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Jul 11th

Immortal Chi: A Warrior's Quest For Harmony

By Steve Burbridge

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Conceived by the acclaimed Cirque du Soleil director, Erick Villeneuve, Immortal Chi chronicles the journey of a Tai Chi Master and his challenge to regain his inner energy. Combining martial arts with acrobatics, traditional weaponry, beautiful costumes and original music, this production is, indeed, visually sumptuous.

From the marvellous skills demonstrated as a result of mind-over-matter meditation to the physical feats of traditional Kung Fu combat, to the soothing swirling, twirling and unfurling of the flag dancing, to the percussion precision of the Chinese Girl Drummers, Immortal Chi is a heady and hypnotic cornucopia of contemporary culture and timeless tradition.

However, without the transparency of a clear overriding narrative, it can sometimes be difficult to follow the ‘extraordinary’ story to which the marketing material refers. It is left to the individual to interpret, in their own unique way, the intent of the piece and its meaning. Perhaps this is deliberate?

Comedy is also incorporated into the show – largely when three unsuspecting audience members reluctantly take to the stage and become part of a routine. This did not sit entirely in context with the rest of the performance for me, personally, although it did seem to be appreciated by the majority of the audience.

It is undisputable, though, that the discipline of the mind in harmony with the dexterity of the body does defy the realms of human comprehension and this is a must-see show for not only fans of martial arts but also anyone else who enjoys an evening of spectacular entertainment.

Steve Burbridge.

For Tour Venues & Booking Details visit www.immortalchi.net

Apr 10th

The Addams Family - Northern Premiere, The People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

By Steve Burbridge

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They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re altogether ooky: The Addams Family! And their gloriously ghoulish, spooktacular shenanigans were a massive hit with the first night audience at The People’s Theatre, last night.

Nice Swan Theatre Company has the honour of presenting the Northern premiere of this new musical comedy – and it couldn’t be in safer or more talented hands.

Based on the characters from the well known film and TV series The Addams Family features an original story, and it's every father's nightmare. Wednesday Addams (Carly Burns), the ultimate princess of darkness, has grown up and fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man, Lucas Beineke (Glen Townsend) from a respectable family. And if that weren't upsetting enough, she confides in her father and begs him not to tell her mother. Now, Gomez Addams (Dale Jewitt) must do something he's never done before - keep a secret from his beloved wife, Morticia (Jessica Brady). Everything will change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday's "normal" boyfriend.

No strangers to taking on bold and ambitious projects which challenge the bounds of technical creativity and push their performers far beyond any other musical theatre company for miles around, Nice Swan are, once again, triumphant with this slick and stylish production.

From sumptuous costumes to stunning sets, faultless performances and characterisation to complex choreography and a live orchestra, the show ticked each and every box on my reviewer’s list.

Obviously, much of the emphasis and action surrounds the ‘family’ characters, yet there were some fantastic performances from those in supporting roles, in particular Dylan Stafford (Mr Beineke), Bethany Walker (Mrs Beineke) and Jacob Anderton (Lurch), plus a whole host of ancestor ghosts. Indeed, there was not one weak link in the entire cast.

Special praise should also be given to the entire creative team who have collaborated brilliantly to produce a show worthy of the West End stage.

Marvellously macabre, wonderfully whacky and deliciously dark, The Addams Family is a hair-raising hit and meeting them once may not be enough – I have already booked tickets for Saturday!

Steve Burbridge.                      

To book call the box office on (0191) 265 5020 or visit www.niceswan.com

 

Mar 24th

Sam Dickinson: The Acoustic Nights Tour - The Mining Institute, Newcastle

By Steve Burbridge


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Who knew that a spring Saturday night in Newcastle would hold in store a rare and exquisite experience; that something would occur that only happens, perhaps, once in a decade? That I would have the privilege of watching a performer destined for a meteoric rise to success in the intimate grandeur of a Mining Institute?

Sam Dickinson is something quite exceptional - a singer/songwriter who has, in equal measure, an abundance of both talent and integrity. Thankfully, thus far, he remains untouched and, indeed, untarnished, by the commercial music industry who, all too often, process, package, brand and market the individuality out of many vocalists.

Newcastle was the second venue on his short ‘Acoustic Nights’ tour, and Sam performed to an appreciative audience. Interspersing his own songs (taken from his debut album, The Stories That Occurred) with covers of tracks by Amy Winehouse and Tina Turner, he effortlessly showcased a range that is nothing less than phenomenal. Indeed, although he undoubtedly has a style all of his own, at times I found myself being reminded of some of my favourite performers. There were the high notes that I thought only Jimmy Somerville could hit; the melancholy of a Marc Almond lyric, and the showmanship of Andy Bell.

Accomplished but never arrogant, confident but not cocky, Sam also introduced each song with the stories that provided the inspiration behind them – it gave each song an added emotional subtext.

Finally, I must make two brief apologies: firstly, the constraints of the word-count render it impossible to review, in the detail they deserve, the performances of supporting artists, Lily Clark and Alex Dobson; secondly, this review would have been online much earlier had I not spent so much time on Sunday playing Sam’s debut album!

Steve Burbridge.

Mar 21st

Tap Factory - Sunderland Empire & touring

By Steve Burbridge
Tap Factory – The Sunderland Empire Theatre (and touring)

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Billed as “a brand new show in the genre of Stomp, Tap Dogs and Blue Man Group”, Tap Factory is a thrilling combination of tap dancing, hip hop, acrobatics, street dance and percussion in one truly epic production.
 
It begins with a caretaker character making his way through the auditorium, whistling and humming, as he sweeps his way to the stage where we are then introduced to a Chaplinesque  character whose exaggerated mime evokes memories of the magnificent silent movies.
 
The show really gets going when the rest of the workforce of the factory take to the stage and the heady mix of amazing acrobatic agility, terrific tap dancing and precision percussion explodes into action before our very eyes.
Performed by a cast of World Champion dancers, Tap Factory draws on several genres including dance, acrobatics and cirque. Each exquisitely choreographed routine is executed with breathtaking brilliance and an abundance of enthusiasm – and never a foot is put wrong. The eight performers effortlessly dazzle and delight the audience with their dynamic displays of skill and discipline, receiving rapturous shrieks and whoops in return.

With swan-like grace and the litheness of a feline, these incredibly talented men continually astounded the crowd, setting female pulses racing; their toned torso’s sharing responsibility with their dazzling dance routines.
All in all, a breathtaking, showstopping, sensation of a show.

Steve Burbridge.
For tour schedule and booking details please visit www.tapfactory.com
Mar 14th

Goths will "Die Laughing" in Whitby

By Cameron Lowe

A North East comedy will make history when it becomes the first-ever play to be performed at the Whitby Goth Weekend next month (April).

Dracula: Die Laughing

But north east theatre goers will be able to see the show first when it is performed at the Westovian Theatre in South Shields (opposite the Haven Point sports centre) on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 22 and 23.

Dracula: Die Laughing, will be part of the annual Goth festival that has been running since 1994 and attracts upwards of 12,000 people of all ages from all over the world, many of whom dress as Goths but most attend to take in the styles, music and laid-back atmosphere of the event in the North Yorkshire town.

Dracula: Die Laughing, written by Ed Waugh, co-writer of hit comedies Dirty Dusting, Waiting for Gateaux, A funny Thing Happened on the Way To Durham and Sunday for Sammy sketches, is a spoof about Dracula being pursued by vampire hunters and hiding out at the Whitby Goth Weekend.

The show played small venues in a pre-run last autumn, attracting sell-out audiences and gales of laughter in Durham, Sunderland and North Shields.

 Producer and director Gareth Hunter of Ion Productions said: “Anyone looking for a good laugh shouldn’t miss this show. It’s hilarious; Dracula like you’ve never seen him.

“We are delighted to have been invited to the Whitby Goth Weekend as an official part of the prestigious event.”

The cast is South Shields-based Paul Dunn and Craig Richardson and Sunderland-based Corinne Kilvington and Lauren Waine.

Dracula: Die Laughing at Whitby Goth Festival

Prior to the Whitby run on April 26 and 27 at the Coliseum Theatre, Dracula: Die Laughing will be performed at the Westovian Theatre in South Shields (opposite the Haven Point sports centre) on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 22 and 23 at 7.30pm.

For further information visit Dracula: Die Laughing Facebook events

Tickets for the South Shields show cost £8 and can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre in Haven Point (Ocean Road) or via 07751246176.
Feb 8th

Tea With The Old Queen

By Steve Burbridge

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‘Tea With The Old Queen’ – The Customs House, South Shields

 Regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Royalist, I bet that at some stage you have wondered what really goes on behind closed palace doors. What’s it like to spend Christmas at Sandringham and summer holidays at Balmoral?

Well, Tea With The Old Queen: The Fictional Diaries of Backstairs Billy lifts the lid on some of the monarchy’s best-kept comic secrets. Based on the fictitious diaries of William Tallon, steward and page of the backstairs to the late Queen Mother, this one-man show offers a glimpse into life below stairs at Clarence House. In over forty years of loyal service, ‘Backstairs Billy’, as Tallon became known, saw it all.

Written, directed and produced by Graham Woolnough, this production has enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe and toured the UK, garnering some impressive reviews along the way.

The premise is a good one and Ian Stark, as Billy, certainly has sufficient charisma and presence to be watchable. However, as gently amusing as the writing is, I found myself lamenting a plethora of dramatic missed opportunities.

A significant amount of the show focuses on the period of Christmas 1999 and the dawn of the new Millennium and this deprives the audience of a whole variety of other juicy morsels. For instance, we are not made privy to Ma’am’s opinions on the exploits of both the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York, nor the impact of Diana’s death in 1997. Historic incidents such as the death, in 1986, of the Duchess of Windsor could have been utilised to resurrect painful memories from the past, too, thus providing a richer tapestry of drama

Nevertheless, the piece was a charming and inoffensive exposé – it’s just a shame that, as is the case with most gossip, we were only treated to part of the story.

Steve Burbridge.

Performed at the Customs House, South Shields, on Thursday 6th February 2014. For details of future performances and more about the play, visit www.facebook.com/twtoq

 

Oct 8th

Gee, But It's Good To Be Here!

By Cameron Lowe

Review by Ed Waugh

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Hats off to Steve Burbridge who has written, directed and produced this cracking show.

 

It takes the form of an “Evening with…” and the guest is Ethel Merman. Ethel Who? My thoughts exactly but she was one of, if not, the biggest stars of Broadway musical theatre from the 1930s spanning five decades.

 

Famous for her comedy timing and mezzo-soprano voice, she also had a successful film career that saw her rubbing shoulders with the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. 

 

In 1930 she was earning $500 a week and starred in the Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy, in 1946 she  starred as Annie Oakley in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Annie Get Your Gun, in 1959 she started a 702-performance run of Gypsy. In 1964 the musical Hello Dolly was written specifically for her vocal range (she joined the cast in 1970). Ethel died in 1984.

 

Burbridge has researched his subject thoroughly and Merman (played excellently by Nicki French) reveals the foibles of her co-stars and, in true showbiz style, gives us the bitchier side of life. It’s fascinating stuff and anyone who reads biographies will lap this up.

 

Having said that, Merman was so interesting this will appeal to anyone who likes good entertainment.

 

Introduced by a host (Christopher Strain), Merman opens the show with her signature song Gee, But It’s Good to be here. French can belt out a tune and, once relaxed in the role, was superb. Breaking up the banter, she kicked on with more songs that Merman made famous; all of which are standards even today: Everything’s Coming Up Roses, I Get A Kick Out of You, Anything Goes, Who Could Ask For Anything More? and There’s No Business Like Show Business ...and with her glittery frocks, it rocked!

 

Married four times, her last betrothal was with the actor Ernest Borgnine in 1964: it lasted 32 days, and to quote Ethel, “32 days too long”. A diva, no doubt, but wonderfully entertaining.

Gee, But It’s Good To Be Here

Trent House, Newcastle
Until Saturday 12 October

 

Jul 8th

Some Like It Hotter - The Customs House, South Shields

By Steve Burbridge

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Some Like It Hotter – The Customs House, South Shields

Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon may be dead, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped working. Recently deceased fans of Some Like It Hot, the 1959 film that united the three stars in the first place, have the opportunity to meet their heroes before they properly pass through to ‘the other side’.

The premise for Some Like It Hotter is certainly an intriguing and imaginative one. Playwright Richard Hurford wanted to explore “the strange immortality conferred on actors who remain forever alive, often forever young and locked into one story on film” and what might happen if “the viewpoint of the fan came into being.”

Enter Charlie (Patrick Bridgman), a nerdy middle-aged man who has always lived at home with his mother. A huge fan of the black and white classic (and of Marilyn Monroe, in particular), he has dreamed – since boyhood – of being a member of the all-female band, Sweet Sue & Her Society Syncopators. Now, it seems, those dreams are about to come true as Tony Curtis (Paul Matania), Jack Lemmon (Daniel Lloyd) and Marilyn Monroe (Sarah Applewood) kit him up with a cocktail dress and high-heels and set about re-enacting the film.

There’s lots to praise in this show which boasts high production values (brilliant set design by Jane Linz Roberts, authentically lavish costumes by Becky Graham, slick direction from Karen Simpson) and compelling performances from the principals (all of which are excellent, but Applewood’s Monroe is a masterpiece in mimicry), yet it still falls a little short.

The first act tends to drag as the premise of the play is over-laboured by the writer. The pace steps up after the interval and there are some wonderful interpretations of musical numbers including ‘Runnin’ Wild’, ‘I’m Through With Love’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’.

However, the production is ultimately dogged by a script that seems more like an early draft than a finely-honed finished piece.

Steve Burbridge.

Played at the Customs House, South Shields, from Thursday 4th – Saturday 6th July, 2013.

Tour Details:

8-10 July       Ark Theatre, Borehamwood

11-13 July     Northcott Theatre, Essex

16-17 July     South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell

18-20 July     Connaught Theatre, Worthing

23-27 July     Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

 

Jul 4th

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Durham

By Steve Burbridge

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 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Durham – The Gala Theatre, Durham

The Lindisfarne Gospels are currently on loan from the British Library and will be on display in Durham’s Palace Green Library until 30 September. To commemorate this momentous occasion, Durham’s Gala Theatre have teamed up with Visit County Durham to commission a theatre production chronicling 1400 years of North East history.

The monumental task of writing such a piece was bestowed upon Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, the prolific North East duo who have a string of credits to their name (including other plays based firmly in the North East locale including Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather and Amazing Grace).

Only a partnership with the chutzpah of Wood and Waugh could have concocted such a fast-moving and irreverent dash through our regions past. Staged in a manner which is reminiscent of Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories and written in a style that, arguably, adopts traits of the Carry On’s, Blackadder and Monty Python, Wood and Waugh (in their incomparable, inimitable, trademark style) refuse to let anything as significant as historical accuracy stand in the way of a rip-roaring romp. Indeed, a line in this ‘play within a play’ asserts that “facts don’t matter”.

A cast of three (Chris Connel, Robert Hudson and ViktoriaKay) portray 39 different characters and, in doing so, they demonstrate a level of skill which makes such an undertaking seem completely effortless.

With a firmly tongue-in-cheek approach to our shared history, this production may not appeal to purists – but if you are looking for two-and-a-half hours worth of unashamedly populist humour it is a sure-fire success.

Steve Burbridge.

TOUR VENUES

2-6 July         Gala Theatre, Durham

10 July           Hamsterley Village Hall

11 July           The Maltings, Berwick

12 July           Alnwick Playhouse

13 July           Phoenix Theatre, Blyth

15 July           The Civic Theatre, Darlington

17 July           Consett Empire

18 July           Middlesbrough Theatre

19 July           Bede’s World

20 July           Bowes Museum

21 July           Whitley Bay Playhouse

www.lindisfarnegospels.com

 

Jun 21st

Anita Harris: Curtain Up, Light the Lights - The Customs House, South Shields

By Steve Burbridge

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Anita Harris: Curtain Up, Light the Lights – The Customs House, South Shields

In a career that has spanned five decades, she has topped the bill at the London Palladium and in Las Vegas, released several Top 40 singles, was once the world’s highest-paid cabaret artist, and starred in the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, Cats. Indeed, Anita Harris is part of the fabric of British showbiz.

Now, in what is described as “a wonderful cocktail of song, glitz, chat, humour and dance”, Miss Harris takes to the stage in a one-woman show, Curtain Up, Light the Lights, in which she takes the audience on the journey of her life and career through anecdotes and song.

Often, these particular types of show tend to be rather self-indulgent, gushy affairs, staged as nothing more than self-publicity designed to resurrect flagging careers. However, every so often, and when produced well (as in the case of Victor Spinetti: A Very Private Diary Revisited), they can turn out to be fascinating glimpses into extraordinary lives and colourful careers.

Although Miss Harris is not a raconteur of the same league as the late, great Mr Spinetti, she has a warmth, charisma and joi-de-vivre that is both infectious and endearing. Sure, she may come across as being something of a luvvie but, hey-ho, if you’re used to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Alma Cogan, Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark you can be easily forgiven for that!

From being spotted at a London ice rink at the tender age of sixteen to appearing in the iconic Carry On films and performing in seven Royal Command performances via twelve Combined Services Entertainments tours alongside Sir Harry Secombe, Anita Harris delights in sharing a whole host of treasured memories with the audience. Indeed, her list of co-stars reads like a Who’s Who of British light entertainment: Morecambe & Wise; Tommy Cooper; Clive Dunn; Barbara Windsor to name only a few.

Such is the level of affection in which she is held by her loyal and loving fans that even a ‘senior moment’, during which the stunning 71-year-old could not recall the lyrics to a song she sang in a musical version of Peter Pan, only served to elicit even more admiration from them. Miss Harris approached the situation with her characteristic good humour, left the stage to compose herself, returned and carried on like a true professional.

For me, though, she was at her finest when performing a breathtaking rendition of ‘Memory’ from Cats, in which she exuded star quality.

Those who are tempted to see this show in the hope of being privy to a salacious showbiz scandal or two should take note. Harris opts to avoid sensationalist gossip and tawdry titbits in favour of playing it safe and recounting only the most inoffensive of memories. That said, the opportunity to spend a couple of enjoyable hours in the company of one of this country’s best-loved entertainers is reward enough in itself.

Steve Burbridge.

For tour dates and to book tickets, please visit www.beyondeternitypromotions.com