Thursday, 31 December 2020


Normally around this time of year Number 9 would be giving you a run-down of the top 10 shows of the year and reviewers' highlights. It would normally be a celebration of all the Arts and a time to look back with fondness on the many wonderful shows, concerts, films, gigs, plays etc that the team have had the privilege and pleasure to watch and review.

So what to do this year? It really has been one Annus Horribilis hasn't it?!

Instead then, I thought I would share with you my own personal highlights of the year, in no particular order. The Arts have suffered greatly these last 10 months, and the new year doesn't bring us much hope, at least for the start of the year... and so I take my hat off to all those who had found ways around these challenging times, in order still to bring entertainment to the world, and find employment for the lucky few. 

With this in mind, my first category is: "ONLINE INSPIRERS". Those companies who seem to have taken to the online streaming world like a duck to water and continued to produce excellent quality work in this medium, above and beyond. In this respect I would like to mention and thank: Encompass Productions (London), Tramp (London), and Northern Comedy Theatre (Manchester) for continuing to produce works of quality throughout the period and not be fazed by it all.

Thosed who know me will know that I am a huge fan of MUSICALS, (my second category), and so trying to find my favourite this year was an almost impossible task. I was fortunate enough to have seen the brilliant 'Back To The Future' Musical at Manchester's Opera House only a day before the lockdown started, and that was indeed incredible.

However, for the rest of my choices I must go online. And there were so many! Cirencester's Barn Theatre produced the chamber musical, 'Marry Me A Little' which was simply stunning, The Other Palace (London) provided us with the ingenius and hilarious 'Eugenius!"; York's Theatre Royal streamed their excellently staged, 'The Railway Children', Chichester Festival Theatre streamed their utterly superb production of 'Flowers For Mrs. Harris', and Colchester's Mercury Theatre allowed us to watch their truly excellent production of 'Pieces Of String'. All this whilst the amazing YouTube channel 'The Shows Must Go On' have been streaming musicals and musical concerts weekly (with a break in the middle) for various charitable causes. The two favourites from these have been 'Bandstand' and '42nd Street'.

With other theatrical genres, my personal favourites have been 'Newsies' (The Disney Channel), Red (Wyndham's Theatre, London), The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre (Lincoln Center, USA), Scheherezade (Maryinsky Theatre, Moscow), and an online panto which I watched only yesterday,. 'The Panto That Nearly Never Was' (Theatr Clwyd). 

I should also like to give a special mention to both The London Symphony Orchestra and The Royal Northern College of Music, who have continued and persevered with adversity and triumphed with superb and regular online content both live and recorded throughout. 

But these are just my favourites out of a whole rainbow of excellent music concerts, films, plays, cabarets, etc, without which I would have been lost and mortified. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone and anyone who has contributed to keeping the Arts alive and kicking throughout these difficult times, and here's hoping 2021 will bring back live entertainment with a (permanent) bang!

Matthew Dougall

ONLINE PANTOMIME REVIEW: The Panto That Nearly Never Was - Theatr Clwyd, Mold.

What a year this has been! Pantomimes up and down the Kingdom have been forced to shut or not even start in the first place, and only those who are in the business know just exactly what a financial catastrophe that is, as pantomimes are most theatres' big earners with many actors / performers making a living out of the genre.

Mold's Theatr Clwyd however, came up with a dastardly clever ploy, and turned this setback to their advantage, going online with their socially distanced pantomime specially written for the medium of film but keeping, as far as was possible, the spirit of panto alive.

It was very clever and funny.... oh yes it was! The wicked witch felt lost and disconcerted; she should be evil, she should be working, but if panto has been cancelled then she also has been 'cancelled' and she has no meaning. She decides to try and enlist the help of the other traditional panto characters.. the good fairy, the Dame and his / her witless son, to go on a quest to try and restore panto in order to give them their meaning and their existence back. An inspired storyline from the pen of Christian Patterson. A unique, contemporary and witty twist.

Moreover, as much of the traditional panto routines, gags, audience participation, silliness etc had been kept in, and all the material was completely family friendly., with the more adult humour being over the younger ones' heads and kept to a minimum. And the punnery was Tim Vine-worthy! Superb.

A cast of seven, observing social distance guidelines throughout, performed their panto on the Theatr Clwyd main stage whilst it was filmed from all angles and streamed live to our living rooms and computer screens. My one slight niggle, and it is a personal one sorry, is that I don't like it when the characters are also the band - I'm a traditionalist and like a separate band, preferably unseen or in a pit, and to let the cast get on with their primary job of acting. However under the current circumstances, and budgets being obviously very tight, this was both understandable and forgiveable. And I have to be honest, it didn't interfere in any way with my enjoyment or understanding of the piece either.

Daniel Lloyd played Dame Deni Dolittle with a perfect mix of everything a Dame really should be. So many theatres and panto companies are now using Drag Queens to play the Dame role and this just spoils the whole entertainment in my opinion, the two genres are not at all the same and need different skills and styles of acting; Lloyd had it off to a Tee! His hapless and silly son, Dylan (Ben Locke) was very likeable, and I feel sure that with a live audience of youngsters his character would have taken off and shone much more. On film it came across as a little OTT needing a live reaction to his silliness, but again, completely understandable. 

Alice McKenna (The Evil Bella Trix) and Chioma Uma (The Good Fairy Maybelline) worked excellently against and with each other and there was a great ensemble feel to the whole. They were aided along the way from Luke Thornton (The Town Crier), Lynwen Haf Roberts (Helena Henderson), and an onscreen video of Phylip Harries (Wizard and Dame).

The lighting was excellent, the sound very good, the costumes colourful, but the set was very simple and uninspiring - again undoubtedly a budget issue and again completely understandable this year - with live music by the cast, this was a very upbeat, gag-heavy, delightful, excellently realised online family panto which really put a huge grin on my face and I shed a small tear when the cast took their curtain calls to silence. 

Running at 70 minutes through, it was also the ideal length for an online children's piece of entertainment, and certainly the best online panto this reviewer has thus far seen! Catch it while you still can.. it's online until the 3 January 

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/12/20

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Kinky Boots - The Adelphi Theatre, London

Kinky Boots is the ultimate feel good musical, with catchy musical numbers that just lift you up - the perfect remedy for what is currently a bleak time for all. Whilst nothing can compare to actual live theatre and the full theatre experience, these live streams are better than nothing whilst theatres are forced to remain closed.

It started out as a film in 2005, which had come about following a 1999 BBC2 documentary series entitled “Trouble At The Top”, which saw Steve Pateman - a struggling businessman, desperate to save his family-run shoe factory from closure, by making the brave move to produce fetish footwear for men under the brand name “Divine Footwear”. The film won a Golden Globe award the same year it was released.

This live stream features the Original London Cast, which I was fortunate enough to see live and up close shortly after opening at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End, and a few years later getting to see some of the touring casts, however, this particular cast will always remain a firm favourite. The West End production ran from September 2015 - January 2019, and won an Olivier Award in 2016 for Best Musical.

One main difference between the tour and West End production is the fact there’s no young Charlie or Lola in the touring production. For this reason I much prefer the West End production.

The musical production users the same storyline and main characters as the 2005 - focussing on main character Charlie Price, who is left to takeover failing Price And Sons factory following the death of his father. In this production, Killian Donnelly plays the leading role of Charlie Price, the reluctant beneficiary of his late father's shoe factory, which is on the brink of collapse. At first he’s stubborn, unable to see a way forward and his heart not into the idea of raking over the family business. But a chance meeting with Lola (aka Simon) a 6ft something larger than life Drag Queen, when (at first assuming Lola is in fact female) Charlie goes to stop an attempted mugging on Lola before Lola herself gives the would be muggers a shock and fights them off himself. In doing so he stumbles and breaks a heel on his extra large sized thigh boot. When Charlie tells Lola he can fix the boot and explains about his shoe factory, Lola tells him what a nightmare it is finding ladies boots strong enough to hold the weight of a 6ft something man and to fit a mans foot, without the boots also being ugly and too masculine. Charlie then gets the brainwave that could make or break him...he just needs to convince the rest of the factory staff, drafting in Lola and friends to help them design a sample “kinky boot”.

Meanwhile Charlie’s fiancé Nicola has other ideas for the factory, having gone and spoken to an architect who wants to buy the building and turn it into luxury apartments. This puts them at odds with each other, with Charlie reluctant to give up on the family business so easily. Factory worker Lauren (Natalie McQueen) hasn’t particularly seen eye to eye with Charlie before or seen him as desirable, but his new found confidence and determination to bring his idea to life and potentially save the factory from closure, makes her see him in a whole new light and she starts to question herself as to whether or not she is developing feelings for him. The pair get to spend more time together when he promotes her and gets her involved with reinventing the out-dated shoe company.

One of the great things about this production being done as a live-streaming is you get to see the fantastic costumes and boots up close and see all the fine details - particularly in numbers such as “The Sex Is In The Heel”. Something you’d not be guaranteed to see in the theatre itself.

The show's music and lyrics were written by '80's pop star Cyndi Lauper, which is probably why the songs are so catchy and memorable. There’s not a weak song in the set and the show itself is an overall feel-good story with the message to 'just be who you want to be'.

My favourite characters are Lauren, who goes from goofy box-stuffer to Executive and finds the confidence to be herself around Charlie and making it known to him that she has become smitten with him. Natalie McQueen captures this aloofness well, particularly during “The History Of Wrong Guys” where Lauren is battling her inner thoughts as she comes to terms with the fact that whilst she has a history of falling for the wrong guy all the time, by the end of the song she’s found a new confidence that ensures she’ll not only excel in her new role, but will succeed in finally landing herself with the right guy.

Another favourite character is Lola/Simon (Matt Henry), who as Lola is sassy, witty and not to be messed with, whilst when out of costume and as Simon, he’s still the scared, introvert who as a child was shunned by his own father for wanting to be himself - ie Lola. Whilst I’ve seen a variety of different casts of Kinky Boots, these two roles, along with Killian as Charlie, out-do all others who’ve been in the same roles.

I don’t know how much longer theatres will be forced to stay closed, but I at least know I have these live streams to look forward to. For further information please follow “The Shows Must Go On” channel on YouTube which also has details on how you can donate to the charitable causes each show is in aid of.

Reviewer - Charlotte Davis-Browne
on - 23/12/20

Thursday, 24 December 2020

ONLINE CHILDREN'S PUPPET THEATRE REVIEW: The Night Before Christmas - Little Angel Theatre.

A short, but very beautifully retrospective shadow puppet performance from Little Angel Theatre is online and available to watch for free on their YouTube channel. Using the famous poem 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' by Clement Clarke Moore, this clever mostly black and white shadow-style puppet story unfolds. It's short, sweet and clever, and read engagingly with clarity by Nicholas Bowling, with puppets by Alison Alexander.

A beautiful short story for children of all ages, and a perfect way to start the festivities!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/12/20 

PANTOMIME REVIEW: Dick Whittington - The National Theatre, London.

Filmed during the show's 4th preview performance whilst socially-distanced audiences were allowed into theatres and shows could be performed under strict guidelines, this was this year's pantomime offering from The National Theatre in London. The traditional tale of Dick Whittington was reimagined by Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd.

The stage looked much more like a circus ring than anything, being performed in the round with special lighting effects created throughout. In fact the lighting was superb in this show.

This was a very London-centric panto, and some of the references, accents etc didn't really travel outside of the county. I found Queen Rat's (Amy Booth Street) vowel placement so strange it was almost impossible to understand some of her dialogue. Whilst other characters in the hugely multicultural cast had London accents appropriate to their ethnicity, and since Dick spoke a generic Northern accent - supposedly coming from Leeds - it became a bit of a struggle listening to the cast as everyone spoke in a different way. 

There were some lovely ideas in this show: the Mayor of London being a pigeon, the game shows, etc, - but generally this was not a traditional panto in the accepted sense but much more of a children's musical comedy, since most of the accepted 'rules' of panto.... a principal boy, the routines, the audience responses, the 'behind yous' the 'oh no it isn'ts' etc were all sadly lacking or even nonexistent.

The 'gimmicks' of the stage design seemed to take pride of place in this show, and indeed, if they had not have been so colourful, bold and plentiful, the show would have fallen flat on its face sadly.

Directed by Ned Bennett, the show took a very long time to warm up, and even once it did it never got out of third gear, and some of the characterisations didn't land either unfortunately.

Upbeat choreography, super lighting and colourful set props made it visually intersting, but it was a very luke-warm and uninspiring show in every other regard sadly.

Shown online as part of 'The Shows Must Go On' series on YouTube.

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 23/12/20

ONLINE MONOLOGUES REVIEW: Advent Plays #3 - The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham.

The 24 short Advent Plays came to an end today with their 24th online offering all directed by Chris Lawson in a covid-safe environment. So here is my summing up of plays 17 - 24.

Once again it was a complete mix of styles and genres, with two being performance poems, most being comedic, and the odd one or two pulling our heart strings as our contemporaneous corona-lifestyle interferes with our celebrations. We even had our one and only duologue, a grotesque comedy by Rob Ward called 'Turkey'.

I think the plays in general became better as they went along and I certainly enjoyed these final offerings more than the first few. However, here are my personal favourites...

Door 19 gave us Sorcha McCaffrey's 'Christmas TV' which was a bijou comedy piece about a neighbour house-sitting and binge-watching TV, performed with accustomed ease by Joyce Branagh. Door 20 was a complete change of mood and easily the most serious and 'weepie' of them all. Written by Cathy Crabb, 'Spare Chair'  tackled the lonely side of Christmas, the secret side of Christmas, and an aging lesbian unable to tell her family that she spends Christmas every year with her girlfriend... that is until COVID came along. Sympathetically unravelled by Karen Henthorn.

Door 21 brings us back slowly with a bitter-sweet poem by Matthew Smith, 'Sparkle', which puts a middle-aged man with middle-age-spread musing over his life at this time of year. Nicely paced by Neil Hurst. But the favourite piece in the pack, by quite a long way, behind door Door 23, comes from the pen of Ian Townsend with his very Alan Bennettesque, 'Christmas Plans'.  Performed by Jamie Rhall, this little comedy monologue is just perfect!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/12/20

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Chickenshed Theatre, London.

Chickenshed Theatre, London's innovative and inclusive young people's theatre company, have uploaded their 2005 production of 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland' to their YouTube channel this Christmas.

The production utilises Chickenshed's all-inclusive and unique style of performance; song, dance, physical theatre, large casts, upbeat music, and in this particular production the cast also use BSL within and throughout.

This adaptation is also one of the closest to the original Lewis Carroll novel in terms of storyline including certain things most adaptations seem to omit.

The youthful cast sing, dance and act their way through this 114 minute extravaganza with skill and obvious enjoyment. Upbeat and adept direction combined with colourful sets, costumes and creative lighting all help in making this a highly competent and wonderful online family Christmas experience.

Guest Reviewer: Marys ap Rhys.
on - 22/12/20  

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

ONLINE THEATRE REVIEW: The Ministry Of Christmas - Northern Comedy Theatre

I’m sure this production has been in the pipeline for a while but it couldn’t be more timely with its premiere coinciding with the Prime Minister’s U-turn and change of plans for the Christmas period. This Zoom theatre production felt hot off the press. Packed into this Christmas stocking were political satire, one liners, and the question: what is the true meaning of Christmas today? Think of it as a theatrical version of “Spitting Image” on Zoom.  

In what has been the most extraordinary year with the Government’s questionable handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister in this story is going all out to make sure he gets Christmas right. The PM appoints a Minister For Christmas called Malcolm Skinner MP to lead on this work. Big promises are made: this Christmas is going to be “oven ready”, “world beating”, “world leading”, “strong and stable”, but “jolly careful”. Free festive jumpers and Christmas crackers for everybody. They’re “taking back control” of the fun right up until the New Year when everybody “continues to shake hands” during “Auld Lang Syne”. But, can these big promises be delivered?

David Spicer’s comedy contained political squabbling, points scoring, hilarious news captions, a multitude of metaphors, and a compilation of political quotes. The humour expressed the public’s exasperation over the handling of the real-life situation. Shaun Chambers’ direction encouraged the actors to ham it up and kept the play’s pace up. However, Zoom did create slow transitions between a couple of scenes. The familiar faces of the Northern Comedy Theatre were joined by new performers: Natasha Agarwal, Wendi Walker, Wendy Patterson, and Mikyla Jane Durkan. They all did a terrific job, especially the well cast Robert Stuart Hudson as Malcolm Skinner MP – playing a politically incorrect and bumbling buffoon.  

From the common Zoom problems highlighted in the script, to the use of graphics, music and sound effects, this production referenced and made full use of Zoom. Consequently, it is one of my favourite shows from this company to date. The news interview exposing private sector contracts providing inadequate goods, improper answers to questions, and familiar phrases like “let me finish”, made you laugh-out-loud in a mirror image of real-life. The narrative made you wonder what really happens behind closed doors in these meetings about meetings about meetings.

Just to say that I did feel it ended quite abruptly; almost in a way like it had to end somewhere. All things considered, once again it was a load of fun and the dark humour made you chuckle. The company pulled out all the stops. Northern Comedy Theatre re-framed 2020 so the audience could perceive the funnier and the lighter side, because we all need the gift of comedy this Christmas to see us through the tough times. Well done again to all involved.   

Reviewer - Sam Lowe 
on - 20/12/20

NEWS: Manchester's 53Two Theatre to start building work again in January!

A light at the end of the arches after a turbulent year for the arts as 53two set to begin work on their new, fully accessible theatre & venue below Manchester Central in January 2021.

After obtaining planning permission late 2019, 53two were all set to begin development of a new, fully accessible 150-seater theatre, arts bar and venue in the heart of the city, in March 2020. As COVID-19 crushed the creative and cultural industries across the region, 53two took stock, re-evaluated their goals and prepared for what looked like a bleak few months ahead.

‘It’s been devastating to watch theatres across the country struggling to survive over what is surely the hardest 6 months they’ve ever experienced. Thankfully our doors weren’t open and we were able to use this time to gather support from charities like Backstage Trust, LCVS to ensure we were in the best possible position to open a new venue when the time was right. We’ve continued to work with Manchester Central and the city throughout this and we’re delighted to finally announce we’ll be getting started on site in the New Year.’ – Simon Naylor, Artistic Director.

Having spent nearly 2 years sourcing funding for the project, 53two will be opening a ‘theatre bar’ in Spring 2021, developing a fully kitted out theatre . A 15-year lease has been signed by the charity, who focus on accessibility, diversity and opportunity, to inhabit the stunning Grade II* listed arches, beneath the convention centre. The venue will be the only independent theatre in the city center that will be fully accessible to wheelchair users and disabled people.

‘We can’t wait to get making theatre again and hear the bustle of a busy arts venue, knowing that it is truly accessible for any audience member. Our ‘theatre bar’ will help the city build back some confidence, and we’ll only open the larger theatre space when we can safely welcome full houses again. We’re chomping at the bit with an incredible programme already lined up.’ – Alexandra Maxwell, Venue Producer.

The theatre will become Manchester’s only venue to produce solely Northern or World Premieres, launching new production companies, championing new writers and ensuring the glass ceiling that can exist in the arts, is well and truly smashed.

‘I am hugely excited to see 53two’s return to the city centre and announce their upcoming theatre space. It’s a massive boost in confidence for our city and our cultural scene. I can’t wait to get back in my seat and enjoying home-grown shows. Theatre, arts and culture are crucial ingredients to the success of Manchester City Centre and ultimately all of Greater Manchester. Now the sector needs our help and support more than ever’ – Cllr Marcus Johns, Councillor for Deansgate

Despite the terrible time of recent months, 53two are excited to be holding a tiny beacon of hope for the residents of Greater Manchester.

NEWS: The Elves And The Shoemaker goes digital to be streamed to your own homes - Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, Oldham,


We were all set to re-open the Millgate Arts Centre last Saturday with a magical Christmassy, children's show. Sadly the latest government restrictions meant that we had to cancel the run and full refunds have been issued.

But the GOOD NEWS is that, although the theatre may be closed, you can still watch The Elves and the Shoemaker from the comfort of your own home!

Filmed live at the Millgate Arts Centre, the show is written and performed by The Motley-Minded Cobblers theatre company, headed by Saddleworth's own Abey Bradbury, the show is suitable for kids, big kids and everyone in between.

Here is a trailer for the show and for full details of how you can watch the show CLICK HERE!

Please note, that it is only available from now up until Thursday 30th December 2020. You can rent the show for as little as £1 (it's Pay What You Feel!) - plus download your FREE Activity Pack.

NEWS: The Snow Queen to be available to watch online over the festive period. - The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

If you can’t make it to the Stephen Joseph Theatre this Christmas – why not let the theatre come to you?


A brand new film of the Scarborough theatre’s sell-out Christmas show, The Snow Queen, will be available on the SJT website from noon on Wednesday 23 December 2020 until midnight on Sunday 31 January 2021. It’s the first time the famous North Yorkshire theatre has ventured into filming its productions.


Tickets cost just £12, and allow access to the movie for a week from the first click of the ‘play’ button.


The show, which is live on stage at the SJT until Thursday 31 December, and is completely sold out, has been adapted by Nick Lane from the original story by Hans Christian Andersen, and is a Snow Queen like you’ve never seen before – a one-woman whirlwind performed by Polly Lister.

The show’s director, Paul Robinson, who is also Artistic Director at the SJT, says he hopes the film will be the first of many.


“Exploring the immense possibilities afforded by filming our work was part of our successful bid to the government’s Culture Recovery Fund,” he says.


“Nothing will ever replace the magic of live theatre, but ultimately we want to make our work accessible to a wider audience across the UK and, indeed, the world.”


The Snow Queen features original music and songs from Olivier Award-winning composer Simon Slater. Movement and puppet direction is by Gemma Fairlie, and the show is designed by Helen Coyston, with lighting design by Paul Stear. The associate director is Chelsey Gillard and the casting director is Sarah Hughes, CDG. The Snow Queen is produced by Daniel Abell for the SJT.


The Snow Queen will be on the SJT website:

NEWS: Criticaly acclaimed 'Poltergeist' from Tramp to be streamed online for a limited season in the new year.


A new play by Philip Ridley

starring Joseph Potter

directed by Wiebke Green


Dates:              Sun, 25th January to Sun, 28th February 2021

Time:               7.30pm (75mins – no interval)

Following the 5 star critical success of the live streaming of Philip Ridley’s brand new play, The Poltergeist, during the second lockdown in November, Tramp are delighted to announce that, for a limited season only, this ground-breaking work will be available to view online via the Southwark Playhouse website, in partnership with streaming service Stream Theatre.

Sasha was destined to take the art world by storm. At the age of fifteen pop stars wanted his paintings, and a new exhibition was going to make him a rich. But now he serves in a stationer’s and no one’s even heard of him...What went wrong?
Philip Ridley's darkly comic new play is about art, family, memory...and being haunted by the life we never lived.

Widely considered to be one of the greatest living British writers, Philip Ridleys previous plays include The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Radiant Vermin, The Pitchfork Disney, Tender Napalm, Dark Vanilla Jungle, and Mercury Fur, as well as the screenplay for the 1990 film The Krays.

Tramp returned to Southwark Playhouse with The Poltergeist in November for three performances following the postponement at the start of 2020 of Philip Ridley’s The Beast of Blue Yonder. Shortly before the first performance the UK Government announced a second lockdown across the country. Rather than cancel the show, Tramp, Philip Ridley and actor Joseph Potter decided to continue without an audience in the theatre and to live stream each performance. The result was a phenomenal success that received almost entirely 5 star reviews across the board.

Jack Silver, Artistic Director of Tramp, said:

"I'm so excited to be able to bring The Poltergeist to a wider audience after its success in November. It's a major new play by one of Britain’s major playwrights: funny, moving, and, as always with Ridley, full of surprises. Joseph Potter is one of the most exciting young actors I've ever seen and with a super-talented up-and-coming female director Wiebke Green at the helm the show is something really special.”

NEWS: Theatre Royal St Helens to live stream panto on Christmas Eve.



St Helens Theatre Royal have today announced there will be a special live streamed performance of their 5-star panto Beauty and the Beast, and tickets are on sale now.

Audiences can enjoy the performance from the comfort of their own homes, as the venue live stream their Christmas Eve matinee performance.

On Thursday 24 December the 1:30pm performance will be broadcast live from the theatre, so online audiences will be experiencing the show in real time and will feel a part of the theatre audience.

With current travel restrictions and Tier system due to the Covid pandemic, many theatre’s doors still remain closed, and as audiences are unable to travel out of their Tiers, this live stream will mean that people can still enjoy the magic of pantomime this Christmas.

The venue opened their doors again on 11 December after being closed for 9 months due to the current Covid pandemic. The highly anticipated show has proven to be a popular choice this festive season, given the lack of theatre productions this year and audiences craving live entertainment.

Theatre Royal manager Chantelle Nolan commented: “We are thrilled to be able to be offering a live stream performance of our panto Beauty and the Beast. Due to social distancing we have had to reduce the capacity of seats on sale for our panto this year, which means shows are selling out faster than ever, and with some audiences restricted in Tier 3, or having to self-isolate they are unable to visit us at the theatre - however this is the perfect opportunity to get some festive cheer and allow people to enjoy the experience of live theatre from their own homes.”

The full cast of Beauty and the Beast includes Jamie Greer as Potty Polly; Abigail Middleton as Madame Botox; Scott Gallagher as French Frank; Olivia Sloyan as Belle; Andrew Geater as The Beast; Tim Lucas as Gaston; and Jenna Sian O’Hara as Fairy Rose.

The show is directed by Chantelle Nolan, written by Liam Mellor, with choreography by Nazene Langfield, and Callum Clarke as musical supervisor.

Get ready to go on a family adventure this Christmas with the fabulous family friendly pantomime, Beauty and the Beast. This is the timeless story of Belle, a beautiful young woman who falls in love with the most unexpected of princes, who has been cursed to look like a hideous beast. Will the Beast learn to love and be loved? Will the spell be broken in time for all to live happily ever after?

The live stream production of Beauty and the Beast takes place on Thursday 24 December at 1:30pm. Tickets for the live stream are £20 per device and can be booked via the website.

The show runs at St Helens Theatre Royal from Friday 11 December 2020 to Sunday 3 January 2021.

Theatre Royal Box Office is now re-open for in-person bookings and are back to full operational hours for bookings.

Book in person at the Theatre Royal Box Office Corporation Street, St Helens, Merseyside WA10 1LQ (Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm) or call 01744 756 000 or via the website at

For more information please visit

Follow St Helens Theatre Royal on social media channels:


Twitter: @TheatreRoyalStH

Instagram: @TheatreRoyalStH

NEWS: Over 200 independent cinemas supported by government's Culture Recovery Fund.



        Support for independent cinemas this Christmas reaches £16 million, as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announces grant awards for 202 cinemas across England from Penrith to Penzance


        Cinemas can apply for a further £14 million in grants from the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund


        More support for screen supply chain as Film and TV Production Restart Scheme extended until April 2021 and cover now available for cast and crew over 70 years old


More than 200 independent cinemas across England are being supported this Christmas with £16 million in grants from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.


202 cinemas have received funding so far from a £30 million pot allocated by the British Film Institute (BFI), on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as part of the biggest ever single investment in this country’s cultural sectors. More grant applications from independent cinemas are also currently being assessed. Cinemas will be able to apply for another £14 million in grants in the new year as part of the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund. The new round of funding is in addition to the £30 million already being allocated by the BFI.


The BFI has been accepting applications and awarding grants to independent cinemas throughout the autumn. Eligible cinemas were able to apply for Safety Grants, to help venues meet the immediate costs of implementing Covid-secure measures to protect staff and audiences, and larger Business Sustainability grants to help stabilise sites financially.


Recognising that cinemas need content, during this crisis, the Government’s Film and TV Production Restart Scheme has helped keep the cameras rolling at the other end of the screen supply chain. The £500 million scheme, which opened for applications in October, has assured nearly 100 productions that they will be supported if future losses are incurred due to Covid-19 and provided the confidence they need to restart filming. 


From today, the scope of the Restart Scheme has been extended so that cast and crew over the age of 70 can be included in the cover provided by the scheme. The changes to the scheme will enable productions to receive compensation for Covid-related delays affecting up to two cast or crew members over 70 years old. This extension will give productions that involve cast and crew over 70 the confidence to start or restart production, increasing employment opportunities for this group.


The deadline for productions to register for the scheme has also been extended until April 2021, giving more film and high-end TV projects the security to start shooting in the spring.


Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said:


“The magic of film is such an important part of the festive period and this investment will help protect our independent cinemas so they're around for many Christmases to come. Alongside it, the extension of the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme means the UK will be producing even more great content as the cinema industry recovers, keeping us at the forefront of the creative industries.”


The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said:


“As a Star Wars fan, I know there’s no better place to experience great films than in your local cinema and these grants will provide vital support for independent venues through Christmas and beyond.


“Our Restart Scheme has already helped to get nearly 100 film and TV productions back up and running as part of our Plan for Jobs, and it’s right that we extend this to support even more jobs in the UK’s creative industries, including for the over 70s.”


The majority of the grant funding allocated by the BFI has been awarded to cinema sites in every corner of the country, from Penrith to Peckham and Penzance, with cinemas outside London benefitting from 78% of funding to date. 


Actor Michael Caine, who starred in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet which drew audiences back to cinemas in the autumn, has welcomed the help for the industry and encouraged audiences to support cinemas with safe visits where possible:


Sir Michael Caine said:


“The moving image has the power to change the way we think. The power to inspire; to delight; and to move. It happens to me all the time. Film is one of the most powerful and accessible art forms on earth – and for so many a local cinema is a place we know, love and have grown up with. A cinema is very often a vital part of any community and we need to support them in order to keep the art of film and the sense of community alive. Let’s go to the pictures!”


The BFI worked closely with individual cinemas to provide detailed and bespoke support throughout the application process.


Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive, said:


“Across the country, local independent cinemas are hubs and lifelines for communities and often the only form of culture and entertainment. From educational programmes and workshops for young people, to screenings for the elderly and audiences with specialised needs, these cinemas play such an important role in people’s lives. The Culture Recovery Fund will mean that many of these cinemas survive the current crisis, and go on to play a vital role in the recovery of local economies and communities, bringing people together to offer joy, solace and the magic of the big screen.”


The Regent Centre in Christchurch, Dorset, will benefit from £243,405 to help this community venue and local cinema weather the storm of Covid-19. The site, which also houses a museum display dedicated to the history of the 1930s art-deco venue, creates volunteering opportunities for more than 200 local people. This Christmas, the Regent Centre plans to show new family releases like The Secret Garden and The Elfkins alongside festive favourites like Miracle on 34th Street.


Combined grants of £121,488 will support the family-run Alhambra cinema in Penrith, Cumbria, to offer its programme of festive films, including the recently released screen event A Christmas Carol featuring Carey Mulligan, Martin Freeman, and Daniel Kaluuya, to socially-distanced audiences in a Covid-secure setting. The cinema continues to be an important cultural venue in the area which supports other regional events, local businesses and nearby schools.


Alan Towers, Partner, Alhambra Penrith, said:


"The Culture Recovery Fund grant aids us in opening to our local community again, supporting our safe measures of work to provide a comfortable and enjoyable environment for staff and customers alike. The love of cinema is evident amongst ourselves and those in the surrounding area, with the grant we are able to welcome customers to the Alhambra to continue to provide the community with great films and lasting experiences."


Recipients also include Suffolk’s oldest cinema, the Film Theatre in Leiston, which has been trading for over a century and a grant of £57,509 will ensure it can continue to do so over the Christmas period this year and into 2021.


In Derbyshire, The Northern Light Cinema, Wirksworth, has been awarded grants totalling £27,749 to help the community venue continue to provide a diverse programme of screenings and events and work closely with young people as well as create a safe and Covid-secure environment for the local rural community when it can reopen.


The Wells Film Centre, a family run cinema in Somerset, will benefit from £78,980 so it can continue to offer its screening programme for young people, parents and babies, its popular Tea Matinees as well as its regular talks with invited art and history speakers.


Sally Cooper, Proprietor, Wells Film Centre, said:


“After what has been an exceedingly difficult year due to Covid-19, the financial support from the Culture Recovery Fund has helped secure the continued survival of the Wells Film Centre so that we can continue entertaining and bringing together our local community."


London’s Peckhamplex will benefit from £564,423 so that this well-known and well-loved community cinema can continue to serve its large and diverse local community safely in 2021. The programme includes a wide range of titles from Hollywood blockbusters to art house releases with accessible tickets for every performance priced at £4.99 alongside film festivals, screenings to promote local filmmakers, and events to support other community assets and charities.


John Reiss, Chairman, Peckhamplex, said:


“Peckhamplex is immensely grateful for the whole range of Government support during the pandemic – the Job Retention Scheme, the taxation deferrals and the Safety and Sustainability grants from the DCMS Culture Recovery Fund, as well as for the support of the London Borough of Southwark. This help, together with very careful management by the Peckhamplex team, will enable us to remain viable, not losing a single employee, and when public health conditions permit and the flow of commercial films is renewed, we look forward to re-opening and continuing to entertain and inform our large and diverse audience from across London at affordable prices”


Other cinemas in cities, towns and rural communities across the country supported by the fund include the Hailsham Pavilion (£55,446), the Ilkley Cinema (£204,421), the Rex Berkhamsted (£350,332), the Merlin Cromer (£69,200), the Odyssey in Albans (£120,377), the Regal Melton Mowbray (£98,661), the Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford (£44,269), the Rex Wilmslow (£138,141), and the Rio Dalson (£110,296).


Cinemas in England have also benefited from other aspects of the Culture Recovery Fund, including Nottingham Broadway which received a grant of £144,000 to kickstart its capital transformation project which was delayed due to the pandemic. Cinemas in multipurpose arts venues such as Home in Manchester and Watershed in Bristol were allocated grants by Arts Council England, ensuring that some of our best known screens have been supported during this crisis.


More than £1 billion has now been allocated from the Culture Recovery Fund to support culture in all four nations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Northern Ireland has allocated £29 million to a Covid-19 Culture, Languages, Arts and Heritage Support Programme, and over £5 million to a Heritage Recovery Fund. Wales has established a £63.7 million Cultural Recovery Fund which includes £20 million to support music, dance, theatre, literature, and the arts allocated by Arts Council Wales. Scotland’s £59 million funding package has also supported the arts, heritage, and grassroots music and established a £15 million Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund.


£14 million in further support will be made available to cinemas through a second round of funding allocated by the BFI early next year from the remainder of the Culture Recovery Fund. Funding was held back to allow the Government to respond to the changing public health picture and will support cinemas at imminent risk of collapse before the end of this financial year. Cinemas which have not yet applied as well as those that have already received support will be able to apply for additional funding to help cover reopening costs from April to June next year. Guidance for applicants and eligibility criteria will be published by the BFI; Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund have also published guidance for applications to the next round of grants. Cinemas are also able to apply to the repayable finance scheme for arts and cultural organisations.

NEWS: Thousands of payphones across the land to ring on New Year's Day in new audio artwork.

Thousands of payphones across the UK ring simultaneously on New Year’s Day in large-scale audio artwork 


  • Pick Me Up (& hold me tight) is a five-minute audio artwork from theatre and digital arts company ZU-UK 
  • The phones will ring at 11am on New Year’s Day 
  • The pilot on New Years’ Day 2020 saw 176 phones across Leeds ring simultaneously, and the project will return for Compass Festival 2021 

@iamzuuk | | #ZUpickmeup 

Pick Me Up (& hold me tight) is a national project aiming to make every phone box in the UK ring at the same time: 11am on New Year’s Day. Those who pick up the ringing phone will hear a five-minute audio artwork designed to encourage us to think about our ability to listen - to ourselves, to others, to our surroundings – in a world which is growing louder by the day. At a time of year when mental health struggles can be more pronounced, especially in a year such as 2020, the audio is a gentle reminder to listen and of the power of simple connections. For those unable to get to a payphone, an online map will show in real-time all pay-phones being answered, and those that are still ringing. Theatre and digital arts company ZU-UK ran a successful pilot that took place at the same time last year, making 176 payphones in Leeds ring with the artwork. 

Whilst the exact number of working payphones in the UK is unknown, in 2018 it was recorded as 34,000. ZU-UK are currently crowdsourcing payphone numbers, and already have thousands of numbers ready for 1st January. Audiences who want to make sure their nearest phone is on the list can request a call, by nominate  their pay-phone number at: 

At a time of global isolation, the work is inspired by ZU-UK’s research into mental health, and is an invitation to think about how we listen. Leeds was selected for the pilot as the area with one of the highest suicide rates in the country. The artwork will revisit Leeds in March as part of Compass Festival 2021 with phones ringing every day throughout the festival.  

Anna Turzynski, Compass Festival Senior Producer, said "The Leeds pilot transformed my relationship with the public phone box, turning it into a site of gentle activism and a reminder of our responsibility to take care of one another."  

Persis Jadé Maravala, ZU-UK’s Artistic Director and writer of Pick Me Up (& hold me tight) said, “Many of us are touched, through bereavement, ideation or survival of suicide - an epidemic that has national resonance. Responding to a national crisis through a national call to action via a gentle artwork, we present Pick Me Up (& hold me tight) as an invitation to explore what kind of listeners we are and could be.” 

Formerly known as Zecora Ura and Para Active, ZU-UK is an award-winning theatre & digital arts company ZU-UK is based in Newham and led by immigrant working-class artists Persis Jade Maravala and Jorge Lopes Ramos. Persis is a disabled artist, ethnically Persian, originally from Yemen and raised in East London. Jorge was born in one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas to a Polish-Romanian family. In a world where mainstream narratives normalize hate and fear, where contemporary loneliness is a new epidemic, we believe in the need for shared rituals, new narratives & experiences that empower those most vulnerable to experience and make excellent art. ZU-UK creates interactive experiences using games, performance and technology. They can happen anywhere including on your phone, in your house, on a stage, in a shopping mall or a field. Previous projects include VR experience Goodnight, Sleep Tight, the immersive Binaural Dinner Date, and #RioFoneHack at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. 

Supported by Arts Council England and 309 individual supporters

NEWS: Pitlochry Festival Theatre celebrates 70 years by launching its first ever Winter Ensemble

Pitlochry Festival Theatre to launch 70th anniversary year with its first Winter Ensemble


Pitlochry Festival Theatre is delighted to announce that to celebrate the start of its 70th anniversary year, it will, for the first time in its history,  be creating an exciting Winter Ensemble of 21 actors from Scotland and further afield. Unlike previous ensembles at Pitlochry Festival Theatre,  the ensemble will be entirely creating new work online during the winter months


Although the circumstances of COVID have been awful and, like all theatres, Pitlochry Festival Theatre has experienced a hard time, the theatre has tried to reflect on the positives.  Inspired by the theatre’s Summer Ensemble ‘going digital’ – due to the postponement of the theatre’s Summer Season - Pitlochry Festival Theatre wanted to continue its important work through into the winter to enable them to keep connected with their audiences, both local and further afield.


The Winter Ensemble will work with the theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman and PFT’s Associate Directors to generate artistic content for audiences to enjoy all over the world. They will also take part in readings, development projects,  and other artistic activity.


The Pitlochry Festival Theatre Winter Programme will feature:

·         #PFTLightHopeJoy - An online programme of diverse content: monologues, book readings, bite-sized  gems of joy like fun facts, poetry, stories, songs, music and engagement and participation activities.

·         Young Explorers – a series of new works especially for children

·         Writers Room -  a space to support writers to develop their new work

·         The theatre will be working in partnership projects with organisations like the National Trust for Scotland, Feis Tatha, local and other theatres across the UK

·         Poetry Fields - This is a digital programme that will make use of the theatre’s natural environment to welcome audiences onsite to have meaningful experiences through curated aural engagement. The Winter Ensemble will create audio work to be heard by audiences as they experience the outdoor spaces in the theatre’s beautiful gardens.

·         This work will also be produced alongside devised and curated works selected by the Winter Ensemble.


The Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s  Winter Ensemble will feature Olivier award nominated Clare Foster (Consent, West End, Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory); Colin McCredie (Taggart, ITV); Kirsty Stuart (Faith Healer, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, The Duchess, the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh ) ; Jessica Hardwick (Barefoot in the Park, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh); Damian Humbley (Lend me a Tenor, Merrily We Roll Along, West End, Local Hero, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh); Richard Standing (Faith Healer, Pitlochry Festival Theatre); Brian Ferguson (Beats, Sixteen Films); Anne Odeke (The Winter’s Tale, Royal Shakespeare Company); Michelle Chantelle Hopewell (The Princess Switch: Switched Again, Netflix); Greg Powrie (Frankenstein, Selladoor Productions ); Deirdre Davis (River City, BBC Scotland); David Rankine (Blithe Spirit, Pitlochry Festival Theatre); Fiona Wood (Blonde Bombshells, Pitlochry Festival Theatre); Gordon Houston (Aleister Crowley Summons The Devil, National Theatre of Scotland); Kenny Boyle (Lost at Christmas, Magic Monkey Films); Barbara Hockaday (The Crucible, Pitlochry Festival Theatre); Ali Watt (A Christmas Carol, Pitlochry Festival Theatre); MJ Deans (Ferry Tales, National Theatre of Scotland); Olivier Huband (Barefoot in the Park, Pitlochry Festival Theatre); Bea Webster (The Winter’s Tale, Royal Shakespeare Company) and the BAFTA Scotland nominated Lois Chimimba (Noises Off, Lyric Hammersmith).

Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman said:

This is a seminal moment for Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Our first Winter Ensemble will be vital to our work next year.  I am personally over the moon to share this news especially for our 70th Anniversary. By creating PFT’s first Winter Ensemble, we intend to celebrate actors and their artistry. Actors are vital to our work. We pride ourselves on being an actor’s theatre, an important home for actors. We can’t wait to get started. And to continue our work to produce a safe space for artists to create incredible performances and, therefore, life-changing experiences for our audiences. Bring on 2021!”


Winter Ensemble member Anne Odeke said:

“I can’t wait to get started with the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Team and the rest of the Winter Ensemble in the New Year. We are planning to make some really important work in the coming months, and I know how much it will speak to people’s hearts and minds, especially now. Safe to say we are excited to get started together to continue the brilliant work of the Summer Ensemble; to bring more light, hope and joy to the public as well as make some amazing new work for the awesome audiences to enjoy too.”


Pitlochry actor Greg Powrie said:

“I’ve had a long and joyful history working at PFT over many years, so I’m thrilled to be returning to be part of the Theatre’s first Winter Ensemble. I’ve lived in the Pitlochry community for a number of years so I’m passionate about making some great work for our local communities and reaching new audiences too.”


Actor Colin McCredie said

“I’ve loved working at Pitlochry Festival Theatre the last couple of years so I’m excited to be part of their first Winter Ensemble and cooking up some great new things for audiences to enjoy online and outdoors! it’s going to be a real celebration of all things theatre and art and nature!”


Actress Clare Foster added:

"I came to Pitlochry in 2019 to experience the Summer Season. I thought the work was incredible, so I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the Theatre's first Winter Ensemble. I also fell in love with the place, so I am really looking forward to producing some great new pieces for the PFT audiences, old and new, to enjoy in the coming months. I am passionate about how we reach people during this difficult time and how we make great work which helps them feel more connected to each other and the rest of the world. I know this Ensemble is going to work hard to do just that."


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