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). 

For updates please follow Words Weekend on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram.

21 October 2019

All You Need Is Love - Sage Gateshead

It's difficult to explain my Beatles obsession. It crept up on me last year where out of nowhere I started to watch everything about them. I'm planning another trip to Liverpool to visit the places I didn't get to in December (Strawberry Fields has reopened since then too). I'm trying to be aware when I've gone down the rabbit hole watching Youtube videos and pouring over the Anthology for the hundreth time.

All You Need Is Love Sage Gateshead

So when I get the chance to hear their music in any form I jump, especially if there's a tribute band backed by a top class orchestra, in this case the National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. I didn't have particularly high expectations beforehand but all I can say is that I was blown away by the whole experience. The rapport between the band (Luke Roberts as Ringo, Emmanuel Angeletti as Paul, John Brosnan as George and Paul Canning as John Lennon) was immediate and kept making me laugh as it was so like what I was used to watching in videos. Paul Canning was definitely channelling his inner John - his mannerisms, witty comments and body language was completely spot on. 

They kicked off proceedings in the right way by going straight into All You Need Is Love (there were some great solos by the brass section) before taking the audience on a two hour romp through over forty hits. Act One included a really eclectic mix of tracks, from bouncy Penny Lane to trippy Tomorrow Never Knows. The music was accompanied by an ever-changing multi-media screen, which was used to great effect with songs like Martha My Dear (showing Paul McCartney's beloved sheepdog) and Strawberry Fields Forever. I loved looking around and seeing everyone sing along to Let It Be and I Am The Walrus.

After the break the band came back out in full Sergeant Pepper outfits which audibly delighted the crowd , and launched into A Little Help From My Friends, followed by Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, Hello Goodbye and She's Leaving Home before another costume change in readiness for the India/mediation phase (their most productive period musically). They came back on dressed in loose white shirts and the screen showed images of Rikikesh where they visited the Maharishi in 1968. I was personally happy because I love the Indian-inspired sound, and we were treated to Across The Universe before older tracks such as Norwegian Wood the other tracks written in '68 such as Whilst My Guitar Gently Weeps (showing of John/George's guitar skills), Ob Li Di, Ob Li Da and Come Together. 

Everyone was reminded of the brilliance of Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End (Emmanuel as Paul was amazing on piano at this point) before Luke/Ringo brought the house down with Yellow Submarine, and Paul/John did such an amazing job of 'Imagine' I was in tears. The encore included some earlier tracks from the beginning of Beatlemania (I Saw Her Standing There) and I desperately wanted to and fangirl down the front but I restrained myself somehow. I really can't get across how good the whole show was and if it tours again I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as a great way to turn off, tune in and drop out of the stress of every day life.

*I received two tickets in exchange for a review

14 October 2019

Psycho Path - The Biggest Halloween Event In The North

Running through woods being pursued by killer clowns or chainsaw-wielding psychopaths isn't exactly my idea of a good night out, but I thought I'd give it a go - 'try anything once' and all that. I was due to go with a friend who watches horror films for fun, so it was never going to bother him too much. I recently watched two episodes of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix and couldn't sleep by myself, so I wasn't exactly holding out much hope of enjoying my trip to Psycho Path last Thursday.

Just some of the lovely new friends to meet at Psycho Path 
The Psycho Path is hidden away in secluded woodland at Lintz Hall Farm, not that far from Newcastle (near Consett). I decided not to read too much of the press release in advance, to enhance the feeling of, well, fear. I was pleasantly surprised by the the Anarchy Arcade - a large tent filled with a variety of fantastic-smelling food trucks, including Hatch 76 (selling amazing duck wraps), Acropolis (delicious Greek food) and Middlesbrough's Parm-O-Rama for those of you that enjoy a parmo. You'll also find lots of arcade games if that's your cup of tea. There's also a very busy bar and circus performers, live music and magicians on hand to entertain the crowds (or lull them into a false sense of security before being loaded into a van and dumped into the woods).

Yep, when I was loaded into the van after having a fairly nice time with my friends I started to wonder what I was doing. I half-expected some awful ghoul to jump in the van but luckily that didn't happen. My memory of what actually happened out there isn't that great, partly because of the fear of being left alone in the woods (my wellies slowed me down a lot when my two male friends ran off and left me) and partly because I had really bad stomach ache. And also I don't want to give the game away too much! I remember having to go through an asylum area with extremely scary patients at one point, and a contaminated area with mutants was involved (Psycho City). And there were guys with chainsaws which I could have done without. 

Psycho Path - Fear Ground
Yeah, this was what I was worried about!
The Psycho Path definitely did the job (the screams ringing out through the woods confirmed that). My issue was that the scares were really in-your-face and it probably would have been more scary if there was more psychological stuff going on occasionally (I kind of found people jumping out at me funny towards the end). And there were parts when I was in the woods where being chased would have been really scary but it didn't happen. There was a section in the middle where lots of us were herded for fifteen minutes so any fear that had built up from the first section subsided by the time we got into the second section (maybe first night teething problems). It definitely got my blood pumping though and I would definitely do it again (hopefully minus the stomach ache)! 

(I didn't get the chance to go on the Fear Ground rides but the haunted house and waltzer looked really fun).

Psycho Path is open until 31st October - book tickets here