Simon’s new role at Keswick theatre

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake have appointed Simon Stephens as new executive director, to work alongside artistic director Liz Stevenson in a joint leadership role.

Working together they aim to develop the Theatre  as a leading cultural hub with a vibrant programme of home-produced theatre, top-quality touring work and community events.

Simon will join the team in mid-March from his current role of head of commercial and visitor experience at Contact in Manchester, where he also led on the re-opening campaign following a major capital redevelopment. His career also includes a successful tenure as commercial manager at the Everyman and Playhouse in Liverpool.   

Chair of the Theatre by the Lake board, Charles Carter, said: “Simon will bring significant commercial expertise to developing the theatre’s business strategy, including the development of partnerships locally and nationally, building on the theatre’s reputation for developing the arts in Cumbria. He brings the commitment, enthusiasm and commercial experience that we were looking for to take on this important role.”

Simon said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be joining Theatre by the Lake and making this beautiful region a home for my family. I’m relishing the opportunity to work with Liz and the team in furthering the commitment to championing Cumbrian voices, producing outstanding work and embedding the theatre as a welcoming, vibrant hub at the heart of the Keswick community.”

And Liz Stevenson welcomed the appointment too: “I am thrilled that Simon is joining us. His passion, drive and experience will help us to secure the theatre’s future as a vital centre of creativity for Cumbria and a producing theatre whose work is celebrated on the national stage. The team are excited about what Simon will bring to the organisation, and we look forward to welcoming him to Keswick.”

The theatre have also announced that their Christmas show this year will be the world premiere of A Little Princess, adapted by Amanda Dalton from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden).

And coming soon is a weekend of films as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour (Feb 17/18).

Fabulous community gesture by Keswick theatre

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick have opened their doors this winter as a Warm Spot; a place that is warm and welcoming for people to visit if they need it.

The Keswick theatre is one of over 130 venues across Cumbria who have been awarded a grant from Cumbria Community Foundation to run a Warm Spot in their venue. It’s part of a county-wide scheme by Cumbria County Council to offer a much-needed service in the community during the winter months, as people continue to struggle under the strain of the cost-of-living crisis and high fuel costs. 

The facility at the theatre is open from 10am – 1pm Monday – Thursday until the end of March. Visitors are encouraged to come inside and take advantage of the warm space with a view of the fells, and access to free hot drinks and the theatre library.

David Jane, General Manager at Theatre by the Lake, said:We are proud to be a part of this great initiative; one of our core values is about responding to our local community’s needs and so our Warm Spot is providing us with a great way to connect with more local people. Everyone is welcome in the space and you don’t need to give any explanation of why you’re there or make an appointment to visit.”

Dots and Dashes

Dots and Dashes: A Bletchley Park Musical is a story centred around the lives of six women working at Bletchley Park during World War Two.  And it’s opening in London at The Space after a critically-acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

It’s a story of love, loss, secrets and the sacrifices these women made to save millions of lives and silently fight a war behind closed doors. A musical ode to the unsung heroes of World War Two, Dots and Dashes is an empowerment of women from then to now.

With West End Musicals massively lacking in female creative teams, this ground-breaking musical is smashing through the boundaries of feminist musical theatre. Just three of the 118 musicals on the West End between 2007 and 2017 were written by an all-female team. Dots and Dashes is passionate about changing this narrative and reinforcing the importance of women in the creation of musical theatre.

The show takes the male dominated narrative of World War Two and retells it from a woman’s perspective. An all-female team from design to script to musical composition, this show is a celebration of women from the past to present day.

The show has a cast of six consisting of Lisa Hazel-White; Tabitha Radcliffe; Katie Damer;
Charlotte Fenning; Amber-May Hutton and Martha Morris, who make up ChopLogic Productions. It is entirely self-composed by the six women, all of whom believe the show is, at its roots, a huge celebration of women, which will be received as an exciting and progressive piece of new work that gives a voice to women everywhere.

The Space, 269 Westferry Rd, London E14 3RS
3 -14 January, 8pm
Tickets £15 (£12 Concession): Box office:

Order! in the theatre

Betty! A sort of musical: Royal Exchange, Manchester

A PRODUCTION which was spawned out of a shelved idea to write a script on a tripe empire has had them rolling in the aisles at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre

Betty – A Sort of Musical, features much of what the North of England is famous for, mainly ‘one liners’ from the likes of Ken Platt, Ken Dodd and Peter Kay among so many other comedians.

The one liners nearly always delivered with mix of cynicism, universal truths and good old fashioned bluntness had the audience on it feet by the end, wishing this show would go on and on and on.

Seiriol Davies

Maxine Peake and Seiriol Davies conceived the idea of how they might deliver the story of the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, who is far from being a funny lady. Except she was born in Dewsbury, where pessimism in the 1930s, 40s and 50s gave way to the free love of the 60s and the long in the tooth scepticism of the approaching millennium and beyond.

Much of this humour, which was the way people spoke to one another, was cleverly picked up by script writers in Last of the Summer Wine and the likes of Victoria Wood, who brought a new way of creating humour from often tragic and trying societal circumstances in Northern Britain.

Maxine Peake

Betty opens in the natural home of Ms Boothroyd, at the local Dewsbury amateur dramatics group, where everything and everyone is somehow broken to varying degrees. However, the truth is it’s where they go to be fixed by sharing heaps of cynicism and a good old cuppa.

It proceeds at such a pace right to the point where Speaker Boothroyd takes on the formidable Beast of Bolsover in the shape of Dennis Skinner whom she boots out of the House of Commons for his inappropriate language towards a Tory Minister. The Dewsbury girl had well and truly travelled.

Whatever your thoughts are of humour, comedy pathos or just pure slapstick, this production has it all, and in heaps. Brilliant performances all round, from Peake and Davies, along with Eva Scott, Lena Kaur, Carla Hentry and Joan Kempson. Miss this at your peril.

Until January 14. Details:

Peter Devine

A question of survival

Surviving Strangers by The ActorTects

Morning. Light begins to creep through your bedroom window, caressing your face and gently lifting your eyelids open, your vision gradually focussing on the face next to you, almost angelic in the way it’s haloed by your best pillowca- “wait, who is that?”

Suddenly it’s all noisily coming back to you, your brain’s haziness less to do with the early morning sun as it is to do with the volume of soju consumed the night before. “Why did I leave the blinds open?” Oh, yeah, there wasn’t time between ripping off each other’s clothes to think about anything beyond the confines of the bed. An internal wry smile. At least now the thumping headache seems worth it … you think? Oh, bugger! You’ve got that huge meeting today and the last thing you need is to go through the how-do-I-get-you-out-my-flat-as-politely-as-possible rigmarole. If you can get them out before breakfast though, everything should be okay.

… Only you can’t. And everything is not going to be okay. This is essentially the set up for Inyoung Lee’s brand-new, impactful two-hander Surviving Strangers. Her character, the South Korean Eve, finds herself stuck with a local Brit, the aptly named Adam (whose charisma-turned-walking-red-flag duality is engagingly captured by Fred Arnot). In this case, it’s the old (and all-too-familiar) global pandemic that’s stopping her rendezvous from leaving, the air outside too toxic for him to even nip out for a walk-of-shame.

Fast forward what feels for them like an eternity, and the couple are struggling through the stresses, strains, and restless tedium of lockdown as we all remember it – further expressed by the play’s clever lighting design working in tandem with projection and sound. Part of that soundscape, Korean Janggu drummer Jun Seok de Back, becomes more and more of an intriguing figure as the play goes on. Overseeing the action, his drumming transfigures from underscore to soundtrack, then from responding to the action (during one of the play’s hilarious sex sequences, Arnot even stops him for a moment before eagerly egging him to carry on) to driving it himself. It gives the impression that his figure represents something more; something otherworldly and potentially insidious.

Lee’s deeply human writing is the star of the show here, capturing some beautiful moments that sharply punctuate the play. She layers the expected-but-accurately-captured lockdown tensions on top of questions about how well the characters know and can trust each other, as well as the added complication of two different cultures trying to coexist in a flat that, really, isn’t big enough for the both of them. Eve herself is a complex character: humorous but also earnest and, at times, despondent – all truthfully and movingly performed by Lee. When, via a short monologue, the character didactically articulates her struggles as an immigrant and the fight to be seen as more than merely an accent, it is one of a number of profound moments that powerfully underline Surviving Strangers as not just a comedic lockdown romp, but also a rare platform for East Asian women’s voices in the UK.

More info:

Eileen Jones

Funding blow to Oldham theatre

THE future of a Greater Manchester theatre – which spawned the early careers of Charlie Chaplin, Ralph Fiennes, Minnie Driver and Stan Laurel – has been thrown into serious financial doubt.

It follows an Arts Council England (ACE), decision last week, to reject a near £1.845m three year ‘Levelling Up’ funding application from the Oldham Coliseum.

The Coliseum’s chief executive Susan Wildman said: “Having been funded by ACE for decades, the Coliseum’s current business model relied on this funding, and as such the theatre, is having to look again at how it will move forward.

 “We understand the pressures that ACE faces in supporting as many organisations as possible and we thank them for all their financial support over many years. The theatre’s executive and senior management teams are working on this as a matter of urgency, but having received this news only last Friday, the theatre does not yet have all the answers.”

The 137 year old community based theatre, has a long history of providing many young actors with a first step on the ladder in TV, including Bernard Cribbins, Dora Bryan, Eric Sykes, Kathy Staff, Thora Hird and Coronation Street soap stars, Pat Phoenix(Elsie Tanner), Anne Kirkbride(Deirdre Barlow), William Roache (Ken Barlow), Barbara Knox (Rita Sullivan) and Roy Barraclough (Alec Gilroy).

A young Bernard Cribbins

Since the Coliseum reopened on 24 June 2021, following the Covid-19 lockdowns, the theatre has staged:

More than 400 performances with 67,000 people seeing a show.

Produced five plays and welcomed nine visiting companies and toured two productions to Lancaster, Cumbria and Yorkshire and made its Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut.

Worked with 948 young people, 825 adults and 1,776 community members and families. Worked with 4,152 students in schools and 374 students.

Welcomed 367 people to 17 workshops, mixers and performances for its annual Cultivate festival for theatre makers, worked with eight local South Asian community groups to present the inaugural Khushi festival of happiness, and welcomed 1,500 people to 26 events and four exhibitions over three days. 

Run two Teaching Theatre pathways courses for NEET (not in Education, Employment or Training) young people, teaching transferrable backstage theatre skills, with five successful Bronze Arts Awards gained and another three in progress.

Run two Get Started with Theatre courses with The Prince’s Trust, working with 35 young people.

Won the UK Pantomime Association Award for Best Costume Design for 2021’s pantomime Aladdin, and received nominations for Best Principal Boy and Best Set Design, and the Asian Media Award for Best Stage Production for the September 2021 production of Love N Stuff.

The Coliseum’s artistic director Chris Lawson remains upbeat that the ‘show must go on’: “We are determined to continue delivering our programme of shows, learning and opportunities as much as possible and we are surveying the options available to us.

“Our sincere thanks go to our peers, artists that we have worked with from across the UK and further afield and our amazing audiences for their very vocal support. Rest assured that we’ll do everything we can to help the Coliseum thrive even under the most difficult of circumstances.”

In the meantime, the theatre is preparing to open its award-winning pantomime this weekend – Robin Hood – and announcing 2023’s pantomime with tickets going on sale on Saturday, November 12 – in the theatre’s tradition.

Susan Wildman said: “For all those who have asked what they can do to help, the message is simple: please continue to support us financially or in whatever way you can.  Buy a ticket and come and see the great work that we make.  Please give a donation when you book.  Think about how your business can work.”

Online donations to the Coliseum can be made at:

To book tickets for Robin Hood:

Shakespeare, the time traveller

Strange Tale: Shakespeare North

By Diane Williams

Did Shakespeare head north when he disappeared off the radar during the plague, what’s become known as the missing years?

That’s the strange notion behind Strange Tale at  the Shakespeare North Playhouse, a zany time-travelling comedy-drama which has this legend at its heart. There are those who believe that Will did indeed head to nearby Knowsley Hall, where it’s thought he performed with his travelling players for the Earl’s daughter’s wedding. Performed Midsummer Night’s Dream, too, which has just transferred to Newcastle after opening here in Prescot.

Imaginarium certainly believe the story. They’re a local creative company who host spectacular  productions of Shakespeare plays and literary classics in parks, gardens  and great halls across the North West, and they’re an Associate Company of the new playhouse. 

Strange Tale is written by Rob Brannen who did extensive research locally with Prescot’s Community Curators and Derby’s Knowsley Hall archivist. The result is a rousing, fun-filled production with catchy tunes and a truly enthusiastic cast, directed by local legend Gaynor La Rocca.

The hero of the piece, time traveller Mr Shakespeare (Kristian Lawrence), wakes up in the church cemetery and embarks on a mission, helped by Prescotians, to find the portal and return to Tudor London. There’s tales of love and friendship on the way to his time journey home, in a production that is heavily influenced by local history and designed to appeal to a truly local audience. There were even Prescot Street names hanging from the Playhouse upper galleries.

The wise oracle-teller Jean is played by the company’s education manager Julia Ashworth, clearly a period-piece character from the 1960’s with her headscarf and “half-a-mild-lasts-all-night” at local hostleries such as The Sun or infamous Long Pull. Hannah McGowan shone in her role as Gen, and gave us  a ‘Lucky Lucky Lucky’ Kylie moment delivered with her partner Viv. There’s also cameo moments from  Madonna, Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams, while Clive, played by Francesco La Rocca,  takes control of the Shakespeare Theatre Detectives.
 Alongside MSND, there’s excerpts from other Shakespearean classics including  Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and Macbeth. The part of Mary, the landlady, was an exceptional performance by flame-haired Carmel Skelly. Tom Large stepped up to deliver lines with ease, Lorna Pout was excellently cast as Beattie, and her son in real life played Brian.

There was the sort of audience participation that we imagine Shakespeare might have encouraged, and some  selfie-moments, which he certainly wouldn’t! Overall, the production was a non-stop recipe of fact, supposition, fun and laughter, and every line delivered with gusto.
 Follow Imaginarium Theatre  on Facebook. 

The full programme at Shakespeare North Playhouse is here:

Reflections on Tina Turner

A sea of wavy grey hair-dos across the dress circle was still and calm throughout – until the finale. Then the seemingly-staid audience re-lived their younger days. Arms aloft swaying, singing, dancing in the aisles or their rows. It was a matinee performance of Tina, the Tina Turner Musical that far exceeded expectations.

Anyone who’s seen the stage show at London’s Aldwych theatre, (Aisha Jawando in the title role when we went) can’t fail to be shocked, saddened, happy and uplifted by the story of the life and times of Annie Mae Bullock aka Tina Turner. From the abuse in her patriarchal family – her father was a preacher – to the grooming of the teenager with an amazing voice by much older Ike Turner; to her fight for control of her life and career, in her 40s with two sons; to the 1980s love story with a younger man that continues today.

And punching through all this are her songs, her mesmerising stage performances, her
strength of character, her innate kindness. It’s a huge energyball of a musical that grabs the audience right from the start and keeps us right there, where it’s happening, telling the story of Tina’s life through words and her songs.

The strength of stage performances shone through when the audience gasped in horror when Tina was hit by Ike during their relationship. And again when a white record company supremo made derogatory racist, ageist comments as reasons for not giving Tina, then in her 40s, a recording contract.

The star herself has endorsed the show, and indeed it follows the same story line that’s in a TV documentary which includes interviews with Tina. Go and watch Tina the musical, even if you aren’t a big TT fan. It’s a cameo of a woman’s resilience, her joy and love of music and performing…and of the cruel world of not many years ago.

Sally Wilson

Details and tickets:

Hysterical, sensuous delight

Nosferatu: Theatre Non Grata

It’s March 1922. You’ve just stumbled out of one of Berlin’s vibrant cabarets and now you’re one of the anybodies who’s anybody attending the premiere of FW Murnau’s Nosferatu.

As the gaunt,spidery vampire Count Orlok bolts upright from his coffin, you’re treated to one of the first great scares in cinematic history. You don’t know it yet, but you’re watching a horror masterpiece that will pioneer the genre and establish tropes that will still be being used a hundred years in the future.

Fast forward those hundred years and, okay, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were right back at the cabaret in Weimar Germany but no, trust me, this is Camden and it’s Halloween 2022. You’re upstairs at the Etcetera Theatre and you’re celebrating Nosferatu’s centennial by watching Theatre Non Grata’s new adaptation of the classic film. But what should you expect from a play described by the company as “the most fun you can have this Halloween without taking your clothes off?”

Well, first off, this is far more the Unauthorised Rusical (complete with cross-gendered casting) than it is a shot-for-shot stage remake – anyone looking for the latter may be left spinning in their grave but, really, given the original Nosferatu is a let’s-take-a-lot-of-liberties rip-off of Dracula, isn’t that in keeping with the spirit of the piece? Certainly, when Orlok is revealed in his coffin in this version, it’s an altogether different experience … I won’t spoil it, but goodness it’s just as strong a reaction!

If you hadn’t yet guessed, this is a show for those looking for something that’s spooky and fun rather than actually scary; something to leave your cheeks hurting from how much you’ve laughed rather than cowering behind your seat. Via a mixture of scenes which pastiche early film acting and some divine mimed musical action sequences, the cast joyously handle their material with gusto. The fun they’re having on stage is infectious and when it works best, it feels as though the music is reacting to them – often hilariously so.

One thing that has to be mentioned … as the play develops, all of a sudden it becomes really quite,well, horny. It’s one of those hundred-year-old vampire/horror tropes – the damsel in distress inexorably drawn away from her sexless husband and towards the horrific-yet-somehow-magnetic monster. This is a real highlight as we humorously see how lust can destroy those consumed by it and it sums up the show perfectly: a hysterical, sensuous delight to watch.

Until Monday Oct 31. Details:

Samuel Hampson

Spooky entertainment for Halloween

By Peter Devine

AS bizarre as it seems the Halloween production of Let The Right One In at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, which runs until November 22, succeeds because seemingly love would conquer all.

The stage adaptation by Jack Thorne, is based on the John Lindqvist horror novel and the 2008 film.

Oskar(Peter MacHale) is a sensitive 12-year-old boy who becomes a target from local bullies. He lives with his alcoholic mum (Merce Ribot), who pays little or no attention to him. The same applies to his estranged father (Darren Kuppan), who is getting on with his own life.

Playing alone on a climbing frame one day, Oskar meets the new neighbour, the mysterious and moody Eli (Rhian Blundell), who lives with a dark and creepy man Hakin (Andrew Sheridan).

Initially Oskar and Eli strike up a conversation, which seems to be borne out a need for attention, love or infatuation for one another.

Over time, the pair cements a close bond, at least until it becomes apparent she is no ordinary woman.

Oskar’s confusion about precisely who she is, is cleverly explored, as he takes to arming himself and trying to prove to himself to be an alpha male up against the bullies and even considers the possibility she might even be a man!

All is revealed as the plot comes in a deadly conclusion, in which there is no way back

Actor Rhian explains: “It’s brutal. There are jumps, moments where you’ll be curling up in your seat. But one of the joys of the play is the fact that it’s juxtaposed with what you would probably see as the exact opposite.”

A slick production, which is directed by Bryony Shanahan, where the use of lighting and sound comes into its own, and a must see if you feel the need to be spooked and entertained at the same time.

Let the Right One In plays until November 22.

For tickets and more information go to:

PHOTOS: Johan Persson