REVIEW: The Duke in the Cupboard, The Customs House, South Shields, Until October 10

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. From left, Adam Donaldson as DS Stevens, Tom Machell as Bill Chester and Scott Ellis as DI Holmes.
The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. From left, Adam Donaldson as DS Stevens, Tom Machell as Bill Chester and Scott Ellis as DI Holmes.

The story of an audacious art theft that shocked the nation has been brought to life in yet another world premiere for South Shields theatre the Customs House.

The Duke in the Cupboard tells the outrageous tale of Newcastle man Kempton Bunton (Graham Overton) who admitted stealing Goya’s famous portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery in 1961.

The theft was in protest of pensioners having to pay for their TV licence, and as unbelievable as it sounds, it all actually happened.

Overton is completely marvellous in the leading role. Bunton is a colourful and passionate character who would go to the ends of the Earth – and prison – to promote his cause and Overton really captures his relentless spirit and enthusiasm.

The northern tale was penned by former Shields Gazette reporter Susan Wear after the story seized her attention.

It’s packed with that powerful Geordie passion and spirit. It’s the third world premiere – following Geordie The Musical and The Cinder Path – in as many months for the Customs House, proving the little theatre has a lot to offer.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields.

The venue is big on nurturing emerging talent and celebrating local people and this play is a real testament to that.

The family dynamic between Kempton and his wife May (Zoe Lambert) and their son John (Stephen Gregory) is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

John’s love for his father and belief in him really comes across, and you really feel for May as she struggles to cope with Kempton’s obsession.

Tom Machell got lots of laughs as young reporter Bill Chester, who tracks Kempton’s story from the beginning, and Adam Donaldson and Scott Ellis prove a fantastic comedy duo as bumbling Scotland Yard coppers DS Stevens and DI Holmes, respectively.

The play is funny, heartwarming and one you really should grab the chance to see.

The show, which also sees BBC Look North’s Jeff Brown make a pre-recorded cameo as a newscaster, has lots of heart and northern pride. Us Geordies will stand up for what we believe in and Kempton Bunton is a true personification of that.

The play, directed by Katy Weir, is funny, heartwarming and one you really should grab the chance to see. Its combination of tender moments, big laughs, physical theatre and a little bit of mystery add up to make for a wonderful night at the theatre.

The first ever audience to see it were brought to their feet in a standing ovation.

The Duke in the Cupboard runs at the Customs House until Saturday, October 10. Click here to book tickets.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. From left, Adam Donaldson as DS Stevens, Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton and Scott Ellis as DI Holmes.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. From left, Adam Donaldson as DS Stevens, Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton and Scott Ellis as DI Holmes.

Twitter: @vickinewmanjp

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Adam Donaldson as Jeremy Hutchinson QC.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Adam Donaldson as Jeremy Hutchinson QC.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Stephen Gregory as John Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Stephen Gregory as John Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Zoe Lambert as May Bunton and Stephen Gregory as John Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Zoe Lambert as May Bunton and Stephen Gregory as John Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. From left, Stephen Gregory as John Bunton and Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. From left, Stephen Gregory as John Bunton and Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton and Zoe Lambert as May Bunton.

The Duke in the Cupboard is at the Customs House, South Shields. Graham Overton as Kempton Bunton and Zoe Lambert as May Bunton.