Reviews Section

This page is for reviews of events attended by Darlington for Culture members and Darlington Culture Volunteers.

We’ll be reviewing arts and culture activities in and around Darlington, from exhibitions to theatre shows, live music, places of interest, family-friendly events, comedy clubs etc.

Death and the Maiden

Review by Helen Devonshire. The Majestic Theatre on 13 June 2019

The story unfolds in the beach house of Paulina and Gerardo Escobar in an unnamed country that is in the early stages of trying to establish a democracy after years of dictatorship rule. This tense thriller explores what happens when feelings are repressed and then forced into the open by unwanted events.

Paulina (Claire Bibby) is at home and becomes distressed when she hears an unfamiliar car draw up at the house and she grabs a gun to protect herself. The explanation seems innocent enough when her husband Gerardo (Andrew Fettes) tells Paulina that a stranger gave him a lift home because his car broke down at the roadside.

After some discussion between the couple about Gerardo being offered a job by the president on a new commission to bring to justice people who caused numerous deaths in the previous regime, it becomes apparent that Paulina lives in constant fear having been raped and tortured years earlier. Her argument is that there is still no justice for survivors, the government is interested only in those cases where captives were killed.

The stranger returns at midnight, which unsettles Paulina and Escobar, to offer to help Gerardo the next day with collecting his car. As the men talk, Paulina is not in the room but hears them and is convinced she recognises the doctor’s voice as someone complicit in her torture.

Paulina becomes further convinced of the doctor’s identity when she finds a recording of Schubert’s quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ in his car. This was the piece of music played while she was abused in captivity.

The following day, Paulina decides to take control and make the doctor (played by Keith Hill) confess his crimes. Gerardo is shocked by her actions, and his emotions are torn between his charming new friend and his vengeful wife; but he agrees to defend the doctor in this ‘trial’.

The three characters (pictured, photo credit William Walsh Photography) represent one case in a huge number of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder cases being exposed across the country. Paulina believes that the government will not pursue them all, so she needs to get justice her own way. And in the domestic setting, the political tension mounts as they circle the ‘reality’ of the situation, and the balance of power shifts between them. Who is the victim and who is in charge? Is the person in authority always the one armed with a gun or someone armed with the truth, or at least a desire to find the truth?

This intense and thought-provoking tale is not an easy watch at times, but the compelling performances help the audience care about what happened to the characters and what will become of them. With its violent themes and language, it raises many disturbing questions about memory, manipulation, perception and even the definition of right and wrong in different situations.

  • Baroque Theatre Company’s production of ‘Death and the Maiden’ – written by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman in the early 1990s – is directed by Sarah Gain. Artistic director Adam Morley, producer Claire Bibby.
  • National tour Touring May to July 2019

Darlington Orchestra Winter Concert 2019

Review by Elaine Barnett, Saturday 26th January

Things went with a swing on Saturday night as Darlington Orchestra performed its Winter Concert before a packed house in the town’s Central Hall.

In a programme spanning three centuries and two continents the orchestra, under the baton of David Plews, set off on an engaging European journey taking in waltzes, a polka and a spot of marching along the way before going transatlantic to showcase Henry Mancini and legendary Hollywood crooner Bing Crosby.

The mood was set with Johann Strauss the Younger’s Waldmeister Overture, by turns lively and lilting, followed by the melodic Slavonic Serenade by British bandleader and conductor Charles Shadwell.

Famous names filled the programme: Bedrich Smetana’s Bartered Bride festive polka upped the tempo beautifully; Mozart featured through one of his best-known tunes the energetic Turkish March; Haydn with the Minuet and Trio from his so-called “Surprise” Symphony; and there was a lovely selection of Tchaikovsky waltzes, including those from Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty ballets.

Some less-familiar pieces thrown into the mix added further layers of interest for both performers and audience. Caprice Hongrois, or Hungarian Caprice, by Italian-born composer Ferraris is a stirring folk-influenced work that made technical demands in the violin solos, to which orchestra leader Iryna Zagorna was more than equal.

Another unexpected delight was the rumbunctious Banditenstreiche Tours de Bandits, or Jolly Robbers Overture, by Franz von Suppé, which more than lived up to its name, painting pictures of the sometimes swaggering, sometimes furtive, but decidedly jolly robbers.

As always, the concert featured guest performers, in this case the Cockerton Prize Silver Band, who demonstrated their skill and versatility with pieces as diverse as the haunting Benedictus and the smile-inducing theme from The Muppet Show.

Rounding off another successful concert was Mancini’s Charade, written for the movie thriller of that name and wonderfully evocative of a lonely walk through empty Paris streets where part of the story was set, before the orchestra signed off on a cheerful note with a Crosby medley, going out with a Bing.

  • Next concert is on Saturday 6th July


Review by Hannah Roberts, December 2018

Darlington Hippodrome’s pantomime Aladdin is full to the brim with magic, music and laughs. The show stars the spirited Louie Spence, festive favourites Eric Potts, Zoe Birkett and comic Liam Mellor.

Based on the Disney film classic, this fairytale fantasy provides plenty of pantomime splendour. The cast understand what makes a memorable pantomime and they deliver some truly unforgettable moments including the original song ‘Darlo’. The show is wonderfully supported by enthusiastic dancers and a live orchestra, meeting the demands of those who dislike recorded music.

Louie Spence excels as Genie of the Ring as he brings all the mischief to the role that a family audience would expect. Some of his jokes were a little risqué but they will fly over the heads of children and land firmly in the ears of eager adult audiences. Louie is ably assisted by Robin Askwith as evil mastermind Abanazar, and he delivers the role with all the delightful deviousness you could want as his dastardly master plan for world domination plays out.

Other supporting characters were easily knitted into the two-hour timeframe, including Zoe Birkett who shines in both musical and acting talent as Princess Jasmine. There is plenty of laughter throughout, with no fillers or messy scenes, and the story flows well and reaches the closing scene before anyone fidgets in their seats.

Qdos Entertainment, the production company, provided some great tricks to pull off the stunts in this year’s offering. One stand-out element is when Aladdin flies over the orchestra without it being obvious in the stalls how it is done, which was similar to a stunt that was done last year. However, the giant Genie clearly was worn out from all those wishes he had been granting because he had trouble staying in sync with the rest of the play. Despite this technical difficulty, it was great fun as we all know that all good pantos need those magical moments that make the audience laugh spontaneously.

Aladdin is definitely one for your Christmas list this season.

Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
Date and time: From 8th December 2018 to 6th January 2019, see venue website for times
Running time: about 120 minutes

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Review by Helen Devonshire, 13th October 2018
(preview seen at Nottingham Theatre Royal)

Prepare yourself for a terrifying trip as the deceptively simple monochrome staging transports you through a colourful vampire tale. The set travels from wild and windy Whitby, via the local asylum, across Europe to a Transylvanian castle, transforming between those three main locations for most of the play’s action. And what a lot of action there is.

Based on Bram Stoker’s novel published in 1897, the epic narrative has been adapted for the stage by Jenny King and directed by Eduard Lewis. It is packed with all essential elements of the Count Dracula legend – including the madness of Renfield (Cheryl Campbell) and her gruesome eating habits, the initial innocence of Mina and Lucy, plus the men who try to save them. All the characters’ lives intertwine around the vampire’s search for pure souls to corrupt.

Jonathan Harker (Andrew Horton) leaves his loyal fiancée Mina Murray (Olivia Swann) at home in Whitby as he travels to Transylvania to visit the count on what should be a dull clerical errand.

Back in Whitby, Mina and her friend Lucy (Jessica Webber) are left vulnerable to the attentions of Dracula. Lucy’s behaviour changes dramatically and her friends believe she is suffering from an ‘infection’ that makes her as cold as the grave. When Jonathan returns, and in an attempt to help discover what happened to Lucy, he recounts his visit to the castle and describes activities undertaken by the vampire and his undead supporters who prowl through the story in well-choreographed menace that contrasts with formal buttoned-up Victorian society.

Lucy’s hapless suitor Doctor Seward (Evan Milton) also attempts to discover what ails her by drawing on the experience of madwoman Lady Renfield, who thinks she has a hotline to the vampirical count. Finally, vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing (Philip Bretherton) is called upon to challenge the powerful and seemingly irresistible Dracula (Glen Fox) in a classic spine-chilling battle between good and evil.

Dracula is a dark feast for the senses, with supernatural happenings, super visual effects, love, loss and longing. What more could you want from a Gothic horror story? All human life – and death – is here.

Venue: Darlington Hippodrome
To book, visit Darlington Hippodrome website
Dates and times: 6th to 10th November 7.30pm (matinees Thursday 2pm and Saturday 2.30pm)
Age recommendation: 16 years and over
Short clip of the production on

‘Night, Mother

Review by Madeleine Sutcliffe, 9th June 2018

Applause Theatre produced an abridged version of ‘Night, Mother by American playwright, Marsha Norman, as part of the Darlington Arts Festival 2018 – and the final performance was on Saturday 16th June 2018 in Gainford.

Directed by Alan Anderson, the play revolves around two members of the dysfunctional Cates family living in small-town southern America. Mama Thelma (played by Samantha Bradshaw) and her daughter Jessie (played by Emma Simpson) begin an ordinary Saturday evening at home as Mama awaits her weekly manicure from Jessie, who suffers from epilepsy, depression and self-doubt. Jessie’s marriage has failed, and she is estranged from her troubled son Ricky.

What happens when, instead of providing a manicure, Jessie informs Mama about her plans for a life-changing event that would have a profound effect on Thelma? Can Thelma persuade her daughter to wait a little longer before taking action? The evening descends into an edge-of-seat and grippingly dark drama where no one can predict the end with certainty.

Both Samantha and Emma give outstanding and emotionally searing performances. They have also mastered the challenge of acquiring a Deep Southern accent.

The last performance of the play will be held on Saturday, June 16th at the Gainford Academy Theatre. Absolutely not to be missed!

Venue: Academy Theatre, High Green, Gainford DL2 3DL
Date and time: Saturday 16th June 7.30pm
Running time: about 60 minutes
Tickets: £8 on the door