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May 17th

UK Theatre Network Announces Resignation of North East Editor

By Cameron Lowe

It is with sadness and regret that I have accepted the resignation of Steve Burbridge as UKTN’s North East Editor. Steve leaves us to focus on ever-more-demanding family commitments in parallel with his career as a theatrical writer and producer.

Steve has occupied this role for an amazing 8 years following recruitment by UK Theatre Network Founder, Douglas McFarlane in 2008. His contribution to UK Theatre Network will certainly be missed - not merely his prolific works, which are recorded on our pages, but also his contribution to the culture of UK Theatre Network driven by his infectious spirit and his passion for theatre and the creative industries.  His influence will, indeed, be long-lived. However, that being said, UKTN will not be the same without him.

I would like to thank Steve for his years of service and wish him the very best for the future.

 

Cameron Lowe

Editor, UK Theatre Network

Dec 22nd

Carols & Cocktails

By Steve Burbridge

Carols & Cocktails – Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Christmas is the season when we sights spectacularly high, when the pressure for perfection demands us to be the best at everything: decorating the tree; cooking the lunch; buying great gifts; sending beautiful cards, and hosting the perfect party.

Sentimental songs filled with schmaltzy lyrics tell us it should be a season filled with winter wonderlands, chestnuts roasting on open fires, and children building snowmen. Expectations are cranked up higher and higher until they become completely unattainable.

Carols and Cocktails is an office-party themed Christmas play that strips away all the layers of sparkly wrapping paper, the shiny ribbons and bows, and exposes the bargain-basket gift that is concealed beneath.

John (John Dalziel) is the techno-nerd interim head of IT, and Phil (Lawrence Neale) is his jack-the-lad assistant. Together they decide to hijack the entertainment at the annual office party and breathe some much-needed new life into it. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans, don’t you?

Ben Dickenson’s 80-minute play perceptively picks away at the myths and traditions that surround the season of goodwill and reveals the failures, disappointments and regrets that, all too often, are lurking there just beneath the surface, masquerading under a veneer of jolliness and good cheer.

John is distraught at the break-up of his relationship with Carol from HR, whilst Phil has to deal with the difficulties of coming to terms with the problem of his Nanna (who is now  in a care home), a once-strong and selfless woman who is now frail and ever-more demanding. Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, and the inevitable home-truths that accompany it, and we can sense that trouble will not be far away.

But, enough of all that for now – it is Christmas, after all! The first act is a bit of a slow-burner, primarily setting the scene for a more dramatic/traumatic second act. The ‘banter’ between John and Phil is in full flow and the audience (ostensibly, we are the other guests at the party) are encouraged to sing along to Christmas songs and participate in the raucous merriment. Some of us, myself included, were even supplied with instruments to assist in doing this!

Although there are many issues, contained within Carols and Cocktails, that are begging to be explored in more depth, in no way could it be described as superficial. Dickenson’s script, combined with direction from Ali Pritchard, deftly illustrates the misery, loneliness and sense of inadequacy that is often associated with Christmas. However, it is never depressing. The two ordinary, but flawed, characters are all too real – if we look close enough, we can see them about us in everyday life.

There are no ‘happy ever afters’ in this production, but there is hope. Even if it is only the hope that we manage to do Christmas slightly better next year.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until 23rd December 2015

www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk

 

Dec 12th

Alice In Wonderland - The Customs House, South Shields

By Steve Burbridge



Alice In Wonderland

The Customs House, South Shields

To mark the 150th anniversary of both the Customs House itself and the publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic, this year’s pantomime at the South Shields venue is, of course, Alice in Wonderland.

 

‘The Little Panto with The Big Heart’ is, undoubtedly, as much a part of Christmas in South Tyneside as Turkey and all the trimmings and it is a much anticipated event on the calendars of many families from near and far.

 

This year’s production is pantomime done perfectly. From the overture to the song-sheet it ticks every box on the checklist!

 

And, because Wonderland is a place that does not adhere to the conventions of logic or reason, nor shall the construction of this review. I shall, if I may, begin at the end and work back to the beginning!

 

The Duchess (Ray Spencer), who is cook for the Queen, leads the audience through an amusing ditty on how to bake the perfect Christmas crumble – yet, this is a secondary recipe for success when compared to the veritable delights served up within the show.

 

Spencer (who stars, directs and is co-writer) has selected only the finest of ingredients for his Christmas concoction. Firstly, he has taken some sugar and spice (Natasha Haws as Alice) and combined it with copious amounts of fluffy cuteness (the anthropomorphic creatures: Luke Maddison as The White Rabbit; Kylie Ann Ford as The Dormouse; Stephen Sullivan as The Mad March Hare). Next he has added a sprinkling of silliness (Craig Richardson as Tweedle Dum and Gareth Hunter as Tweedle Dee), a dash of eccentricity (Steven Lee Hamilton as The Mad Hatter), and a pinch of vain self-obsession (Afnan Iftikhar as The Knave of Hearts). And just so things don’t out too sickly sweet, there’s a bitter edge (provided by the fantastic Anne-Marie Owens as The Queen of Hearts).

 

As things simmer away nicely, a smattering of innuendo and double-entendre wafts over the heads of the kids but satisfies the appetites of the adults, whilst liberal amounts of colour, provided by the design of Fox and Shriek add a luxurious richness. As the audience are whipped to a frenzy, the addition of one or two cleverly re-worked pop songs are the  icing on the cake, ensuring that this panto cannot be beaten.

 

Well done to all in Wonderland for serving up such a festive feast!

 

Steve Burbridge

 

Until 9th January 2016

Box Office:   0191 454 1234

www.customshouse.co.uk

 

Photo Credit:  Craig Leng

 

 

Sep 27th

'Hitler's Headquarters' - Preview

By Steve Burbridge

New play takes North East theatre-goers underground

 Theatre-goers in the region can enjoy a one-off cultural experience beneath the streets of Newcastle this September and October. 

Twenty Seven Productions is working with the Ouseburn Trust to stage a World War 2-themed play in Newcastle’s Victoria Tunnel.

‘Hitler’s Headquarters’ will look at real life in Newcastle during some of the most severe bombings of the conflict and tell the stories of families who were made homeless and forced to take shelter beneath the city.

The Victoria Tunnel is a preserved 19th century wagon-way reaching from the Town Moor to the Tyne and in the 1800s was used to transport coal from Spital Tongues Colliery to the river. However, in 1939, the tunnel was converted into an air raid shelter to protect thousands of Newcastle citizens during World War 2.

In 2008, the Victoria Tunnel was carefully repaired and opened for guided tours with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and TyneWear Partnership. Since 2010 the Ouseburn Trust has operated guided tours with fully trained volunteer guides.

Twenty Seven Productions has been given exclusive access to perform its play, which can only be staged in front of an audience of 20 people at a time.

Twenty Seven Productions is an independent film and theatre production company, founded by Victoria Gibson, daughter of Boro Chairman, Steve Gibson, and Christopher Linton. The company stages a variety of live performances around the UK, supporting emerging talent.

Victoria Gibson said: “This is a whole new cultural experience for anyone interested in either the North East’s rich heritage or unusual stage productions. It’s nothing like the average play in a regular theatre as the audience will actually feel part of the whole experience- and get to see the magnificent Victoria Tunnel.

“As a production company, Twenty Seven Productions is committed to different and exciting live performances and nurturing the best new talent. We always work to push the boundaries of film and theatre and Hitler’s Headquarters illustrates this perfectly.”

 

Tickets are priced at £15 for adults and £10 for concessions. Booking is essential and can be done at http://twentysevenproductionsuk.com/ - there are two shows a day at 4pm and 7pm.

 

Jul 9th

Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders

By Steve Burbridge

 

Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders

 

Fact is fused with fiction to phenomenal effect as one of literature’s greatest detectives sets out to reveal the identity of the most sadistic serial killer ever to stalk the streets of London in Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders.

Presented by talkingScarlet, this is a slick, stylish and sophisticated production with all the hallmarks of a spine-tingling thriller: a grisly gothic tale of murder most foul, punctuated with intrigue, suspense, romance and even a smattering of comic relief.

A talented and versatile cast of eleven deliver outstanding performances, supported by superb technical effects and top-notch production values. This is clearly a cast and company who approach the murder-mystery genre with the respect it deserves.

The production is dedicated to the memory of its writer, Brian Clemens, who died at the beginning of this year and it is very much a familial tribute as his sons, Samuel and George, are both pivotally involved – each on opposite sides of the curtain.

Samuel Clemens plays the titular role of Sherlock Holmes and, in doing so, dispenses with the stereotypical image of deerstalker hat and magnifying glass. Instead, his portrayal of Holmes presents the audience with a much more human and rounded character, prone to self-doubt and occasional regret.

The other Clemens brother, George, as Technical Director, is to be commended for ensuring the production is so genuinely atmospheric. The smog-ridden slums of the East End, Holmes’ rooms at Baker Street and other key locations are brought vividly to life via a series of stunning projections and searing sound effects.

Deft and assured direction from Patric Kearns ensures the pace is brisk without being rushed and strong performances from George Telfer (Dr Watson), Kim Taylforth (Mrs Hudson/Mary Kelly), Lara Lemon (Kate Mead), Michael Kirk (Netley) and Andrew Paul (Sir William Gull) further endorse the credentials of this exhilarating and excellent piece of theatre.

 

Steve Burbridge.

 

Reviewed at Darlington Civic Theatre.

 

Tours to Windsor, Malvern, Crewe, Inverness, Swansea, Buxton, Guildford, Dundee, Lowestoft, Derry, Croydon, Reading and Blackpool.

 

www.talking-scarlet.co.uk

 

May 20th

The Man and the Donkey - The Customs House, South Shields

By Steve Burbridge

 

The Man and the Donkey – The Customs House, South Shields

 

On the very same day that marks the centenary of his death, the story of South Shields’ very own local hero once again graces the stage of The Customs House. The tale of John Simpson Kirkpatrick is one of remarkable heroism, extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice.

Yet, one cannot help but wonder, as the people of his hometown wander past the memorial erected in his honour, outside the pub which bears his name, how much they really know of this man and his feats.

Born in South Shields on 6th July 1892, Kirkpatrick became a hero in Australia during the Gallipoli campaign in World War One. Serving as a stretcher-bearer with the Australian Army Medical Corps, he used his donkey-handling skills (honed on a beach back home, as a youngster) to help rescue more than 300 soldiers and transport them from the frontline to the safety of the medical stations located at Anzac Cove. He achieved this in a mere 24 days, before being killed at the tender age of 22.

This commemoratory production rightfully pays tribute to the man and his achievements. Playwright Valerie Laws chronicles Kirkpatrick’s journey from boy to man through a series of vignette-like snapshot scenes, calling upon the cast of six to change characters, costumes and accents in rapid succession. Jackie Fielding directs with a deft touch which, whilst focusing on Kirkpatrick’s extraordinary heroism, does not allow the piece to become overly-sentimental. The horrors of war are never far from view and are effectively reconstructed via James Henshaw’s lighting design and Chris Allen’s sound design.

The entire cast are flawless but special mention must be made of Jamie Brown, who portrays John Simpson Kirkpatrick with enormous skill and genuine humility.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 23rd May 2015

Picture credit: Craig Leng.

 

Dec 5th

Little Red Riding Hood - The Customs House, South Shields

By Steve Burbridge

DSC_2592.JPG

Photo: Craig Leng 

Once again, ‘the little panto with the big heart’ has set the benchmark for every other Christmas production in the North East this year, with a spectacular production of Little Red Riding Hood. As usual, all the necessary components are included to ensure that the Customs House pantomime represents the best value for money for miles around. Indeed, it could easily be claimed that this year’s production is even better value than ever before, given that we are treated to two pantomimes for the price of one! You see, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood has been cleverly interwoven with that of The Three Little Pigs via the common link of the big bad wolf.

Visually, the production is a sumptuous sight to behold – largely due to the distinctive set and costume design by Paul Shreik and Matt Fox – but also aided by the make-up and prosthetics used by the actors performing the ‘skin roles’: Steven Lee Hamilton as Wolfgang; Gareth Hunter as Bratwurst; Kylie Ann Ford as Chorizo, and Luke Maddison as Saveloy.

The script by Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson is well-written, too. The strong storyline involves good versus evil, love and romance, comedy capers, song and dance and that ever-satisfying ‘happily ever after’. A cast of committed and charismatic performers ensure that the pace is kept up throughout and the attention of even the youngest audience member never wanders for even a second.

Natasha Haws is a pleasing Red Riding Hood, making the most of the ever-thankless role of principal girl. She sings and moves well and is suitably spirited when dealing with the pompous Prince William, played deliciously dimly by Jamie Brown. Craig Richardson, as Timber the woodcutter, and Stephen Sullivan as Cockney geezer Mr Fracker provide the majority of the slapstick and physical comedy, whilst Jamie Birkett as marvellously malevolent as Bracken, the Forest Witch.

However, it is Ray Spencer as Granny Hood who steals every scene with his deadpan put-downs and near-the-knuckle ad-libs. A good old fashioned proper dame, he has the adults in the audience howling with his off-the-cuff risqué double-entendres, whilst the kids laugh along in blissful oblivion. A panto veteran with decades of experience to his credit, the South Tyneside audiences adore him – and rightly so.

Little Red Riding Hood is like a big box of chocolates – a bit nutty in places, full of all your favourites, has something for everyone and always leaves you wanting more!

 

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 10th January 2015.

 

Nov 18th

Testing Times at The People’s Theatre, Newcastle

By Cameron Lowe
It is a rare occasion, indeed, when a play lives up fully to the rhetoric contained within the marketing material. Billed as being “poignant and provocative, funny and frank” and being audacious enough to boast quotes that compare the piece to The Vagina Monologues, Calendar Girls and Blood Brothers, the creative team responsible for Testing Times had set the bar about as high as it goes. As I first suspected, the play did not live up the rhetoric – it surpassed it by far!
 
Testing Times by Steve Burbridge
Image: David Thorman 

Steve Burbridge, who has written, directed and produced the piece has bestowed upon the theatrical world a play that is nothing less than a modern-day masterpiece. The script crackles along at a pace that makes the time fly by and the performances from the cast of three exceed outstanding. 
 
The story centres around the extremely camp but very likeable Dominic – a young gay man who, throughout the course of the play, is diagnosed HIV+, his feisty mother, Brenda, and Chris, Dominic’s “straight-acting” partner.
 
Based upon genuine interviews with HIV+ men from the North East, the script rings with authenticity. The dialogue is deliciously conversational and never stilted for a moment. Laced with wonderfully wicked on-liners, moments of genuine tenderness and flashes of conflict, the actors really have a script to get their teeth in … and they don’t disappoint.
 
Christopher Strain (Dominic) takes the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride, switching from carefree, youthful effervescence to the dark depths of despair and back again. Pauline Fleming draws upon her wealth of experience as a TV soap regular and depicts a no-nonsense matriarch who has the audience on side from her first speech, her forthright opinions and nagging of Dominic making her all the more funny and real. Jamie Brown completes the line-up perfectly as the g committed, caring and compassionate partner of Dominic.
 
The chemistry between the three is something special to behold and there isn’t a weak link amongst them. And the tears that are shed by all three, when Dominic is given his HIV diagnosis, were certainly not manufactured in their dressing rooms – they were real and heartfelt.
 
Testing Times is an utterly compelling, really enjoyable and hugely important piece of new writing: it made me laugh, it made me cry and, more importantly, it made me look at HIV and AIDS in a completely different way. 
 
This is a must-see show and I cannot recommend it highly enough! 

Until Thursday 20th November 2014

www.peoplestheatre.co.uk
 
Review by Erica Clements.
Oct 17th

Collector of Tears - Customs House & Touring

By Steve Burbridge

collector2.jpg

Production image courtesy of The Customs House.

Collector of Tears – The Customs House, South Shields & Touring

Seldom does it occur that a theatre production has such a profound effect on me as Collector of Tears has had. The epic story of Sunderland-born Tanya Sealt (Madeleine MacMahon) chronicles the personal journey of a woman who is unable to cry – and, consequently, age and die until she does – set against the backdrop of four hundred years of radical English history.

A powerhouse performance from MacMahon, deft direction from Jackie Fielding, and a beautifully poetic script by Sean Burn combine to ensure that Collector of Tears is a production of monumental stature. This fascinating and compelling piece of storytelling is by turn subtle and intense; understated yet compelling.

MacMahon has quite a unique stage presence and has the audience empathising with her character almost instantly. Seemingly undaunted by the demands of performing alone on stage for nearly two hours, she relishes a task that would strike fear into many of her contemporaries. Never a falter or fluffed line, she assuredly guides us through the intriguing events that form the life of Tanya Sealt.

There are tales of love and lust, of joy and sadness, of oppression and triumph. Along the way, Tanya bottles the tears of happiness and despair that are shed by those who have touched her life in one way or another.

Each encounter Tanya has, in an attempt to define and understand her bisexuality, is beautifully complimented by James Henshaw’s lighting design and live music from cellist Ken Patterson.

Of course, before the denouement, tears are shed by Tanya – though I have no intention of revealing how or why. Suffice to say that they are brought about by an intensely personal relationship, played out against a hugely significant political event.

Collector of Tears is a stirring, thought-provoking and uplifting piece of theatre.

Steve Burbridge.

 

  • Collector of Tears tours to the Caedmon Hall, Gateshead (17 October), Peterborough Key Theatre (23), The Place Bedford (27), Arts Centre Washington (30), Ilkley Playhouse Studio (1 November), Marlborough Theatre Brighton (5), Bristol Bierkeller (6) and Wolverhampton Arena Theatre (7).

Oct 16th

Lucky Numbers - The Customs House, South Shields

By Steve Burbridge

Lucky Numbers Pat Dunn.jpg

Production Image courtesy of Craig Leng Photography & Customs House

 

Lucky Numbers – The Customs House, South Shields (until 25 October)

Six years after winning the People’s Play Award (2008) and its first full-scale production at The Customs House, Lucky Numbers returns to the venue. During the intervening years, Mike Yeaman’s comedy, about a granny with dementia whose lucky numbers come up on the National Lottery, has been successfully received in Liverpool, Northern Europe and New Zealand.

When I reviewed Lucky Numbers, back in 2008, I stated that plays as good as this were ‘as rare as jackpot-winning lottery tickets’. For the most part, this remains to be the case. The script certainly stands the test of time and has been refreshed here and there to bring it bang up to date with contemporary culture.

Once again, Pat Dunn reprises the role of Nana and nails every nuance of the character with panache and perfect comedy timing. A solid supporting cast has been assembled, which includes Jayne Mackenzie, Pip Chamberlin, Micky McGregor, Harriet Ghost, Adrian Chisholm and Michael Addison, and they all perform their roles competently.

Such a piece is difficult to categorise – it is comedy, drama and farce, by turn, and herein lies its strength. However, Michael Strassen’s direction seems to miss that point entirely and favour only one direction – that of farce. In a somewhat futile attempt to make the piece ‘Ayckbournesque’, some of the poignancy is diminished along the way.

Overall, though, the play was received well by the opening night audience and it is clearly still a winner – even if the pay-out is slightly less than before.

Steve Burbridge.