A Night at the Theatre – Blithe Spirit

Escape into another world with Noel Coward’s comedy classic, Blithe Spirit running this week at Middlesbrough Theatre. Enter the country house set of the early twentieth century, a world of faltering servants, clipped accents, cocktails and it is formal dress code for dinner parties. It is all frightfully correct but there are frightening things bubbling beneath the surface. This particular dinner party thrown by socialite and novelist Charles and his wife Ruth serves up far, far more than the hosts bargained for with hilarious consequences.

Charles is researching for his latest book and decides to invite the marvellously over the top medium Madame Arcati over to conduct a séance. Maybe he ought to have thought twice before the flamboyant spiritualist asked if there was anyone there. Charles’ troublesome first wife Elvira seemed only too keen to return and cause all sorts of trouble and mayhem between Charles and second wife Ruth.

We are so lucky to have Middlesbrough Theatre. The unassuming post-war theatre sits amongst the foliage of leafy Linthorpe. The theatre has so many pluses, from the ample car parking right outside to the attentive staff. There are the home comforts of proper theatre seats and the rake affords superb viewing. Yet it has that intimacy of a small theatre but with a stage big enough to allow the elaborate country house set. In fact the last time I attended a play here we were all actually seated in the round on the stage itself.

Blithe Spirit is regarded as one of Noel Coward’s masterpieces, breaking all records for a West End run with nearly 2000 performances through the 1940s, records then smashed by The Mousetrap. Yet Coward went out of fashion, his plays about upper class England were something of an anathema to the aspiring post war generations. Latterly we fell in love with Noel Coward all over again as he made notable appearances on the screen, who can forget him as the criminal godfather, Mr Bridger, in The Italian Job.

This show is co-presented with Less is More Productions. They are a local company aiming to create theatre in Tees Valley area. Less is More like to work with and nurture emerging artists from Middlesbrough and the north east. That is certainly the case with the actress fulfilling the role of the ghostly presence of Elvira. South Shields Natasha Haws still known to many as the ridiculously talented teenage singer songwriter. She is also a ridiculously talented actor on the stage.

Only Charles can see Natasha/Elvira’s ghostly presence but while the results are hilarious for us they are certainly no laughing matter for the hen pecked husband. He is suddenly trapped between his high maintenance first wife Elvira and equally domineering second spouse, Ruth. Charles doesn’t know which way to turn. Maybe he could enjoy the best of both worlds. Yet secretly and certainly not silently Elvira is plotting, plotting, plotting.

Really funny, superb acting and a great opportunity to revel in a real treasure of 20th century theatre.

You can see Blithe Spirit – Friday and Saturday evening 7.30pm

£14/ Concessions £12

Middlesbrough Theatre, The Avenue, Middlesbrough, TS5 6SA.
T. 01642 81 51 81 | Website: www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk

Blithe Spirit poster

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The Boro Phallacy

Crime has a new enemy… and it never saw him coming.

“When Robert Jones awoke with yet another monster hangover in his house in Teesside, he could never have imagined that within just a few hours his life would change forever.”

This is The Boro Phallacy, the debut novel by Boro fan and indeed scout, Michael Richardson. It is launched this Friday (at Southern Cross, Marton after 6pm)  through locally based publishers, Sixth Element. I had to ask Michael a few questions to let us get to know more about the author and his first book.

boro phallacy“Kidnappings, the murderous attentions of a midget set on revenge and the world’s largest bank heist are just the beginning. But, the pandemonium all around, Rob is oblivious, his focus fixed firmly on his blossoming relationship with an extremely seductive vacuum cleaner.
However, there’s one small problem, Rob is a robot and he’s missing a vital component.”

Can I ask you about how the book came about. Have you ever written before?

This is my first ever attempt at writing and had I have known that the project would take three years to finish, I may never have even started it ha ha.

Seriously though, writing a book was something I had been wanting to do for a number of years but never got round to starting. It was something to tick off the bucket list, a lasting legacy. That was the dream anyway. I just never imagined I would write a work of fiction. I had dreams of writing about all those Boro away days I’d attended and the antics I’d seen up and down the country on various forms on transport and pubs. You never know, I still might, look out for that one.

Working offshore do you have periods where you have time on your hands to think and plan etc?

I work twelve hour shifts offshore and the work is pretty intense but to answer your question yes, I do get a few hours to myself which has allowed me to progress the book. It’s actually created a bit of a following out here, with people asking what it’s about, or when is it released. I believe it’s the first time somebody on the 3Bravo has ever written one.

Can you tell us a little about your background. Are you a Teessider etc?

Born at Middlesbrough General hospital, a goal kick away from Ayresome Park, I’ve lived in Middlesbrough all my life. Initially raised on Sutton estate where I attended Beechwood school. I then moved around a bit to Linthorpe where I attended Green Lane and then Hustler schools before moving again to Marton Manor and now Nunthorpe.

This has meant I’ve worked in and around Industrial Teesside in places such as Seal Sands and Wilton site as a chemical process worker, before moving offshore about 11 years ago.

The title might suggest you tap into local humour?

Very much so. The book relies heavily on local humour and lists many of the famous Teesside landmarks. It’s also written with Teesside dialect in mind and mentions the mighty Boro, the parmo, our town centres with its infamous nightclubs as well as a few local celebrities.

Feedback I’ve received has been excellent, though I have had to explain a few things to those people who are not from this neck of the woods.

Please could you give us a very brief introduction about your book? And where and how did you get that idea?

When a Thornaby hippy’s partner walks out on him without explanation, his life spirals into loneliness and despair. But he soon remedies it, by creating a robot from the ICI stores. It’s a shambolic start for the young cyborg but over time he inherits artificial intelligence and becomes an almost perfect, 6ft 4” dreamboat of pure wow. Only there’s a problem. His father never built him a penis and he’s none too happy about it. What follows next is a hilarious slap stick journey through Teesside, that not only sees him try and reach his dream, but also sees them get unwittingly tangled in the biggest bank heist the UK has ever seen. Will Rob get his penis? Will it play a pivotal part in saving Middlesbrough? Probably.

It is a big and brave step to take from having an idea and developing it and then publishing. Did you have support from friends, workmates and Sixth Element Publishing?

I don’t think any writer can claim to have written a book without any support. Whether it’s your wife and kids waiting patiently for you to finish your next chapter. Or friends encouraging you not give up; you simply need that support around you.

Many of my ideas for this book came whilst I was in the pub with friends and the fact that it took more than a few pints to come up with any funny gags should hopefully tell you what type of a book you’re buying.

I seriously wouldn’t have finished it had it not been for my friends. Sixth Element were different. They’re the professionals. They took my book, liked the idea and turned it into a paperback, I owe them a lot. So you may not be able to polish a turd, but seemingly, you can roll it in glitter.

How exciting will it be to see the book printed and published? What are your hopes for The Boro Phallacy?

To see the book finally printed, wow. So much hard work has gone into it that a printed copy will signal the end. Its then trying to find out what to do with all the extra spare time I’m going to have although I have left it open for a sequel. Although that all depends on how this one goes. What are my hopes? See the book on the shelves in WH Smith, be contacted by a Hollywood film director before finally world domination. Providing it doesn’t interfere with the Boro match of course.

Are you a Boro fan by the way and if so what are your thoughts on what we achieved last season and are you looking forward to the season ahead?

I’m a massive Boro fan. Have been for 30 years now. I’ve also introduced my son to the Boro family and we are both season ticket holders, although he’s too cool to sit with me these days. He’s embedded in the Red Faction family while I prefer the quieter North Stand. My mate Darren and I have had the same seat since the Riverside opened. They don’t provide the best view in the house but they’re ours and I’ve got a feeling that’s how it will stay.

I’m also lucky enough to work for the club. I scout for them on weekends when I’m on leave. That means I’m out every weekend searching for the next Juninho and recommending him to our academy staff. You’ll never know how proud I was to be asked to show new players around Hurworth one time, Unbelievable. My dream as a kid was always to play for Boro one day and at 41 I still haven’t give that up, but to be asked to scout for them is the next best thing. Imagine in 15 years’ time if one of my recommendations runs out in a Boro shirt. Now that would be awesome.

Oh and one more thing, if you take the first letter of every chapter in this book, it spells out… ‘EVERYBODY ROUND MY HOUSE FOR A PARMO.’ Michael’s own little tribute to Ali Brownlee.

The Boro Phallacy is a frenetic, fast-paced and funny crime thriller told through the eyes of two unlikely heroes whose love of Crocodile Dundee knows no bounds.

Paperback, 276 pages, RRP £9.99
ISBN 978-1-908299-94-9
Published by Sixth Element Publishing, September 2016

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Adventures in Monahan Land

He’s wowed millions of people on TV and played more than 300 gigs all over the world this year, but Middlesbrough Town Hall is still Patrick Monahan’s favourite place to play.

And now the Teesside funnyman is defying the Teesside winter and donning the shorts and sunglasses as he looks forward to playing the Town Hall Crypt on Saturday 13 June next summer.

“I think I need a scarf more than sunglasses at the moment,” said Patrick. “But I’m already looking forward to playing the Town Hall next summer.”

It’s been another incredible year for Patrick, who won ITV’s Show Me The Funny in 2011.

He’s played over 300 gigs this year, including all over the UK and Europe, a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, plus far-flung hotspots including Dubai, Bahrain and Costa Rica.

And a busy TV year included getting his feet wet on ITV’s Splash, and appearing alongside the legendary Dame Edna Everage on Celebrity Squares.

“It’s been an amazing year really,” said Patrick. “The TV stuff was great fun to do, and I was probably more nervous about meeting Dame Edna than actually doing the show itself. You could see that everyone on the show was transfixed by her, and you could almost forget the cameras were on you too.”

Patrick’s Boro date adds to a growingly impressive Town Hall comedy line-up for 2015, with Dara O Briain (Weds 15 April), Alan Carr (Sun 19 April & Thurs 30 July), Jimmy Carr (Sat 28 March), Katherine Ryan (Sat 16 May), Kevin Bridges (Thurs 16 July), and Dave Gorman (Sat 21 November) already confirmed for Teesside next year.

“I play literally hundreds of gigs a year,” said Patrick, who grew up in Redcar and Stokesley. “But the Town Hall is the gig that always stands out a mile for me.

“It’s a proper homecoming gig as far as I’m concerned, more like a massive party and a huge catch up amongst friends.

“And when you look at the line-ups that the place keeps putting together … it’s a real testament to the Town Hall and the audiences that the big comics keep coming back for more.

“I know from speaking to other comics that they think the Town Hall is a great place to play, and I’m really looking forward to jumping in for the gig next summer.”

Now my interview with Patrick in the sanctuary of the Olde Young Tea House on Grange Road.

Q: Patrick on a cold day when people are scuttling around town trying to secure Christmas bargains what on earth possessed you to be standing next to the Christmas tree in Middlesbrough centre in your t-shirt and shorts?

PM: I tell you what. You say it was a cold day and you came wrapped with three jackets, and two scarves. I thought, he looks like he has just been to Matalan, how many tops has he got on? It must be about seven.

Q: I was dressed for December. I would say you weren’t.

PM: Yes. The guys from the town hall all said I am coming to do my tour show in Middlesbrough Town Hall on June 13th it is almost the last date of my tour. (In the summer). They thought what is the best way to celebrate Christmas and get ready for the summer tour. Come and sunbathe by the Christmas tree in Middlesbrough. I think that could be the opening 5 minutes in any stand up tour. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get heckled in June for that. “There’s that nutter.”

It is almost like a 50 date, 2015 of my new show. Normally I like to do the Town Hall somewhere in the middle. I never like to do it first because even though the show has already been written and I have done it at Edinburgh for a month, I like to get it really tight. When you come back to Boro it is like your homecoming gig.

People often ask me do you get more nervous when you come back? Not really. I used to be petrified but I suppose it is like the football teams. At first they can play better in the crucial games away from home because of the pressure. It was like that for me when I first did it. When you first come back. There are people who want you to do well but there are so many. It is great. You handle the nerves. It is now become as case of I love it, I look forward to it and it is actually not that nerve racking now.

The audience here are so giving. Even before you walk on people are screaming and they want hugs as opposed to if you doing a Town Hall or Arts Centre somewhere where people might have only come because of word of mouth. They might sitting there saying is this guy for real? Why is he touching us? Why is he still hugging people? Why is he not on stage.

Whereas in Boro, I always come from the back of the Crypt. Everyone wants a hug. It will be. Oh I remember you from last year, you are from Billingham etc. You are from Stockton. It takes me about 12 minutes before I can get on stage and it is so nice.

So, that is why in 2015 it is near the end of the tour and it will be bouncing. I will have got it nice and tight. I always do a bit extra here because the people are so up for it.

The reason why we did the shoot today is we thought get in there early. People are doing Christmas shopping. People are sick of being in shops looking for bargains they would rather be outside looking at a Teesside comedian in shorts freezing his monkey bits off by the Christmas tree.

People did stand and watch while we were having our picture taken.

Q: No one joined you.

PM: No but people looked and I think that is the difference. If you were a singer at the Town Hall doing that people would go Oh God look at them but whereas if you are a comedian people will say, oh yes they are nutters, that is what they will do. No one would expect anything less.

But that was pretty much the blokes but the women would be probably just be looking going we wear less than that on a Saturday night.

I am not stereotyping about the women here, they are lovely but we have seen them. But I don’t know how they do it. I had my legs out but women do that Friday and Saturday night but they’ll do it standing outside queuing up to get into a club and it is snowing and wearing a little top and shorts and I am thinking, I would be freezing. I don’t know how they do it. So I should be getting stockings on my legs, that is what I should be doing.

Q: Maybe you will have to turn the idea on its head in June and wear a Santa suit.

PM: Yeah. Good idea. A big Santa suit and three fleeces.

I remember doing a Christmas show once in May. We had carols. Some people were confused…

Q: If you were playing abroad Christmas could be in summer.

PM: I was overseas last month and I was in Central America doing gigs. It was all open doors because it was so hot and they had a Christmas tree and we were all in shorts etc. To them it is so natural, Christmas is in summer. They would probably have a heart attack if they came here. They would be thinking why do these people even come out of the house in this weather.

Q: Have you considered, dare I mention it but Middlesbrough are doing pretty well. There could be a promotion celebration when you are playing in June.

PM: Yes. We always do well up to Christmas don’t we. I always see us win on Boxing Day. But to be fair I think this year is slightly better because we are often in a play off position but we could easily be top two by Christmas.

This is the difference I think there is something about this year where if we can go in with that confidence and spirit and build momentum. We always lose that in the past. We will see what happens and by Boxing Day I will be able to tell you a prediction, definitely for sure.

I think this year we will go up in the top two spots not the play offs. It will either be top two or nothing.

  • Patrick Monahan: Adventures in Monahan Land. Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt. Saturday 13 June 2015. 8pm. Age: 14+. Tickets: £14.00 / £12.00 concs, onsale now from Middlesbrough Town Hall Box Office on 01642 729 729 or online at www.middlesbroughtownhallonline.co.uk
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Patrick Monahan Makes a Splash With MFC Ladies

 

TV funnyman Patrick Monahan was offered the chance to get his shooting boots back on ahead of his brand new tour – when the high-flying MFC Ladies invited him to join their special training session at the Riverside Stadium.

Patrick sponsors MFC Ladies winger Kenzie Parkes, and is impressed by the ‘great season’ the team are enjoying so far.

Patrick and Kenzie Parkes

Playing their homes games at Thornaby FC’s Teesdale Park, the team are currently flying high in 3rd place in the league, just two points off top spot, and have also just qualified for the third round of the FA Cup against Blackburn Rovers.

Patrick, who plays Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt on Saturday 17 May as part of a 43-date national tour said: “I love football, and used to run up and down the wing as fast I could without being tackled.

But just look at what a great season this lot are having! They’d be running rings round me all day long, that’s for sure.”

MFC Ladies Manager Sammie Leigh said: “It’s great to have Patrick as one of our fans and sponsors, and we love him to bits too.

He’s welcome to join our training sessions anytime he likes, and we’re all looking forward to seeing him at the Town Hall in May.”

Patrick said: “The Town Hall was always something to look up to when I was growing up, so playing there is always extra special as far as I’m concerned.

The show went down great in Edinburgh last summer – and there’s something for all the family to enjoy.

There’ll be cakes, there’ll be hugs – just not all at the same time.”

  • Patrick Monahan: Cake Charmer. Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt. Saturday 17 May. Age: 12+. Doors: 7.15pm. Show: 8pm. Tickets: £14 / £12. Box Office: 01642 729 729 or www.middlesbroughtownhallonline.co.uk

Fly: How did the sponsorship come about?

PM: Well Danielle from MFC Ladies tweeted me and it was such a laugh and I thought it was great when I heard and I said yes definitely I’d love to get involved. I would rather go and see the lasses playing football because they are more aggressive than the men. I thought brilliant, let’s watch this. So yes I was really chuffed and of course I will get involved and sponsor them. It also gives me more reasons to come back home and watch matches. I’ve got more excuses now.

Fly: From Splash on tv to having a kick around with MFC Ladies at the Riverside, a big week for you?

PM: I know it has been mental. Splash was so funny because when you come to the Riverside and you watch the players, you forget about that people are watching you. We’ve all done sport and you forget about how nervous it makes you. I do stand up and I love it but you need an audience, it would be pointless if there wasn’t. But when I did Splash it was so funny because I was practising the dives with no audience and it was great fun. And I got it nailed.

And then when I did the Splash on the night time, the adrenaline is pumping and you overdo it, you do like your comedy mode then because there is an audience. You are playing to a live audience. But it was such fun.

I was glad I did Splash, I thought it was quite funny but I’m quite relieved as well that it is finished. I’m thinking oh god I don’t have to do anymore jumping off boards. At least with football you can run, you can stop when you are tired and if you do get tackled or you fall you’ve only got a couple of feet and you are on the floor but with Splash you are going 10 metres, it is like 33 foot.

Fly: I remember the top board as a kid… Terrifying!

PM: Oh it is ridiculous. When I first went there I thought there is no way I will get past the 5 metres or the 3 metre board. I thought they will be lucky to get me past there. When I went up originally I jumped off feet first and I thought this is the most horrific thing I have ever done but then actually it is easier when you are going head first. It is just the fear

Fly: Getting over that fear..

PM: Yes. Nothing is ever easy like that but it is slightly easier because it is like anything once you are actually in there it is not too bad. It is the waiting. I hate all that looking down.. Oh yes, so it was just bonkers.

Fly: And now you are off on tour again.

PM: Off on tour yes. So the end of Feb I am going to literally do like a big national tour, all around the country in February, March, April, May and June. And what is lovely is in the middle of May 17th I come back to Boro, to the Town Hall. So that is the best way to do it because I want to run the show through everywhere else so that it is bouncing and it is ready. So, when you come to Boro you are on fire. It’s funny because you don’t really get nervous so much doing gigs now. People say if you did get nervous where are the butterflies mostly, it is your hometown gig because you do not want to let people down thinking we’re going to have a right laugh.

Fly: I tell you what it could the play offs then. The could be right after the semi finals and before the Wembley final

PM: Wow that would be amazing. Can you imagine? I could get all the lasses (MFC Ladies) and get the Boro lads as well to come and then put them in the front row and do a big Q and A before the play off final. (laughs). They’d love it. They’d probably kill me, like. Brilliant.

Do you know what it is a great start to the year. But I think it is going to be bonkers 2014, it is mental. I started off jumping off a 10 metre board and I’m playing football with the Ladies and then Boro getting in the play offs. We’re laughing. We’ve done alright and it won’t even be the summer yet.

Middlesbrough Ladies travel to Blackburn next week in the third round proper of the Women’s FA Cup. (Sunday 16th Feb)

MFC Ladies last fixture was mid-January at TeessdalePark against Tranmere with Emily Scott, Sarah Manning, Jenny Duffy and Kenzie Parkes securing progression through a 4-0 victory.

Despite not having a competitive fixture in recent weeks due to postponements, manager Sammie Leigh insists her players have kept their fitness levels up and are “chomping at the bit” to get going again.

Leading scorer Nicky Duckling is also set to make a comeback after a recent injury and other leading scorers Dani Scarr, Emily Scott and Sarah Manning are also all set to play.

Boro who remain in third place in the Northern Combination League, will welcome the news that Blackburn are without their regular goalie Gemma Jackson who has just joined the current Women’s Super League champions Liverpool.

Women’s Super League new entrants Sunderland AFC Ladies enter this year’s competition at this stage (at home against Oxford), as do Durham Women’s FC.

Sunderland and Boro last met a year ago in the FA Cup – Ex Middlesbrough Centre of Excellence player Beth Mead also got on the score sheet to help the lady Black Cats win 6-1.

@mfcladies2012 will have regular updates on the game direct throughout the afternoon.

www.mfcladies.co.uk

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Mark Benton Strictly Teesside

Lovable funny man Mark Benton stepped straight out of Strictly to accept an Honorary Degree from Teesside University yesterday.

The star of Waterloo Road, Early Doors and innumerable other witty character roles was beaming with delight to accept the award from his hometown University.

Mark might have been voted off Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend but he was not downcast because there was a silver lining waiting for him in the guise of his honorary degree. He swapped his sequined costumes for a Teesside University gown and told the waiting media:

“Do you know I feel honoured for receiving the award from Teesside University. I heard about it and was immediately thrilled and accepted straight away. I am very proud of this area and to get an honorary degree from my home town University means an awful lot. I am really proud, thrilled and amazed.”

Mark Benton was born in Guisborough in 1965 and went on to share drama classes at Stockton and Billingham Technical College with Liz Carling who has also in the past received a honorary award at Teesside Uni. Both Liz and Mark are big Boro fans. Despite living in the south Mark held a season ticket at the Riverside for years. He could actually catch a birds-eye glance of the Riverside from the balcony of the library where he posed for his photos yesterday.

Mark was actually hobbling badly because he sustained a serious knee injury in rehearsals prior to the start of filming on Strictly Come Dancing and needed steroid injections to get him through. He now faces keyhole surgery to repair his torn cartilages.

The man who starred as the bungling bank manager in Nationwide adverts is set to return to the dancefloor where he will add his considerable personality, not to mention dancing skills to the Strictly Come Dancing national tour next year. This will mean him teaming up with nasty Craig Revel Horwood again. But Mark says the Aussie-British choreography is really a nice guy. Oh no he’s not..

Mark was so proud of his award and described his big day:

“It is the perfect end to a great year. It has been a real journey for me this year and to end this way is great. It is just such a nice thing to do there is no ends to it or gains it is just a lovely thing.”

Of Teesside University Mark Benton could only say good things.

“Teesside University has a fantastic reputation. It has a really modern approach and is getting up there and is putting Teesside on the map. Anything that helps put Middlesbrough and the surrounding area on the map is great for me because I think sometimes people down south think there is a big hole between York and Newcastle and there isn’t because we are here.”

Photos – Tracy Hyman

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