Reviews Section

This page is for reviews of arts/culture activities in and around Darlington, from exhibitions to theatre shows, live music, places of interest, family-friendly events, comedy clubs etc. If you’d like to send a review for consideration, please email

Index (click on titles to see reviews):

Playing for pride
Mixed-up kid
Band of Gold
Jack and the Beanstalk
Handel’s Messiah: DCS and The Mowbray Orchestra
Bridging the Gap: textile art exthibition
‘The Great Magician of the North’ Chris Cross
Lecture: Photography as Fine Art
A Murder is Announced
Stones in His Pockets
Darlington Orchestra Summer Concert 2019
Death and the Maiden
Jeremy and James Chen’s piano recital
Darlington Orchestra Winter Concert 2019
Aladdin 2018
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
‘Night, Mother
Please note that opinions here are those of the reviewers and not DfC.

‘Playing For Pride’ by Antony J Stowers

Review by Ela Robinson
February 2021

The poet (actor, writer, director) stays true to his own summary on the back cover of the book. It explains that the work spans 38 years and the poems do indeed start with influences from nature before the then-teenager moves into the political (almost a rite of passage) and onto what he calls abstract or less direct, but for me appears simply less confrontational.

There are 95 pieces in the book—so it’s a formidable collection. Don’t be daunted by the volume. Everything in a coalmine is worthy but with a little digging the real gems are to be found; and some examples here are snippets of brilliance, especially the 2012 offering Just what Edie’d say. This later poem is a summary of the whole period and perhaps should be a reader’s starting point.

The poetry is in chronological order so the development of the genre can be followed, but basically it charts a working-class lad growing up and finding his place within the world. Early promise is shown by the cleverness of An animal and a poet where the mirroring of words reflect the difference between animal and man.

The geographical reflections Spirit of Grasmere, Lindisfarne etc are evocative summaries of the Northern land and the author’s love for it. The other musings of that year give insights into the angst of youth, not a new theme but The Soul behind Norman is an easier read; it’s well written and shows a maturity that is reinforced by the closing Moonlight … two lines of pure poetry. Despite 1983 offerings being, for me, lacklustre, 1984 kicks off with the excellent A street car named desire which starts ‘In a red hot train on a cold blue line, white ice sheet skins dead road block’. Perfect. It also includes goodies like Sing a song of sickness and the pragmatic ____ is just a word. The others follow in reasonable, if not predictable (Rant sums it up) fashion. The most beautiful person dies tonight contains nuggets like ’drink the stink of the missing link’.

The prose style of Into the valley of the clones, in 1985, suits the author well. And he starts 1987 with a cri du Coeur Is there anybody out there? which ends with his own affirmation: You are wanted / you are needed / you are valued / you are loved.

The following years, 87/95/96/97/98, meander along interestingly returning to a recurring theme of home, and self-worth. After a gap of 10 years, the only poem for 2008 sadly asks the question When does love come?

It would be disheartening if the reader did not see an evolution in the pieces and Antony doesn’t disappoint. In 2020, returning to prose, The problem with chocolate comes with a strong, contemporary message while A year in Provence it ain’t concludes this collection brilliantly. ‘And if you voted Brexit you really are a knob, you made your own life more expensive and probably cost yourself a job. So though the Union Jack is iconic, it needs a new lick of paint and though I love France I’m being ironic ‘coz a year in Provence it ain’t’. I think it’s worth buying the book just for that!

Back to reviews index

‘Mixed-up kid’ by Antony J Stowers

Book reviewed by Liz Thompson
This is the story of an ordinary boy from an ordinary working-class family in an ordinary northern town. If that sounds ordinary, it’s not!
Jethro Anson Nowsty was born and brought up in Darlington and we follow his life from his very earliest memories up to his approaching adulthood. This mixed-up kid was born in the early 1960s and the author describes everyday life as it was then – warts ’n’ all.
The music, food, transport, housing and entertainment of the 1960s and 1970s are all brought into clear focus in a series of short stories. Instead of a strictly chronological order, the author goes back and forth through the years writing in a way that draws the reader back in time to when a computer filled a whole room and dialling a phone number took longer than the call itself.
All of this is interwoven with national and international news and the background to all of these stories is Darlington. All the landmark buildings, roads and parks, shops and schools are mentioned and described. It’s a history of a special time in a special town, told with humour and affection through the eyes of a special ‘mixed-up kid’.

  • Tony Stowers is an actor, writer, director, poet and teacher who was originally from Darlington
  • Books and plays are available via or visit the author’s website

Back to reviews index

Band of Gold

Review by Chrisy Dennis, 27th January 2020
It was with some trepidation that I waited for the play to begin. How could Kay Mellor condense one of my favourite TV series of the 1990s into a two-hour play? And would it be relevant today? After the first few minutes, I found that I needn’t have worried.
Although there is a cast of male and female actors, Band of Gold examines women’s lives, the consequences of poverty and deprivation, and what they had to do so that they could survive and provide for their families.
We soon get to know the main characters of notorious red-light district ‘the lane’: Anita, Rose, Gina, Carol and Joyce, played by Laurie Brett, Gaynor Faye, Sacha Parkinson, Emma Osman and Olwen May. Each gave a strong performance that allowed the audience to empathise with the women and either the choices they had made or the circumstances they had been forced into. The standout performances for me were by Gaynor Faye and Emma Osman.
The who-done-it and murder storyline ends the first act. The buzz in the audience was incredible, with everyone eager to see act two.
The second part of the play is opened by Shayne Ward’s Inspector Newell and the audience gets a closer insight into the men involved and the different ways they use and exploit the women. Kieron Richardson, Andrew Dunn (this role is very different from his last visit to The Hippodrome in The Full Monty), Steve Garti, Joe Mallalieu and Mark Sheals are great casting and demonstrate the inequality between the sexes.
A strong creative team brings the whole show alive, with cast and crew ensuring seamless scene changes, costumes and use of music.
You might think that a play about sex workers, poverty, debt, corruption, mental health and death would be a bleak audience experience. But that is not the case: this play is full of humour with many laugh-out-loud moments alongside some rather poignant ones.
It is superbly told, superbly acted and it ends not with a completely happy ending, which would’ve jarred, but definitely with hope for the future. Oh, and you’ll never look at a pair of Marigold gloves in quite the same way again…

Back to reviews index

Jack and the Beanstalk

Review by Pam Plumb, 8th December 2019
Jack and the Beanstalk, starring Strictly Come Dancing‘s Shirley Ballas and Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson as Jack Trot, is a fee-fi-fo-fun show for all ages. And it has lively performances, dramatic sets and excellent costumes. Shirley, playing Mother Nature, wore a sparkly, purple dress and sported a traditional magic wand. Jack wore sombre clothes befitting his lowly role, and his brother Simple Simon (played by stand-up comedian Phil Walker) wore a colourful trouser suit to reflect his colourful character. Their mother Dame Trot, played by Iain Stuart Robertson (photo by Chris Booth), wore a fabulous variety of increasingly outrageous costumes – as expected for a pantomime dame.
In between the usual singing and lots of jokes about Darlington, there were interludes with Shirley Ballas dancing the chachacha and samba with her co-stars. George Sampson also treated theatregoers to a version of his BGT-winning dance to Singin’ in the Rain. The variety of dance extended to break dancing, backflips and lifts, with the help of local group the Joanne Banks Dancers. There was even a fantastic dance-off between Mother Nature, Simple Simon and Jack which showcased many more musical styles.
The energetic atmosphere and script were fuelled by lots of family and adult jokes mixed into a story very loosely based on the fairytale. Tricky tongue twisters added to the hilarity with the cast tripping themselves up, while not taking themselves too seriously.
This show included the audience throughout – and they played their part by shouting “Oh no it isn’t!” and “He’s behind you!” right on cue.
Towards the end of the show we saw the much-anticipated Giant – until then we had only seen his creepy servant Fleshcreep (played by actor and comedy writer Daniel Taylor) who garnered plenty of boos and hisses throughout. And, according to my young reviewer, the whole show had just the right level of scariness. After the defeat of the Giant there was the required farcical set-up where the main characters sang a panto classic ably assisted by feather dusters and frying pans to excellent comedic effect. Following the brilliant pyrotechnics, the tale concluded with the now familiar sparkly and glamorous happy ending.

Back to reviews index

Handel’s Messiah: Darlington Choral Society and The Mowbray Orchestra

Review by Pam Plumb, 30th November 2019
A traditional Christmas musical event, Handel’s Messiah was presented by Darlington Choral Society, led by Richard Bloodworth, and The Mowbray Orchestra at Central Hall, Dolphin Centre. The 85-strong choir were in excellent voice and complemented the guest soloists who have performed all over the world. Soprano Ruth Jenkins Robertsson, who has performed in New Zealand and The Sage, Gateshead, amongst other venues, filled the hall with a beautiful clarity of tone.
During the first part, Ruth performed a brief duet with accomplished mezzo-soprano Valerie Reid. Valerie trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and regularly sings with English National Opera. It was a privilege to listen to such an accomplished performer.
The tenor was provided expertly by Austin Gunn, who teaches singing at Durham, Hull and York universities. His voice filled the hall with warmth as he opened the performance with his recitative and aria. Andri Bjorn Robertsson, an Icelandic-born bass-baritone, added a richer vibrato to the depth of the choir and accompanying orchestra. Having performed in London and Zurich, he is also a Samling artist; the scheme supports and nurtures talented young classical singers.
Founded in 1991, The Mowbray Orchestra is renowned as one of the best accompanying orchestras in the north and frequently performs at The Sage, Gateshead. So it was a special treat to be able to listen their accompaniment of the professional singers and the Choral Society.
Overall, it was a musical delight presented to a full house.

Back to reviews index

Bridging the Gap: textile art exhibition

Review by Sue Chapman, 7th November 2019
Helen Winthorpe Kendrick’s exhibition is titled ‘Bridging the Gap’ and is about making connections between one side and another, between extremes and between people. How current a theme that is in this time of political upheaval!
Helen describes herself as a textile artist, which takes her as far away from the cross-stitch embroidery I learnt at school as Australia is from England. Helen’s work ranges from framed pictures that use a wide variety of stitching and textures depicting recognisable views and objects, through to lively, colourful yet subtle pieces of work that would enhance any décor, and hanging wall samplers illustrating the wide variety of stitches and techniques used in her work.
For me, exhibition highlights include: a stunning patchwork quilt in which the Shades of Grey bridge the gap between black and white; a screen constructed from slides and lit from behind as an imaginative memorial to family life and as a bridge between then and now; and a thick, colourful rug that begs to be laid out and used. I particularly liked Helen’s pieces of art that tempt me to rescue pre-loved table linen to use as a starting point for her modern version of well-loved grandmother skills.
The artwork inspired me to have a go at producing my own hand-made gifts and cards for Christmas; however, with time and skill being short, I purchased some of hers for those special occasions instead (if I can part with them). But I have resolved to make enquiries about Helen’s creative embroidery classes that can be viewed on her website

Back to reviews index

‘The Great Magician of the North’ Chris Cross

Review by Helen Devonshire, Georgian Theatre Richmond on 25th October 2019
Chris Cross conjures up family-entertainment vibes of TV magicians from the 1970s and 1980s, with an added twist of risqué banter.
He and his glamorous assistant present new material alongside some revived TV illusions, including some that belonged to Paul Daniels. Last year, Chris Cross uncovered a dozen of the Master Magician’s props in a barn in Wales for tricks that haven’t been performed in years. But you can see a couple of them in Darlington on 1st November.
Chris Cross is fulfilling a life-long ambition to tour a magic show. He has been a contortionist, escapologist, and performer of magic at festivals and events for 20 years and has perfected sleight of hand and how to relate to an audience.
Some tricks, or ‘experiments’, in this 20th-anniversary tour need assistance from willing audience members to check what’s happening on stage – and confirm that they can’t see how it’s done either!
This stand-up comedy magic show also uses short clips of archive film of performers who’ve inspired Chris Cross, from Harry Houdini to Evel Knievel and Tommy Cooper. It reveals the reasons this Geordie trickster got into the business but doesn’t reveal how he influences people…
‘The Great Magician of the North’ Chris Cross combines traditional tricks with an engaging on-stage presence to amuse and amaze… and that’s magic (to borrow, inevitably, the words of his late hero Paul Daniels).

Back to reviews index

Lecture: Photography as Fine Art

Review by Pam Plumb, 21st October 2019
The North Yorkshire and South Durham Art Society meets regularly to enjoy lectures, study days and visits on the decorative and fine arts. On Monday 21st October, the lecture at Blackwell Grange Hotel considered the question: Should we accept that the very best photographs can be regarded as Fine Art? It was presented by art lecturer Brian Stater who is a member of the Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography, and has had an exhibition of his own photographs at University College London.
The lecture was very well attended and started promptly at 6:30pm. Brian Stater gave a very interesting case in favour of viewing photography as a fine art. His argument rested on the accomplished presentation of portraits, landscape, narrative and still life from artists as diverse as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and Bill Brandt.
A variety of good-quality images were displayed via the projector to help Brian Stater argue his point. Over the next hour, the use of light, composition, colour and subject were explored and discussed to support his argument quite successfully.
Overall, he concluded that indeed photography could be viewed as fine art. It was a very informative, thought-provoking and interesting lecture.

Back to reviews index

A Murder is Announced

Review by Julie Vickerman, 10th September 2019
Well, I didn’t guess ‘who did it’ until the intriguing ending. This well-acted production will especially appeal to Agatha Christie enthusiasts. It is set during the 1950s in the village of Chipping Cleghorn, where it turns out a lot of the characters have lived for just a short time.
When a murder is announced via an advert in the local paper, the villagers assume it is a game and all gather at Letitia Blackstock’s home as instructed, and then a murder actually occurs. Can any of those villagers be trusted and are any of them who they seem to be?
Luckily, Miss Marple (played by Sarah Thomas) is staying in the area and with her usual quiet observation helps Inspector Craddock unravel the deadly plot.
Particular praise goes to the main character Letitia (played by Kazia Pelka) and her old friend Bunny who suffers with her memory but remembers valuable pieces of information along the way. In a further twist, there is a second murder to add to the intrigue.
This is a very well-acted piece of traditional Agatha Christie, played out to a large audience at the Darlington Hippodrome tonight.
Go see it to figure out whodunit!
Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
Dates and times: 10-14 September 2019 7.30pm
Back to reviews index


Review by Helen Devonshire, 24th July 2019
Is it possible to condense all those favourite and familiar elements from 10 series of Friends into two hours?
The format has worked with other long-running TV series transferring to the stage, such as The Vicar of Dibley, ’Allo ’Allo or Only Fools and Horses. They usually appeal to long-term fans and newcomers alike by recycling a story from a few popular episodes… but Friendsical doesn’t even try that approach.
The actors very ably imitate the popular characters and the famous actors who played them for those 10 lucrative years. Here, the six main friends are played by Jordan Fox (Joey), Sarah Goggin (Monica), Jamie Lee-Morgan (Ross), Thomas Mitchells (Chandler), Ally Retberg (Phoebe) and Charlotte Elisabeth Yorke (Rachel), with Duncan Burt and Rebecca Withers as support. And they gallop through 236 episodes of the iconic series with an affectionate and anarchic nod to most things associated with Friends. Think of your top-10 scenarios and you’ll find them in the show somewhere… but definitely not where/when you’d expect.
The timelines are warped or just ignored in this show but that is all part of the parody. The characters step out of character occasionally to explain that there really is no explanation for the story! All the essentials of the Friends series have been lifted out of context, thrown up in the air and reassembled on a colourful stage with smooth scene changes that pay homage to two Manhattan apartments and a coffee shop.
You don’t need to be a Friends superfan but if you’ve never seen the show you might be baffled by random references to lobsters, the recurring Janice, triplets, Richard’s moustache, Rachel’s nose, games night, Chloe-the-copy-girl, English Emily, multiple marriages and more. But embrace the confusion and there’s plenty to enjoy with original songs that push the story along or skate over it (as applicable). The cast belt out the tunes with energy and enthusiasm and the dance routines are enjoyable to watch even if you don’t catch every Friends reference flying past.
In answer to the original question here ‘is it possible…?’ the answer is ‘yes’. Does it make sense? Not at all! However, if you leave any cravings for plot or logic in the foyer, this manic musical is fun, fast, and Friend-ly.
Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
Dates and times: 24-27 July 2019 at 7.30pm (matinee Saturday 2.30pm)
Age guidance: 10+
Running time: approx. 140 minutes including 20-minute interval
Friendsical is written and directed by Miranda Larson. Design is by Anthony Lamble, lighting by Dom Jeffery, sound by Julian Butler. Composer is Barrie Bignold, choreographer Darren Carnall, associate choreographer Michael Vinsen and it’s produced by Birdbrooke Entertainment Ltd.
Back to reviews index

Stones in His Pockets

Review by Helen Devonshire, 15th July 2019
When Hollywood sets up in rural Ireland to make a historical-romance movie, it brings with it dreams and despair. Most of the locals are swept along in the film-making frenzy, from those cast as earthy-looking extras to the bar staff, or they want to be involved but aren’t and that leads to tragedy.
We’re introduced to an array of characters through the eyes of cheeky chancer Charlie Conlon (Kevin Trainor) and more cynical Jake Quinn (Owen Sharpe), including the movie’s director, voice coach, security guard, a local old-timer whose claim to fame is being the last surviving extra from The Quiet Man. And along the way we meet Jake’s teenage drug-using cousin Sean Harkin who was thrown out of the pub for hassling the spoilt American movie star Caroline Giovanni.
Jake and Charlie are each on the run from failures of their own and want their chance of fame and fortune, but mostly just the 40 quid a day paid to extras.
One of the main features of this play is that two actors perform all the roles, just by changing movement and voices, some exaggerated mannerisms, and the audience’s imagination. The stage design by Peter McKintosh is simple but atmospheric, with sound (Paul Groothius) enhancing the visuals while the actors effortlessly conjure up characters with a flick of non-existent hair, a spin while walking across the stage, or by swigging invisible pints in the pub. The lighting (Howard Harrison) also helps with scene setting as the audience are drawn in when Aisling – the ambitious third assistant director – barks instructions at unruly extras.
But the novelty doesn’t detract from the tragicomedy moving forward at a pace. Lindsay Posner’s direction swaps from comedy to tragedy and back to laugh-out-loud moments via the script’s witty one-liners and deeper political comment. As Tinseltown and the failing rural economy collide, the locals who’ve grown up dreaming of the American dream are exposed to the reality behind the glitz. They discover that moviemakers have struggles of their own, from financial pressure following a death that has an impact on the whole community, to unpredictable weather and actors’ accents and allergies.
The award-winning play was written by Marie Jones in 1996 for DubbleJoint Theatre Company in Dublin, at the start of the film-making boom in Ireland. It tackles some hefty issues of expectation, exploitation, mental health and suicide, but the tragic side is sensitively handled and optimism and humour shine through.
Go for the quick-change characters, stay for the heartwarming storyline – and that Irish-dancing scene.
Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
Dates and times: 15-20 July 2019 at 7.30pm (matinees Thursday 2pm and Saturday 2.30pm)
Produced by: Rose Theatre Kingston and Theatre Royal Bath Productions
Age recommendation: 14+ (mentions of suicide)
Running time: approx. 110 minutes including 20-minute interval
Back to reviews index

Darlington Orchestra Summer Concert 2019

Review by Ryan Humphrey
On Saturday 6th July, Darlington Orchestra invited audiences to enjoy a night of incredible live music at their annual summer concert. The orchestra has been running since the late 1950s and for this concert it had about 55 players which, as conductor David Plews explained, allows the orchestra to push their boundaries and try more complex pieces. This event was an excellent example of that.
Beginning with a selection from Die Meistersinger, composed by well-known music theorist Richard Wagner, the orchestra handled twisting melodies and different sections with ease. Next, the orchestra played Carl Friedmann’s lively Slavonic Rhapsody which highlighted individual talents of some players. For example, Sarah Plews’ clarinet solos floated beautifully above the orchestra.
Other pieces in the varied programme included children’s dances by Kodály, a selection of Irish folk tunes by WH Myddleton, and Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and Air. Jim Hall did a standout job of playing solos in the latter piece, showcasing the true timbre of the trumpet.
Any audience member who was at the January 2018 concert will remember the delightful voice of Sophia Nikolaiets. This year’s summer concert provided another opportunity to hear her as she performed O Mio Babbino Caro from the opera Gianni Schicchi, accompanied by the orchestra. In the aria, the character Lauretta begs her father Gianni to let her marry the love of her life but her father has other plans. Sophia brought emotion to the music in a way that brought the story to life.
A mention must also go to St. Herbert’s Singers who were special guests for the evening. The choir were undertaking their first public performance and provided a real vocal treat for audiences. One highlight was the traditional South African hymn Siyahmabe that showed the singers’ skills and had audience members clapping and swaying along.
The last piece of the evening was The Dam Busters March by Eric Coates. Its familiar rhythm and theme definitely stuck with many people after the concert because they could be heard whistling the tune while leaving the Dolphin Centre! The orchestra played the interweaving melodies and exhilarating finale at a pace that left the audience wanting more – and we’re all beginning the countdown to the next concert.

  • Darlington Orchestra Winter Concert is on Saturday 25th January 2020 in Central Hall 7.30pm

Back to reviews index

Death and the Maiden

Review by Helen Devonshire, 13th June 2019
The story unfolds in the beach house of Paulina and Gerardo Escobar in an unnamed country that is in the early stages of trying to establish a democracy after years of dictatorship rule. This tense thriller explores what happens when feelings are repressed and then forced into the open by unwanted events.
Paulina (Claire Bibby) is at home and becomes distressed when she hears an unfamiliar car draw up at the house and she grabs a gun to protect herself. The explanation seems innocent enough when her husband Gerardo (Andrew Fettes) tells Paulina that a stranger gave him a lift home because his car broke down at the roadside.
After some discussion between the couple about Gerardo being offered a job by the president on a new commission to bring to justice people who caused numerous deaths in the previous regime, it becomes apparent that Paulina lives in constant fear having been raped and tortured years earlier. Her argument is that there is still no justice for survivors, the government is interested only in those cases where captives were killed.
The stranger returns at midnight, which unsettles Paulina and Escobar, to offer to help Gerardo the next day with collecting his car. As the men talk, Paulina is not in the room but hears them and is convinced she recognises the doctor’s voice as someone complicit in her torture.
Paulina becomes further convinced of the doctor’s identity when she finds a recording of Schubert’s quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ in his car. This was the piece of music played while she was abused in captivity.
The following day, Paulina decides to take control and make the doctor (played by Keith Hill) confess his crimes. Gerardo is shocked by her actions, and his emotions are torn between his charming new friend and his vengeful wife; but he agrees to defend the doctor in this ‘trial’.
The three characters (pictured, photo credit William Walsh Photography) represent one case in a huge number of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder cases being exposed across the country. Paulina believes that the government will not pursue them all, so she needs to get justice her own way. And in the domestic setting, the political tension mounts as they circle the ‘reality’ of the situation, and the balance of power shifts between them. Who is the victim and who is in charge? Is the person in authority always the one armed with a gun or someone armed with the truth, or at least a desire to find the truth?
This intense and thought-provoking tale is not an easy watch at times, but the compelling performances help the audience care about what happened to the characters and what will become of them. With its violent themes and language, it raises many disturbing questions about memory, manipulation, perception and even the definition of right and wrong in different situations.

  • Baroque Theatre Company’s production of ‘Death and the Maiden’ – written by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman in the early 1990s – is directed by Sarah Gain. Artistic director Adam Morley, producer Claire Bibby.
  • Reviewed performance was at The Majestic, Darlington
  • National tour May to July 2019

Back to reviews index

Jeremy and James Chen’s piano recital

Review by Janet Evans, Sunday 19th May 2019

It was thrilling to hear the young pianists, Jeremy (13) and James (15) Chen performing to a sizeable audience in Darlington as part of the Darlington Arts Festival 2019. They both announced their pieces and this was well received.
The opening work in Jeremy’s recital, Haydn’s Sonata in C major Hob XVl:50 is tricky at the best of times but notes and rhythms were produced with ease in this rhythmic, shapely performance. Jeremy followed this with Bach’s C sharp major prelude and fugue. The prelude, at a very lively tempo flowed beautifully with even touch, with the main elements of the fugue style well enunciated. The Chopin scherzo in B minor op.20 was played with musicality and confidence, as was his fluid rendering of Liszt’s “Au bord d’une source” and though not fully conveying the menacing character of his final piece, Prokofiev’s “Suggestion Diabolique”, the performance had considerable drive and produced a rousing finish to a polished recital.
James was secure and committed in his rendering of Beethoven’s D major Sonata Op.10 no.3 and the tempo of the slow movement was particularly apt, providing some repose between the presto first movement and lively minuet but also projecting depth of tone and mood such is rarely heard in such a young player. The humour of the final two movements was well projected too. It was easy to imagine the activity of Debussy’s “Poison d’or” from Images book 2 in this dexterous, imaginative, poised and colourful performance and the melody was well-projected in Liszt’s challenging F minor Transcendental Etude. The final work, Chopin’s Scherzo no.4, demonstrated to the full James’s ability to communicate with the audience. This performance had breadth, a firm grasp of finger technique; excellent, subtle use of pedal and considerable musical maturity.
Their piano-duet encore, Brahms’s Hungarian Dance no 3 in F, provided a charming finish to this delightful recital, a worthy addition to the Arts Festival and to Darlington Piano Society‘s season.

  • Recital took place on Sunday 19 May 3pm in Central Hall, Darlington

Back to reviews index

Darlington Orchestra Winter Concert 2019

Review by Elaine Barnett, Saturday 26th January 2019

Things went with a swing on Saturday night as Darlington Orchestra performed its Winter Concert before a packed house in the town’s Central Hall.
In a programme spanning three centuries and two continents the orchestra, under the baton of David Plews, set off on an engaging European journey taking in waltzes, a polka and a spot of marching along the way before going transatlantic to showcase Henry Mancini and legendary Hollywood crooner Bing Crosby.
The mood was set with Johann Strauss the Younger’s Waldmeister Overture, by turns lively and lilting, followed by the melodic Slavonic Serenade by British bandleader and conductor Charles Shadwell.
Famous names filled the programme: Bedrich Smetana’s Bartered Bride festive polka upped the tempo beautifully; Mozart featured through one of his best-known tunes the energetic Turkish March; Haydn with the Minuet and Trio from his so-called “Surprise” Symphony; and there was a lovely selection of Tchaikovsky waltzes, including those from Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty ballets.
Some less-familiar pieces thrown into the mix added further layers of interest for both performers and audience. Caprice Hongrois, or Hungarian Caprice, by Italian-born composer Ferraris is a stirring folk-influenced work that made technical demands in the violin solos, to which orchestra leader Iryna Zagorna was more than equal.
Another unexpected delight was the rumbunctious Banditenstreiche Tours de Bandits, or Jolly Robbers Overture, by Franz von Suppé, which more than lived up to its name, painting pictures of the sometimes swaggering, sometimes furtive, but decidedly jolly robbers.
As always, the concert featured guest performers, in this case the Cockerton Prize Silver Band, who demonstrated their skill and versatility with pieces as diverse as the haunting Benedictus and the smile-inducing theme from The Muppet Show.
Rounding off another successful concert was Mancini’s Charade, written for the movie thriller of that name and wonderfully evocative of a lonely walk through empty Paris streets where part of the story was set, before the orchestra signed off on a cheerful note with a Crosby medley, going out with a Bing.

  • Summer Concert 2019 was on Saturday 6th July
  • Ticket prices £7/£5
  • Next concert is 25th January 2020

Back to reviews index


Review by Hannah Roberts, December 2018
Darlington Hippodrome’s pantomime Aladdin is full to the brim with magic, music and laughs. The show stars the spirited Louie Spence, festive favourites Eric Potts, Zoe Birkett and comic Liam Mellor.
Based on the Disney film classic, this fairytale fantasy provides plenty of pantomime splendour. The cast understand what makes a memorable pantomime and they deliver some truly unforgettable moments including the original song ‘Darlo’. The show is wonderfully supported by enthusiastic dancers and a live orchestra, meeting the demands of those who dislike recorded music.
Louie Spence excels as Genie of the Ring as he brings all the mischief to the role that a family audience would expect. Some of his jokes were a little risqué but they will fly over the heads of children and land firmly in the ears of eager adult audiences. Louie is ably assisted by Robin Askwith as evil mastermind Abanazar, and he delivers the role with all the delightful deviousness you could want as his dastardly master plan for world domination plays out.
Other supporting characters were easily knitted into the two-hour timeframe, including Zoe Birkett who shines in both musical and acting talent as Princess Jasmine. There is plenty of laughter throughout, with no fillers or messy scenes, and the story flows well and reaches the closing scene before anyone fidgets in their seats.
Qdos Entertainment, the production company, provided some great tricks to pull off the stunts in this year’s offering. One stand-out element is when Aladdin flies over the orchestra without it being obvious in the stalls how it is done, which was similar to a stunt that was done last year. However, the giant Genie clearly was worn out from all those wishes he had been granting because he had trouble staying in sync with the rest of the play. Despite this technical difficulty, it was great fun as we all know that all good pantos need those magical moments that make the audience laugh spontaneously.
Aladdin is definitely one for your Christmas list this season.
Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
Date and time: From 8th December 2018 to 6th January 2019, see venue website for times
Running time: about 120 minutes
Back to reviews index

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Review by Helen Devonshire, 13th October 2018
(preview seen at Nottingham Theatre Royal)
Prepare yourself for a terrifying trip as the deceptively simple monochrome staging transports you through a colourful vampire tale. The set travels from wild and windy Whitby, via the local asylum, across Europe to a Transylvanian castle, transforming between those three main locations for most of the play’s action. And what a lot of action there is.
Based on Bram Stoker’s novel published in 1897, the epic narrative has been adapted for the stage by Jenny King and directed by Eduard Lewis. It is packed with all essential elements of the Count Dracula legend – including the madness of Renfield (Cheryl Campbell) and her gruesome eating habits, the initial innocence of Mina and Lucy, plus the men who try to save them. All the characters’ lives intertwine around the vampire’s search for pure souls to corrupt.
Jonathan Harker (Andrew Horton) leaves his loyal fiancée Mina Murray (Olivia Swann) at home in Whitby as he travels to Transylvania to visit the count on what should be a dull clerical errand.
Back in Whitby, Mina and her friend Lucy (Jessica Webber) are left vulnerable to the attentions of Dracula. Lucy’s behaviour changes dramatically and her friends believe she is suffering from an ‘infection’ that makes her as cold as the grave. When Jonathan returns, and in an attempt to help discover what happened to Lucy, he recounts his visit to the castle and describes activities undertaken by the vampire and his undead supporters who prowl through the story in well-choreographed menace that contrasts with formal buttoned-up Victorian society.
Lucy’s hapless suitor Doctor Seward (Evan Milton) also attempts to discover what ails her by drawing on the experience of madwoman Lady Renfield, who thinks she has a hotline to the vampirical count. Finally, vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing (Philip Bretherton) is called upon to challenge the powerful and seemingly irresistible Dracula (Glen Fox) in a classic spine-chilling battle between good and evil.
Dracula is a dark feast for the senses, with supernatural happenings, super visual effects, love, loss and longing. What more could you want from a Gothic horror story? All human life – and death – is here.
Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
To book, visit Darlington Hippodrome website
Dates and times: 6th to 10th November 7.30pm (matinees Thursday 2pm and Saturday 2.30pm)
Age recommendation: 16 years and over
Short clip of the production on
Back to reviews index

‘Night, Mother

Review by Madeleine Sutcliffe, 9th June 2018
Applause Theatre produced an abridged version of ‘Night, Mother by American playwright, Marsha Norman, as part of the Darlington Arts Festival 2018 – and the final performance was on Saturday 16th June 2018 in Gainford.
Directed by Alan Anderson, the play revolves around two members of the dysfunctional Cates family living in small-town southern America. Mama Thelma (played by Samantha Bradshaw) and her daughter Jessie (played by Emma Simpson) begin an ordinary Saturday evening at home as Mama awaits her weekly manicure from Jessie, who suffers from epilepsy, depression and self-doubt. Jessie’s marriage has failed, and she is estranged from her troubled son Ricky.
What happens when, instead of providing a manicure, Jessie informs Mama about her plans for a life-changing event that would have a profound effect on Thelma? Can Thelma persuade her daughter to wait a little longer before taking action? The evening descends into an edge-of-seat and grippingly dark drama where no one can predict the end with certainty.
Both Samantha and Emma give outstanding and emotionally searing performances. They have also mastered the challenge of acquiring a Deep Southern accent.
The last performance of the play will be held on Saturday, June 16th at the Gainford Academy Theatre. Absolutely not to be missed!
Venue: Academy Theatre, High Green, Gainford DL2 3DL
Date and time: Saturday 16th June 7.30pm
Running time: about 60 minutes
Tickets: £8 on the door
Back to reviews index