Tag Archives: Customs House

The Awkward Squad – The Customs House Theatre (Evening Chronicle)

BAFTA winning Emmerdale writer Karin Young introduces her play, The Awkward Squad to the Customs House, South Shields. It features an all-woman cast which portrays three generations of the same family, which has been forever altered by the mining strikes and their eventual closure. We start with a family that seems to have everything, a mother about to have a community centre named after her, a rich daughter with her money loving granddaughter and another daughter who is a BAFTA winning documentary maker. But things don’t always as great as they first seem


Comedy plays a huge part in the production, and they have case four women who can really make a crowd laugh. Whether it is dark humour in the face of adversity or slapstick I found myself chucking on numerous occasions, along with the rest of the crowd. Barbara Marten plays the exhausted but loving grandmother, who brings a real softness to the role, whilst always portraying matriarchal inner steel. Her daughters are played by The Bill star, Libby Davison and Emmerdale Geordie, Charlie Hardwick. They really compliment and bounce off each other well and the sisterly banter is rather authentic, while the rivalry and love shown creates some believable characters.  The granddaughter is played by Lisa McGrillis, who is charming and really comes into her own as the play goes on.


Social media and text messages are integrated into the simple set of the house, of which most of the play takes place, with them flashing up for the crowd to read on walls or the ceiling, keeping the crowd in the loop. As well as photos and videos from the strike and closures playing to help create a mood and bring the history to the foreground.


There is cultural and social commentary on the new values which are being pushed on women in today’s society. Life without purpose and the idea of being a WAG as a career choice is abhorred.  Whilst the idea of a strong family unit shines brightest. As everyone will taste failure at some point in their eyes, the play shows that with family by your side, a happier future can be found.


Heartwarming and thought provoking, what Karin Young has created is a play which shows an otherwise unseen side to the mine closures, and the trials and tribulations of the families trying to better themselves since. With humour and wit weaved against the darker depressing results, I found it to be both charming and smartly written.


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The Man And The Donkey – The Customs House, South Shields (Evening Chronicle)

If you were to visit the war memorial museum in Australia, you would come across the statue of South Shields man John Simpson-Kirkpatrick and a donkey. The events that transpired which lead to the man being honoured in such a way are laid out in this tail, which was making its world premier.

Writer, Valerie Laws and Director, Jackie Fielding have created a play, which allows for the history and its characters to shine through, without forgetting that it must be entertaining at the same time. What results from this is the accurate telling of the story of an honest young man, caught up in circumstances which would change the course of his life forever, as it is quickly forced out of his control. From the beaches of South Shields to the trenches, serving as a stretcher-bearer in the Australian army, his ingenuity saved hundreds of lives. Listing the services of a donkey, he puts his own life in danger, carrying wounded soldiers with no thought of his own safety.

The atmosphere of each location visited is distinct despite using the same set. This is achieved through clever use of lighting and music, which draws you towards the characters themselves. Even the parts of scenes without dialogue manage to engage the audience, small touches such as the slow sound of the tide breaking against the bow of the ship, emphasise the drama through the silence of the actors.

Laugh out loud moments and in-jokes for sand dancers are numerous, and allow a slight distraction from the harsh realities of war, without ever becoming farcical. A lot of credit needs to be paid to Alison McGowan who created the donkey. Its puppetry, through subtle touches and movements give it a more realistic feel than you would think, which is important as he is such an integral character within the play.

The portrayal of the protagonist by Jamie Brown is both charming and accomplished, each line he delivers comes across as believable. He is served well by veteran actor Russell Floyd, who plays his commanding officer, as well as voicing numerous historical figures, as the wider story is unfolded. Their two styles complimenting each other well. Though the whole cast seem to fit together nicely, and the play is well acted throughout.

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