Back to The Customs House this week, for the press night for The Dolly Mixtures, the much-loved local musical that is making a return visit after its 2016 premiere as part of the theatre’s 25th anniversary celebrations.
I am always keen on a press night at The Customs House – they always push the boat out, inviting press, supporters and presumably bigwigs somehow connected to the show, since there is always a fancy turnout. (which makes a change from many of my London press nights, where 7 critics were shunted off to a side room where they competed to see how much free wine they could consume without the PRs noticing). It’s also a gorgeous venue: the perfect size for this kind of show, since you have a great view even from the back row. And though the shows it programmes tend towards the unadventurous – you’re unlikely to see the latest hit from The Fringe transferring here anytime soon – it’s clearly a place that knows its audience and the value of a decent night out.
The pre-show celebrations were given an extra frisson by the fact that some of the surviving Dolly Mixtures were in attendance. For those unfamiliar with the story, a group of women in the 70s were inspired to raise money for cancer after one of their number’s husband was diagnosed with bowel cancer. They toured the working men clubs of the region – often in the face of serious sexism – and raised over £100,000 for charity.
This local, real life spin on Calendar Girls makes for a heart-warming, uplifting show. I took my friend M, who had seen the original version, and she thought that, under the direction of choreographer Mina Anwar (who’d been assistant director on that production), it was a much tighter, slicker beast this time around. There’s not much in the way of dramatic tension or plot, but the comedy numbers are great, there are plenty of local references (it’s weirdly pleasing to hear people singing not in those faux-American accents most musicals have, but in Geordie) and some moving moments.
Certainly, the crowd lapped it up – there was plenty of laughter throughout, and a standing ovation at the end, and I admit there were moments I found something in my eye. You can read my review here, and the show is running until Saturday 31. Details here.