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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
Sep 11th


By Kirstie Niland

Lauryn Redding is eating her tea when I call to interview her. Due on stage at 7.30pm after a long day of rehearsals, you could be forgiven for thinking she might sound stressed.

Not so. Lauryn is relaxed, friendly and full of interesting insights into Northern Broadsides’ production of She Stoops to Conquer, currently touring until December 13th.

The show has received some rave reviews so far; with The Guardian describing it as “absurdly funny”. Lauryn, who plays one of the most comic characters, Miss Neville, is enjoying the audience’s reaction, which is: “really responsive and open, lots of warm, smiley faces and belly laughs.”


Oliver Goldsmith’s well-loved comedy of manners is “an amazing piece of writing,” says Lauryn. “A farce full of misunderstandings, miscommunication, and love. An amalgamation of things in everyday life as well as being true to the 18th century.”

What’s different about this production though is that it’s set in the North rather than the West Country.

“It doesn’t need to be West Country,” explains Lauryn, “and Northern Broadsides are a Northern voice. “There’s a mix of accents, some of the older cast members are more Northern, while the younger ones who have lived in London for a while might have flat vowels but more affected. It informs the story, and places the characters in their generation and class.”

Lauryn herself is from York but lives in London, and her portrayal of Miss Neville as a bawdy Northerner adds extra comedy to what is already a fantastically funny performance.

Her scenes with Jon Trenchard as a camp, ginger-wigged Tony Lumpkin are met with raucous laughter; their pairing is an expert choice of casting by Director Conrad Nelson.  

These two larger than life characters are injected with extra colour by the spectacular costumes. Miss Neville is bold in a bright yellow period dress, meanwhile Tony Bumpkin flits about the stage in giraffe print and shocking pink.

The costumes feature animal prints in restoration style, and much brighter colours than there would have been in that period, giving a contemporary twist to period designs.

“They’re phenomenal,” says Lauryn. “When you’re wearing something like that, in my case a frock, petticoat and a corset, it changes you. The way you walk and sit, it all adds to the character, the period and the relationship. They’re all made from scratch so they fit perfectly and are comfortable.”

Despite being a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl, Lauryn is used to big frocks and period costumes, having played Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria in Horrible Histories, and King Lear’s Cordelia. “It’s nice to dress up, it’s one of my favourite parts of the job.”

Lauryn is also used to raising laughs. “I find myself in comedic roles often but it (She Stoops to Conquer) has been a real challenge. You have to be 100% everything at all times, to want, need or feel everything to its height. You can’t wing it or it would lose momentum. It’s fast-paced but easy to follow. Conrad (Nelson) had a real vision of how he wanted it to be, and it’s so well written you can’t go wrong.

She added: “Northern Broadsides approach classical texts and Shakespeare with such gusto and that’s what I love about them.”

Lauryn also approaches her role with gusto. Every entrance she makes is a big one, drawing some of the biggest belly laughs. Her timing, facial expressions and movement all add to the comedy value.

Her dream role of Nancy in Oliver would be perfect for her; she has a great singing voice and the necessary depth and energy to put the oomph into Oom Pa-Pa, just as she does with the funny romantic Pa Pa Pa with Hardcastle in She Stoops.

Lauryn also has ambitions to play Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. The rebellious medieval heroine couldn’t be more different to Constance Neville but when Lauryn takes centre stage in the finale of She Stoops, you can definitely see her pulling it off. She has enormous presence at only 26.

So how does she do it, having only graduated 5 years go? “You have to be an open, warm and kind person to be in this industry, and be willing to try new things and follow direction. I’m working with a cast with some in their 60s and I’m learning from them, and they’re maybe learning from me. Age and gender has no consequence. We’re all in it together.”

Asked what her advice to fledgling thespians would be, Lauryn suggests: “Be a sponge. Don’t say no; think what way you want to go and what you want to do.”

And finally...what’s her favourite line from the play?

One from Mrs Hardcastle:

“’Women and music should never be dated’ It’s true!”

She Stoops To Conquer (recommended for aged 12 plus) tours until December 13th, and includes Lauryn’s hometown of York. Currently at The Dukes Lancaster until September 13th. Tickets, £8-£18.50, are available from the box office on 01524 598500, or from

Sep 10th

Julian Slade's Free as Air at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the world premiere of Salad Days, and as part of the Finborough Theatre acclaimed Celebrating British Music Theatre series, Stewart Nicholls directs the first professional UK revival in over 50 years of Julian Slade's musical Free As Air, playing Sunday and Monday evening and Tuesday matinee performances from Sunday, 5 October 2014.

Among the Channel Islands, tucked away out of sight, lies the tiny island of Terhou, a treasure as yet undiscovered by the tourist trade. In this remote paradise, the happy population sings all day long, arising early to prepare for their annual Independence Day Celebration. They soon discover there is no young lady to be crowned May Queen in their Coronation Ceremony, as all the young women have played the part before.

As luck would have it, along with the boat returning from the monthly trip to gather supplies arrives a beautiful stranger – Geraldine. Yet close behind follows the love-struck Jack Amersham and the mischievous Ivy Crush, the press reporter charged with shadowing her…

Will the islanders find their May Queen, or will the peace of Terhou be disrupted forever?

A charming classic British musical, Free as Air enjoyed a run of over 400 performances at the Savoy Theatre in 1957, starring Gerald Harper, Gillian Lewis and Patricia Bredin. It now receives its first professional UK revival in more than fifty years.

Composer Julian Slade (1930–2006) was also a librettist and lyricist, best known for the record-breaking musical Salad Days (1954), the longest running UK musical of the 1950s with 2,288 performances – a record at the time. It was in London that a young Cameron Mackintosh saw Salad Days with his aunt and decided to become a theatrical producer. Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Slade then joined the Bristol Old Vic, where he eventually became Musical Director, writing incidental music and co-writing two Christmas musicals, eventually culminating in the writing of Salad Days. His many other musicals include Follow That Girl! (1960), revived at the Theatre Museum by Stewart Nicholls in 2000, Hooray for Daisy (1960), Wildest Dreams (1961), adapting Winnie the Pooh at the Phoenix Theatre (1970), Trelawny (1972) with music in collaboration with Aubrey Woods and George Rowell, Out Of Bounds (1973) and Nancy Mitford's novel Love in a Cold Climate (1997).

Librettist, lyricist and actress Dorothy Reynolds (1913–1977) was best known for her collaboration with Julian Slade, writing a number of musicals together including Salad Days (1954), Free as Air(1957), Follow That Girl! (1960), Hooray for Daisy (1960) and Wildest Dreams (1961). Her screen appearances as an actress include Peter Ustinov's Lady L (1965), Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and Alan Bennett's A Day Out (1972).

Director Stewart Nicholls returns to the Finborough Theatre where he directed Ivor Novello's musical Gay's The Word, which subsequently transferred for a further successful run at the Jermyn Street Theatre and was recorded for CD. Productions Stewart has directed and choreographed include Salad Days and The Biograph Girl (London College of Music), Dorothy Squires: Mrs. Roger Moore(Edinburgh Festival), Lunch With Marlene starring Kate O’Mara (National Tour), Hetty Feinstein’sWedding Anniversary (New End Theatre, Hampstead), Beatlemania (Gothenburg Opera House),South Pacific starring Alan Opie, Maria Ewing and Les Dennis (Birmingham Symphony Hall for BBC Radio Two), Over My Shoulder (National Tour and Wyndham's Theatre), Carousel (St David’s Hall, Cardiff, for BBC Radio Three), the première of Charles Hart’s Love Songs (Bridewell Theatre) and five pantomimes for the Hall For Cornwall, Truro.  Workshops include Merman's Apprentice starring Kim Criswell. Choreography includes Iolanthe, Princess Ida and The Mikado (Buxton Opera House and National Tour), Cowardy Custarstarring Kit and the Widow and Dillie Keen (National Tour), Noël and Gertie (Cockpit Theatre) and Tim Rice’s revival of Blondel (Pleasance London). Stewart is the leading archivist of British Musical Theatre, directing, choreographing and restoring many forgotten musicals by major British writers including Noël Coward’s Sail Away (his restored version is published by Warner/Chappell Music). He produced CDs of many of these productions including The Amazons, which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Producer Aria Entertainment is run by Katy Lipson, whose productions include Marry Me A Little (St James Studio), The Return Of The Soldier (Jermyn Street Theatre), The Mystery Of Edwin Drood (Arts Theatre), The Secret Garden (National Tour) as well as the From Page To Stage season of new musicals.

Celebrating British Music Theatre
In 2006, the Finborough Theatre began the Celebrating British Music Theatre series with a sell-out production of Leslie Stuart’s Florodora. Productions since then have included sell-out rediscoveries of Lionel Monckton’s Our Miss Gibbs, Harold Fraser-Simson’s operetta The Maid of the MountainsA "Gilbert and Sullivan" Double Bi
ll featuring Gilbert’s play Sweethearts and Sullivan’s opera The Zoo, Dame Ethel Smyth’s opera The Boatswain’s Mate, Sandy Wilson’s The Buccaneer, Oscar Asche’s Chu Chin Chow, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, Ivor Novello's Perchance to DreamGay's The Word and Valley of Song, Gilbert and Sullivan'sThe Grand Duke,  Edward German's Merrie England, Paul Scott Goodman's Rooms: A Rock Romance and Rutland Boughton's  The Immortal Hour.

Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Box Office 0844 847 1652   Book online at
Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 October 2014
Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Tuesday matinees at 2.00pm.
Tickets £18, £16 concessions.

Music by Julian Slade.
Book and Lyrics by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds.
Directed and Choreographed by Stewart Nicholls.
Musical Director Ben Stock. Pianist James Church. Set and Costume Design by Oona Tibbetts. Lighting by Rob Mills. Costume Supervision by Jade Nicola Boxall.
Presented by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Cast: Charlotte Baptie. Ian Belsey. Ruth Betteridge. Anna Brook-Mitchell. Daniel Cane. James Dangerfield. Richard Gibson. Amy Hamlen. Anthony Harris. Josh Little. Ted Merwood. Joanna Monro. Eimear Phelan-O’Riordan. Simon Pontin. Jane Quinn. Robert Sharpe. Sophie Simms.