Share |
Nov 17th

The Glee Club

By Steve Burbridge

Glee Club main.jpg

The Glee Club

Darlington Civic Theatre

Hot on the heels of the success of The Pitmen Painters, earlier in the autumn season, Darlington Civic Theatre are this week hosting The Hull Truck Theatre Company’s revival of Richard Cameron’s The Glee Club. Obviously, plays which deal with coalmining sit well with the North East’s industrial heritage but two in the same season is positively inviting comparison.

Unfortunately, The Glee Club does not fare well as a result – and the egotistical claim by Hull Truck’s marketing department, that “if you liked Brassed Off, The Full Monty and The Pitmen Painters, you’ll love this” only adds to the overwhelming disappointment which I felt throughout the piece.

The year is 1962, and Edlington Colliery’s six-strong Glee Club is preparing for their annual Gala performance. Each of the men have problems of their own to contend with, which threaten the overall success of the Gala: union man Jack (Paul Clarkson) is involved in a romantic liaison far beyond his social stratification; Bant (Anthony Clegg) is coming to terms with the fact that his wife has ran off with the tea delivery man; Walt (John Burton) mourns the death of his wife and the fact that his children are being brought up in care; Scobie (Sean McKenzie) juggles the demands of a nagging, heavily pregnant, wife and a rebellious teenage daughter; Colin (Marc Pickering) dreams of pop stardom but is soon forced to grow up fast, and Philip (Michael Chance), a mining engineer and the group’s musical director, is the victim of a blackmail plot which threatens to reveal his homosexuality and irreparably damage his reputation.

The pace drags and the tone of the play feels extremely dated. Yet the male cast deliver fairly solid performances, despite the odds stacked against them in the form of a bleak, sparse set, lack-lustre direction and superfluous bad language and nudity. As previously described, the marketing department’s hyperbolic rhetoric has gone into overdrive, warning audiences to “prepare to have your heartstrings tugged!” In actual fact, all I could feel being tugged was my hair from my head (by the handful!) as I prayed for the final curtain to fall.

We’ve had the perceived pretentions of painting miners (The Pitmen Painters), we’ve had a miner’s son declare his ambition to be a ballet dancer (Billy Elliott) and now we’ve had singing miners – what are we to expect next, flower-arranging coalmen? What theatre really needs is originality – not variations on a theme.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 19 November 2011.


Nov 10th

Keep Calm and Carry On

By Steve Burbridge


Keep Calm and Carry On

The Customs House, South Shields

In Keep Calm and Carry On, Helen Russell has drawn upon her experience as an actress, comedienne, singer and playwright to create a poignant, funny and heartwarming play. Although it is not strictly autobiographical, it is certainly influenced by Russell’s own time as an ENSA performer during World War Two and, as she says in the programme notes, “it tells of what could and did happen in those days and people’s reaction to what was considered scandalous.”

The piece is set in London at the height of the Blitz, where nineteen-year-old Mary Robson (Rachel Teate) dreams of an escape – entertaining the troops on stage. However, her parents Ellie (Bidi Iredale) and Joe (Stewart Howson) don’t hold the same aspirations for her. The clash between the impetuousness of youth and the cautious protectiveness of age is deftly explored in the writing and brought to life with equal panache by the cast.

Of course, it isn’t giving anything away to reveal that the headstrong Mary gets her own way in the end. In fact it is the journey that young Mary takes from girl to woman and her subsequent ‘coming of age’ which forms the bedrock of the piece.

The play is authentically evocative, with no detail being overlooked, and the entire technical crew are worthy of special praise. The high-pitched wail of the air raid siren, the Bakelite radio on a table in the front room, the costumes, hairstyles, music and lighting all contribute to the overall tone to great effect. However, the battles and casualties of World War Two are merely a backdrop to the battles that are faced by Mary and her family as they struggle to maintain a sense of normality in abnormal times.

Russell’s script is a gem. Having spent most of the first act convincing the audience that the piece is a gently humorous nostalgic wartime romp, she then proceeds to drop a bombshell with as much precision as the Luftwaffe. Indeed, this play is, by no means, a sugar-coated depiction of wartime life but more of a hard-boiled examination of love, loss and the power of the human spirit against unbelievable odds. Her characters are instantly recognisable, three-dimensional and easy to relate with.

Director Jackie Fielding has assembled a first-rate cast, each of them seeming to understand their characters inside out. Although much of the action surrounds the tensions between Mary and her parents, the relationships between Mary and the two men who will have a significant impact on her life, Colin (James Hedley) and Len (Lawrence Stubbings), are also explored with sensitivity and skill. Finally, add to the mix a show-stopping, scene-stealing performance by Rosalind Bailey (as Mary’s Gran) and this war-time comedy drama is nothing less than victorious!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 12 November 2011.


Sep 28th


By Steve Burbridge

Verdict - Robert Duncan as Professor Karl Henryk and Susan Penhaligon as Lisa Koletzky.JPG


Darlington Civic Theatre

Bill Kenwright’s ‘Agatha Christie Theatre Company’ may have earned itself a highly acclaimed reputation for staging first-class productions of work by the so-called ‘Queen of Crime’. But, a word of warning: don’t go to one of their shows expecting to see Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, nor even Tommy or Tuppence Beresford – you’ll be disappointed!

However, if you do go expecting to see a classy adaptation of one of Ms Christie’s ‘overlooked’ or ‘forgotten’ gems you’ll be in for a pleasant couple of hours. Having already given their stylish treatment to Witness for the Prosecution, Spider’s Web, And Then There Were None, The Unexpected Guest and The Hollow, they are now presenting Verdict, their sixth major production in as many years.

In essence, Verdict is a piece which examines the psychology of relationships between men and women rather than being a traditional ‘whodunit’ of the style usually associated with Christie. It is a play which has many levels and, although the murder takes place onstage, in full view of the audience, thus depriving them of the opportunity of guessing the murderers identity, it is strangely engrossing. Instead, the audience is kept in suspense to see if the culprit gets away with their crime at the expense of framing an innocent. And will the verdict, when it is given, be the right one?

As usual, Kenwright has assembled a stellar cast, led by Robert Duncan and Susan Penhaligon in the central roles. Elizabeth Power provides the moments of light relief in the role of the gossiping char, whilst Mark Wynter, Peter Byrne, Cassie Raine, Holly Goss and Mark Martin (understudying for Lyndon Ogbourne) make up the supporting principals.

Overall, the performances are good (although the Eastern European accents were a little wayward at times) and the production values are high. Verdict may not appeal to Christie purists but, nevertheless, it makes for a compelling and absorbing trip to the theatre.

Steve Burbridge.

 Runs until Saturday 1st October 2011.

Sep 19th

To Wit, To Woo: Lessons in Love from William Shakespeare - The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle upon Tyne

By Steve Burbridge


To Wit, To Woo: Lessons in Love from William Shakespeare – The Jazz Cafe, Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne

Nobody writes about love with more eloquence and understanding than William Shakespeare and nobody performs Shakespeare with more reverence and respect than KG Productions. With Peter Lathan at the helm, a man who is as renowned as an academic as much as he is as for being a theatrical producer/director, success is practically guaranteed.

To Wit to Woo is a selection of Shakespeare’s greatest love scenes that feature some of his most passionate and popular characters: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Ophelia, Orlando and Rosalinde, Petruchio and Katharina. The roles are performed with aplomb by a talented cast of ten, which includes Lathan and his co-producer Jessica Johnson.

Staged in the intimate setting of Newcastle’s Jazz Cafe, a venue which I’d never attended before, this was an evening to savour and treasure. This charming venue is an overlooked jewel in Newcastle’s theatrical crown and, with its exposed beams and centrally-staged gazebo it is the perfect place to host Shakespearean productions.

Split into three perfectly constructed sections, the production (which lasted for an hour and a half) combined forbidden love, unrequited love, lost love – well, just about everything that ever has or ever will happen in love!

It would be unfair to single out any one performer over another – they were all first-rate – therefore credit should be given to them all: Neil Armstrong; Christina Dawson; Jill Dellow; Grace Ellen; Robbie Lee Hurst; Jessica Johnson; Alex Kinsey; Peter Lathan; Steven Stobbs, and Rachel Teate.

Of course, any excellent piece of theatre requires good writing, good acting and good direction – this one is blessed with all three. Furthermore, it would be unforgivable not to pay compliment to the staging of the production, which really did create the most pleasant of ambiences. With red roses and scented candles on each table, flower petals on the floor and Shakespeare’s sonnets pinned to pillars around the room, how could anyone not be in the mood for love? Sublime.

Steve Burbridge.

Performed on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th September 2011.


Sep 16th

The Lady Boys of Bangkok: Fur Coats & French Knickers Tour

By Steve Burbridge

IMG_0222 v1.jpg

The Lady Boys of Bangkok: Fur Coats and French Knickers Tour – The Sabai Pavilion, Newcastle

Amongst a myriad of marketing and a plethora of publicity, The Lady Boys of Bangkok are back on Tyneside for the eighth year in a row. So, get set for a fantastic fun-filled evening of frivolity, right? Wrong!

The diamante still dazzles and the sequins still sparkle but all that glistens is not gold and the performances and material are distinctly lack-lustre in the dubiously entitled Fur Coats and French Knickers. Having been an annual fixture on the revue circuit for thirteen years now, it seems that the lack of luck associated with the superstitious number has rubbed off on this poorly-conceived and disastrously-executed production.

Billed as ‘an irresistible mixture of comedy, cabaret and raunchy capers’, it couldn’t be further from the mark. The ‘comedy’ is more akin to the sort of smuttiness that would usually be associated with the seaside postcards of Donald McGill or the ‘Carry On’ films and sexual innuendo is laboriously employed in the hope of getting a cheap laugh from the sparse crowd.

As usual, well-known figures are lampooned by the Lady Boys in an effort to keep the show topical, contemporary and fresh. This year saw Peter Andre and Katie Price get the treatment but, rather than being satirical, it was contrived and banal. And, I have to say, I have never seen a worse ‘homage’ to Marilyn Monroe – complete with five o’clock shadow and underarm hair!

For those who don’t know, most of the entertainment comes in the form of the cast miming to well-known girlie anthems from some of pops biggest divas. However, the lip-synching was embarrassingly adrift and many of the group didn’t seem to even know the lyrics of the tracks they were performing to! What’s more, the ‘performers’ – and I use the term in the loosest sense of the word – lethargically walked-through the choreography with barely an ounce of effort or enthusiasm.

In comparison to the slick and stylish blend of burlesque and Broadway that is being delivered by Betty ‘Legs’ Diamond, just across the road at Boulevard, The Lady Boys of Bangkok look nothing more than a troupe of tacky Thai transvestites in a tent. Not so much Lady Boys as Lady Bores!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 8th October 2011.


Sep 7th

West Side Story - Nice Swan Theatre Company @The People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

By Steve Burbridge

WSS A3 poster low res.jpg


First nights are always a nerve-jangling affair, for all involved, where all manner of things can go awry. However, even with a few glitches, Nice Swan Theatre Company can still stage a production that puts their competitors in the shade.

Never lacking in ambition, enthusiasm or talent, Nice Swan’s latest production is their version of the West End, Broadway and celluloid hit, West Side Story. As usual, many of the hallmarks of the group are there to be seen – fantastic staging, great acting, and brilliant choreography to name a few. However, for me, this production is not what this group is all about. With all due respect, at any one given time, I can go and see half a dozen less talented amateur groups perform productions of Carousel, The King and I, My Fair Lady or West Side Story. Nice Swan is so much better than that.

I associate their productions with edginess, ambition, risk-taking and flair. They take up the challenge of producing pieces which other companies would not have the courage to even consider – and they do it brilliantly and with such panache. West Side Story, in my opinion, seemed just a little too ‘safe’ and ‘commercial’.

A number of other things compounded my disappointment. Firstly, the orchestra overpowered the singing at times and, being located on an elevated platform at the rear of the stage, detracted the eye from the action below. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the two leads, Sean Gray (Tony) and Carly Burns (Maria) were outshone by the supporting principles. Jessica Brady (Anita), Bethany Walker (Rosalia), Dale Jewitt (Bernardo) and, especially, Paul Falkous (Riff) who stepped in as a late replacement at three weeks’ notice, were absolutely outstanding.

On the plus side, the choreography, by Stephanie Smith, was breathtaking and fantastically executed and extremely worthy of special mention. Credit should also be given to the ensemble of more than twenty performers who sang, danced and acted their socks off.

I am certain that the keen eyes of  the producer, Jamie Gray, and director, Ben Hunt, will also have noticed the things that didn’t go as well as they should have and that, as a result, the technical aspects of the show will be improved for the remainder of the run.

As a passionate advocate of Nice Swan Theatre Company, I hope their next production will be a return to what they do best – a risk-taking, challenging, new interpretation of a piece of work that reaches out to its audience, takes them on a journey and leaves them more culturally enriched than it found them.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 10 September 2011.

Aug 19th

High School Musical - On Stage

By Steve Burbridge



Whitley Bay Playhouse

Nice Swan Theatre Company may normally be associated with edgier productions than Disney’s High School Musical but, whatever this talented group bring to the stage, they always produce shows with standards that are second to none.

The cheesy Disney story of the problems associated with peer pressure and canteen cliques is, essentially, a modern-day fairy tale that chronicles the twists and turns of a blossoming romance between Troy Bolton (Jamie Douglas), the super-popular captain of the basketball team, and Gabby Montez (Bethany Walker), the brain-box transfer student, as they each strive to find an identity for themselves and land the lead roles in the big school production.

Douglas and Walker lead a phenomenally talented cast and they are superbly supported – and sometimes even upstaged – by the delightfully devious duo of divas, Sharpay Evans (Laura Stoker) and her twin brother Ryan (Daniel Mawston). The comedy relief is provided by a pair of bickering staff – Ms Darbus (Erin Gascoigne), the over-the-top drama teacher, and Coach Bolton (Micky McGregor), the basketball coach and Troy’s overbearing father.

Of course, love conquers all and everyone lives happily after by curtain-call, but there is plenty of action along the way and many a twist and turn to scupper our hero and heroine’s courtship.

The acting and singing on stage is testament to the dedication, commitment and natural talent that is at the heart of this group. Not a bum note nor a prompt in sight! Technically, there were a few issues that went wrong and which, no doubt, will be rectified in time for the remainder of the run. However, because none of the cast was at all phased by these glitches, it made it far easier for the audience to overlook them and they didn’t seem to impact on the overall enjoyment of the production at all.

Obviously, Nice Swan’s well-earned reputation for producing shows that rival fully professional productions is getting around – the auditorium was very respectably filled. And, during the summer holiday months, that is no mean feat! An appreciative audience left the theatre with a spring in their step and a tune or two in their heads, having enjoyed a production that is as wholesome as good old-fashioned American apple pie.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Friday 19th August 2011.



Jul 28th

Visiting Mr Green

By Steve Burbridge

Visiting Mr Green.jpg

There is much to enjoy from The Customs House’s latest theatrical offering, Visiting Mr Green. It is a well-written piece of theatre which is performed with panache by two talented actors. And, whilst it may not appeal to audiences who are used to altogether flashier fare, it is a sensitive, gentle and ultimately uplifting production which deals with themes of tolerance, acceptance and diversity.

What made this production so enjoyable for me is the fact that, right its core, it concentrates on character and storyline rather than special effects. Two actors, two characters, two lives which are, initially, unrelated but are soon inextricably entwined.

A somewhat careless and speeding Ross Gardiner (Collin Baxter) almost runs over the frail and recently widowed Mr Green (G. Phillip Hope) and is ordered to spend his community service period shopping and cleaning for the old man. Neither is happy about the situation and both are resentful of each other. However, when Mr Green learns that Ross is Jewish, like himself, a friendship begins to form. That tentative bond is tested when the older man discovers the younger is gay.

Hope and Baxter are a great double-act and nail their parts with admirable precision. Hope, as the hunched, constantly trembling geriatric, should be easy to dislike due to his bigoted views but this is not the case. We make allowances for his homophobia, attributing it to his orthodox views and a lack of understanding. Baxter, as the too-busy-to-care corporate animal, should also evoke our anger on occasion for his lack of consideration. He doesn’t. In both cases, this is due to the talent and stagecraft of the actors. Both portray their characters with honesty and sincerity and the result pays dividends.

On press night, much was made of the lengthy breaks between scenes which, to be fair, did tend to stilt proceedings somewhat and lead to annoying, incessant whispering from the audience. However, this minor irritation did not spoil my enjoyment of a charming production which explored issues close to my own heart in an intelligent and entertaining manner.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 30 July 2011.

Jul 19th

The Pitmen Painters

By Steve Burbridge


The Pitmen Painters

Darlington Civic Theatre

Fairly early into Act One of the production I, inwardly, groaned. One of the characters said: ‘If you’re not interested in whippets and leeks, round ‘ere, you’re stuffed’.

Immediately, I prayed that The Pitmen Painters wouldn’t portray a stereotypical representation of the working classes in the North East and paint us all as ‘Andy Capp’s’. I needn’t have concerned myself.

Although it is possible to consider the characters as ‘stock’ – there’s the bureaucratic union official who lives his life by the rule book (Deka Walmsley), the blustering Marxist (Michael Hodgson), the avuncular joker (David Whitaker), the unemployed young lad (Brian Lonsdale) and the reserved thinker who turns out to be the most talented of the group (Trevor Fox) – it is testament to the talents of playwright and performers that, as the layers are stripped away, we are presented with real men who would be familiar to us from our grandfather’s generation.

The story of a group of Ashington pitmen who, as part of the Workers Educational Association Class, hire the academic, Robert Lyon (David Leonard) to teach an art appreciation class and ultimately become celebrated painters is by turn humorous, tragic, moving and uplifting.

Technically, it is also a joy to behold. Lee Hall’s script is honest and gritty but also has heart and soul, the acting is excellent, and the staging is simple but effective. Designer Gary McCann has created a sparse set, comprising mainly a few wooden folding chairs and some easels, which functions as a number of different locations throughout. Much use is made of three suspended projectors, which provide relevant facts and also display pieces that were painted by the men. The clever device of using the screeching alarm that marks the end of a ten hour shift and the clattering of the cage that takes the men back to the surface to facilitate scene changes ensures that the hardships of life spent down the mine are never forgotten.

Only two female characters appear in the piece – the nude model who the men are to paint (Viktoria Kay) and the shipping heiress who becomes interested in the work of the men (Joy Brook) – and, if I were to make one small criticism it would be that these characters are utilised as merely adjuncts. However, both actresses made the most of their roles.

The Pitmen Painters is a fine example of theatre at its best and a ‘warts-and-all’ depiction of the North East’s industrial heritage. Superb.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 23 July 2011.

Jun 27th

NICE SWAN THEATRE COMPANY present High School Musical On Stage!

By Steve Burbridge


Get ready for the start of something new!
The stage production based on the Disney Channel Original Movie, High School Musical, live on stage for a strictly limited run.

Prepare yourself for the chance to see your favourite movie brought to life, this show is everything you love about the movie, with the added fun of the theatre!

Watch the twists and turns of the loveable schoolmates, Troy, super-popular captain of the basketball team and Gabriella, super-smart transfer student and a genius in science class, as they surf the tricky tides of peer pressure and canteen cliques to follow their dreams and score leads in the big school production – and a place in each other’s hearts.

DSC_0018edit1with logo.jpg 

High School Musical live on stage features all of your favourite movie characters and songs, together with two BRAND NEW numbers, performed by some of the region’s most talented musical theatre students.

Jamie Gray, Managing Director for Nice Swan Theatre Company, said: ‘We are excited to be bringing this well-loved show to the Playhouse this year as an extra summer treat for the region. We have an amazingly talented team working on the production and it definitely is a one not to miss!’

Alex Proudlock, Musical Director for the show, added: ‘This production of High School Musical on Stage lives up to the Disney films and is family fun at its best. The music is full of ‘high’ energy and is packed full of different styles and genres. Most definitely a tap your toe production!

High School Musical comes ahead of Nice Swan Theatre Company’s revival of the classic musical West Side Story at The People’s Theatre this September. The show comes to Whitley Bay Playhouse  for three performances only. Prepare for breathtaking choreography, stunning voices, and a ‘West End quality’ musical extravaganza this summer!

Tickets cost only £8 Adults and £7 Concessions (special family offer for £24 – 2 adults/2 children) and are available from the Playhouse box office on 0844 277 2771 or online BOOK NOW!