REVIEW: Geordie The Musical, The Customs House, South Shields

Geordie the Musical is on at the Customs House, South Shields.
Geordie the Musical is on at the Customs House, South Shields.

A melting pot of plot lines, folk songs and North East sayings, Geordie The Musical sets out to celebrate the language and culture of its chosen people.

And that it does. The production, crafted by Tom Kelly and the brainchild of Texas-based Sanddancer Andy Bogle, is crammed full of crowd-pleasers and canny-bag-of-Tudor-style one-liners.

Much like Sting’s The Last Ship, it’s a production which could only be born of a curious outsider or pang-ridden ex-pat, steeped as it is in a love of the the region’s traditional culture

With a title like Geordie The Musical, you won’t really be surprised to learn the production is studded regional folk songs, stopping short of When The Boat Comes In, but not being ashamed of ending with Blaydon Races.

Cushy Butterfield and Keep Ya Feet Still Geordie Hinny are two of the other better-known songs to feature, alongside some less-well-known numbers such as Oakey Strike Convictions.

But the play, set in 1890, is not just a vehicle for Ye Olde Geordie songs, with a plot and characters simmered in deep historical research.

The story tells the tale of James Melia (Shaun Prendergast), a Trimdon pit disaster survivor who runs the Wheatsheaf pub on Tyneside with his wife Bella (played by the excellent Viktoria Kay) and aspiring scholar daughter Maggie (Eleanor Chaganis).

Worries for the future mount when the shady Joshua Adams (James Hedley) darkens their door with an offer to buy the pub - and the threat of eviction if they won’t sell to his industrialist employer, who wishes to build on the site.

Family strife, community anger and Whisky Galore-style community spirit ensues, peppered with left-wing politics and historical references.

The Wheatsheaf’s plight serves as an analogy for the threat to the Geordie dialect and North East way of life, with education eroding the dialect, making way for “correct” grammar.

Geordie the Musical is on at the Customs House, South Shields.

Geordie the Musical is on at the Customs House, South Shields.

But it is also a heavy nod towards Richard Grainger, the builder and developer who created many of the architectural jewels in Newcastle’s Victorian crown - often at the expense of existing buildings which sat inconveniently in the way.

It’s clear Bogle’s love of the Geordie dialect was something he wanted to share through the production, and this is achieved by throwing in the character of Adam Donaldson (played by John Thompson), a visiting linguistics expert dispatched from Oxford to study the northern tongue.

This also creates a fish-out-of-water subplot, bringing with it an extra dollop of comedy and a dash of friction as he attempts to woo Maggie - enraging her existing suitor Michael (played by Luke Maddison) in the process.

Whimsical, thoughtful and unashamedly melodramatic at times (it is a musical after all), there is something in Geordie The Musical for everyone - and a song to get even the grumpiest grumps clapping along (if only in their heads).

Geordie the Musical is on at the Customs House, South Shields.

Geordie the Musical is on at the Customs House, South Shields.

Get yourself along, bonny lad.

Geordie The Musical runs until Saturday September 5 at the Customs House in South Shields.