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Oct 24th


By Kirstie Niland

Simon Rigby holds the keys to success as he and right-hand man, Richard Simkin, begin to breathe life back into the Guild Hall & Charter Theatre

Simon Rigby.jpg

As a Prestonian for 25 years I am proud to say I was there at the very moment Simon Rigby got the call to sign the contract at Preston Town Hall. The one that means he now owns the Guild Hall & Charter Theatre.

This promises to be an important historic moment. For the local tycoon and entrepreneur plans to reverse its decline over the last decade and put it on the North West map as a top “cultural hub for entertainment, education and eating.”

As I sit in the brand new Leaf or Bean cafe, on the first day it opens its doors, the tables are still being painted and there’s a smell of coffee and a definite buzz in the air. It’s exciting to think of the impact Simon and his hand-picked team of experts are about to have on Preston. By investing £1m in updating the Guild Hall and putting a £250,000 fund into local arts projects Simon has not only rescued one of Preston’s cultural gems, he is about to make it a much-needed jewel in the city’s crown.

As a reporter in the 90s I regularly reviewed famous names of the day there. Highlights for me as a 20-something not long out of college were comedy acts such as Newman & Baddiel, Smith & Jones, and indie band The Wonderstuff. So it’s great to look across from the Leaf or Bean and see that Preston’s popular comedy club, the Frog & Bucket, has recently moved in, and to hear that the closure of music venue 53 Degrees will not mean the end of live bands coming to Preston.

And since Simon owns the Villa Group, the new Preston Guild Hall will also be hot on hospitality, offering corporate and wedding events, a wine bar and five eateries, alongside select retail and business units.

Even though the keys have only just been handed over, the makeover on the 1970s building has already begun. The trees masking its faded facade have been uprooted and a bright and airy new design is planned for its revival. A tapas bar will be open in time for this year’s panto, Snow White, starring Jimmy Cricket, and other shows already programmed include the best-selling West End musical Avenue Q and Waiting for Godot.

The stage is being set for the performance of Preston’s lifetime.

 “The Guild Hall is a fantastic venue in a city centre location, with the bonus of a 2,200 capacity arena and 780 seat theatre at the top” says Simon. When it was built it was the biggest arena in England but it hasn’t moved on and has gone into a downward spiral. The big acts haven’t been coming. The Guild Hall needs to be much more enterprising and appeal to all ages.

“The way to do that is to go back to how Preston was built and that was by investing in the infrastructure for people to use it. Nobody is more pleased about this handover than Preston City Council. They knew what the place needed but were governed by rules. Everything had to be zero risk as they were spending taxpayers’ money. They couldn’t risk putting on speculative events.”

Under private ownership The Guild Hall will not be under the same restrictions, and Simon seems confident about taking the risk himself. He certainly has the passion to make it happen. “I’m Preston born and bred and Preston is very special to me. It has started off as an act of philanthropy but hopefully won’t remain that,” he quips.

Simon is the CEO of Farmgen, an anaerobic-digestion power company, and owner of over 150 properties, as well as the Villa Group, which has venues at Wrea Green, PNE and what used to be the Fairfield Arms at the M55 junction at Kirkham. How does he manage to be a Jack of all trades and the master of all them too?

“I just facilitate it all,” he explains. “There are four MDs, all specialists in their own areas. I have people who know what they’re doing and understand what’s needed, people I can trust. If you’re in the hospitality business and about to launch one of the premier venues in Lancashire then my Head of Operations, Richard Simkin, is the guy to run it.”

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Simon and right-hand man Richard Simkin at the official Mayoral handover

Despite the busy schedule and not feeling well (he jokes it’s man flu) Richard is alert and gearing up for the public handover. At 30 Richard has a formidable CV under his belt. One of his most high profile projects was the set up and launch of a 250 cover restaurant at Liverpool Football Club. The Boot Room Cafe was the first of an international franchise.

Born into his family’s hospitality business, Richard grew up as a regular at West End shows, and his wealth of personal and professional experience means he is cool, calm and collected about spearheading this latest venture. Like the Villa’s takeover of the Fairfield Arms the transformation of the Guild Hall seems to be happening overnight.

“It has to happen overnight,” he says. “You can’t worry about what colour you’re going to paint the walls, you have to knuckle down and get on with business. Everything should be done here within 6-12 months.

“We need to work around the panto as we don’t want steel girders being hoisted up when families are coming in, so there will be a couple more soft launches as things happen but they will happen quickly.”

What else can we expect on the What’s On list? “There is a massive programming consultation in progress along with other projects. We don’t have a resident company, we are just a receiving theatre at the moment but there are big plans for school programmes and community education, with partnerships already forged with Preston College and UCLAN.  We are also in discussions with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and with the Lowry regarding shared acts. Watch this space.”

Simon is looking forward to seeing the line-up, which he knows he will enjoy. “I’ve never seen live theatre that hasn’t been fantastic.”

To date, the business deal Simon is most famous for is the sale of Spice, the utility group that was sold to private equity for £251m, earning him £21m. Under his ownership Spice moved to up to the FTSE 250 Index just weeks into its debut on the London Stock Exchange's main list. “They said ‘you’ve done the impossible’ and they still think it’s impossible,” smiled Simon.

Which makes you believe 100 per cent in a thriving future for the new Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre. As Richard this space!


Check out the new website and branding here.

Photographs courtesy of Sue Blackhurst, SusieQ Photography


Oct 21st

LAFFALANG Returns to Westovian Theatre for Yuletide Japes

By Cameron Lowe
The Laffalang will return to the Westovian Theatre,  South Shields,  in December due to popular demand.

The comedy show, which was first performed last December at the Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle (250 attended), has already gained a strong following with 275 people attending the Summer Laffalang in July.
The Laffalang, which comprises themed comedy sketches linked by a stand-up comedian, was performed at the Westovian Theatre in Ocean Road and it will return to the venue on Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6, when the theme is Christmas.
Laffalang producer and director Gareth Hunter said: “The response to both shows has been fantastic. People are now talking about the Laffalang and constantly asking when the next one is.
“The sketches are written by Ed and the cast includes Paul Dunn (Dracula in Dracula: Die Laughing), whose latest success is I Left My Heart in Roker Park, and panto legend Bob Stott who dons the Widow Twanky costume for three sketches (including the Queen’s Speech). A special sketch has been written for the original Dirty Dusting trio of Helen Russell Gwen Doran and Jean Southern, who are sold off as slaves. Other sketches include the Geordie Nativity (Part 2), The Fabulous Five in an all-new spiffing adventure (huge favourites since their introduction in the Summer Laffalang) and The End of the World is Nigh. The other wonderful cast members are Viktoria  Kay (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Durham) Dylan Mortimer (Son of Samurai) and Rosie Ramsey (I Am Christ Ramsey TV sketch show).  
Gareth added: “Every sketch is different from last year’s Xmas Laffalang. Once again it will be hilarious. The read through took a lot longer than it should have because we were howling with laughter.
“Any work groups looking for a great Christmas evening out should come along. It’ll be a cracking night.”
Tickets for the Christmas Laffalang cost £10 and are now on sale from the Tourist Information Centre in Haven Point Sports Centre (opposite the Westovian Theatre).  0191 424 7788
Oct 17th


By Kirstie Niland

Jack and the Beanstalk is on the Hippodrome this Christmas and it features a GIANT cast!

This year's panto has one of biggest bills ever, starring JANE MCDONALD, DUNCAN JAMES and CHRIS GASCOYNE, alongside the comedy trio of GARY WILMOT, PAUL ZERDIN and MATT SLACK, who were a huge hit with audiences in Snow White.


Jane McDonald, singer, actress and broadcaster, who will play the role of The Enchantress, quickly rose to fame and became a national treasure when she hit our screens in the popular BBC documentary, The Cruise. Since then Jane has released several award-winning albums, toured the UK with her own shows, appeared on countless TV programmes, and from 2004 to earlier this year, hosted Loose Women. Jane released her latest album Singer of Your Song in March and is currently on tour around the UK. Jack and the Beanstalk marks Jane’s panto debut.

Playing the title role of Jack is singer, songwriter, television presenter, actor and all-round entertainer Duncan James. Best-known as a member of the band Blue, which reformed in 2009 following a four-year break, Duncan has appeared in the West End in Chicago and Legally Blonde, and has appeared on numerous television programmes, including Soapstar Superstar, and Dancing on Ice where he made it to the final.

Chris Gascoyne, who plays Fleshcreep, is best-known for his role as Peter Barlow in Coronation Street. Nominated for numerous awards in the British Soap Awards his television character is currently involved in one of the biggest storylines on the Street for the past few years. Chris has also appeared in Between the Lines, Soldier Soldier and New Street Law.

Back by popular demand following their hilarious antics in last year’s Hippodrome pantomime, Gary Wilmot plays Dame Trot, Paul Zerdin plays Simple Simon, and Matt Slack takes on the role of Silly Billy.

Staged by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s largest pantomime producer, Jack and the Beanstalk is directed by Michael Harrison who created last year’s record-breaking pantomime at the Theatre.

“We are thrilled that Jane, Duncan and Chris will lead the country’s biggest pantomime.” said Michael. “The sensational and outstanding cast, combined with stunning sets, fabulous costumes and top-drawer production values will make Jack and the Beanstalk another unmissable Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime.”

Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive, Birmingham Hippodrome commented  “We are delighted to be working with Qdos Entertainment and Michael Harrison once again to build on last year’s record-breaking success with one of the biggest star bills ever assembled, promising great music and comedy in a magical production as spectacular as ever.”  

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Friday 19 December 2014-Sunday 1 February 2015.   Performance times vary, enquire when booking. 

Captioned performances: Sun 4 Jan 1pm, Wed 7 Jan 7.15pm.  Signed performances: Sun 11 Jan 1pm & 5pm. Audio described performances: Wed 14 Jan 2pm.  Relaxed performance Thu 29 Jan 1pm.

Tickets: £14 - £40 and are available online or telephone 0844 338 5000. 5% transaction charge applies (excl. cash sales in person) plus postage from £1. Phone calls from 5p per minute. Prices and discounting subject to change.
Oct 2nd

Colette Kelly Discusses the Return of Testing Times to Newcastle

By Cameron Lowe

Interview by Fiona Harvey

A compelling new play, coming to the Studio at The People’s Theatre, explores the impact of being diagnosed HIV+. Colette Kelly tells us more.

“People still have misconceptions and are ignorant about HIV,” states Colette Kelly in response to my asking her why she felt Testing Times was an important production to be involved in.

The Dublin-born actor, who made her debut in the original West End production of Hair, will take on the role of Brenda, a mother who discovers that her only son is HIV+, at The People’s Theatre in November.

“Testing Times will inform and educate people but, at the heart of it lies warmth and humour as the three characters strive to make sense of the situation they find themselves in,” she adds.

Surely, though, after the many public health campaigns surrounding HIV and AIDS, the need to ‘inform and educate’ is no longer an issue in the twenty-first century? Not according to Kelly.

Colette Kelly
Photo: Carl Procter 
“When I told a friend I’d be doing the play, she exclaimed: ‘A play about HIV? That’s a bit old hat, isn’t it?’ And there you have more than a good enough reason to give it another airing.”

Testing Times returns to the stage after a successful try-out at The Trent House last year, during which the play received critical acclaim and inspired cathartic outpourings of emotion from audiences.
“The play centres around Dominic (who contracts HIV), his partner, Chris, and his mother, Brenda,” explains Colette.

“Mine is a very meaty role. Many issues are raised for her: class, loyalty and her relationship with her husband Bob.”

The three-hander play has been described as being ‘as witty and uplifting as Calendar Girls; as profound and engaging as The Vagina Monologues; and as moving and emotive as Blood Brothers’.

“I think the set-up of having three characters on the stage, simultaneously, lends itself to the style of the play. Such is the quality of the writing that even those characters who are talked about, but do not appear, have a presence that is deeply felt.”

With an acting pedigree that includes stints on the West End alongside the likes of Richard Gere, repertory seasons throughout the United Kingdom and touring Ireland in a series of Beckett plays, what attracted Colette to a four-night run in Newcastle?

“The script and the issues it deals with,” she answers without hesitation. “The language is blunt and to the point, at times, so the play is not for the faint-hearted. Having said that, Testing Times will resonate with any audience – whatever their sexual orientation.”

Colette cannot wait for rehearsals to begin.
“I am looking forward to being part of a very collaborative process in the rehearsal room. I think all three of us have ideas and observations about our individual characters that we would like to explore, whilst also being conscious of not upsetting the balance of the script. I love the way in which the playwright has mixed humour with the seriousness of the issues concerned.”
Testing Times
The People’s Theatre Stephenson Road, Newcastle NE6 5QF 
Monday 17 – Thursday 20 November, 2014,
Tickets are priced at £11.50 (full) & £9.50 (concessions).
Telephone 07986 142281 or call the Box Office 0191 265 5020
Oct 2nd

Witches Take Flight in Eastwood in Support of Birds

By Cameron Lowe
“The Witches of Eastwick” Musical Plays at Eastwood Park Theatre
The Witches of Eastwick

Following on from sell-out productions of “Footloose” and “Fiddler on the Roof”, Theatre Guild Glasgow will be performing the hit musical “The Witches of Eastwick” at Eastwood Park Theatre from 7th – 11th October. 
The Witches of Eastwick is a  musical  based on the  novel of the same name  by  John Updike . It was adapted by  John Dempsey  (lyrics and book) and  Dana P. Rowe  (music), directed by Eric Schaeffer, and produced by  Cameron Mackintosh. 
The story surrounds Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont who are social outcasts in the sleepy town of Eastwick. Frustrated and bored by their mundane lives, a shared longing and desire for "all manner of man in one man" comes to life in the form of a charismatic stranger, a  devil -like character; Darryl Van Horne. Seducing each of the women in turn, Darryl teaches them how to further expand their powers locked within and, though their new unorthodox lifestyle, they scandalise the town. As their powers become more sinister and events spiral out of control, the women come to realise that Darryl's influence is corrupting everyone he comes into contact with and they resolve to use their new-found strength to exile him from their lives. 
RSPB In deciding whether to use the power of this bewitching musical for good or for evil, Theatre Guild elected to support our feathered friends via a donation to the RSPB. 10% of tickets sales from the Tuesday evening performance will be donated to the society dedicated to the protection of winged creatures around the UK.  As the show features ‘flying’ witches, this association couldn’t be more appropriate.  

The show is accompanied by a live band and directed by an experienced professional production team led by Artistic Director Alasdair Hawthorn, choreographed by Suzanne Shanks and musically directed by David Fisher. The cast of 40 local residents have been rehearsing for six months on evenings and weekends to ensure that this £35,000 production (which features some stunning effects) is ready for a live audience on the opening night. 
Tickets are already selling fast with only a small number remaining for the Friday and Saturday night.
Fly down to Eastwood Park Theatre where tickets are only £14.50 - £16.50.
 “The Witches of Eastwick”
Eastwood Park Theatre, Rouken Glen Road, Giffnock, Glasgow, G46 6UG
7th– 11th October 2014
Evenings:  7.30pm
Sat Matinee:  2.30pm
Tickets: £14.50 - £16.50
Box Office: 0141 577 4956
Web site:
Oct 1st

20 Premieres Season at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

A season of 20 World, European or UK premieres...

The Finborough Theatre under Artistic Director Neil McPherson returns to its new writing roots with a season of no less than twenty World, European or UK premieres, ranging from hard hitting controversial new writing from the UK, Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia – with more than 50% by female playwrights – to the European premiere of a rediscovered classic Broadway musical.

The season opens with the winning play from the sixth Papatango New Writing Prize in association with the Finborough Theatre – Fiona Doyle’s Coolatully, set in modern rural Ireland, plays for four weeks from 28 October–22 November 2014. It runs alongside the sixth consecutive year of Vibrant 2014 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights between 2–20 November 2014, featuring fifteen staged readings of new works by fifteen UK and international playwrights, discovered, developed or championed by the Finborough Theatre. Vibrant is West London’s original and productive new writing festival – 21 previous Vibrant plays have gone on to full productions at the Finborough Theatre.

In December, the Finborouogh presents two premieres of political drama – the world premiere of Silent Planet, a Cold War drama by exciting first time playwright Eve Leigh, plays for four weeks from 25 November–20 December 2014; and is accompanied by the European premiere of Obama-ology, the full-length European debut of African-American playwright Aurin Squire, which plays Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays between 30 November–16 December 2014.

The season culminates in January with the European premiere of Jerry Herman's Broadway musicalThe Grand Tour, reuniting director Thom Southerland with producer Danielle Tarento following their multi-award-winning collaboration on Titanic and Mack & Mabel, playing for an eight week season from 1 January–21 February 2015. It plays alongside the European premiere of a hugely controversial new play – Pig Girl by former Canadian Playwright-in-Residence at the Finborough Theatre, Colleen Murphy – running Sunday and Monday evenings between 11 January–16 February 2015.

Elsewhere, Emlyn Williams' Accolade, an exciting rediscovery by the Finborough, transfers to the St James Theatre from 12 November–13 December 2014.

For full information, please visit

Sep 24th


By Kirstie Niland

As Blackpool braces itself for Beatlemania “Paul McCartney” and “John Lennon” give us an insight into the world-famous smash hit show Let It Be

Let it Be has wowed audiences in New York, Germany and Monaco and will soon reach Japan and Moscow. Following successful stints on Broadway and the West End the Magical Mystery Tour is on its way to Blackpool.

Beatlemania is back and I’ve got a Ticket To Ride!


Let It Be charts The Beatles’ meteoric rise to success, from their humble beginnings at Liverpool’s Cavern Club to the worldwide phenomenon that became known as Beatlemania. The story is told through music interspersed with dialogue and old video footage to set the time frame.

Ahead of their opening show at the Winter Gardens on 30th September I get the lowdown from James Fox (Paul McCartney) and Paul Canning (John Lennon).

Both of them are delighted to be performing in Blackpool, a town they both see as returning to its heyday, when TV comedy stars such as Bruce Forsyth, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson and Frank Carson drew the crowds.

James is an old hand at seaside entertainment and he’s happy to be back. He spent a few summer seasons at the Pleasure Beach and also formed Blackpool boy band Force 5 with his friend Kevin Simm, who later joined Liberty X.

“There are still great acts on the pier and injections of cash have brought about a revival. Blackpool has always been something to aspire to, so as an entertainer I’m excited to come and I’m looking forward to the reaction to Let It Be. The audience is responsive across the board but it’s even better in the regions.”


The real Beatles were no strangers to Blackpool either, having played in the resort themselves. In fact the first televised recording of Yesterday was filmed there in 1964, so any original Beatles fans from Blackpool will really enjoy a poignant trip down memory lane with Let It Be.

But all ages groups would find it difficult to resist Beatlemania, which is why the timeless feel good factor of the show is energising fans throughout the world.

 “You can set your clock by it all...when the audience gets up to dance, when they sing along," says James.

Playing Sir Paul, a British icon for decades, is a huge responsibility and if James wasn’t a Beatles devotee originally he definitely is now.

“I was more of a McCartney and Wings fan in the 80s, then my Dad, who was a Beatles fan, told me to ‘check out the other band’. Sting, Billy Joel, REM were my chosen influences but with The Beatles you find them whether you’re looking for them or not.”

James is a singer-songwriter who “fell into theatre”.  He still writes his own material but is more than happy to focus on Let It Be for now. "It’s hard to juggle the two, theatre is so all-consuming and the appeal of a live stage is the instant reaction you get.”

For James, Blackpool is both a nostalgic return to his old haunt, as well as a nod to Blackpool’s history as the place to perform. “If you played Blackpool it was a step up, you knew you were doing something right.”

Paul Canning.png

Paul Canning, like John Lennon, has visited the town as a tourist, and is pleased to be finally appearing there too. “I’ve been on the Big One but I haven’t performed in Blackpool yet so I’m very excited to do so. My Grandpa played the Blackpool Winter Gardens in 1952 with the Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang so I’m proud to be following in his footsteps. If you were a performer and entertainer in Blackpool back then you knew you were going in the right direction. The TV special Blackpool Night Out featuring the Beatles in 1965 is a huge frame of influence for me, I use it to mimic the performance.

“You have to impersonate them as best as you can. We want the audience to feel like they’ve stepped into a time machine, make it as close to the real thing as it can get. There is incredible attention to detail with the costumes, the wigs... the research is intense.”

Peppers Set (1).jpg

Let It Be is clearly much more than a medley by a Beatles tribute band, and these guys are talented musicians in their own right.

Apart from The Beatles, Paul’s musical influences includes an eclectic mix of Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Billy Joel, Prince and Harry Nielson. “We are both singer-songwriters but like James said, coming into a show takes up all of your time. I’m in the process of recording my own album and enjoy writing for other people but I also enjoy performing in Let It Be. You get an injection of adrenaline with the safety net of The Beatles catalogue.

Celebrity fans of the show include Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine (who tweeted he’s seen it three times) and Cilla Black. Cilla is the talk of Twitter herself at the moment as ITV is currently screening a drama about her early career, which took off when she was introduced to Beatles manager Brian Epstein by John Lennon. In the first episode we see Cilla’s Dad refusing to let her to go to Germany on tour with The Beatles.

Do the boys have any gossip about Cilla and The Beatles? Paul does: "There was a TV show where John Lennon was on a sofa with Cilla, the presenter got up and John whispered in her ear something along the lines of ‘what I would do to you!’”

Do they encounter any Beatles hysteria from girls on tour? “No,” laughs Paul. “But we do have good fans of the show and people there that are very keen.”

The song Paul most enjoys performing is In My Life. “John wrote that at just 24. I like Here Comes the Sun for backing vocals, and listening to and watching. Hey Jude as a piece of songwriting is phenomenal. The words and sentiments are lovely, wonderful and very uplifting with a rousing chorus. And if you listen and take it in, Help is a pop masterpiece, an incredible bit of writing. The lyrics are sad, asking for help but covered by Beatlemania happiness.”

Despite playing the same songs night after night James also has his favourites: “The Long and Winding Road is my favourite to perform as I can sit down and play the piano. To listen to I like the more raucous, rockier stuff from The White Album. I'm not a fan of Yellow Submarine but it isn’t in it!” (I have to admit I’m happy to hear that too).

Just like the big acts in Blackpool before them, James, Paul and the other band members are obviously doing something right.

“We definitely create the magic,” promises Paul. “The chemistry on stage is phenomenal, we laugh and enjoy ourselves and have as much fun as The Beatles did but musically we try to remain tight. They were cheeky lads who made the best of it. We do the same and that resonates into the audience.”

Let It Be is at the Blackpool Opera House 30th September  to 12th October.
Ticket Prices: Stalls - £20.50 - £31.50; Circle - £15.00 - £31.50. Available from Ticketmaster (booking fees apply), or from the box office at Church Street, FY1 1HL, tel:  0844 856 1111


Sep 23rd


By Kirstie Niland

Smash hit MAMMA MIA! a huge success for Blackpool

Blackpool MAMMA MIA! has been declared a smash hit for Blackpool with ticket sales totalling more than £3.3m.

The International Tour of the global phenomenon ended a 12-week summer season at the Opera House last night and today it can be revealed that more than 100,000 people visited Blackpool to see the show.

The cast of MAMMA MIA! International Tour, credit Brinkhoff & M+Âgenburg (2).jpg

Blackpool Council cabinet member for tourism and leisure, Cllr Graham Cain, said it has been a great summer for the theatre and Blackpool as a whole.

Cllr Cain said: “We are thrilled with the success of MAMMA MIA!

“This was our first full summer season for more than 10 years and we are delighted to be a in a position today to reveal just how successful it has been.

 “It was a huge announcement for us to make last year and there has been a tremendous amount of work involved to ensure its success but I am happy to say, it's been great and we look forward to welcoming similar shows in the future.”

The Blackpool Opera House run of MAMMA MIA! was the only place people in the UK could see the show outside London during 2014.

A national multi-media campaign was used to promote MAMMA MIA! with extensive TV, radio, newspaper and social media advertising.

Just six weeks into the show it was revealed that it had broken Box Office records in Blackpool with ticket sales of £2m.

And now, with more than £3.3m of tickets being sold over the 12, weeks that equates to more than 100,000 people visiting the Opera House to see it.

Cllr Cain added: “There is no doubt MAMMA MIA! has been a hit for the whole of Blackpool.

“There has been a great buzz around the town firstly for the fact that we’ve brought back the Opera House’s full summer season and secondly because it is such a feel-good show that entertains the whole family and appeals to such a wide audience.

“To attract in excess of 100,000 people to a show is fantastic news for Blackpool because not only were those people coming to watch the show, they were also dining out in Blackpool, making a weekend of it and spending money in the town. That is a huge benefit to everyone.

“This has been a huge summer for all the Winter Gardens staff who have had to ensure the Opera House and the whole Winter Gardens’ complex was ready to welcome thousands of people every day.

“There has also been a lot of work and commitment from people throughout Blackpool to ensure the show’s success and I would like to extend thanks to the many local businesses that have supported MAMMA MIA! from the beginning and done their utmost to promote the show to their customers and guests.”

Managing Director of the Winter Gardens, Michael Williams, said: “MAMMA MIA! has been a great success for Blackpool and we are delighted with the way it has been received. The show has been absolutely fantastic and our audiences have loved every minute of it.”

Nick Grace, Associate Producer of the MAMMA MIA! International Tour, said: “MAMMA MIA! continues to be a huge success around the world and we are thrilled that the International Tour has been such a huge success in Blackpool and leads the way for future summer seasons. 

MAMMA MIA! has proved to be the perfect feel-good summer show for Blackpool and we are extremely proud to have been invited to be part of it."


Following its hugely successful run in London’s West End, the hit Beatles show LET IT BE is the next show to hit Blackpool for 2 weeks only, from Tuesday 30th September – Sunday 12th October.

The show is packed with over forty of The Beatles’ greatest hits including: I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Hard Day’s Night, Day Tripper, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Strawberry Fields, When I’m 64, Get Back and many more.

Ticket Prices: Stalls - £20.50 - £31.50; Circle - £15.00 - £31.50 Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster (booking fees apply), or from the box office at 97 Church Street, FY1 1HL, tel: 0844 856 1111 

Sep 16th

Melanie Hill gets her teeth into CROCODILES at Manchester's Royal Exchange

By Kirstie Niland

Melanie Hill has made her name playing loveable, down-to-earth characters like Aveline in TV sitcom Bread, taxi-driver Stella in Candy Cabs, and dinner lady Maggie in Waterloo Road.

While Aveline may not have made it as a model, Melanie has achieved stardom in the appropriately named Stardust, filming alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro.

What is less well known about her is the breadth of her stage career. Since attending London’s RADA she has appeared in a variety of plays, including the stage version of Bread, Women Beware Women at the Royal Court, Twelfth Night and Under Milk Wood.

Melanie is now rehearsing for what she describes as one of the best pieces of work she has ever worked on - the world premiere of a “ferocious Northern fable” called Crocodiles at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

MelanieHill (1).jpg

Melanie plays Cornelia Glass, an overbearing mother who spends her time spinning yarn, both literally and with the frightening tales she tells her family to scare them into staying with her. The irony being that the real danger lies right on their doorstep, where burning witches every Thursday is a normal activity.

Cornelia lives on an isolated island on the North East coast and everyone works at the local factory. Despite being brave enough to escape to the city at 16, her son Vincent has returned from his TV job with CBBC because something terrible has happened, and nobody knows what.

Melanie says: “The play is very dark and very funny. The mother is completely insane. She knits throughout the play, it’s her escapism. She spins yarns, never shuts up, she puts the fear of God into the family to hold them to her. Her son comes home and she is desperate not to let him get away again but it all unravels. She has a granddaughter who she keeps in the attic. Lucy is psychic and communicates by whistling and when she comes down they start to ask her the truth about each other and it blows everything apart.”

Melanie is clearly going to be fantastic as Cornelia. I’m already captivated and I’m only talking to her on the phone.

“On opening night it will be really interesting to see how the audience take it, what they find funny and what they could be offended by,” says Melanie. “It’s really near the knuckle stuff. In rehearsals one minute we’re laughing, the next it’s hard-hitting.”

It definitely sounds different to Melanie’s long-running stint as a dinner lady in Waterloo Road. “After three years you get lulled into the same part,” she agrees, “so it’s nice to have something fresh and challenging. Every day with Crocodiles there’s something new and exciting.”

Something else new and exciting is Cilla, the three-part ITV series that started this week, in which Melanie plays another mum, Big Cilla.

Originally from Sunderland, and now living in Glasgow, Melanie enjoyed filming in Liverpool: “It’s been fantastic going back. I haven’t been there since Bread. Jeff Pope is such a good writer and Sheridan (Smith) who plays Cilla has nailed it. The series shows part of Cilla's life that no one knows about. She knew the Beatles, Marc Bolan...all these edgy the days when you had to ask permission to do things. Cilla asks her dad if she can go to Germany with the Beatles and he says no. Nowadays they wouldn’t ask, they would just bloody go. As Cilla’s mum I had to improvise with John Henshaw who plays her dad, it was an absolute ball.”

Another little known fact about Melanie is that she had a part in the US horror film From Hell which starred Johnny Depp. “It was a small part but I was told it was integral to the whole film so wouldn’t be cut out,” says Melanie, “but it was and they didn’t tell me.”

“That was one of those sobering jobs where they put your feet firmly on the ground and remind you not to  get too far up your own arse. Then one day I got chatting to two blokes on a train and they said that’s where they knew me from - From Hell. I said I’d been cut and they said they’d got the DVD with the Director’s Cut and I’m in it!”

You get the impression that Melanie is far too level headed not to keep her feet on the ground: “I had a year and a half off when I had the kids and I wondered if I’d get another job but I’ve been very lucky with work. I make the most of it and balance it quite well. When I’m off with the kids I’m 100% with them. I always say things can change so quickly, just enjoy being with your family in between because next week you could have a big amazing job.”

Like Peter Howitt, aka Joey, her on-screen brother from Bread. One minute he was struggling, hoping for someone to finance a film called Sliding Doors he had written. The next he was directing Gwyneth Paltrow in it.

Would Melanie like to do more roles in big movies? “Stardust was the most exciting and thrilling job. There was a woman on set and her only job was to mend belts. The director snapped his fingers and 20 people would be there. It was just another world to me but film roles? There’s nothing that I hanker at. I really love doing ensemble pieces like Candy Cabs with a lot of women. I enjoy it when there’s a good team.

“You’re not so much ambitious when you get older; you want to have a nice time.”

I’ve read that Melanie has been vocal about the lack of interesting roles for older women, and having missed out on roles she would have liked – Hamlet’s Ophelia and Nancy in Oliver - what would she still like to do? “I’d love to do Lady Macbeth, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to do Crocodiles straight after mainstream TV I have to pinch myself hard every day.

“I’ve just done two plays with Live Theatre in Newcastle who sponsor new artists and writers, and The Royal Exchange has a similar ethos so it’s great to mix the two up.”

She’s had such a huge variety of acting jobs, what does Melanie put her success down to? “Every part I get I put 100% into getting it right,” she replies. “We had the costume fitting for Crocodiles yesterday. Mine is horrific but so right. That’s what I enjoy. Morphing myself into these crazy women, and that lends itself to getting interesting parts rather than lead roles.

“I’ve got a great feeling about Crocodiles,” predicts Melanie. “It’s quite scary. Terrifying but honest and that’s why I like it. The rest of the cast are amazing, the writing is brilliant. Hopefully we’ll do it justice.”

Somehow I think they will.



Crocodiles, directed by Ng Choon Ping, winner of the inaugural Royal Exchange Theatre Hodgkiss Award,  runs from Wednesday 1st October to Saturday 18th October at The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Age Guidance: 16 plus (contains strong language and adult content).

Ticket Prices, £12 / £10 concessions, are available from the Box Office: 0161 833 9833, or on-line:  

If you missed the first part of Cilla you can see it on CatchUp

Sep 15th

Richard Graham and Ciaran Kellgren lay down their arms to discuss Journey's End

By Kirstie Niland
With Kirstie Niland at The Octagon Theatre Bolton

It's great to chat with Ciaran Kellgren (Hibbert) and Richard Graham (Trotter) in their civvies over coffee after seeing Journey’s End. Apart from it being a relaxed way to meet the actors, it emphasises the difference in R.C. Sheriff’s play between the guarded men in uniform and the real characters beneath.

It also provides contrasting views of the performance, from Ciaran’s perspective as a young actor working predominantly in the theatre, to that of TV veteran and movie star Richard Graham, known for his high profile roles in Titanic, My Beautiful Launderette, I.D.and Gangs of New York.

Based on Sherriff’s own experiences of the First World War, Journey’s End provides a gut-wrenching view of what life was like in the trenches, focusing on a group of exceptionally well-developed characters. Performed in the Octagon’s theatre-in-the-round, and directed by the award-winning David Thacker, the intimate set draws you in, so that you join the officers on their emotional journey as each individual faces the horror of war and waiting to die.

Neither Hibbert nor Trotter are on stage for huge lengths of time, however their scenes leave such an impression that you find yourself waiting with them and for their return. Will Hibbert remain “another little worm trying to wriggle home” or will he face the frontline? When will the funny and warm-natured Trotter come back and bring some much-needed light relief?


Ciaran and I arrive at the Octagon at the same time, and the first thing that strikes me is that he looks even younger out of uniform and without the persona of Hibbert. It reminds me how young some of the soldiers sent to war actually were. In the play, Stanhope is only 21, and his school friend, Raleigh, just 18. How could the similarly young Hibbert
not be afraid of being gunned down? 

Ciaran agrees: “Hibbert is the most human. He’s real. Stanhope is the same in his head, Hibbert is a reflection of himself - Stanhope is scared and vulnerable too.

Is Hibbert an emotional part to play? “Yes. Under Dave’s direction we play ourselves. He told us to imagine these are people are you, in a trench and knowing you’re going to die."

The stage composition, particularly when Stanhope (James Dutton) points his gun at Hibbert, adds such tension I wonder if David Thacker dictates the blocking? “No, nothing is set, it’s improvisation. We’re in different positions every night. David tells us: ‘decide what your intention is,’ and in that scene (with Stanhope) I want to go and he wants to stop me. It’s an intense process. Every single night there’s a gun in your face. You really do feel you don’t want to go out there. You would rather die here than go out there.”


“The assistant director (Alyson Woodhouse) says the main characters are the five faces of war. Hibbert is fear. He shows what they’re all thinking but covering up in different ways.”

Trotter, the play’s light relief, conceals his feelings by focusing on gardening and food and lifts the others with his cheery chat.

“If I was down there I would want someone like Trotter around,” says Ciaran. “Richard gets typecast as the baddie but he’s actually a lot like Trotter. Richard’s the nicest character I’ve met in my entire career. A lovely guy and a brilliant actor. He always has a story and a joke to tell.”

As soon as Richard joins us you see what he means. Despite his star-studded career, acting alongside the likes of Mel Gibson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Liam Neeson – he makes you feel at ease. Not at all what you would expect from the on-screen baddie.

“I’m enjoying doing Journey’s End,” he says. “It’s nice to play someone closer to my own character. Trotter is very light in a play that’s very serious. He’s the only one who’s come up through the ranks, he shows the class difference, he’s more down to earth. Every character is based on a real person so Sheriff obviously knew someone Trotter. I’d love to play Osborne, he’s a cracking character, he’s a good moral man who holds them all together but I’m perfect for Trotter. I’ve always gravitated towards the character roles.”


 Journey’s End is Richard’s first theatre role in 8 years. “I’m here because of David,” Richard explains. He and the director last worked together in 1988, in David’s acclaimed West End production of An Enemy of the People, and it’s been a welcome return to the stage for Richard. “I’ve done more filming but I love the theatre. It’s more rewarding, there’s more feedback. With filming you’re surrounded by equipment and around 40 people and you never get to do the whole thing as a story. It’s disjointed.”

This is perhaps why Richard has never seen Titanic all the way through. “I didn’t think it would do as well as it did. It’s an old disaster story and we all know it sinks in the end!” he jokes.

Journey’s End is so well structured. There are no wasted characters and they all have their own way of coping. For Trotter food becomes all-consuming and he has a front of humour. The most moving part for me is when Stanhope says Trotter doesn’t feel anything and he’s on the brink and fighting it.”

Does Richard feel Trotter’s emotion? “It’s the audience’s job to feel it,” he says. And he’s right, we do.

If Richard could choose any theatre role it would be Proctor in The Crucible, or Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. I personally would love to see him in either and it’s not impossible since David Thacker’s West End productions have included Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and Broken Glass.

The American playwright himself has high regard for David. In an interview with The Independent Arthur Miller said: “He throws his whole personality into what he’s doing and before he ever sees an actor he has a strong idea of what a play is expressing and why it exists in the first place.”

Cairan agrees; “We all do it David’s way and that works.”

Cairan has ambitions to play Eddie in A View from the Bridge, or anything Shakespeare. “The great thing is that every job is different. This time last year I was playing Robin Hood at The Lowry and now it’s war season.”

Ciaran is currently rehearsing for Early One Morning, another hard-hitting war drama running from Thursday 9th October to 1st November at The Octagon.

As for Richard, once the current play has reached its journey’s end, we could just as easily see him on the big screen somewhere exotic as we could back in Bolton, his acting locations are so varied.

I.D. was my best acting experience but my best film experience was making The Bounty in the South Sea Islands, “ he says, smiling. “I was 22 in Tahiti with Mel Gibson, swanning around on the beach all day playing one of his mutineers, and someone said ‘it’s downhill from now on’.”

Well you can’t get much less tropical than Bolton but Journey’s End is still a masterpiece, and modest though he is, Richard brings charisma and star quality.

As Ciaran says: “He’s brought a bit of sparkle to Bolton.”

You can see Richard and Ciaran in Journey’s End until Saturday 4 October 2014. Tickets are from £26.50 - £10 on 01204 520661, or at

Photographs by Ian Tilton