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2013: A year of great music and drama in the North East

The number 13 is apparently unlucky for some, but not for Sam Wonfor, who feels utterly fortunate to have enjoyed another top notch soaking when it comes to culture on North East soil this year. Here are a few diamonds from her diary

Riley Jones as Andy, Joe Caffrey as Dinger and Chris Connel as Mike in Wet House at Live Theatre
Riley Jones as Andy, Joe Caffrey as Dinger and Chris Connel as Mike in Wet House at Live Theatre

I'm used to feeling a bit wobbly when I come out of a midweek matinee performance.

There’s something about being without windows, watching a story unfold while the rest of the world is at work, which has me all at sea.

And so it was when I emerged from Live Theatre after a 2pm performance of Wet House back in October.

But on this occasion, I have a feeling my giddiness was a lot more to do with the brilliance of Paddy Campbell’s full length debut than anything else.

Set in a hostel, which allows alcoholics who have been through the system and never dropped the bottle, to drink their lives away, Wet House is a play steeped in sadness and despair but manages to cultivate proper bellys laughs out of the darkness.

Much of these come courtesy of a storming performance from Joe Caffrey as long term resident, Dinger – who also brings most of the tears too – and surprisingly from the vicious hostel worker Mike, played terrifically by Chris Connel (truth be told, there wasn’t a performance among the cast which fell short of great).

The play was commissioned as part of Live’s 40th anniversary celebrations and served as a perfect example of what they do best. I’m delighted to be told Wet House will have a life after its Live premiere run, and am keeping everything crossed that it comes back to Tyneside so all the people I’ve told about it can see it.

While we’re on with the soggy theme, I just thought I’d give a quick mention to Wet Wet Wet who played a greatest hits gig at the Metro Radio Arena earlier this month and gave me and my fellow teenage Wetettes (I don’t think that’s the correct term by the way) a lovely pre-Christmas night of nostalgia. You couldn’t move for love in that place.

It was a similar story back in April when the global phenomenon that is One Direction packed out the Arena for three nights straight, as part of their gigantic world tour, although I have a feeling the average age of the audience would have been slightly younger.

Of course I only agreed to go so I could play fairy godmother to the lovely Maggie Barksby, nine, who counts herself firmly as one of the 1D massive (Directioners I believe is their official name).

It had absolutely nothing to do with the easy-on-the-eye (and ears as it goes) appeal of Harry, Naill, Zayn, Louis and Liam and their catchy catalogue of teeny bob pop. Nope, I was just being cool Aunty Sam (and thoroughly enjoying it. Bagsy me the Stadium of Light review tickets in the summer. Maggie may have to fight her mother for my plus one).

The Journal Culture Awards 2012 at Durham Cathedral earlier this year
The Journal Culture Awards 2012 at Durham Cathedral earlier this year

Before that though will come The Journal Culture Awards 2013, which will have to go some to top the ones we enjoyed back in April.

Held amid the magnificence of Durham Cathedral, our annual salute to the region’s creatives, makers and shakers when it comes to culture, were significantly taken up a gear and offered an evening of true celebration of all that was achieved in 2012.

Performances on the night came from The Futureheads, The Unthanks, The Lindisfarne Story and Bad Taste Cru, while the list of 15 winners included Hebburn writer Jason Cook, musician Hannabiell Sanders, Songs from the Shipyards, balletLORENT’s Rapunzel and our very own David Whetstone, who was honoured for his special contribution to North East culture.

FYI We are currently planning the event to mark the cultural achievements of 2013, and are still accepting nominations across all categories for the Culture Awards 2013. Excited?

I was when I got my tickets to see the first of Russell Brand’s visits to Newcastle City Hall with his Messiah Complex tour on Halloween. And I left the gig feeling that the excitement had been justified.

After using his celebrity and drug-addled exploits as the very funny backbone of previous shows I’d been to, it was good to see the comic putting the Brand brand to a somewhat more purposeful use.

The 38-year-old laid out some pretty big ideas (peppered with bodily fluid gags, obviously) which he reckons will make the world a better place. And much of what he says is hard to argue with... but very easy to laugh yourself silly at. The trio of look-a-likes who were marched to the front of the stage were also a memorable treat.

Staying with the comedy, the organisers of Jesterval, the comedy festival for Newcastle and Gateshead, cranked things up a notch or two this year to admirable effect.

The five-day event set up base camp in Baltic Square and offered a feast of talent for anyone who wanted their ribs tickling.

Jason Cook, Patrick Monahan, Ben Norris, Ed Byrne, Marcus Brigstocke (and his improv impressarios), George Zach, Steffan Peddie and Tom Binns, who brought his brilliant psychic alterego Ian D Montfort along for the ride, were all on the bill, with many others. Looking forward to seeing how they build on its success for 2014.

Ah rubbish. I’m running out of space aren’t I? OK, so some quick end credits. Ghost the Musical at Sunderland was smashing; The Boomtown Rats at the 02 Academy were a revelation for someone who had only ever seen Bob Geldof perform as himself and not King Rat; and the Juice Festival (for children and young people in Newcastle and Gateshead) once again put in a programme which offered more half term activities than you could shake a bored teenager at.

Oh, and we produced our 100th edition of the Culture magazine which is always going to have me glowing with pride.

Here’s to the already-brimming culture diary for 2014.

See you next year.


David Whetstone
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