Heartwarming and fun - what to expect from The Dolly Mixtures at the Customs House in South Shields

Eight ordinary women, one extraordinary story.

Friday, 23rd August 2019, 6:09 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd August 2019, 7:20 pm
The Dolly Mixtures

The Dolly Mixtures are back with a bang, three years after the show made its debut at The Customs House.

If you missed it first time around, then don’t make the same mistake again and get your tickets booked now. For this is a special show – a heartwarming story, a brilliant musical score, and nine superb performances.

There should be no surprise the show is such a success as it’s the work of South Tyneside entertainment royalty, poet and award-winning writer Tom Kelly and internationally-renown singer songwriter John Miles.

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The Dolly Mixtures

Their story is the tale of eight friends who, spurred by the early death of one of their husband’s, raise a fortune for charity by performing in the region’s workingmen’s clubs in the 1970s and 1980s.

They were called The Dolly Mixtures and were led by the indomitable Hilda Joyce, who happens to be the grandma of X-Factor superstar Joe McElderry. Joe was there with his gran and two other surviving members of the troup last night.

It was a conversation in the back of a car between Joe, Hilda and The Customs House’s Executive Director, Ray Spencer that was the spark for the show.

And what a show it is!

It starts with Ken (Steven Lee Hamilton) sitting in a Newcastle hospital ward with his wife Margaret (Sarah Boulter) and sister Hilda (Natasha Haws). Ken is dying of bowel cancer and his wife and sister decide to raise some money to buy a dart board and pool table to give hospital patients something to do.

Margaret and Hilda rope in their friends and start performing songs and comedy sketches in local social clubs. Once they’ve started, they find it hard to stop, eventually raising more than £100,000 for Cancer Research – a huge sum in those days.

The first song, Our Hearts, sets the tone for the show and is a great number with the impressive power of the combined ensemble. It’s followed by The Fight, with Margaret, Hilda and Ken showing their determination to beat his cancer.

Sadly, it was a battle Ken couldn’t win; he died a few months after The Dolly mixtures hit the road. Ken becomes the show’s narrator, charting the girls’ journey from their first stuttering steps to their glory days when they were out performing most nights of the week.

The beautiful duet Always You between Ken and heartbroken Margaret is possibly the best number in the show and moved many audience members to tears.

But the sadness doesn’t last long, for this is an uplifting show and one that you will leave with a smile on your face and feeling better about the world.

There are plenty of laughs as the girls are constantly misnamed and mistaken for strippers as they arrive to perform at workingmen’s clubs across the north east. The cast in turn don caps and macs to play implacable doormen, club secretaries and agents, with hilarious consequences.

We’re reminded of the tough, macho world of CIU clubs by old photographs projected on to a screen above the stage. The ‘no women at the bar’ rule is understandably a particular irritation for the girls.

Director and Choreographer Mina Anwar, who worked on the original show, keeps the pace suitably frenetic and gets the very best out of a wonderful ensemble cast.

The friendship between Hilda, Margaret, Doris (Georgia Nicholson) Liz Kylie Ann Ford), Joan (Christina Berriman-Dawson), Sylvia (Victoria Holtom), Jean (Patricia L Whale) and Betty (Zoe Hakan) is superbly portrayed and you get the impression the performers really enjoy each other’s company.

A word too for the live band expertly led by Dave Bintley – it’s an increasingly rare treat to have a live band accompany a musical these days and one that was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.

This is a truly wonderful show, a story of the power of friendship, love and community. The love between a husband and wife and the friendship between eight women determined to galvanise tight-knit communities to ensure something positive emerged from a personal tragedy.

As three years ago, the end of the show was greeted by a standing ovation, the audience standing as one to show their appreciation of a remarkable story, wonderfully retold.

Treat yourself and your loved ones – buy some tickets.

:: The Dolly Mixtures by Tom Kelly and John Miles runs until August 31