Thursday, 23 February 2017

Preview: Shrek The Musical at Sunderland Empire

Believe All ‘Ogre’ Again
Returning to a swamp near you by popular demand

Shrek The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Wednesday 31st January – Sunday 11th February 2018
Directed By Nigel Harman

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks

Producers of Shrek The Musical® are delighted to announce that following the unprecedented success of the first ever UK and Ireland Tour, the larger-than-life production will be returning to the Sunderland Empire for two weeks only from Wednesday 31 January – Sunday 11 February 2018.

‘A fun, fairytale spectacular fit for all the family’ Glasgow Evening Times

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Nigel Harman will return as director, having made his directorial debut on Shrek The Musical’s first UK and Ireland Tour. Best known for his television and stage work, Nigel Harman originated the role of Lord Farquaad in the West End production, winning the Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical. Television credits include heart-throb Dennis Rickman in EastEnders, villainous valet Mr Green in Downton Abbey and Bradley in Sky’s Mount Pleasant, which aired its sixth series in Autumn 2016. Notable stage appearances include Jamie Lloyd’s production of Three Days of Rain alongside James McAvoy, Privates on Parade at the Donmar Warehouse and A Chorus of Disapproval, directed by Trevor Nunn.    

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Nigel Harman says: ‘I had so much fun directing the original UK & Ireland Tour that I jumped at the chance to work on it again. Shrek the Musical has created pivotal moments in my career – firstly winning an Olivier and then my directorial debut. It’s certainly become one of the classic family musicals of all time and I’m really proud to be a part of it’.

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Ben Phillips, General Manager Sunderland Empire says: ‘We’re thrilled to be welcoming back this wonderful production at the beginning of 2018. Shrek delighted audiences young and old on his last visit and was a popular personality around the theatre! The musical itself is a quality production and I’m sure the show with its wonderful characters will be just as fun this time round’. 

‘A perfect mixture of music, dance and performance comedy, with a sprinkling of fresh gags and slightly risqué humour to keep adults on their toes.’ Manchester Evening News
(Winner of 2014 CityLife Award for Best Musical)

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks

Shrek The Musical ® is based on the story and characters from William Steig’s book Shrek! and the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks Animations feature film. Originally directed in the West End by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, the production has book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Jeanine Tesori with multi award-winning set and costume design by Tim Hatley.

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Join our unlikely hero Shrek and his loyal steed Donkey as they embark on a quest to rescue the beautiful (if slightly temperamental) Princess Fiona from a fire-breathing, love-sick dragon. Add the diminutive Lord Farquaad, a gang of fairytale misfits and a biscuit with attitude, and you’ve got the biggest, brightest musical comedy around! Featuring all new songs as well as cult Shrek anthem I’m a Believer, Shrek The Musical ® brings over 100 much-loved fairytale characters, plus a 14 foot dragon, to life in an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza.

‘Simply Shrektacular – a musical extravaganza for big kids and little kids alike’ Bristol Post *****

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks

Shrek The Musical ® was seen by nearly 800,000 people on its first highly acclaimed UK and Ireland tour in 2014, visiting 25 major venues over 20 months. The production was first staged in the UK at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2011. Since opening on Broadway in 2008  Shrek The Musical ®  has toured to nearly 150 cities in the USA and Canada, with productions having also played in Spain, Poland, France, Malaysia, China, Brazil, Italy, Denmark, The Netherlands, Estonia, Israel and Turkey.

2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks
UK and Ireland tour of the original DreamWorks Production will be presented by Neal Street Productions, Playful Productions, Ron Kastner, Saracen Films, Tulchin/Bartner Productions, Gavin Kalin, Glass Half Full Productions/Just For Laughs Theatricals, Lee Menzies and Mark Cartwright.

Casting information will be announced in due course.

On The Web:


2015 Original UK Tour Company
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Shrek The Musical comes to Sunderland Empire from Wednesday 31 January – Sunday 11 February 2018

Tickets On General Sale from 10am, Friday 24 February 2017

Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online at*
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your plus your phone company's access charge. Booking and transaction fees may apply.

Group Bookings: 0844 871 3042
Calls cost 7p per minute, plus your phone company's access charge.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

REVIEW: Double Bill at Newcastle Live Theatre

Live Lab Elevator Festival 2017
Double Bill

Parklife by Mhairi Ledgerwood

Sex With Robots And Other Devices by Nessah Muthy

Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Friday 25th February 2017

Live Theatre have long been associated with new writing and hence it is appropriate that they a running a week-long new writing festival. A number of activities, workshops and productions will run this week. Details can be found here: PREVIEW LINK.

The double bill showcased the work of two writers. We have local writer Mhairi Ledgerwood who has had the opportunity to work up her short 10 minute play, that was first shown in 2014, into a full production. The other play also had its development supported by Live Theatre. Cloakroom Theatre were presented with the Live Lab 2016 bursary. This resulted in both a £2000 bursary plus space and support to develop the new work.  This has resulted in two very different tales which both have an eye on the near future.

Presented by The Six Twenty
Written by Mhairi Ledgerwood
Directed by Melanie Rashbrooke
Starring Amy Foley as Victoria and Chris Foley as Alex

Memories are important to us. They are what make us what we are. It isn’t just about looking forward but about ensuring you don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Let’s face it, that’s why teenagers are full of confidence and solutions whereas their elders tend to be more cautious.

In a scenario that is similar to that faced by the passengers of the Axiom in the Pixar animation Wall-E, a sample of Earth’s inhabitants have escaped a dying Earth.  In order to capture what the Earth was like, the memories of the passengers has been digitally stored. The only difference is that such memories can be manipulated, changed or deleted. Imagine if an inconvenient memory could be wiped out?

My problem is the suggestion that you’d no longer be able to hear music that you’ve deleted from your memory. Surely it would be like hearing the song for the first time? But as you can see, the play was successful as it has created a reaction and a debate.

The play starts with a rapid change of scenes that is quite difficult to watch and piece together the narrative. Persevering with it pays off as the later exposition makes it clear how those initial snapshots tie together into a coherent story.

Mhairi’s script culminates into a moral maze about the ability to re-write or delete our past. Perhaps the current political climate makes that particularly relevant. The emotional abuse of a partner to the point of controlling their memories is an uncomfortable concept. Amy Foley and Chris Foley work well in pulling the many strands together and the lighting design is highly effective throughout the tale.

Sex With Robots And Other Devices
Presented by Cloakroom Theatre
Written by Nessah Muthy
Directed by Bobby Brook
Co-produced by Jennifer Holton and Helen Matravers
Starring Mark Conway, Safiah Durrah and Mona Goodwin

The pedants will point out the play is about sex with androids rather than robots. Leaving that aside, imagine a world in the near future in which you can order a lifelike sex android that looks like your loved one. Its artificial intelligence means that it learns behaviour and language from you. Before you know it the device is able to hold a conversation with you. There is even an app to make it smell like your loved one.

In a production that has sexual, adult scenes and language we are sent through another moral maze.  Is it right to use an android that adopts a personality in this way? Given that we can get attached to our cars, imagine how we’d feel if we broken a machine that has conversations with us and seeks to understand how we feel.

Actors Mark Conway, Safiah Durrah and Mona Goodwin start by busting their dance moves and quite a number of choreographic fillers through between scenes. It is easy to relate to many of the characters. One often finds empathy for the android, especially when relationships become abusive. The production had a number of lighter moments that had a section of the audience laughing. This lightness helped make the dark moments darker.

It is worth noting how both shows were supported by effective lighting and sound design. It is easy to take it all for granted.

Both stories grabbed the attention of the audience. Hopefully they will be a springboard for more plays from both writers. The actors did a great job entertaining the Live Theatre audience in a pair of thought provoking scenarios. 

Review by Stephen Oliver.

The final chance to catch the double bill is on Friday 24th  February. Tickets are £8, £6 concessions
Box Office: 0191 232 1232 or online at
DURATION: Approx. 2hrs 20mins, incl. interval
SUITABILITY: Suitable for ages 16+, contains strong language and sexual references 

Preview: Leaving at Newcastle Northern Stage

By Paddy Campbell
Newcastle Northern Stage
Thursday 23rd February - Saturday 4th March 2017

Director Amy Golding
Designer Katherina Radeva
Composition Sound Design Roma Yagnik

Leaving home for the first time…
Is a step into the dark.
A whole new life.
If you’re leaving the care system, the reality hits even harder.

Caroline’s dad was an alcoholic. She shared a caravan with three adults and five kids. Keira didn’t go to school. She was constantly in trouble. Tom was physically and mentally abused. Simon was moved from pillar to post. And Sadeed. Sadeed was 15 when he arrived from Afghanistan to seek asylum. He had mental health problems.

All had their own issues and all had chaotic lives before they entered the care system. All struggled to begin with but eventually each found some kind of temporary stability within it. Then, at the age of eighteen … there’s the door. Each is put out into the wild with little or no support.

Leaving is a new work by Paddy Campbell. Shot through with anger, uncertainty, fear, humour and hope, the play draws upon the words of young people who have gone through the care system. It is performed by an ensemble cast and created by an award winning team who push the boundaries of verbatim theatre, giving a voice to those experiencing and working within the system, from staff in children’s homes to MPs and policy makers to the young people themselves.

Paddy Campbell’s inspiration for Leaving came from his own experiences as a key worker at a North East children’s home. Shining a light on the lives of young people leaving care and the issues they face, the work is formed from interviews with those in the system and those leaving it, staff from local authorities, children’s homes, social workers, MPs and Ofsted.

The cast for Leaving comprises Jackie Lye, Rosie Stancliffe, Matt Howdon, Kate Okello and Luke Maddison.

Paddy Campbell is a Northern Irish writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne. His first full-length play, Wet House premiered at Live Theatre in September 2013 as part of their 40th birthday celebrations, directed by Max Roberts. Following the success of the run, Live Theatre revived the production in September 2014 before embarking on a short tour to Hull Truck and Soho Theatre. Paddy’s second play Day of The Flymo premiered at Live Theatre in April 2015 and returned in November 2015 following a sell-out run in Newcastle. Paddy's short plays include The Great Unwashed (Live/National Theatre), The Nest (Live/Nabokov), The Walloper (Arundel Theatre Trail), Flowerpet (GIFT Festival) and My New Favourite Place a children's play for Curious Monkey. He is a past graduate of Channel 4’s screenwriting course and in 2015, he was selected to take part in Creative England’s iWrite Scheme. Paddy is currently writing his first feature for Element Pictures and is also working on new plays for the National Theatre and Live Theatre.

Amy Golding founded Curious Monkey in 2011. She has recently written and performed preggers which toured the UK in 2016. Her directing credits for the company include Beats North by Luke Barnes and Ishy Din, Mamela, Bunker Blues, Imagine for Holocaust Memorial Day and Live Witness for Live Theatre’s 40th birthday. She worked at Live Theatre (2006 – 2012) where her directing credits included: Here Come The Girls, Playing With My Heart, DNA, Girls on the Verge, Boys on the Edge, Blackout and First Draft. Amy graduated from Northumbria University with a BA(Hons) in Drama and has worked as a drama worker, theatre maker and director for the last 13 years. She has also worked with a number of other companies including Open Clasp, Them Wifies, Nabokov, The Sage Gateshead. Amy Golding was the Paul Hamlyn Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow 2014, completing a secondment at the Young Vic Theatre working on the Regional Theatres Young Directors Scheme, and is now a qualified coach
Curious Monkey is an international award winning theatre company founded by artistic director Amy Golding. Their work is inspired by both their local community and further afield. With a commitment to those whose stories are rarely told, Curious Monkey collaborates with a team of award winning artists to shape these stories into fresh, direct theatre. Their artistic programme gives a voice to under-represented people, raising awareness of the issues that they face to take it to audiences who are often young and new to the theatre.. Working with specialist partners, they use theatre to engage with influencers and decision makers to help create positive changes in the world. Past work includes preggers, Walker Talk, Mamela, Beats North and a series of work for Holocaust Memorial Day

Tour Details & Tickets:
Tickets: £15.50 / £13.50 concessions
Box office 0191 230 5151

MON 13 MARCH 7pm
Tickets: £8.50 / £7.50 children
Box Office: 01225 823409

WED 15 MARCH - SAT 18 MARCH 7.30pm
Tickets: £12 / £10 concessions
Box Office: 01392 434169


REVIEW: Hedda Gabler at Newcastle Northern Stage


Ibsen’s Masterpice Is Brought Alive

Hedda Gabler, This is Not a Love Story
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Wednesday 8th March 2017

By Henrik Ibsen
A new version adapted and directed by Selma Dimitrijevic
From the literal translation by Anne and Karin Bamborough

Photo: Topher McGrillis
As part of Northern Stage’s Queens of the North season, Hedda Gabler – This is not a love story is an intriguing tale of a marriage of two halves: a relationship in which both of the protagonists have a different view of how it is going and how to make it successful. This is a very watchable version of Henrick Ibsen’s masterpiece.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
With throbbing music by composer and sound designer Scott Twynholm, Aunt Julie (Libby Davison) is trying to prepare the dining room as maid Berte (Polly Frame) is trying to restore it to the previous arrangement. There is clear tension between these two. The happy honeymooning couple then return from their 6 month trip away. Dr Jørgen Tesman (Ed Gaughan) is brimming with excitement as he has clearly seen the trip away as an opportunity to carry out further academic research into old texts. His vivacious bride, former socialite, Hedda Gabler is more circumspect about the couple’s time together.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
The couple soon have visitors. Jørgen’s former acquaintance Thea (Rachel Denning) appears to warn that fellow writer Ejlert Løvborg (Scott Turnbull) is back in town. Judge Brack (Donald McBride) also appears and invites the new groom to attend one of his parties. This will leave former party girl Hedda stuck at home playing the quiet obedient wife, a role she is not used to.  She is the daughter of a general and was used to being a gun-toting, horse-riding, party-throwing siren and then she ran out of opportunity and now has Aunt Julie dropping big hints about starting a family.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
The play follows a short period in the couple’s life and the tension is clear to see. Hedda has desires and moves to ensure those events happen even though such wishes might be at odds with her husband’s and, indeed, those of the audience.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
The play show cases powerful women. Victoria Elliott, as Hedda, struts around the simple and effective single roomed set. It is clear too that Aunt Julie has significant control over Hedda’s husband. By contrast Thea has suffered in the past and is more willing to help and support now. Special mention should go to Polly Frame who raised a smile each time she trooped on set with yet another cup for a new visitor. The downtrodden maid had almost comic timing with her usually non-verbal actions.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
Tom Piper’s set & costume design set the tone for a classic setting. Lizzie Powell’s lighting broke up the action and worked really well.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
The sound was fine until the final monologue/outburst from Hedda. This happened at the same time and the music was swelling up and it was a struggle at times to hear the spoken parts.

Photo: Topher McGrillis
For much of the show, the production felt like a classic, traditional drama performance. There is nothing wrong at all with that. The show succeeded in illustrating the struggle for a woman to have a voice, to have a role, to be heard, especially once a part of a couple. The actors gave us credible characters. For example Donald McBride was the alpha Judge with friends in high places in contrast to the capable academic, played by Ed Gaughan, who was willing to follow. Powerful characters, and a good story, lead to a pleasing night at the theatre.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Photo: Topher McGrillis
Cast & Creatives:
SCOTT TURNBULL - Ejlert Lövborg

ADAPTOR AND DIRECTOR - Selma Dimitrijevic
TOM PIPER - Set & Costume Designer

LIZZIE POWELL - Lighting Designer

SCOTT TWYNHOLM - Sound Designer and Composer
TORY COPELAND - Assistant Director
REBEKAH BOWSHER - Regional Theatre Young Director's Scheme, Greyscale Placement

Photo: Topher McGrillis
THU 16 FEB - WED 8 MAR, 7.30pm
SAT 4 & TUE 7 MAR, 2pm
WORK performance WED 8 MAR, 6pm

Captioned performance Thu 2 Mar, 7.30pm

British Sign Language performance
Fri 3 Mar, 7.30pm (with interpreted Post-show discussion)
Sat 4 Mar, 7.30pm (with interpreted Post-show discussion)
Tue 7 Mar, 2pm

Touch tour - Sat 4 Mar, 12.30pm

Audio Described performance - Sat 4 Mar, 2pm

Photo: Topher McGrillis
Tue - Fri eves and Sat matinees: £25 | £20.50 | £15.50
Sat eves: £26 | £20.50 | £15.50
Students and Under 21s: £13
You can book your ticket for both Dr Frankenstein and Hedda Gabler for just £30. More info
For full details or to book tickets online see or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (incl. interval)

Recommended Age: 12+

Post-show Discussion: Fri 3 and Sat 4 March, with BSL interpretation
Wed 8 Mar