FEATURE: ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Bonnie & Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, apparently. If the thought of drunken work Christmas parties and cheesy panto fills you with dread, we’re certain you’ll find something to enjoy in our Alternative Xmas feature, from festive cabaret to comedy capers and live music galore.

For those who like a little shiver down the spine, Arts Centre Washington’s Christmas Gothic will delight, as a dark and spectral woman tells haunting tales of the festive season, illuminating the cold and chilling depths of the bleak, wintry dark… (Friday 13th December). Meanwhile, Northern Stage gets as far as possible from such gloomy tales in their production of The Snow Queen, a new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable from award-winning playwright and director Laura Lindow, which takes a typically spellbinding look at friendship and magic (Saturday 30th November-Saturday 4th January). Alphabetti’s festive contribution, Present, tells the Christmas story from the perspective of a homeless man and his quest to find a gift for his grandson, with live music from Martha Hill. A percentage of ticket sales will be donated to homelessness charity Crisis (Tuesday 17th-Monday 23rd December).

Things take a decidedly more sparkly turn at Live Theatre, as our cover stars Bonnie & The Bonnettes team up with side-splitting sketch troupe Your Aunt Fanny for Bonnie & Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular, an alternative cabaret show filled to the brim with sketches, lip-synchs, dancing, stories and unapologetic raucousness (Wednesday 11th-Saturday 14th December). Also at Live, infamous cult comedy quiz show Mixtape returns, with new Christmas sketches and a mash up of Mixtape favourites throughout the eras (Wednesday 18th-Saturday 21st December).

If you feel it’s really not Christmas without a farcical “he’s behind you” or two, there are plenty of options for some panto action. Part panto, part dance show and part gig, The Demon Barbers return to Sage Gateshead on Wednesday 11th December with their Lock In Christmas Carol. Improv comedy troupe The Suggestibles rear their silly heads in a couple of locations with fully improvised panto Impro Pantso; expect all kinds of ridiculousness at Northern Stage, as the comedy crew are let loose on the Snow Queen set on Thursday 19th-Friday 20th, while at The Cumberland Arms on Saturday 21st December there’s mulled wine and mince pies on arrival and sing-a-dance-a-long-a-Suggestible until midnight. Cinderella & The Beanstalk at Newcastle’s Stand comedy club offers alternative hilarity for all the family, as Cinderella (aka performance artist Hannah Walker) meets charming oaf Jack (played by comedian Hal Branson) amidst geese, giants and ugly sisters, also featuring Lee Kyle, Sammy Dobson and on-screen guests Ben Crompton and Amy Gledhill among others (Saturday 7th-Monday 30th December). Meanwhile, The Tyne Theatre & Opera House host adult pantomime Sinderella on Friday 24th January, filled with glittering sets, sparkling costumes and more innuendo than you thought possible.

Catch 22 comedy club at Stockton’s ARC sees host Danny McLoughlin introduce daft double act Raymond and Mr Timpkins and their prop-fuelled show, plus there’s stand-up from Daliso Chaponda and Omar Abid (Friday 13th December). Also at ARC, MC Matt Reed invites twelve new acts to Beat The Gong in the most brutal festive comedy night on Teesside (Friday 6th December). There’s more festive comedy at The Stand Christmas Special shows, with stand-up stints from North East comedy royalty Jason Cook, Lost Voice Guy, Sammy Dobson, David Callaghan and Joe Heenan (Monday 9th-Saturday 14th December); while Viz co-creator Simon Donald brings his comedy creation Barry Twyford to the venue on Monday 23rd December.

If you’d rather hide in a dark room, there’s some great movie options at Newcastle’s indie cinemas. The Star & Shadow Cinema screen vintage Christmas short films accompanied by contemporary live scores in A Christmas Carol Triple Bill on Sunday 22nd December; and peppered throughout the month there’s a variety of festive flicks (both cheerful and very decidedly not) to enjoy, including Dial Code Santa Claus (Saturday 7th), Gremlins (Thursday 19th), and 1930s classic comedy thriller The Thin Man (Sunday 15th). At the Tyneside Cinema, expect all the usual family favourites from The Muppet Christmas Carol (i.e. the best version of the classic tale, in our expert opinion) (Saturday 7th & Tuesday 24th), a Die Hard double-bill (Saturday 7th), and screenings of the usual family classics including The Polar Express, Elf, The Grinch, The Holiday and more, plus it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Tyneside screening It’s A Wonderful Life (throughout December).

While we can’t promise there’ll be no corny Christmas songs on the stereo or the stage, there will be plenty of festive cheer in our region’s music venues. Worshipping at the altar of Santa, Middlesbrough’s defunct-ish rockers Idiot Savant reprise the Idiot Savant Christmas Band at Westgarth Social Club on Saturday 21st December, with support from post-punkers Pellethead. Also in Middlesbrough, at Baker Street’s Disgraceland, alt. indie trio Whale Hill present their Christmas shindig (Friday 20th December); at Sad For Life Recs’ spiritual home of Base Camp, their Warehouse Christmas Party features sets from Uncle Buzzard and Fehlt on Friday 13th December; and at Middlesbrough Town Hall their Sunday Jazz events continue apace with a festive edition from Jambone and Paul Edis on Sunday 15th December. At Sunderland’s Independent on Saturday 14th December, local rockers Plastic Glass head up a party which also features Post Rome, The Midnight Drive, Kickin’ Lilies, Patrick Gosling and The Tonalities. At Bobik’s, atmospheric indie folk comes courtesy of The Winter Hill Transmission who also welcome alt. folkies Hector Gannet to their Xmas special on Thursday 19th; while at the same venue on Thursday 12th, Mr Drayton’s Christmas Singles Club will see the eponymous curator welcome eight special guests to talk about their favourite Christmas tunes, with daftness, prizes and Christmas cheer guaranteed.

There are plenty of opportunities to get your festive funk on, with the likes of Smoove & Turrell hosting their Christmas party at Newcastle’s Boiler Shop (Saturday 21st-Sunday 22nd); Balkan party band The Baghdaddies’ annual knees up is at Cobalt Studios on Friday 13th; while the legendary Archie Brown & The Young Bucks play The Cluny 2 on Saturday 21st and inimitable storyteller and musician Martin Stephenson brings his Toe Rags to the same venue on Friday 27th December.

For something very different indeed, rock up to Newcastle’s North Terrace pub on Saturday 21st December for Advent Calendar Live; initially coming to life as YouTube clips, and then as a podcast featuring obscure Christmas and wintry music and songs collated by Richy Hetheringtin, it’s now turned into a full-blown live show, with seasonal covers performed by a raft of famous local faces including :zoviet*france:, Faithful Johannes, Mushi Mushi, Groovetrain, The Samphires and more, with money raised going to Shelter and AgeUK.

Whatever you get up to, have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year!



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