Monday, 26 June 2017

REVIEW: Dirty Dancing at Sunderland Empire


Dirty Dancing
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 1st July 2017
Photo: Alistair Muir

Photo: Alistair Muir
Fans of the 1987 classic movie will not be disappointed. This is not one of those musicals in which you expect to see the film live on stage and they change the music and the memorable parts of the dialogue. You want watermelons, you’ve got it. You want sexy dancing, you’ve got it. You want to cheer when Baby’s location in the corner is brought into question? This week’s show at Sunderland Empire has got that too.

Photo: Alistair Muir
It’s the summer of 1963, and 17 year- old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is about to grow up on a holiday she won’t forget. The holiday in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents will involve more than a performance from her sister. Thanks to some personal dance lessons she will find out there’s more to life, thanks to Johnny Castle.

Photo: Alistair Muir
The script was written by Eleanor Bergstein, script writer of the 1987 film. The action concentrates on the central pair of Baby (Katie Eccles) and Johnny (Lewis Griffiths) whilst the other characters are very much on the periphery. Federico Bellone’s direction keeps a very tight ship. This is helped, in no small part, by Roberto Comotti’s set design that relies on three revolving stages in order to keep the action running from scene to scene.
Photo: Alistair Muir
The real selling point from my point of view was the stunning choreography from Gillian Bruce. The dancing ensemble filled the stage with a real positive energy. Carlie Milner pulls of some amazing sequences as Johnny’s dance partner Penny Johnson.  Katie Eccles and Lewis Griffiths themselves are fabulous dancers. They made the lifts in the final sequence look so easy which is a tribute to their own talent and dedication.
Photo: Alistair Muir

Photo: Alistair Muir
It is difficult to describe this as a musical as such though. Yes there is music - lots of it in fact - but it is mainly in the background or there for the dancing. The handful of sung numbers, including (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, is handled by just 4 singers. Jo Servi, when not playing piano, handles one early number. Sophia MacKay gets a number of chances to show the power of her voice whilst Michael Kent was in charge of a couple of crowd pleasers. Lizzie Ottley, of course, as Baby’s sister Lisa gets a  number in the final scene.  The live music is delivered by up to 3 musicians on stage and drums of stage. Our only niggle was that lack of a full live band on stage which seems to be a missed opportunity.

Photo: Alistair Muir
Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage is a real feel good show that concentrates on vibrant dance routines and the memorable dialogue from the film. Whilst it isn’t going to deliver many surprises to the fans of the film, the staging is very effective. There are a few nice tricks during the dance training scenes. The music is there but we don’t get the big solo numbers in which each principal character states their desires and dreams. Perhaps it is refreshing because of that.  We’ve seen a production of Dirty Dancing before but we prefer this one - it is going to be a hit for the fans of the film.

Review by Stephen Oliver


Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022* or *calls cost up to 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

#Kynren from @ElevenArches ..truly the Story of Us. #review #photographs

The Story of Us Continues –

The celebration of our culture and heritage has become a lot bigger


Flatts Farm, Bishop Auckland DL14 7SF
Saturday 1st July- Saturday 16th September 2017

Jonathan Ruffer

More than 100,000 vistors experienced the Kynren specatacle last year. Creative director Steve Boyd had the task of making this year's show a new, bigger and even better experience for the audience.
The crowd of friends, locals, family and press filed into the "Tribune", the grandstand seating area that provides a good view of the performance area.
Steven Boyd
Introductions from the cheery philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer and Steve Boyd confirmed the aims of this year's show were: more people,more animals, more pyro and more choreography. 

This is what we got, starting with a boy breaking a window at the home of the retired Bishop with a football. Young Arthur meets the Bishop's manservant, "old" Arthur. This begins a tale of time travel from the time of the Holy Grail until WW2. Young Arthur is warned of the dangers of interfering with history, but does that stop him getting involved with key historical events? Of course not! 

The lake was the source of many of the effects and set changes. Fountains, projections, buildings rising and falling, and more appeared from the watery depths.

With, this year, 1500 “archers” (volunteer performers) the cast is definitely larger than last year. New for this year is the battle of Boudicca’s rebels against the Roman army. The equestrianism in the show shone through the whole performance. Horses racing around the site, knights jousting in the Middle Ages, also surprisingly well-trained farm animals all added positively to the experience.

The huge cast were not just standing around, everyone was choreographed, dancing, fighting, playing out the lives of people in our shared history.


A touching reconstruction of the Christmas Day truce in the WW1 trenches was made more magical by the snow falling over the site. The Battle of Hastings had burning arrows fired, there were characters from Shakespeare stories depicted for the pleasure of Queen Elizabeth I, celebrations with dancing, a funeral for lost miners.


This is indeed the story of us. History is not just the famous figures in the history book, but the stories of ordinary folk and their struggles and triumphs. I feel this was reflected in Kynren. The cast, who are too numerous to name, deserve special credit for bringing these stories to life. The technical team created effects and sets that took the production to another level.

Anyone with a passion for Britain’s (and the local area’s) history or just the desire to enjoy a summer night spectacle like no other, you shouldn’t miss this.

The Practical Issues

Now that you’ve read what a wonderful  show Kynren is, we need to disclose some notes about the visitor experience.

This is an evening show that on our evening started on a lovely warm June day and we got to our car at 1145 at night. Tip one is wrap up warm as it will be a lot colder at the end of the show.  Our son had wished he’d worn his gloves and put another layer on.

We have been lucky: we have seen Kynren twice and enjoyed a “mild” dry night on both occasions. They state the show goes ahead whatever the weather so bring your waterproofs too. Umbrellas are not permitted in the seating area.

Wear comfortable footwear. There is a further 350 metres to walk after the security check in order to get to the seating area. This path is mainly level but you need to factor in this stretch when planning your arrival time but we’ll come back to that.

If you are coming by car then do read the website carefully We were in car park C which was described as “walk 15 to 20 minutes down a countryside path to reach the ticket and security check on the Kynren site. After the first sloped 100 yards, the rest of the path is a gently sloping gradient, but bear in mind the return walk back is up hill!”  Indeed it took 50 minutes after the show for us to climb that hill and we were over taking people. We wish that shuttle bus had been an option for us on preview night. The website states that it can only be used if it is pre booked. If, like us, you plan to walk then you might want to take a torch. On our night only the middle third of the route was properly lit and we could have done with more illumination of that final third of the walk through the trees and the field. There are some lights but they are more limited in their effectiveness at this point.

Do study the guidelines about when to arrive: In these times of heightened security risks you will have to go through a security check and you need to factor that into your timing.  Talking of security: we will quote the website again “Please note that backpacks, rucksacks, suitcases, picnic hampers, shopping bags or any other bags exceeding 40cm x 30cm x 20cm are not permitted on site. Only handbags and fully transparent plastic bags are allowed, provided their dimensions do not exceed 40cm x 30cm x 20cm.
For a full list of items we cannot allow on site, click here. As there are no Left Luggage facilities in the grounds (except for pushchairs), we reserve the right to confiscate any forbidden item at security check.”

If you fancy buying a souvenir we have one final point to bring to your attention which you’ll need to consider before you leave home: “Please note that Kynren merchandise across the whole site may only be purchased by debit or credit card; we regret that cash payment for your souvenirs will not be accepted.” 

So arrive early in warm waterproofs and good footwear, leave the bags in your car and enjoy the show.

Review by Joanne Oliver and Stephen Oliver

For more information and to book tickets, visit

Performance dates and times
July 2017
Saturday 1 July, 9.30pm
Friday 7 July, 9.30pm
Saturday 8 July, 9.30pm
Friday 14 July, 9.30pm
Saturday 15 July, 9.30pm
Friday 21 July, 9.00pm
Saturday 22 July, 9.00pm
August 2017
Friday 11 August, 9.00pm
Saturday 12 August, 9.00pm
Friday 18 August, 8.30pm
Saturday 19 August, 8.30pm
Saturday 26 August, 8.00pm
Sunday 27 August, 8.00pm
September 2017
Friday 1 September, 8.00pm
Saturday 2 September, 8.00pm
Saturday 9 September, 8.00pm
Saturday 16 September, 8.00pm


Friday, 23 June 2017

Preview: Morgan & West at Arts Centre Washington

Morgan & West in association with Makin Projects presents
Morgan & West’s Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups!)
Arts Centre Washington
Saturday 15th July 2017

Fresh from their appearance on ITV 1’s The Next Great Magician, and sell-out seasons in 2015 and 2016 at the Edinburgh Fringe and on the London Southbank the time-travelling magicians Morgan & West are off on a tour of the country with their critically acclaimed magic show for kids (and childish grown-ups!)

Photo: Steve Ullathorne
Witness a mountain of mysterious magic, a hatful of hyper-reality, and of course a truck full of tricks and tea Mixing brain-busting illusion and good old fashioned tomfoolery, Morgan & West present a show for all the family, where magic and silliness abound!

Despite their squabbles about the idea of creating a show for children (one of these distinguished gentlemen can think of little worse than performing to anyone under 21!) our favourite old-time magic duo set out to provide entertainment that really is thrilling for anyone of almost any age (5+), from any time period (anyone else born in 1865 would be especially welcome!), and any level of maturity (or should we say, immaturity?). The result is a wondrous show that is loved by adults and children alike, as Morgan & West unload another boxful of bafflement and impossibility.

Morgan & West have been performing their unique magic shows across the UK and around the world, including sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, Perth Fringe world, Adelaide Fringe where they were nominated for ‘Best Family Show’, and Buxton Fringe where they were awarded ‘Best Comedy Show’. They have also appeared on The Next Great Magician (ITV), Penn & Teller: Fool Us  (ITV), and The Slammer (CBBC).

Winners on Penn & Teller: Fool Us (ITV)

“A colourful crescendo of noise and mayhem.”   Scottish Sunday Express
“Great magic, enormous fun and original delivery.”  Primary Times
“Barely a child in the room who isn’t wide-eyed and grinning with delight.”  Fest
“Superbly crafted”   The Stage
“A brilliant family show.”  York Press
“Mr Morgan and Mr West create the perfect double act… the execution is brilliant.”  Broadway Baby

Tickets: The show is on Saturday 15th July 2017 at 2pm From £6.50 - Box Office - 0191 561 3455 or online from




Friday 23rd June 2017        Shilbottle Village Hall       
Sunday 25th June 2017     Bardon Mill Village Hall  
Tuesday 27th June 2017    Sage Gateshead, Sage Two
Friday 30th June 2017        Whalton Village Hall        
Saturday 1st July 2017       Crossman Village Hall, part of Holy Island Festival

When the city meets the Northumberland countryside, all is not what it seems… what is the news Beyond the End of the Road’?

Seven Northumberland villages, a livestock auction mart, Sage Gateshead and Holy Island are all venues for Beyond the End of the Road, a new musical that explores the lives and stories that make up rural life in Northumberland, in collaboration with Highlights Rural Touring Scheme.
Beyond the End of the Road is written by Laura Lindow, with music and lyrics composed by Katie Doherty, who has taken her inspiration from folk and traditional Northumbrian music. The musical is directed by November Club’s Cinzia Hardy and the result is an exciting and inclusive musical, exploring rural life in an engaging and innovative way.
Beyond the End of the Road has been produced by Morpeth based, performing arts company November Club. The story and songs for Beyond the End of the Road have been woven together using ideas and contributions distinctive to each community with whom they have been working. The November Club creative team has travelled the county talking to villagers, collecting local tales and stories, and invited groups of singers to perform at each show.
Katie lives on a farm where her husband, Stephen, runs a flock of 1000 Swaledale sheep and a herd of 30 Aberdeen Angus cattle, which he sells at Hexham Auction Mart. She gives some background to the story:
“There is a very long road leading up to the farm, and each day when I returned home from work in the city, Stephen would ask me “what’s the news beyond the end of the road?” hence the title Beyond the End of the Road,’ was born.”
At the end of the show, the audience is invited to take part in a ceilidh courtesy of renowned Northumbrian Concertina player Alistair Anderson, who will close the performance in style.
Artistic Director of November Club, Cinzia Hardy, added:  ‘Beyond the End of the Road’ is the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken.
“It is as much the villagers’ show as it is ours.  This is a great opportunity for talented locals to be part of a performance which is not only highly relevant to them, but also explores the real dynamics of life in rural Northumberland. It is a real discovery of the county ”
A professional cast of 10 actors and musicians will weave their midsummer tale about the residents of a village called PLACE, its people, and its stories. Each village will also have special appearances from local talent including a choir, the part of a 12-year-old girl and a couple of additional roles to help bring the musical to life.  
The Beyond the End of the Road Tour started Friday 2nd June at Hexham Auction Mart and concludes on Saturday 1st July at The Crossman Village Hall, Holy Island, with an additional  show now scheduled for Sage Gateshead on Tuesday 27th June. For ticket information visit 
The production ofBeyond the End of the Road’ is possible by an £85,000 strategic touring grant from Arts Council England, with additional support from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, together with The Joicey Trust, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park and the Community Foundation for Tyne and Wear. In collaboration with Highlights Rural Touring Scheme, supported by Queen’s Hall Arts and Hexham and Northern Marts.

Beyond the End of the Road A brand new musical about Northumberland, its people and their stories.

Produced by:          November Club, a Northumberland based performing arts company, in collaboration with Highlights Rural Touring Scheme.

Music and Lyrics by:          Katie Doherty, Music Associate, November Club

Written by:                Laura Lindow

Directed By:             Cinzia Hardy – Artistic Director, November Club.

Supporters:               Public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, The Joicey Trust, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park and the Community Foundation for Tyne and Wear.

Supported by:                     Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham and Hexham and Northern Marts  

In Collaboration with:       Highlights Rural Touring Scheme          

TOUR DATES:                        
Friday 23rd June 7:00pm   Shilbottle Village Hall        (£4.00 - £7.50)
                                                Box Office: 01665 575196
Sunday 25th June 6:30pm            Bardon Mill Village Hall   (£6.00 - £24.00)       
                                                Box Office: 01434 344424
Tuesday 27th June 7.30pm          Sage Gateshead, Sage Two (£13.10 - £15.30)
                                                Box Office: 0191 443 4661
Friday 30th June 7:30pm   Whalton Village Hall         (£3.00 - £7.00)
                                                Box Office: 01670 775411
Saturday 1st July 4.00pm  Crossman Village Hall, part of Holy Island Festival (£10.00)                      Box Office: