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1930s musical Pal Joey comes to Gateshead's Little Theatre

A mother and daughter play love rivals in a musical at Gateshead's Little Theatre as David Whetstone reports

Charlotte Black, Steve Nichol and Kim Robinson in costume at the Little Theatre Gateshead for the production of Pal Joey
Charlotte Black, Steve Nichol and Kim Robinson in costume at the Little Theatre Gateshead for the production of Pal Joey

With a mother and daughter as rivals in affairs of the heart, the latest show at Gateshead’s busy Little Theatre sounds like something by Sophocles or Euripides.

But the show is Pal Joey, the Rodgers & Hart musical set in 1930s Chicago which opened on Broadway in 1940 starring Vivienne Segal and Gene Kelly (and became a film in 1957 with Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak).

Starring at the Little Theatre are members of Gateshead’s Caprian Theatre Company which was founded 50 years ago and took its first public bow in 1965 with Salad Days.

In the Caprians’ Pal Joey the title role of Joey Evans, the scheming showbiz dreamer and ladies’ man, falls to Steve Nichol who also took a leading role in the company’s production of Curtains a couple of years ago.

But playing two of the ladies in the singing con man’s tangled life are Kim Robinson and Charlotte Black who know each other quite well off stage, being mother and daughter and both residents of Low Fell, Gateshead.

They have quite a bit of showbusiness in their blood being respectively niece and grand-niece of Bobby Pattinson, the hugely popular North East entertainer.

Kim, who works for a Sunderland travel agency, says her parents were also “on the stage” while Charlotte’s father Dave Black – Kim’s ex-husband – is a singer who performs in the region.

“I play Vera who is an older woman that Joey has an affair with,” says Kim. “She’s got plenty of money.

“Then there’s a young love interest who’s played by Charlotte – so the two love interests in the show are played by myself and Charlotte.”

The older woman Kim refers to is Vera Prentice-Simpson, described as a bored, rich socialite, while the younger woman is Linda English, a naive young secretary.

Kim, it turns out, has quite a lot of show business experience. She used to be a professional dancer and performed regularly at the famous old Talk of the the Tyne club in Gateshead when it was owned by her uncle.

She recalls: “There were three dancers who performed with Bobby and I was one of them. It was very exciting. We used to do the can can and the Charleston and we’d also take the show on the road.

“I used to be an Equity member so I did TV ads when I was younger and I went to London to do a programme called Operation Julie (a TV drama series about a real-life drugs bust in which Kim played a police officer).

“But then I had my daughter and my priorities changed. I was a bit lacking in confidence as well. I think now I’d have more confidence to do it although I still get terrified before I go on stage. I think the nerves are quite natural really. You worry that you’ll forget something.”

But Kim is clearly regarded as a safe pair of hands in Gateshead. She joined the Caprian Theatre Company 25 years ago – “and I’m only 23,” she jokes – and has also performed with Felling Stage Society.

You might think Charlotte had more reason to be nervous. “She hasn’t done any shows before,” says her mum. “They asked her to audition for the part of Linda because because they know she’s a good singer.”

Charlotte, who is 25, went to Emmanuel College in Gateshead and now works for Sage plc.

Kim says they had had a giggle about appearing together in Pal Joey and were both relishing the scene they have together.

The Caprians last performed Pal Joey in 2001, sandwiched between The Ballad of Doctor Crippen and No, No, Nanette.

The musical, for all its Broadway and West End successes, is not a million miles away from Greek tragedy, as it happens.

As the New York Times reviewer put it back in 1940: “If it is possible to make an entertaining musical comedy out of an odious story, Pal Joey is it.”

It’s not giving too much away to say that Vera and Linda end up united in their opinion of the weasly Joey.

Kim, whose late mother was Bobby Pattinson’s sister, says the comedian was planning to join the audience at the Little Theatre at some point this week.

“He has passed on little bits of advice in the past,” she says, “but mostly he just comes along to the shows and enjoys them, even though he’s professional and we’re amateur.”

Pal Joey runs at the Little Theatre, Saltwell View, Gateshead, until Saturday. For tickets call 07941 705024 or email tickets@capriantheatrecompany.co.uk

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