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

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Image: Evlyne Oyedokun will play Ella in Cinderella A Fairytale at Northern Stage

Tis the season and all that, but if you’re not keen on cheesy panto and don’t fancy mingling with rat-arsed office parties, we’ve got just the thing! Read on for some tips on alt. theatre, comedy, film and live music during the festive season that will appeal to all ages and tastes.

THEATRE

Alternative Christmas spirit is on offer at Laurel’s in Whitley Bay, where the world premiere of local writer Robert Westall’s The Watch House brings a touch of the supernatural to the stage thirty years after the North Tyneside writer died, bringing a new audience to his work. Olivier Award-winning producers Jamie Eastlake and Chris Foxon will bring Weston’s Tynemouth-set ghost story to life (5th-23rd Dec). At Newcastle’s Prohibition Cabaret Bar, Assignment Christmas is inspired by iconic sci-fi TV series Sapphire And Steel; expect otherworldly encounters, suspense and intrigue (16th-22nd Dec). There are more dark festivities at Middlesbrough’s Toft House, as they present Murder At The Grange, a Christmas murder mystery created in the style of a radio drama which strikes a balance between drama and comedy (9th Dec). There’s also murder, mystery and an added three-course meal at The Witham’s production of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas (8th & 9th Dec).

No one does gothic Christmas better than Dickens, and Dickens by Candlelight present A Christmas Carol at Alderman Fenwick’s House on Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street (1st-24th Dec). Also based on the Dickens classic, there’s more ghostly goings on courtesy of Eliot Smith Dance’s family-friendly production, Three Jolly Ghosts of Christmas, at various venues including Darlington Library (9th Dec) and The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle (29th Dec).

Continuing the family-friendly tip, Live Theatre’s Wintry Tales: Snow Covered Maps & Mountainous Mayhem contains a series of bonkers and heart-warming tales brought to theatrical life by writer Lisette Auton, assisted by the ideas of local schoolchildren. Expect a Geordie Witch, magical portals, a mythical cat and an intergalactic train! (9th-23rd Dec). Northern Stage also take a winter adventure with The Three Bears, complete with puppets and original music (until 6th Jan). Also at Northern Stage, a royal Christmas ball sees a decidedly alternative Cinderella swap crystal slippers for Doc Martens in Cinderella: A Fairytale, with original score courtesy of The Baghdaddies’ Ziad Jabero (2nd Dec-6th Jan). At Gosforth Civic Theatre, Wintry Night is a magical sensory theatre show from TimbaDash Theatre designed for young people with complex and additional needs (19th-21st Dec).

There’s long-forgotten fables, a cantankerous caretaker and a glitching robot in A Town Called Christmas at Arts Centre Washington, which promises magic, music and mayhem (5th-10th Dec). A puppet-filled tale with an inclusive message, in Tinsel a magical little boy has to convince doubting baubles and naughty elves that he can sing, dance and wear a sparkly tiara as well as anyone else at Bishop Auckland Town Hall (30th Nov-3rd Dec) and Gala Theatre, Durham (5th-24th Dec). Go on a winter wonderland adventure in The Enchanted Snow Globe full of surprise and wonder at Customs House in South Shields (2nd-31st Dec); while at ARC in Stockton, Well Done, Mummy Penguin pays homage to familial bonds and incredible parents everywhere (5th-23rd Dec). At Newcastle’s Star & Shadow Cinema, A Mummer’s Winter Ceilidh present Wrapped Up For Christmas?, complete with dances, songs, a mummers play and storytelling (20th Dec).

Finally, and definitely not a family-friendly show, Big Dick Whittington & His Pussy tips a nod and a wink at panto traditions at The Exchange 1856 in North Shields in the new year, with a cast including Katie Price who plays Queen Rat (25th-28th Jan).

 

COMEDY

Beat the Christmas blues with a good ol’ rib-tickling from some of the region’s favourite entertainers. Comedy improv troupe The Suggestibles pop up at Northern Stage (21st -23rd Dec) and The Cumberland Arms (23rd Dec) for their Impro Pantso show; at Cobalt, Latrine’s Haus of Fun retell the story of Christmas with song, dance, comedy and a few surprises along the way (16th Dec); while at Laurel’s in Whitley Bay, comedy cohorts Metroland present sketch show chaos in It’s A Pitiful Life (29th-31st Dec). At The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle, the Silly Billies Christmas Special promises a Santa’s sack bulging with laughter, with performances from Zoe, Cheekykitta, Kelly Rickard, Fisa Humpledink and hosts Jack & Sam (20th Dec).

Newcastle’s premier comedy club is the place to be for The Stand Christmas Specials featuring Nicola Mantalios, Neil Harris, Laura Davis and Ray Bradshaw (14th-16th Dec); they also host Matt Reed’s Xmas Knees Up, at which he introduces a host of familiar funny friends (12th Dec); while the Mindstar Charity Fundraiser features sets from Lee Kyle, Sammy Dobson, Si Hetherington and host Raul Kohli (18th Dec). For a younger audience, Lee Kyle’s Gungestravaganza promises a badly behaved, family-friendly game show with a Christmassy twist (28th Dec).

Teesside’s chortle experts Hilarity Bites present their Christmas special at Peterlee Pavilion, featuring Dave Johns, Eddy Brimson, Rick Molland, Elaine Robertson and Tony Jameson (8th Dec); Middlesbrough’s Big Mouth Comedy prepare three Christmas specials at Middlesbrough Town Hall with very special guests including Lost Voice Guy, Simon Wozniak, Noise Next Door, Fran Garrity, Dave Twentyman and more (2nd, 9th & 22nd Dec). Hartlepool’s Hot Potato Comedy Club aren’t to be outdone, with sets from Bobby Mair, Hasan Al-Habib, Rob Deering and the ubiquitous Matt Reed at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre (16th Dec). At ARC Stockton’s Catch 22 Christmas Special, Matt Reed and The Noise Next Door pop up again alongside Terry Alderton (22nd Dec); at Darlington’s Forum Music Centre, the Delta & Hyper Variety Show sees a Christmas cabaret like no other, with a night of drag-based seasonal frivolity from Baron LaVey, Phoebe LaReine, Reese Wetherspoon, Veggie Stripper and Vick The Prick (14th Dec); and expect schlock-horror aplenty at Drag Castle’s Crocky Horror Show at Prohibition Cabaret Bar, where Peter Pan meets Rocky Horror (17th Dec).

Image: Rivkala, who performs at Anti-Pleasure

MUSIC

Some reliable North East favourites offer up festive sing-alongs and plenty of good cheer at venues across the region. Gosforth Civic Theatre implore you to start your festive season right, with an electrifying and soul-stirring performance from Voices of Virtue Gospel Choir (2nd Dec); Christmas with The Futureheads at Newcastle’s Boiler Shop is certain to be a raucous knees-up (9th Dec); and the following week at the same venue, soulful party-starters Smoove & Turrell promise a ‘wacky’ Xmas party (16th Dec). Expect a ‘radgy party and raucous festivity’ as The Baghdaddies bring their eclectic sound to Newcastle’s Cobalt (15th Dec), or if that sounds too raucous join choir leader Lindsay Hannon for a Christmas Pop Up Choir at the same venue the following night; another local legend, Martin Stephenson, brings his Good Will Trio to The Cluny for two dates (22nd & 23rd Dec); at Sunderland’s Pop Recs Ltd., expect four-part harmonies and festive tunes from The Cornshed Sisters with special guests SLUG (15th Dec); and at The Old Coal Yard, enjoy their Ho Ho Ho Down which includes a joyous set from Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra with DJ Stagger Lee (15th Dec).

There’s more seasonal fare at Sunderland’s Fire Station, where folk favourites Eliza Carthy and Jon Boden present their Wassail, featuring traditional tunes that include some of the oldest songs in the English canon (21st Dec); Teesside’s Amelia Coburn is certain to include a few festive favourites in amongst her set of spellbinding alt. folk at Stockton’s ARC, complete with singer-songwriter Marina Josephina in tow (9th Dec); audiences can expect cheeky camaraderie courtesy of Carmen & Dick at Eaglescliffe’s The Waiting Room (17th Dec); and there’s an opportunity to uncover rituals found in the folklore and folk music of England at Midwinter at The Witham in Barnard Castle, in Carolling & Crumpets with John Kirkpatrick (5th Dec).

There’s plenty of festive family fun at The Glasshouse in Gateshead, with performances from The Demon Barbers (10th Dec), Paul Edis & Friends (16th Dec), A Winter Union (18th Dec), Kate Rusby (20th Dec) and Jez Lowe (23rd Dec). Special mention also goes to Curious Arts’ collab with Royal Northern Sinfonia who will be joined by Edwin Outwater and drag superstar Peaches Christ for A Christmas Gaeity, with special performances from Baga Chipz and drag and singing royalty Le Gateau Chocolat (13th Dec); while From The Glasshouse At Christmas will see performances from The Magpies, Amy Thatcher & Francesca Knowles and Amelia Coburn (13th Dec).

For something totally different, the region’s grassroots scene delivers in spades. The Globe in Newcastle present their Anarchismas with performances from Ellen Moss, Circus and Arpeture (16th Dec), and the following night at The Globe Xmas Party there’s bluegrass and jazz from David Gray’s Flextet and Eva Fox Duo. Trillians in Newcastle welcomes DIY promoters North East Cosmonauts Circus’ Xmas Party, featuring sets from garage rockers Onlooker, punky folksters Cherry & Peesh, riffsters Hot Rockets and folk punks Operation Vanguard (17th Dec); Middlesbrough’s home of weird music, Toft House, presents a Xmas Bash with The Jack Dash, plus Helen Speed, Gary Bliss & Ronnie Brown (16th Dec); and the ever-reliable (and now sold out) Idiot Savant Xmas Pageant at the same venue offers up a noisy singalong with Old Muggins and Tom Blackwell (23rd Dec). Alt. indie band Weathership promise a Dark Dark Christmas at Stockton’s Georgian Theatre, accompanied by Ben James Miller from Church, Honey (15th Dec); while at Darlington’s Forum Music Centre, there’s the aptly named A Festive Evening of Live Electronic Music courtesy of Holy Braille, Analogue Blood and Sick Robot (13th Dec).

In Newcastle, alt. Queer all-dayer Anti-Pleasure programme a Xmas special at Zerox, featuring performances from Loose Articles, Irked and Rivkala, plus DJ sets from ma.ie and Abby Harris (16th Dec); at Little Buildings, joycore quartet Kkett invite you to celebrate Kkettmas with Fashion Tips, Badger and Gaydar, plus a Kketteroke Afterparty which will be “like karaoke but more radge” (9th Dec); and there’s more hedonistic fun at Cobalt, where DJ Paulette offers up disco, house, techno and Xmas cheer (16th Dec).

If you’re still standing after the Christmas blow-out, head to Stockton’s KU for X-Fest, a raucous night of rock, indie and hip-hop courtesy of We Tibetans, ZELA, Gone Tomorrow and Shakk (28th Dec); or take to Newcastle’s Cumberland Arms for promoter Endless Window’s annual charity Festive Window featuring Ponyland, Iris Brickfield, Holy Braille, Smuj and William Denton Wilde, with all proceeds going to The People’s Kitchen (30th Dec).

Image: La Gateau Chocolat, who performs at A Christmas Gaeity

FILM

Live music and cinema go hand in hand at The Glasshouse, with their Home Alone In Concert (9th-10th Dec) and The Snowman In Concert (22nd-24th Dec) screenings accompanied by Royal Northern Sinfonia.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of festive screenings at Tyneside Cinema throughout December, including the usual family faves like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Love Actually, Home Alone, Elf and It’s A Wonderful Life. Curveballs also include indie comedy drama Tangerine, Ingmar Bergman’s family saga Fanny And Alexander and spine-tingling classics from the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas series. If you’re feeling really festive, settle in for the Christmas All-Nighter which includes thrillers, chillers and a secret selection of festive gems (2nd Dec).

Newcastle’s other indie gem, the Star & Shadow Cinema, screens slasher flick Christmas Evil plus there’s a festive film quiz the same night (14th Dec). Head to Gosforth Civic Theatre for more family-friendly flicks like Elf, Home Alone and Arthur Christmas (21st-23rd Dec); The Common Room have screenings of The Snowman, The Snowdog and Die Hard (16th Dec), as well as Christmas craft events earlier in the month.

 

Image: Lizzie Esau, who performs at The Caper, image by takenbystorm

EVERYTHING ELSE

From crafty days to cabaret nights, there’s a tonne of worthy events to attend throughout the festive period.

Performance-wise, The Caper bring their myriad of entertainment back to Gateshead’s Baltic, with live music from Lizzie Esau, Left Blank, Too Common and Polyvinyl, stand-up comedy from Matt Reed, Lauren Pattison, Jake Donaldson, Sean Turner, Lauren Stone and more, plus swing dance lessons, live art, retro gaming, a celeb Christmas quiz and street food courtesy of Copper Ricebox, La Chilenita and Beanie Bun as well as a couple of bars (14th Dec).

Learn a new skill at The Cumberland Arms’ Christmas Craft Night, and join in with wrapping paper printing and card making (7th Dec). Baltic Shop hosts a variety of crafty events including creating festive banners (9th Dec) and felt Christmas decorations (16th Dec).

Struggling to buy something interesting for your loved ones? The Lubber Fiend Christmas Market promises arts, crafts, prints and a “bunch of other stuff” from indie creatives (2nd Dec); the Made Up North Winter Market at Boiler Shop brings together 65 Northern makers, artists and creatives (3rd Dec); The Marley Fair at John Marley Centre will feature a host of creative stalls plus live music (9th Dec); at the Sunderland Teenage Art Market at Sunderland Museum & Winter Garden discover a group of young local talent and their produce (9th Dec); and the popular Shipley Christmas Craft Market will take place at the Gateshead gallery, dedicated to local artists and craft makers (9th Dec). The Bowes Museum’s Christmas Late offers an opportunity to browse the gallery after hours and enjoy seasonal food and drinks (8th Dec), plus there’s the return of their Winter Market (15th-17th Dec). If it’s vinyl you’re after (or a very last minute gift) Off The Ground Record Fair at Off The Ground Coffee in Middlesbrough will have a huge collection of new and used vinyl for sale (24th Dec).

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