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

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Image: Lee Kyle & Sammy Dobson

It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but for those of us who have seen Elf too many times already (actually, is that possible?) and can’t stomach panto, the season can be somewhat of a cultural wasteland. But never fear, there are still festive treats in the region for the discerning soul! Let us guide you through some of the best…


Laurel’s in Whitley Bay reprise Reece Connolly’s Antichristmas, in which a pair of down on their luck millennials take up a challenge from a bloke in a red suit outside the offie, who wants them to deliver a baby in return for a suitcase full of cash (19th-23rd Dec). Also at Laurel’s, Just One Step Fringe Musical Theatre company offer up a ‘filthy’ and delicious Christmas Comedy Cabaret (4th Dec).

Expect anarchic, anachronistic cabaret and comedy from Carmen & Dick at the Waiting Room in Eaglescliffe (4th Dec); there’s more variety at Sage Gateshead, where Curious Arts’ Winter Cabaret features alt. drag artist Ginger Johnson, performer extraordinaire Jaii Andrew and the magnificent Carmen, who will all be joined by DJ Lady Annabella (15th Dec). At The Cumberland Arms expect drag, music, comedy, dance and drama with a mission to educate and entertain at Jonathan Wells-Lee’s Christmas Spectacular Variety Show featuring special guests including drag queen Velvet Snätch, nostalgic ‘band’ Hot Mess, ex-stripper turned nu-age shaman Bambhi Llambhorgini and a very naughty pantomime dromedary, with profits going to East End Women (11th Dec). There’s more burlesque joy courtesy of House of Trixie Blue at Prohibition Cabaret Bar’s Christmas Burlesque Special, featuring the sensational Sapphire Whiskers (16th Dec).

For the little’uns, alternative takes on classic stories come in the form of Joss Arnott Dance’s magical Tin Man at Dance City (14th Dec), in which the rusty character makes new friends as he comes up against the Wicked Witch in the deep dark wood, complete with a commissioned score from award-winning composer Anna Appleby performed live by ensemble Psappha. Over at Northern Stage, their headline production is Laura Lindow’s take on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in which young Geordie lass Hatty Rabbit embarks on a magical adventure through the city’s streets in the classic good vs evil caper, complete with puppets and original music from Katie Doherty (3rd Dec-7th Jan). Alphabetti Theatre’s artistic director Ali Pritchard has enlisted the help of children from Hotspur Primary School to present their production of Song of the Goblins, a fantastical family adventure which explores just who lives in those green metal boxes that apparently house telephone wires (spoiler: they’re actually goblins) (13th-31st Dec). The Star & Shadow Cinema’s The Tree of Life introduces youngsters to climate concerns in a story with lots of songs and participation performed by local storyteller Chris Bostock (28th Dec).

Live Theatre present two festive treats; the spellbinding Wintry Tales (for those aged 4+) features everything from lonely polar bears and snowy supermarkets to revolutionary elves and snowball-firing robots (4th-23rd Dec), while Wishes On The Wind’s tale of chance encounters, self-sabotage and musical endeavours is a tender and romantic comedy for 14+ (8th-18th Dec).

Looking for something a bit more traditional? Top of the (Christmas) tree is The Adventures of Robin Hood In Cooksonville at South Shields’ Customs House where brave outlaws and men in tights ride roughshod over the Sheriff and his evil henchman (until 7th Jan), or try the magical family Santamime at The Witham in Barnard Castle and meet Grudge the grouchy gnome (19th Dec). For fans of spooky tales, Christmas Gothic at Middlesbrough Town Hall features a dark and spectral woman telling haunting tales of the festive season (7th Dec).


Tis the season to be jolly, and the region’s funny folk are out en masse. Perennial silly sausages Lee Kyle and Sammy Dobson present their Family Christmas Show at The Stand, which lovingly rips off It’s A Wonderful Life with plenty of songs and hilarity for those aged 6+ (10th, 11th, 17th, 18th, 28th & 29th Dec); and for adults, Christmas cheer is offered up in spades courtesy of The Stand Christmas Special shows featuring Nicola Mantalios, Ryan Cullen, Raul Kohli and Larry Dean (15th-17th Dec). Also at The Stand, Matt Reed’s Xmas Knees Up will feature the good and the great of the region’s comedy circuit (18th Dec). If you can’t get enough of Matt Reed, he’s overseeing Hot Potato Comedy Club’s Xmas Special at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre alongside Jojo Sutherland, Tal Davies and Andy Askins (17th Dec); the gifted MC also turns up at Catch 22’s Christmas Special at ARC in Stockton, alongside BGT semi-finalist Jonny Awsum and British Comedian of the Year 2021 Jeff Innocent (9th Dec); and busy boys Matt and Jeff pop up again at Big Mouth Comedy Club’s Christmas Special alongside provocative comic Fin Taylor at Middlesbrough Town Hall (10th Dec), with a further night of chortles at the venue on 3rd Dec, line-up TBA.

At Stockton’s ARC, brutal comedy night Beat The Gong Christmas Special features twelve hot and hilarious new acts at the mercy of the audience (2nd Dec); and there’s more Christmas peril at the appropriately named Metroland Live: A Christmas Peril at Laurel’s in Whitley Bay, where you can expect laughter, profanity and dastardly sketches (28th-30th Dec). Across the water at South Shields’ Customs House, Jason Cook’s Christmas Comedy Club will welcome big names, huge laughs and a few surprises to boot (19th Dec).

If it’s unscripted giggles you’re after, look to the best in the biz as The Suggestibles Impro Pantso takes over Northern Stage for a couple of nights of epic misadventures (15th-16th Dec); and there’s more improvisational daftness – this time for families – at Hilarity Bites’ Discount Comedy Checkout Family Show at Bishop Auckland Town Hall (3rd Dec).


If tradition’s your thing, Great North Museum: Hancock encourage you to dance, sing and enjoy festive refreshments at their Great North Nights: Christmas Ceilidh (16th Dec); and Star & Shadow Cinema’s A Mummer’s Winter Ceilidh will feature Storytellers Streetband’s seasonal family show mixing ceilidh with theatre and storytelling, while also exploring global warming issues (22nd Dec).

It simply wouldn’t be Christmas without RNS: The Snowman in Concert at Sage Gateshead (22nd -24th Dec), and there’s more festive loveliness with Paul Smith and friends (3rd Dec), Eliza Carthy (3rd Dec), Martin Stephenson & The Daintees (9th Dec), Kate Rusby (15th Dec), Paul Edis (17th Dec) and Jez Lowe (23rd Dec) among many others.

Newcastle’s Globe have a handful of great alternative shows, including ska-punks Goodsprings (10th Dec); drum and bass and face-melting futurism at Curves’ Jungle All The Way (17th Dec); and Jazz Coop’s Xmas Party sees performances from Blue Jazz Quartet with Rivkala and Byker Hillbillies topped off with a jam session (18th Dec).

Among the delights at The Cluny throughout December, we’d draw your attention to Martin Stephenson’s two night Christmas bonanza (21st-22nd Dec) and the ‘wild and riffy’ rockers The Peevie Wonders’ celebration alongside neo-soul artists Kate Bond and Frankie Jobling (20th Dec). There’s more manic sounds at Little Buildings where joycore scamps Kkett bring beguiling songwriter Bugman and alt. electro/indie artist MXYM to the stage (9th Dec). And round the corner at Cobalt Studios, have a right ol’ festive knees up with The Baghdaddies (16th Dec) and join in the festivities with a Christmas Choir Celebration (17th Dec).

If it’s tunes of a heavier nature that are floating your boat, head on down to Trillians’ Imperial Christmas gig with Blame Yourself, One Million Motors and Last Case Scenario (21st Dec); or the superbly titled Shitsmas show with ‘scum rockers’ The Shits, noisy hardcore rockers Frisk, hardcore punks Rat Cage, heavy rockers Heavy Sentence and dirgy artists Louse at The Lubber Fiend (16th Dec).

Over at Sunderland’s Fire Station, things get rockier with The Futureheads and The Lake Poets performing alongside more regional talent (2nd Dec); the illustrious tones of Richard Hawley take over the venue for what’s sure to be a sell-out show (12th Dec) and much-loved harmonious pop band The Cornshed Sisters will regale with carols and Christmas pop hits (17th Dec).

There’s bound to be a festive hit or two when celebrated folkies The Young’uns present their Christmas shindig at The Witham in Barnard Castle (9th Dec); and South Tyneside producer Harbourmaster provides a line-up of thoughtful new wave from Amateur Ornithologist, chamber pop band Railway Club and indie songwriter Eve Cole at South Shields’ Sea Change (2nd Dec).

Things get twinkly down in Skinningrove Village Hall near Saltburn, where Teesside’s folky, bluesy and country-tinged band Peg Powler headline, alongside Americana-infused folk artist Dale Husband (17th Dec). If that’s too shiny and happy for you, A Dark Dark Christmas will see J.P Riggall’s alt. noir rock project Weathership head up a show which also includes The Purnells at NE Volume Music Bar in Stockton (17th Dec); and the annual Idiot Savant Christmas Pageant returns to Westgarth Social Club in Middlesbrough for a dose of post-punk garage sounds courtesy of Pellethead, electro spoken word from Faithful Johannes and dream rockers Sorry Escalator (23rd Dec).


In the ‘other good stuff’ bracket you’ll find festive flicks, crafty markets, community fun and much more.

If you’re looking for quirky, crafty or unusual gifts there’s a slew of markets across the region. Check out a wonderful selection of curated artworks at The Wormhood Pop-Up Shop in the Ouseburn Valley’s Bottleworks (1st-6th Dec); there’s a vast range of diverse stalls, plus food and live music at Pineapple Black Christmas Market (2nd-3rd Dec); indie crafts at Make More Market at BALTIC (3rd Dec); Sister Shack curate an eclectic collection of local artisans at The Cumberland Arms Christmas Market (3rd Dec); the Orbis Community in Gateshead present an afternoon and evening of open studios, workshops, tattoos, crafts and more at Vane Gallery (10th Dec); and there’s arts, crafts and bric-a-brac at Star & Shadow Cinema Christmas Market (11th Dec).

For a fun day out, take the family for a wander around the Saltburn Ice Trail in the town centre, where ice carving, festive performances and walk about theatre will engage young and old (17th Dec); and if the weather outside is frightful, head indoors for a festive flick at loads of venues across the region including Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema, Gosforth Civic Theatre, ARC in Stockton and Gala Theatre in Durham, where old faithfuls like It’s A Wonderful Life, The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, Elf, Die Hard, Home Alone, Frozen, Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas will be shown throughout December.

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