9 December 2019

Aladdin - Tyne Theatre

Ah, pantomimes. The perfect antidote to the election and winter. An opportunity to switch off for two and a bit hours and immerse ourselves in a fairytale. I met a friend and her child at the Tyne Theatre, stocked up on wine and all the junk food and prepared to switch my brain off for two hours (difficult when you need to do a review). 

Aladdin Pantomime Newcastle
The official poster
Aladdin is one of my favourite pantos (I was obsessed with the Disney film) and I thoroughly enjoyed the updated live action film this year and Will Smith's genie. It would be pointless comparing his CGI'd effort genie with Marcus Collins' attempt so I won't, but I was liking the 70s music-loving, funky vibe that Marcus brought to the role. He appears in a smoke-filled cloud in Old Peking to open the show, and shows off his singing prowess with hits like Kung-Fu Fighting, a mash up of Relight My Fire and Disco Inferno and Gimme Some Lovin' (performed with the rest of the cast).

Also starring is Home and Away's Nick Westaway, who seems like the perfect choice for Aladdin (or Prince Charming, or any other male main part) with his boyish good looks and general all-round nice guy image. He also shows he can sing as well as act in group numbers likes Can't Stop The Feeling, the ever-popular Shotgun (even my two year old nephew loves it), a predictable yet amusing version of the Home and Away theme tune with his love Princess Jasmine (local lass Hannah Wales) and his magic carpet ride solo of Take That's Rule The World. 

Aladdin Tyne Theatre Newcastle
The cast in all its glory!
I marvelled at how gravelly and well, downright evil Hollyoaks baddie David Easter's voice could get as Abanazar but I guess that was a requirement for the part. An obvious choice for a baddie, his voice lent itself well to his musical number 'Trouble' by Elvis Presley ("because I'm evil, my middle name is misery") and I enjoyed it when the facade dropped a couple of times when one of his cast mates made a gaff. 

The gaffs are one of my favourite aspects of the Tyne Theatre panto, and often include the brilliant Charlie Richmond (this year playing Wishee Washee) and yet again he did not disappoint in bringing the comedy and heart to the show. This is his 11th year doing the panto here and it he makes it look effortless, taking the mick out of his brother Aladdin and their larger-than-life mother Widow Twankey (Chris Casserly). The jokes just keep on coming and obviously included Brexit and Prince Andrew (not too keen on jokes making mental health or suicide though). Expect to get wet courtesy of water pistols or get hit with some Haribo if you're sitting near the front (but no one is safe when they use tennis rackets)! 

Wishee (Charlie Richmond) and Aladdin (Nick Westaway)
Hannah Wales who plays Princess Jasmine has a great voice and did a really good job as Princess Jasmine (I enjoyed her version of Jai Ho and the circus skills of dancers Emma Dearden and Rachael Alexander). I always think that Lewis Denny (PC Pong) should be given a bigger part, and Steve Halliday did the job as Jasmine's dad, the Emperor. Chris Casserly got in some great visual gags with Window Twakey's outlandish outfits and is the quintessential Pantomime Dame. Also a special mention for the great work of the dancers (the little ones are always so sweet), the effective three-man orchestra and the creative team (the set was really strong this year). And the great charity work that's done every year by the team.

The star-studded cast doesn't disappoint, and will take you to a whole new world! (Sorry couldn't resist).

Aladdin as at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House until Sunday 5th January 2020. Buy tickets here

*I received tickets in exchange for a review, thank you to Jam Marketing for arranging this* 

8 December 2019

The Snow Queen - Northern Stage

I always enjoy the Christmas play at Northern Stage. It's always different and creative and a good contrast to the more traditional pantomimes that are here, there and everywhere at this time of year. The Snow Queen, based on a story by fairytale king Hans Christian Anderson and adapted by Laura Lindow is about as far away from traditional as you can get!

The Snow Queen Northern Stage

The action takes places in Stifle, a bizarre town where the inhabitants have barricaded themselves behind a wall to protect themselves from the threat of storms, oceans and worse of all, snow. The set is amazing, a wooden 'maze' which even has a piano suspended from the ceiling and was inspired by the British seaside. I was also struck by the Scandi-type costumes of the cast, which were simple yet really effective. At the heart of the story is Gerda (played with the perfect amount of childlike wonder by Lauren Waine), a girl who lost her mum when she was young and lives with her fearful Dad. Then she meets Kai (Gregor Mackay) and goes on an epic adventure to rescue him from evil The Snow Queen (Elizabeth Carter - who has a really good voice).

The Snow Queen Northern Stage
The magnificent set
The play is full of eccentric characters, including the hilarious and Miss Trunchbull-like teacher Elsie Orr (Paula Penman), the snow-fearing Mr Kelpine (Craig Fairbairn) and the American multi-instrumentalist Liletta (Dr G. Hannabiell Sanders). Most of the cast can play numerous instruments (including Jeremy Bradfield who plays Gerda's Dad) and music plays such a big part in the production as a whole.

Elizabeth Carter as The Snow Queen
Kai ends up losing his childhood self after being struck by splinters in his eye and heart (which makes him see only what is wrong in the world and turns his heart to ice), before the Snow Queen lures him away. In the second half (which I enjoyed more than the first) Gerda goes on a quest to find Kai where she meets a larger than life reindeer, a wise old crone and a beautiful rose, picking up lots of wisdom along the way. The characters reminded me of some of the Alice in Wonderland cast. Thankfully the Snow Queen gets her comeuppance, and we're reminded of the importance on not giving up on people you love.

Gerda and the Reindeer
After initially struggling to get into the story I ended up being transported to the magical world which was so lovingly created by the cast and crew to bring the fairy tale to life. I was seriously impressed with the creativity and the commitment of everyone involved to create a strange and mystical world where the power of friendship is paramount.

*I received two tickets in exchange for a review

Buy tickets for The Snow Queen at Northern Stage here 

14 November 2019

Northern Ballet's Cinderella - Theatre Royal

Anyone who is an avid theatre goer is usually a bit partial to a traditional story being reinterpreted, and the Northern Ballet's Cinderella manages to create a magical twist on the classic fairytale.  Directed and choreographed by David Nixon, the show has a Russian theme and expertly highlights the key themes - a lonely woman desperate to be loved, being cruel doesn't pay and there is strength in kindness. 

Northern Ballet Cinderella
Cinderella is at Theatre Royal until Saturday 17th November
The show is split into two acts, and we first meet young Cinderella (Rachel Gillespie) and her family in the countryside outside Moscow. Tragedy strikes as her father is shot, which paves the way for the Wicked Stepmother (the excellent Sarah Chun) to turn Cinders into her servant and for cruelty from her stepsisters Natasha Kyungka Kwak) and Sophia (Adam Miyata). I particularly enjoyed a scene where the circus comes to the winter market, and dancers become stilt walkers, magicians, acrobats and jugglers (watch out for the cute animal) I also liked the fact that that the fairy godmother in this production is a male magician (the very elegant Mlindi Kulashe). There's a glimpse of kindness from the stepsisters but the Stepmother steps in and rejects Cinderella (Abigail Prudames) again. 

Cinderella Theatre Royal
The Winter Ball
The action then moves to a crystal lake where she meets the Prince (Matthew Koon). Cinders returns home to find she has been invited to the Winter Ball, but we all know what happens to the invite. Luckily the magician helps her to have her wish and attend the ball. In Act II we see the splendour of the Winter Ball, Cinders resplendent in her shimmering gown and glass slippers as she meets the Prince but of course their time together is limited. We accompany the Prince to visit the drawing room, the kitchen and the crystal lake in his attempts to find the owner of the glass slipper that was left behind. The magician works his magic again to ensure a happy ending. 

I was really impressed by the main characters and the quality of the dancing, especially the duets (the final duet between the Prince and Cinderella was really beautiful). Hats off to the set design team who did an excellent job creating stunning backdrops and a magical set (I was really impressed when the oven became the carriage). The Northern Ballet Sinfonia played a big part in the magic with their masterful interpretation of Philip Feeney's moving score. The costumes were also a tour de force. 

Highly recommend the show to anyone wanting to escape the doom and gloom of the news, the bad weather and who could do with a sprinkling of magic right now. 

Cinderella is at Newcastle Theatre Royal Tue 12 - Sat 16 Nov 2019 playing evenings
at 7.30pm and matinees Thu (2pm) and Sat (2.30pm).

12 November 2019

Words Weekend - Sage Gateshead

Ah, words. After having around a hundred pieces published and posting over 350 blog posts here, you could say that I'm a bit partial to them. Even when trying to make a living out of them has left me disillusioned (three years of freelance copywriting can do that to you), I'm still in love with curling up with a great book (no Kindle for me) or visiting a quirky book shop. So naturally I was excited to hear about the inaugural Words Weekend, coming to The Sage Gateshead from 6th to 8th December. 

Words Weekend Festival
Words Weekend aims to unite communities and ignite imaginations
With over sixty events taking place across five venues at The Sage, you can come and hear some of the world's finest writers, thinkers and speakers discuss their work, share their personal journeys and give advice on how to pursue a writing career. And great news, 40% of events are completely free, and every event is BSL interpreted and accessible. Created by Fane Productions, their aim is to celebrate the power of words and stories with a packed programme of talks, workshops, panel discussions, music and spoken words to unite communities and ignite imaginations. 

So who's taking part? On Friday 6th December, catch chef Nadiya Hussein as she discusses her memoir, Finding My Voice and shares her views on the barriers women face to be accepted and heard in today's society. There's also a chance to see literary rockstar Margaret Atwood in conversation (filmed at The National Theatre London). On Saturday 7th December, bestselling author Marian Keyes is in conversation with Cosmopolitan's Laura Jane Williams and legendary DJ Norman Jay MBE will be sharing his colourful life story and talking about his new memoir, Mister Good Times. I can't wait to see Turner Prize-winning contemporary artist Grayson Perry, who'll be dissecting the nation's "Prejudices, Fashions and Foibles" on Sunday 8th December (sold out but you can add your name to the waiting list). Also on Sunday, investigative reporter Stacey Dooley will be talking about her remarkable career so far, and exploring what it's like to be a woman in the world today. 

Words Weekend Sage Gateshead
Just some of the authors appearing at Words Weekend
Anyone wanting to find out more about pursuing a career in writing is spoilt for choice for events passing on tips and wisdom about the industry. Budding poets should attend How To Make A Living As A Poet on the Saturday, If you're interested in finding out more about arts reviewing and journalism, don't miss Narc Magazine's New Reviewers workshop, where you'll learn the secrets of writing a great review, and have the opportunity of putting your skills into practice. Written a novel? You'll have the chance to speak to literary agents from Curtis Brown 120 (email info@wordsweekend.com to book your place).  Or get advice from published authors Cash Carroway, Carmen Marcus and Paul Ewen at How To Be A Public Author on Saturday. Creative Access helps BAME candidates, as well as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds to access creative careers - their event takes place on Sunday at 1pm.

Literary kids will enjoy the Horrible Histories Roadshow with Terry Deary (Saturday), a creative writing workshop led by David Almond in conjunction with Seven Stories (Saturday), and much loved children's author Michael Morpurgo reading from his beautiful book, The Best Christmas Present in the world, accompanied by a carol-singing choir (Sunday). Kid Normal fans can join authors Greg James and Chris Smith for an action packed Super Zero event (Saturday). There's also a festive story party hosted by Seven Stories on Sunday at 2.30pm for kids aged three to five. 

Gil Scott-Heron Words Weekend
Pioneering artist Gil Scott-Heron will be remembered and celebrated at Words Weekend
The extraordinary life of US musician, poet and activist Gil Scott-Heron will be celebrated at the Festival. A mural by Brighton-base artist Dan Lish has been unveiled on one of the arches next to The Sage, which marks a collaboration between Words Weekend and Sage Gateshead's Arches Academy (a space for alternative education and engagement through creative activities). On Saturday 7th December the young people of Co-Musica Arches Academy will showcase their work inspired by the pioneering artist in the main concourse at 6.30pm.

I personally can't wait to spend a whole weekend indulging one of my passions next month! I'm sure that Words Weekend will be a great success, and the first of many!

For more information and to book tickets please visit wordsweekend.com (please click on the links above to get tickets for specific events). 

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