t. They both admire each other and they’re in it together.”

Hailed by the critics as funny and sharp, Bette and Joan is making its regional debut in Darlington, fresh from an acclaimed run in London’s West End.

“West End critics can be quite harsh,” admits Anton. “But it’s amazing and very rewarding when you do get good feedback. A couple of people whose parents were involved in the shooting of the film came along and I met the daughter of Lukas Heller, who wrote the screenplay of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, so people were very supportive and I’m hoping that support will continue on the tour.”

Bette and Joan is at Darlington Civic Theatre from Tuesday, March 27 until Saturday, March 31. Performances are at 7.30pm each evening and at 2.00pm (Thursday) & 2.30pm (Saturday). Tickets cost from £20.50 to £25.00, with a special two for the price of one offer available on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings only. Concessions are available at certain performances. To book, call 01325 486 555 or log on to . For additional information visit



Mar 24th

Guilty Pleasures

By Steve Burbridge

Guilty Pleasures

Theatre Productions UK Limited is proud to announce the world premiere of Guilty Pleasures, a raunchy and risqué comedy set in a steamy ‘ladies-only’ health spa. Written by Ron Aldridge, directed by Stephen Leatherland, and featuring an all-star cast, Guilty Pleasures is the next laugh-out-loud farce from the producers of the smash-hit comedy The Naked Truth.

 This riotous play follows the comedic misadventures of GC, the bold and brazen spa owner, and his hilarious staff of fantasy men with their sizzling spa specials! Fun ensues as they try to fulfil the special requests of their demanding female clients. But, when things start to get out of control, will they escape unscathed? And, when one of the men reveals he has testicular cancer, a more dramatic and serious side to the piece emerges. As all their various stories unfold and unravel, audiences will share their laughter and tears in this hilarious production tinged with a bittersweet edge.

 The cast is headed by a trio of high-profile hunks: Craig Chalmers (Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat & a runner-up from Any Dream Will Do), Marc Bannerman (Gianni di Marco in EastEnders & former I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! contestant) and CJ de Mooi (Eggheads).

 Spa-owner, GC, will be played by David Van Day (from the pop groups Dollar, Bucks Fizz, Guys ‘n’ Dolls; and former I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! contestant), whilst model-turned-actress-and-presenter Terri Dwyer (Hollyoaks; Grange Hill; Loose Women & 60 Minute Makeover) takes on the role of his put-upon and over-worked secretary, Tilly, Pauline Fleming (Coronation Street; Brookside) plays man-eating minx, Mrs M and Alexis Strum plays naïve new-member, Judy.

 Probably the funniest and sauciest play to hit the UK stage since The Naked Truth, Guilty Pleasures promises to be a lively and bawdy romp filled with fun and including moments of genuine poignancy and tenderness.

 So, to experience the ultimate girls’ night out, get your gladrags on, meet up with your mates and prepare yourselves for ‘personal services’. Remember, at the GC Spa, your pleasure is their business and their motto is ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’.

 Adults only (may contain some slight male nudity – if you’re lucky enough to sit in the right seats!).

 A percentage of the profits from the production shall go to raising awareness and money for Everyman, the UK’s leading prostate and testicular cancer charity.

 For full tour details visit the website at .

 What the press said about ‘The Naked Truth’ :

 “Even more uplifting than a Playtex bra – don’t miss it” – The Public Reviews

 “Better than marriage guidance” – The Yorkshire Post

 “Laughs from pole to pole” – The Jersey Evening Post

 “If you liked Calendar Girls and Stepping Out, then you’ll love The Naked Truth!” – Manchester Evening News

“An empowering piece of theatre with a joie de vivre that is heart-warming and truly inspiring” – UK Theatre Network

Guilty Pleasures – Tour Schedule 2012

 18th & 19th April                Bournemouth Pavilion Centre

23rd & 24th April                St Albans Arena

25th & 26th April                Worthing Pavilion

27th April                         Scarborough Spa Hall

30th April – 2nd May           Motherwell Theatre

3rd – 5th May                     Kirkcaldy, Adam Smith Theatre

7th – 9th May                     Preston Charter Theatre

10th – 12th May                  Peterborough Key Theatre

16th – 19th May                  Jersey Opera House

21st & 22nd May                 Mansfield Palace Theatre

23rd & 24th May                 Halifax Victoria Theatre

27th May                          Barnstaple Queen’s Theatre

29th – 31st May                  Stevenage Gordon Craig Theatre

1st June                           Carmarthen Lyric Theatre

2nd & 3rd June                   Chatham Central Theatre

13th June                         Ulverstone Coro Hall

14th – 16th June                 Shrewsbury Theatre Severn

18th & 19th June                Dunstable Grove Theatre

20th – 23rd June                 Darlington Civic Theatre

25th June                         St Helen’s Theatre Royal

26th & 27th June                Camberley Theatre

28th – 30th June                 Swansea Grand Theatre

Mar 24th

Cirque du Ciel: ShangHi

By Steve Burbridge


Direct from China and beyond gravity . . .

 The highly-awaited and internationally acclaimed production of ShangHi by Cirque du Ciel returns to the UK, by overwhelming popular demand.

 With more than 30 amazingly multi-talented and highly-skilled performers, this marvellous two-hour extravaganza combines acrobatics, modern dance, martial arts, original music and many other traditional and contemporary Chinese elements in an enthralling fantasy adventure.

 With over 500 superbly decadent costumes, intricate scenery, fantastically evocative lighting and a score that enhances and highlights the magical aura of the show, this stunning production showcases the skills of both the performers and the world-class team behind the scenes, taking you beyond gravity.

 The astonishing routines include Mexican hat juggling, the terrifying yet beautiful aerial displays, and the famous, death-defying Chinese Monkey Poles – all of which combine to create a dizzying mix of balancing, tumbling, spinning, and brilliant live drumming that will fascinate audience members of all ages.

 Cirque du Ciel’s ShangHi also features a fabulous and enchanting storyline which will take you on a journey through the mysterious dreams of a little girl, as she delves into her fantasies.

 Having already captivated and enthralled audiences across the world, Cirque du Ciel’s ShangHi is truly an unforgettable spectacle that you will find hard to believe. Don’t miss the most daring, breathtaking and stunning family entertainment show of the year!

 For full tour details, including dates and venues, visit the website at .

 What the press say:

 “A non-stop energetic evening which is utterly mesmerizing. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the stage.” Jersey Evening Post

 “Superb, stupendous, breathtaking! There are not enough adjectives to describe this magnificent entertainment” – Bournemouth Echo

Tour Schedule 2012

 28 – 31 March                   Colchester Mercury Theatre

2 – 4 April                        Swansea Grand Theatre

6 & 7 April                       Northampton Derngate Theatre

8 & 9 April                       Woking New Victoria Theatre

10 & 11 April                    Yeovil Octagon Theatre

12 – 14 April                     Norwich Theatre Royal

16 April                           Wakefield Theatre Royal

17 & 18 April                    Durham Gala Theatre

20 & 21 April                    Blackpool North Pier

25 & 26 April                    Chatham Central Theatre

27 – 29 April                     Plymouth Pavilion Theatre

1 May                                        Aldershot Prince’s Theatre

2 & 3 May                        York Grand Opera House

4 – 6 May                         Halifax Victoria Theatre

7 May                              Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

8 & 9 May                        Edinburgh Playhouse

11 & 12 May                     Dumfries DG1

14 – 16 May                      Glasgow Theatre Royal

18 – 20 May                      Glenrothes, Rothes Halls

22 May                            Bedford Corn Exchange

24 May                            Worthing Pavilion Theatre

25 & 26 May                     Buxton Opera House

27 – 29 May                      Richmond Theatre, Surrey

31 May – 2 June                Darlington Civic Theatre

3 & 4 June                       Manchester Opera House

6 & 7 June                       Bridlington Spa Theatre

8 – 10 June                      Derby Assembly Rooms

12 – 14 June                     Stevenage Gordon Craig Theatre

15 – 17 June                     Leicester De Montfort Hall

19 June                           Guildford G-Live

20 & 21 June                    Liverpool Empire Theatre

22 – 24 June                     Lowestoft Marina Theatre

21 – 25 August                  Bournemouth International Centre 



Mar 20th

Murder On The Nile

By Steve Burbridge


MURDER ON THE NILE - Darlington Civic Theatre
On board a steamer, under the scorching Egyptian sun, a combustive mix of characters assemble for what will soon turn out to be a voyage of vendettas and a cruise with a killer.

Now in its seventh year – and with eight productions already staged – the Agatha Christie Theatre Company presents this stylish new production of the Queen of Crime’s classic thriller, Murder on the Nile.

With a stellar cast, headed by the ex- Dynasty diva Kate O’Mara, including seasoned stage performers such as Denis Lill and Mark Wynter and familiar faces from our television screens, Chloe Newsome (Coronation Street), Susie Amy (Footballer’s Wives) and Ben Nealon (Soldier, Soldier), it is inevitable that the show will be a crowd-puller.

As personalities clash and tempers fray, tragedy strikes and a body is discovered. All fingers point to Jacqueline de Severac, an old flame of the honeymooning Simon Mostyn (Ben Nealon). But is everything as it first seems?

Well, obviously not. And so begins a fascinating yarn laden with intrigue, suspense, drama and death – and all delivered with Christie’s trademark finesse.

In a production that is crammed full of cracking performances, it is Kate O’Mara as the formidable Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes who steals the show without even trying. Delightfully feline in her physical features, Miss O’Mara is equally cat-like in her manner. She sits and purrs much like a smug Siamese on a hearth rug, only moving occasionally to raise a perfectly manicured claw and scratch anyone who gets in her way.

The production values, too, are second to none. An impressive set recreates the deck of the paddle steamer Lotus, whilst subtle lighting effects illustrate the passage of time from day to evening. Brigid Guy’s costume design is a visual treat, in addition to being extremely authentic.

The pace is somewhat slow to begin with but it soon accelerates as Canon Pennefather (Denis Lill) becomes embroiled in a web of deceit and finds himself on the trail of a ruthless murderer.

A classic Christie thriller brought sumptuously to the stage by a top-notch cast. Highly recommended!

 Runs until Saturday 24 March, then continues to tour.

Mar 13th

Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Anita Dobson

By Steve Burbridge

Anita 40s.jpg

Ex-EastEnder Anita Dobson talks to Steve Burbridge about playing Joan Crawford, her professional motivation and why she’s never regretted leaving Albert Square.

It seems difficult to believe that Anita Dobson played Queen of the Vic, Angie Watts, in EastEnders for just three-and-a-quarter years. Somehow it seems much longer. Perhaps this can be attributed to the cult status that the character has since achieved, After all, the tempestuous marriage of Dirty Den and Angie made EastEnders  the BBC’s most successful programme ever and attracted record viewing figures of over 30 million.

When she left Albert Square in 1988, Anita’s departure even made headlines on the Six O’Clock News, so wasn’t it a rash decision to quit the soap at the peak of the character’s popularity?

“No, not at all,” she says. “I didn’t do too much soul-searching before I left EastEnders - I’m a great believer in instinct. For me, the whole point of being an actor is that you get the chance to do lots of different roles. I’d played Angie for long enough and I wanted to try different things.”

Indeed, since leaving EastEnders, Anita has tackled a wide variety of roles, garnering critical acclaim for her work on the stage. She has appeared in classic plays by Chekhov, Molière and Shakespeare and starred in smash-hit musicals including Hello, Dolly!, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago. She enjoys not being typecast.

“My career is healthy, varied and exciting,” she says. “I like being a glamour queen but I also adore the other extreme – being serious and totally unmade-up.”

So then, her latest role – which sees her playing Hollywood legend Joan Crawford in Bette and Joan – must have been a wish fulfilled?

“Well, when you’re asked if you want to play Joan Crawford you don’t really think about it twice,” admits Anita. “You just run and grab it because it’s a dream and as good as it gets for an actress.”

Written by Anton Burge, Bette and Joan tells the story of the fractious relationship between Bette Davis (played by Greta Scacchi) and Joan Crawford. Both their careers had hit rock bottom when they were paired together for the filming of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich’s thriller about an ageing ex-Vaudeville child star who wages a psychotic reign of terror over her crippled ex-movie star sister. The stage play lifts the lid on the behind-the-scenes highs and lows and the tantrums and tiffs between two of Hollywood’s greatest superstars as their 30 year feud reaches boiling point.

Hailed by the critics as ‘funny and sharp’, Bette and Joan is making its regional debut in Darlington fresh from an acclaimed run in London’s West End. Anita can barely contain her enthusiasm as she talks about reprising her role in the touring production.

“For me, it’s a dream to play someone who was my icon,” she reveals. “I grew up, as a child, watching all those Sunday afternoon matinees on my Mum and Dad’s little telly, weeping and laughing along with all of them.”

It’s obvious that Anita also has a huge amount of respect for both Davis and Crawford.

“Both of them were quite tenacious,” she says. “Bette was a formidable actress who’d come up through the ranks and she knew her stuff; she knew a good part when she read it; she knew what she could make of something, and she knew how to do it. Joan was a self-made performer and a really smart, sussed businesswoman. She came from nothing and had been a gawky, goofy, strange-looking girl who clawed her way up from the wrong side of the tracks, got herself a role in a musical, and created the beautiful movie legend that she became.”

However, in the golden age of Hollywood, it could often be something of a challenge for women to maintain their profile as they grew older.

“You had to have something that sold you, in order to stay at the top,” Anita explains. “So they both developed, from quite beautiful young things, into really strong character actresses, almost becoming caricatures of themselves in a way.”

And could their infamous rivalry have been exaggerated for publicity purposes?

“I think everything does become exaggerated with time, especially in the press,” says Anita. “But I do think there was a rivalry between them, definitely. There was a competitiveness derived from the fact that they were both of a similar age, and would find themselves being put up for similar roles and vying for the same parts. How great the rivalry between them was nobody really knows but, of course, it’s more fun to think it was worse than, perhaps, it actually was.”

That said, the pair certainly engaged in a game of one-upmanship during the filming of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

“The things they got up to in an attempt to outdo each other were ridiculous and almost childish, at times. So intent were they on bettering each other that the play is hilariously funny, at times, and there is an element of campness to it.”

Throughout the play, only Anita and her co-star Greta Scacchi appear on stage. It’s a huge undertaking for just two performers to carry a full length theatre show, but also a fantastic challenge.

“A lot of the dialogue is monologue,” explains Anita. “We only have four scenes where we play together and the rest of the time you’re cutting in and out of each other. You’ve got to be aware of the other actress but you’re not actually playing to her. There’s a great joy in owning the stage and being able to really strut your stuff, but along with that comes a big fear and you’ve got to stay so focused because there’s a lot to get through, it’s a big piece. It’s scary but it’s great fun.”

Bette and Joan is at Darlington Civic Theatre from Tuesday, March 27 until Saturday, March 31. Performances are at 7.30pm each evening and at 2.00pm (Thursday) & 2.30pm (Saturday). Tickets cost from £20.50 to £25.00, with a special two for the price of one offer available on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings only. Concessions are available at certain performances. To book, call 01325 486 555 or log on to . For additional information visit






Mar 7th

Swallows and Amazons

By Steve Burbridge

Amy Booth-Steel (Peggy Blackett) and Celia Adams (Nancy Blac.JPG

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS - Darlington Civic Theatre

We all know that a child’s imagination is the most vivid, creative and boundless source of magic there can be and this production of the evergreen classic, Swallows and Amazons, certainly takes that as the basis of its staging. Indeed, the key to the success of Tom Morris’s production (which is produced for the Children’s Touring Partnership) is its simplistic ingenuity.

Instead of elaborately impressive sets and stunning special effects, the story is told with the aid of some fairly mundane props. These everyday items, which include feather dusters, pliers, ribbons, sheets and bin bags, are suddenly transformed into parrots, cormorants, boats and the ocean. It’s all very cleverly done and extremely believable, too.

Arthur Ransome wrote the novel in 1930 and, having never read the book, I am unable to comment on how faithful Helen Edmundson’s script remains to his original work. Certainly, though, the characterisation of the children: John (Richard Holt), Susan (Katie Moore), Titty (Akiya Henry) and Roger (Stewart Wright) are typical of middle-class kids from that era. Any surprising events are met with cries of ‘Golly!’, good news is received with jubilant choruses of ‘Hurrah!’ and anyone who behaves badly is ‘simply beastly’. They’re all so upright and conformist that, on occasion, you do find yourself wishing that the slightly more rebellious Nancy and Peggy Blackett (Celia Adams and Sophie Walker, respectively) will actually make them walk the plank!

Performances are of a good standard throughout and there is no denying that the ensemble (listed in the programme as the ‘Players in Blue’) are an extremely versatile bunch, with several of them playing more than one instrument. Neil Hannon’s songs suit the piece well, although some are a little over-used.

With the production running to approximately two and a half hours, and bearing in mind that it is a show aimed at children, there is some room for trimming. That said, though, come curtain call there was a positive response from the small, but enthusiastic, audience.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 10 March and then continues to tour.

Feb 29th

On Golden Pond

By Steve Burbridge


ON GOLDEN POND - Darlington Civic Theatre

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the auditorium of the Civic Theatre to take your seat is the sound of birdsong. The second is the stunning set, designed by Michael Lunney, which recreates the interior of a summer house with an exterior backdrop that depicts the beauty and tranquillity of Golden Pond, Maine, New England.  This combination certainly helped set the scene and the tone of Middle Ground Theatre Company’s stylish production. Add to that a stellar cast, headed by a bona fide Hollywood legendary leading lady – Stefanie Powers – and you feel pretty sure that you’re going to have a theatrical treat in store.

Ernest Thompson’s best-known play began off-Broadway in 1978, before becoming a hit on Broadway, a much-loved film (starring Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda) and a musical. It now ranks as a modern classic.

The timeless and endearing love story of Ethel (Stefanie Powers) and Norman Thayer (Richard Johnson) is brought to life with great aplomb.  Powers delivers a flawless performance which is compelling to watch – indeed she is every inch the consummate leading lady. She is wonderfully supported by Johnson and the rapport they share as performers makes it very easy for the audience to believe that they are a devoted couple who have been together for almost half a century.

There are some very fine performances from the rest of the cast, too. Elizabeth Carling, as Chelsea, portrays the resentment she harbours against her father (who wanted a son but got a daughter) brilliantly.  Tom Roberts, as Chelsea’s new fiancé, strikes the right balance in his attempts to win over Norman whilst, at the same time, refusing to be belittled by him. Graeme Dalling has the unenviable task of attempting to embody a fourteen year old boy, yet achieves it perfectly. It falls to Kasper Michaels, as the slightly goofy mailman, Charlie, to provide much of the light relief and comedy moments.

The play ambles along at a leisurely pace and the humour is reassuringly gentle. This slick production, which has obviously been staged with a good deal of reverence, dispels any misconceptions that the piece may be dated and highlights the relevance of a narrative which deals with the relationships between differing generations. In fact, On Golden Pond is exactly what good theatre should be – entertaining, escapist, thought-provoking and deeply touching. Bravo!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 3 March, then continues to tour. 

Feb 27th

A Streetcar Named Desire/The Crucible, Nice Swan Theatre Company at The People's Theatre, Newcastle

By Steve Burbridge

Nice Swan Theatre Company is a North East based productions company which focuses on giving local talented under-25-year-olds the chance to be involved in a professional scale production. They have earned themselves a reputation for staging the highest-quality productions and continue to grow and evolve. 2012 sees Nice Swan Theatre Company enter its fifth year and what better a way to start than with a double bill of well-known and much-loved plays – A Streetcar Named Desire and The Crucible. STEVE BURBRIDGE went along to The People’s Theatre to review both for UK Theatre Network.

11 (1) (1).JPG 

A Streetcar Named Desire – 21 & 22 February 2012

Written by Tennessee Williams, in 1947, the issues and themes explored within this captivating and disturbing landmark play are as resonant today as they were during Williams’ lifetime. Human relationships are fragile and so is the mind.

Set in the French quarter of New Orleans, we were introduced to Blanche DuBois (Katie Gibson), a fading, complex and somewhat  manipulative Southern belle, Stella (Jessica Brady) her estranged, downtrodden sister and Stanley Kowalski (Dale Jewitt), Stella’s animalistic husband and a rising member of the industrial, urban working class.

At the centre of the drama lies an epic battle of both identities and will, the outcome of which lies with Stella and, ultimately, she is forced to make a decision which will tip the balance forever.

As always, Nice Swan manages to instil even the most ‘classic’ pieces of theatre with a new and invigorating lease of life, a unique and innovative slant, and they are to be wholeheartedly commended for such creativity, imagination and bravery.

The acting within this piece was of the highest standard imaginable and combined with atmospheric lighting design from Terrence Errington, evocative incidental music, sharp, stylish and slick direction by Lewis Pilton, the production was intensely compelling.

Despite the fact that Act One ran to a mammoth two hours which, in my opinion, is a tad too long, the audience seemed to retain their interest throughout and sat enthralled. Act 2 was slightly shorter, coming in at around the 90 minute mark.

Undoubtedly, one of the major factors in holding the attention of the audience was the superb quality of the performances within the piece. Katie Gibson was phenomenal as Blanche and she delivered a tour-de-force performance to rival any West End leading lady. Such an exquisite talent, breathtaking conviction, and commanding performance is exceedingly rare and she has established herself as a performer to watch out for in the future. No doubt, she has a promising career ahead of her.

A resounding success!


The Crucible – 23 & 24 February 2012

Having studied Arthur Miller’s 1953 study in hysteria, which was written as a parable for the events of the communist fearing McCarthy era in the USA, I was very much looking forward to Nice Swan’s take on the play.

However, a few dubious directorial decisions marred my complete enjoyment of the production. Firstly, by changing the setting of the piece from Salem during the 1692 witch trials to ‘No Place, during no specific time’, I felt that some of the power of this dark and twisted tale of revenge, unrequited love and the power of fear within a community was diminished. Also, having a female play Reverend Parris jarred with me and prevented me from being totally able to suspend my disbelief – in fact, it actually came over as slightly gimmicky. Although, I must point out that this observation is in no way a negative reflection upon Lauren McNeillie’s sterling performance.

In general, the performance standard was mixed. Some members of the group demonstrate greater promise than others, and it was performances by actors playing comparatively ‘minor’ roles who, in my opinion, stole the show. Dylan Stafford, as Hale, was superbly sinister, whilst Bethany Walker was deeply affecting as Elizabeth Proctor. Both the aforementioned performers were so engaging in their roles that they actually outshone Laura Stoker (Abigail Williams) and John Mitchell (John Proctor).

It is, though, commendable that the entire cast performed in such a thoroughly professional manner, considering the conduct of some in the auditorium. Never before have I had such misfortune as to sit amongst an audience so totally devoid of both theatre etiquette and common consideration of others. The incessant rustling of crisp packets, ring-pulling of cans  - and even fully-blown conversations being conducted at a level that was equally as audible as the voices of the onstage performers – must have been as much of a distraction to the cast as it was to my companion and I. This fault is not only attributable to the ill-mannered members of the audience, but also to the lack of responsibility shown by the stewards on duty.

A real shame!


Feb 22nd

Save The Last Dance For Me

By Steve Burbridge

save the last dance.jpg

SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME - Darlington Civic Theatre

For the first time without their parents, siblings Marie (Megan Jones) and Jennifer (Hannah Frederick) embark on a holiday to the seaside. It’s the summer of 1963 and a time when each passing week brings another pop classic.

Full of freedom and high spirits, the sisters meet a handsome young American who invites them to a dance at the local US Air Force base in Lowestoft. As if the heady combination of the power of young love and the thrill of a holiday romance were not enough, matters are made more complicated by the fact that Marie falls for a young man named Curtis (Jason Denton) whom is not only American but black, too.

Save The Last Dance For Me is the new production from the creative team behind the hugely successful Dreamboats and Petticoats. Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (who also have hit TV sit-coms such as Birds of a Feather and Shine on Harvey Moon to their credit) and directed by Bill Kenwright, it certainly had the potential to be a box office blockbuster. However, the drama and dialogue are very much forced to play second-fiddle to the musical hits of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

That said, the songs do have the ability to transport the audience back to a nostalgic golden era in the history of pop music – and there are plenty of them, too! Act One boasts no fewer than eighteen hits, such as ‘Rhythm of the Rain’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and ‘Sweets for my Sweet’, whilst Act Two contains nineteen more, including ‘Teenager In Love’, ‘Tell Her’ and the title song. They are all performed by a truly talented cast of actor-musicians who had the ‘blue-rinsed brigade’ crooning along for all they were worth.

There are those who will, undoubtedly, say that this kind of show is more suited to the end of a seaside pier than a theatre – and perhaps they may be right. But, at the same time, it’s good old-fashioned harmless fun.

Save The Last Dance For Me may not be the stuff that West End wonders and touring triumphs are made of but, on press night in Darlington, there was no doubt that it is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 25 February at Darlington, then continues to tour nationally.