2011 Top 5 – that’s out of 10 plays, 11 gigs, 4 comedians, and a mentalist!

I started to write up a month by month review of what I did last year (this is over and above nights out with friends, holidays, art exhibitions, movies, and books), but I soon realised that this could become a very long post. 

So in the interests of reflection on 2011 (and brevity), what made it to my Top 5?

So, my Top 5 in reverse order….

5 – Sleep no More, McKittrick Hotel, Manhattan, NYC

A controversial one this, as it divided our party, quite literally, into two camps.

Sleep no More is an immersive theatre experience based loosely on Macbeth. It is set in the imaginary 1940s hotel, the McKittrick (in reality a couple of disused warehouses on West 27th street, New York). The set is amazing with the ‘hotel’ reception, ballroom and bar giving way just as easily to castle ruins and a mental institution.

As an audience member (with mask to create anonymity – I wonder if there’s any social experimentation afoot with this), you are encouraged to choose a character in the play and follow them to watch their tale unfold, you can swap to another if you fancy a different take, or rummage through the set – it’s so painstakingly detailed you could spend hours just marvelling at that alone. Whatever the path you choose, you can be sure it’ll involve a helluva lot of walking, or in my case running, I was glad of my spinning classes when Macbeth took off at speed and legged it up two flights of stairs.

It’s a very disjointed production and you’re just as likely to miss everything by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as see everything (it’s quite explicit in some scenes). Our party had mixed experiences because of this. I loved the set: it was disorientating, dark, whimsical in part, I found the act of choosing your own path through the play to be interesting, however, this resulted in the whole thing being difficult to follow. Overall though, loved the experience and hell, it was in New York!

See Thrifty Gal’s less impressed take on Sleep no More.

4 – Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead 

I actually blogged about this at the time, so you can read a little more about what I thought about the Americana weekend.  Suffice to say though, as well as some paid for gigs, the Sage Gateshead put on three days of free outdoor stages that showcase upcoming and established local, national and international bands. It was a great day filled with wine, chips and dips, and sunshine. I also managed to catch The Lucky Strikes, one of the first bands I’m seeing this year. These lovely chaps also sent a free CD to some of their Facebook fans – it contains a cracking rendition of Whiskey in the Jar so I’m happy 🙂

3 – Ghost Stories at Duke of York’s Theatre, London
I’d wanted to see Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories for ages: I love all things scary, I’m searching for the horror movie that will terrify me, so I’m all for live shows that try and do that.

I must admit, it was a slight let down all things considered. I think it had suffered from too much hype, and as I’d just read Richard Wiseman’s brilliant Paranormality I did spend much of the show thinking “ooh Wiseman mentioned that…” (I discovered later that he’d actually advised on certain elements of the show which explains a lot).

The reason it’s made it to the top 5 is that it was part of me rekindling an interest in the paranormal and ghost stories in general. This had always been an interest of mine but it had faded into the background a bit, this show reinstated my love of the trickery and misdirection that scares people, the simplest fears of the dark, or what we imagine rather than what’s actually there, and the need to never be last when entering anywhere that looks like it might contain a man with knives for fingers.

Read Thrifty Gal’s full review of Ghost Stories over at Body of a Geek Goddess.

2 – Simone Felice at Cluny 2, Newcastle

Simone Felice

 The Felice Brothers and the various spin off bands (Simone Felice as soloist and The Duke and the King – who I believe may have just split) were my find of 2010.

Simone Felice at the Cluny this year was a joy to watch. Clearly mischievous, he seemed to love performing, he extends a hand and you take it, never knowing if his lyrics will lead you gently down some leafy lane in the sun or dump you somewhere in the city at midnight with a cigarette in your hand, alcohol on your breath and an empty wallet.

Simone Felice: just what you wanted your long-haired, tight-jeans wearing, sensitive singer type to be like. I just wish I’d been brave enough to hug him instead of just shaking his hand.

1 – James at the Sage Gateshead

Everytime I see James play I remember that I’ve always loved them and probably always will. They’ve been a favourite of mine for over 20 years so I don’t know how they keep on surprising me, but they do.

This year’s show was nothing short of breathtaking. To give it its full title: An Evening with James with the Orchestra of the Swan and the Manchester Consort Choir did exactly what it said on the tin, but how outstandingly beautiful it all was. The Sage Gatehead in itself is a remarkable venue, providing some of the best acoustics in the North East. Add to this Tim’s flawless vocals, the soaring sounds of the orchestra and the power of the choir and it was near perfection. Oh and he climbed over the seats right next to me and sang about three seats away – squeeee!

Tim Booth in his wafty trousers.

Quite brilliant.

And the rest…the full list!


Thrifty Gal pointed me in the direction of some review opportunities for the website Exeunt (formerly Musicomh) which was great as it got me interested in a few more shows that I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to see.

  • The Comedy of Errors at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal
  • Faith and Cold Reading at the Live Theatre, Newcastle
  • Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales at Northern Stage, Newcastle
  • A Walk on Part at the Live Theatre, Newcastle
  • Ghost Stories at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London
  • Oh the Humanity at Northern Stage, Newcastle
  • The Wild Bride at Northern Stage, Newcastle
  • Sleep no More at the McKittrick Hotel, Manhattan, NYC
  • Revenge of the Grand Guignol at The Courtyard Theatre, London 
  • Legally Blonde at Sunderland Empire


  • British Sea Power at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle
  • Sam Carter at the Live Theatre, Newcastle
  • Simone Felice at Cluny 2, Newcastle
  • Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead
  • Glee at the O2, London
  • Ron Sexsmith at the Sage Gateshead
  • Bright Eyes at the Sage Gateshead
  • Ane Brun at Scala, London
  • James at the Sage Gateshead
  • Stephen Fretwell at Cluny 2, Newcastle
  • The Cornshed Sisters at Newcastle University


  • Jimmy Carr at Sunderland Empire
  • Dylan Moran at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle
  • Alan Carr at Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
  • Milton Jones at the Tyne Theatre Newcastle


  •  Derren Brown: Svengali at Sunderland Empire

Bring on 2012!


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