Abigail’s Party – Mike Leigh’s classic is back

Abigail is having a party and we are not invited. While the ‘black sheep’ belonging to the terribly nice Sue is turning it up to 11 and knocking back the ciders behind the scenes, we are instead invited to possibly the most excruciating gathering of the late 20th Century.  Mike Leigh’s seminal observation of late 70’s class tensions proves to be as relevant to today as it was when it was first written.

Beverly, played with abandoned lasciviousness by Hannah Waterman, has put on her shiny green frock and cracked open a tin of pineapple cubes. Her workaholic Estate Agent husband Laurence (Martin Marquez) fades in and out with his Boycie twang, swigging, smoking and sniping at his flighty wife. Mismatched newcomers to the street, Angela and Tony, try their best to assimilate. Sue vomits her gin and grits her teeth, keeping her ears open for noises off.


The seventies stylings are terribly nostalgic for those of us of a certain age, and by the time the curtain falls it has been a rollercoaster ride to the past. Very funny, equally tragic, Abigail’s party is keenly observed and a must for theatre lovers this week.


Theatre Royal Newcastle

4-9 March

To book call 08448 112121


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Rapunzel re-told by balletLORENT

I don’t have any children and I don’t intend to make any. But tonight I kind of wished I had a little girl next to me hearing her first tell of Rapunzel.  BalletLORENT has created another seminal story, this time for children (and everyone) which sticks to the imagination like white glue on fingers.

Far removed from my first balletLORENT experience in Mr Lynch many years ago, when La Nuit Intime made my eyes dance and water around a darkened club, Rapunzel still has that edge sharpened by vulnerability, danger and sensuality. This is no facile fairytale.


Typically imaginative, physical and whimsical, the bittersweet story is weaved with slow assurance and lulls us into a deep, excitable state where scooters, wheelie shoes, and giant balloons convince us that three-story hair is not as improbable as it seems.


For any parent yearning for a bed-time story beyond the spectrum of pink, and for any non-parent who loves (very) Grimm fairytales, balletLORENT’s Rapunzel is perfect.


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Aladdin is pure genie-us

What words should I use to describe Theatre Royal’s Christmas show, Aladdin? That was the question I asked my chap in the taxi home. Spectacular. Brilliant. Amazeballs. All these were suggested and agreed on.

I’ve never been to a panto like this before – yes there were all the usual puns, physical gags and innuendo, but this show is like Panto on steroids. The pace was frenetic, the costumes explosive, the songs epic, and the staging….well let’s just say the conversation at the interval was based around ‘How on earth did they do that?!’ Kudos to the visual special effects team at The Twins FX for creating some superb, unforgettable moments.


Danny Adams as Aladdin is irrepressibly bonkers, Chris Hayward sashayed the knickers off his role as the Empress of China, and Lisa Lynch twirled and sparkled as the Slave of the Ring. Our favourite stage presence however, was Michael Potts as the fumbling unfortunate Laundry Boy. Pure panto genie-us!


Aladdin is showing at Theatre Royal in Newcastle every day until 19 January. Tickets cost £11 – £28 and are selling fast so book now!




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Dirty Dancing at Sunderland Empire

Sunderland Empire, the ‘West End of the North East’ is living up to its name this autumn, particularly with its current show, Dirty Dancing. The amazing stage adaptation of the much loved film is showing until 6 October, and is a must-see for fans of feelgood.

Music is at the heart of this story, set at Kellerman’s luxury mountain holiday camp in the summer of 1963, an age of innocence looking back, before the JFK assassination, the horrors of Vietnam and the race riots. Hit after hit is belted out by the brilliant live band, from Be My Baby to Do You Love Me?, as well as songs written specifically for the movie such as Time of My Life and Hungry Eyes.

However, a class war is played out in microcosm in Dirty Dancing. This is not just a show about a love affair against the odds, or an early 60s period piece. Its continued popularity over the past 20-something years is just as much due to tackling head-on issues of class, family loyalty and right and wrong.

The Director Sarah Tipple keeps the pace as lively as the dance routines, and the simple set changes provide a cascading backdrop of live and projected scenes. Some of the set design is quite ingenious, such as the ‘learning to lift’ sequence in the wood, field and lake. Fashionistas will adore the gorgeous vintage dresses, and the world class choreography showed off the petticoats to full effect.

Jill Winternitz is a perfect ‘Baby’, and Paul-Micheal Jones raised the roof as a brooding Johnny Castle. Nicky Griffith’s 12 foot long legs made her a spellbinding Penny – she lit up the stage with her incredible dancing.

The show was a joy from start to finish, and there is a brilliant bit of showmanship at the end which was the cherry on top. We had the time of our lives – book your tickets cha cha cha!

Dirty Dancing tickets cost from £10 to £75 and can be purchased online

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Overwhelmed by Oliver!

Well, what can I say? Last night’s trip to see Oliver! at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal was an experience beyond all expectations. I had been anticipating the show as a trip down memory lane as it was one of my first experiences of the West End as a nipper, and I had hazy recall of the well known songs. What I felt upon leaving the theatre amid the throng was the feeling of being inside one big communal grin.

Oliver! is, quite simply, superb. Class and quality oozes from every performance, every dance routine, every crescendo from the orchestra. The staging is world class – the set changes before your eyes with a dreamlike precision, transporting the audience from beautiful morning to subterranean grim in moments, as if a magician waved his wand across the stage.


Brian Conley proved his star quality as a complex Fagin, providing both shivers of revulsion and belly laughs. Iain Fletcher brought darkness with him to the stage as the heinous Bill Sykes, and Daniel Huttlestone was a perky if somewhat unintelligible Dodger. But without doubt the star of the show for me was Cat Simmons in the role of Nancy. Hairs on the back of the neck stuff.

Oliver! is the best thing I’ve seen in years. I’m going again before the 8 week run ends, and I advise you to, too!


Oliver! is showing at Theatre Royal Newcastle until 3 November. Tickets cost from £15.50 and can be booked online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk/whats-on/oliver or by telephone BOX OFFICE: 08448 11 21 21
GROUP SALES: 08448 11 21 22



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Everything you ever wanted to know about Oliver!

The big-budget West End spectacular Oliver! starring Brian Conley is now showing at Newcastle Theatre Royal until 4 November, and I am super excited to be going tonight as it’s my favourite musical. Bringing back memories of school productions, and my first ever experience of the West End back in the 80s, I can’t wait to revisit the mean streets of Victorian London and get lost in the turbulent tale of Oliver Twist.


Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Lionel Bart’s smash hit musical is currently one of the largest productions on tour with a cast of 54, orchestra of 16 and a technical team of 53 who bring the show to life eight times a week. It has taken 11 45-foot trailers to move the production to Newcastle, and requires four days to unload sets and costumes.

Oliver! is one of the best-loved musicals of all time and includes Lionel Bart’s sensational score, with irresistible songs including Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You’ve Got to Pick-a-Pocket or Two, I’d Do Anything, Oom Pah Pah and As Long As He Needs Me. Oliver! will be in Newcastle for eight weeks – the longest run of a show at the Theatre Royal since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats in 1997.


Oliver! recently completed a two year run at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London where it opened to rave reviews, sell-out business and the biggest advance sales of all time for a West End show. Last year, Oliver! celebrated its 50th birthday, having premiered in the West End in 1960.


Brian Conley, who stars as Fagin, is one of the UK’s most versatile actors and performers. His West End stage credits include ‘Edna Turnblad’ in “Hairspray” at the Shaftesbury Theatre, ‘Caractacus Potts’ in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at the London Palladium, as well as originating the role of ‘Al Jolson’ in “Jolson” at the Victoria Palace for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. On television, he is probably best known for playing ‘Doug Digby’ in “The Grimleys”, his ITV1 show “The Brian Conley Show”, his hugely successful “An Audience with Brian Conley” and numerous Royal Variety Performances.


The role of Nancy will be played by Cat Simmons, best known for her regular role as DC Kezia Walker in the long running ITV drama The Bill and as Scarlett Anderson in Family Affairs for Channel 5. Cat, who trained with the National Youth Music Theatre, has also performed extensively on the stage and was last seen in the most talked about theatrical event of last year, the site specific Decade for Headlong Theatre directed by Rupert Goold.

Iain Fletcher plays Bill Sikes – a series regular in The Bill (DC Rodney Skase), Iain is also well known for his portrayal of Doc Ryan in Band of Brothers. Mr Brownlow is played by stalwart of stage, TV and film Stephen Moore who will be familiar from his roles in Clockwise, Brassed Off, Doctor Who, Harry Enfield and Chums, Middlemarch and Brideshead Revisited.

Cameron Mackintosh said: “It is 46 years since I appeared in the first national tour of Oliver! and this show has been close to my heart ever since. Little did I know then that I would one day be this brilliant musical’s producer and co-owner. Every time I produce the show Lionel Bart’s marvellous musical becomes a smash hit all over again, so I’m thrilled to bring you yet another spectacular new version starring Brian Conley.”


The Newcastle run is being sponsored by Euro Hostel Newcastle and The Ware Rooms, which are situated on part of the House of Correction prison site where Newcastle’s own legendary Fagin, Henry Cunningham, was detained for a time and near to where he used to store his ill-gotten gains.


The show is produced by Cameron Mackintosh, in association with Southbrook Group Limited and Stage Entertainment UK.



Oliver! appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Wednesday 12 September – Saturday 3 November 2012 (Evenings: 7.30pm, Matinees: Thursday 2pm and Saturday 2.30pm). Tickets are from £15.50 and can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk

Oliver! Facts and Figures



  • 30 Adult Cast.
  • 24 Children – By the end of the tour 308 Children will have performed in the show.
  • 4 Olivers, 4 Dodgers, and 3 touring teams of 10 children. They are looked after by 7 Chaperones.
  • The backstage teams includes: 1 Company Manager, 5 Stage Management, 6 Stage Crew, 2 Flymen, 3 Followspot Operators, 1 Touring Carpenter,1 Automation Operator, 3 Sound Operators, 3 Touring Electricians, 2 Technical Swings, 9 Dressers, 5 Wigs personnel and 4 Wardrobe personnel.
  • There are 15 Members of the Orchestra plus a Musical Director.
  • The creative team includes: 1 Associate Director, 1 Children’s Director and 1 Children’s Musical Director.
  • …and of course, 1 Dog playing Bullseye and 1 Dog Handler!



  • Requires 11 X 45 foot Trailers.
  • It takes around 12 hours to take the show out of a venue and 3 days to put it into the next venue.
  • 21 Motors are used to suspend the set and equipment in addition to the theatres flying bars.
  • 39 Production and Local Crew are involved in putting the show into a venue
  • The flown Bridge weighs nearly a ton and will move 1.8km during the tour in performance.
  • There are 16 flying elements in the set.



  • Do 64 loads of washing per week.
  • Spend each day darning stockings, and each member of our wardrobe team has their own darning mushroom.
  • Every piece of costume has a hand sewn label with the actors name , scene and character.
  • To keep track of the children’s costumes each team has a colour and matching coloured hangers.
  • The majority of the costumes are kept onstage in a large area known as the Quick Change Village.
  • There are 6 x 3 metre rails of spare costumes for the children.
  • There are 300 pairs of children’s shoes on tour to adapt to their growing feet!
  • Each Swing (cover cast member) has 19 sets of costumes, shoes and hats.
  • Every child’s costume is checked by a member of wardrobe before they go onstage – to check that they still fit and look correct.
  • All the show shoes have a special rubber sole fitted – so nobody slips onstage
  • After all the costumes are washed on a regular bases – they then have to be sprayed and painted to make them look dirty.
  • All the local children have 4 costumes each and each venue’s children have their costumes specially fitted to them or remade if they don’t fit.
  • 3 washing machines, 4 Tumble driers, 3 ironing boards and 3 Steam generator irons tour with the production.
  • Wardrobe will drink over 4000 cups of tea during the tour!



  • All the wigs are made from real hair and have lace fronts.
  • There are 70 wigs in total including the understudy wigs.
  • Fagin’s make up takes around 45 minutes to do, using 3 different glues to secure his bald cap and facial hair. He also has a brand new bald cap every day.
  • The makeup department go through 15 packets of baby wipes in a week to remove all the dirt off the children and adults.




  • There are 65 moving lights, 175 generic lights and three followspots used in every show.
  • There is 1 smoke machine, 8  haze machines, 1 fogger and 2 snow machines used in each performance, plus Pyro and Smoke Strips for special effects.
  • The electrical equipment takes 2 x 45ft trailers to transport between venues.



  • The Stage Management team is made up of 1 x Stage Manager,

1 x Deputy Stage Manager & 3 x Assistant Stage Managers.


  • There is one Assistant Stage Manager running each wing on stage. The Deputy Stage Manager sits at the prompt desk and gives all of the cues to lighting, sound, automation and Stage Management. The Stage Manager is present on stage to ensure the smooth running of the show and to help solve problems if and when they might arise.


  • There are 519 props used in the show. Each prop has to be accounted for before each performance. This is carried out by the Assistant Stage Managers using a check sheet.


  • During a year this production of Oliver! will go through approximately…

832 Apples

500 cans of Sprite

250 packets of Ham

52 packets of Ginger Nuts

500 Muller Yoghurts

60 copies of a Victorian edition of ‘The Times’ newspaper


  • Approximately 800 ice packs will be used throughout a year to help control muscle injuries to the cast.


  • It takes 3 carpenters, 6 stage crew, 2 flymen and 3 stage management, 30 minutes to reset the stage and props before every show.


  • Anyone who is backstage/in the wings during a show has to wear Black clothing in order not to be seen by the audience while doing their cues.


  • All of the bowls, spoons, tankards and any other prop that may go into a cast member’s mouth have to be sterilized before every show, this includes the string of pearls that Bill Sikes pulls from his mouth in Fagin’s Den.


  • When the show moves to a new theatre each prop has to be carefully wrapped in bubble wrap to avoid any breakages en route.


  • The Stage Manager writes a report after every single performance with details about that show. This contains information such as anything that went wrong in the show and also if there were any understudies performing that night.



  • 91 mics are used per show.
  • Over 25,000 batteries will have been used by the end of the tour – all recycled.
  • 140 loudspeakers are used per show.
  • 38 video monitors are used per show.
  • 26 wireless communications devices are used per show.


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Phoenix Dance Theatre lights up Northern Stage

I started working in the arts six years ago and had never been even slightly interested in modern dance. I thought it was probably a bit silly and definitely not as good as ‘proper’ ballet. Luckily, my new job suddenly made attendance at all kinds of events pretty much mandatory and my first experience of contemporary dance was a Hofesh Schecter performance of ‘Uprising’ at Dance City in 2006. It was bloody marvellous, and since then I have been an enthusiastic and vocal advocate for this most beautiful and immediate of art forms.

Leap forward several years and many wrinkles, and I was luring my chap along to see Phoenix Dance Theatre perform a portfolio of works called ‘Crossing Lines’ at Northern Stage. He’s a sound engineer and as such I thought he might like the concept piece Soundclash. Inspired by the fascinating world of cymatics, SoundClash is a brand new work by Kompany Malakhi’s Kwesi Johnson. Based on the complex and beautiful patterns created by sound waves when made visible. This was the final piece performed on the night, and it was indeed mesmerising and impressive, but afterwards he said he had most enjoyed the more narrative works, Catch and Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe

Even for someone like me who is not familiar with the Magritte painting The Son of Man, on which the piece Catch is based, I was drawn in to the story through the theatrical movement and costume. Suited and strangled by ties, the dancers hustle and bustle each other, bully and block each other, undress and caress each other. They are drawn to a rope which seems to offer a chance of escape, but something stops them climbing it. It made me smile, and in the end laugh, which I wasn’t expecting.

Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe sees five dancers suspended in light around a hanging microphone, contributing live sounds as well as their muscles and movement to an eclectic beat driven soundtrack. Again, the wittiness and playful approach made me sit up and nod.

The Phoenix dancers are quite simply incredible. At the top of their game, and giving it their all. There’s this vibration in the air around them, and sometimes their physicality takes on a surreal quality. Where are the wires holding them up? Where are the springs in their toes?

Contemporary dance is traditionally one of the most ‘difficult’ sells on the arts roster. But Northern Stage was packed for Phoenix Dance Theatre. I believe contemporary dance has something unique to offer for audiences – it doesn’t require prior knowledge, it is always exciting to watch, it isn’t stuffy or long-winded, it’s generally suitable for any age, and the younger audience at last night’s performance were certainly loud and long in their appreciation.

So if you’ve never been, keep an eye on the Dance page on whatsonnortheast.com and give contemporary dance a whirl.



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How I played my part in Flaming Prints

Want to create a no-budget social media campaign with big budget results?

If you are a small/medium sized organisation with minimal marketing budget, social media theoretically offers the potential of reaching a huge online audience without breaking the bank. But I am often asked by busy Marketing staff how to minimise the time required to build social media networks and ensure a profitable return on the time invested.

I thought I would share the process and results of a recent social media campaign I developed and delivered for Northern Print, as it is a good example of how to turbo charge your social media output based around a single event, and then reap the rewards of the ‘so-ball’ effect (think snowball effect but with tweets and likes instead of snowflakes).

Tip 1 – have a big idea

Flaming Prints was the brainchild of Anna Wilkinson, Director of Northern Print in Newcastle. Northern Print is a gallery and studio for the art of printmaking and it supports the work of around 300 printmaking artists in the northeast by providing a fully equipped studio to produce work. Further than that, Northern Print operates internationally through its gallery programme and by delivering the biggest printmaking festival in the world, the International Print Biennale, which in 2011 engaged with over 150,000 audience members.

Northern Print building in Newcastle

Flaming Prints was conceived as a 24 hour round-the-world printmaking relay celebrating the Olympic flame’s arrival in Britain. 8 printmaking studios in America, Canada, China, Korea, Mexico, Poland, South Africa and the UK took part. The studios each consecutively had three hours to create and print original artworks on the theme of the Olympic Flame. After three hours, each studio passed the Flaming Print to the next country, and a creative path was printed right around the globe.

Tip 2 – jump on a bandwagon (or two)

Northern Print was taking part in the annual Late Shows weekend of late night opening of museums, galleries and other cultural venues in Newcastle and Gateshead on 18 and 19 May 2012. This provided a great opportunity to run Flaming Prints and link with the other organisations taking part as well as gaining publicity via the high profile Late Shows campaign. We used the #lateshows hashtag along with our own #flamingprints tag on twitter in order to join new conversations and raise awareness outside our own circle.

Flaming Prints was also included as part of the London 2012 Inspire Programme, which meant it had permission to shout about its connection to the Olympics. During the event we were able to jump into the trending topic of #olympicflame and connect with many thousands of new audience members.

Tip 3 – multi-channel and experiment

Flaming Prints provided a vehicle to use a variety of social media channels. This was experimental stuff, so we didn’t set any hard goals in terms of metrics and this meant we had permission to try out new tech. It was really important to me that the campaign had not just a ‘buzz’ but a legacy, so as well as using existing Facebook and twitter channels, I set up a Flaming Prints Pinterest board as a central repository for images, and also used Youtube for video links. Flickr provided another central repository for images and its slideshow function worked flawlessly throughout two nights of live projection during the Late Shows. A big lesson with Pinterest was that you cannot ‘pin’ images directly from Facebook as it is a private site. Hence Flickr was a lifesaver in this respect.

I used my smartphone constantly during the event to take pictures and instantly upload them to twitter and Facebook. Videos were also easy to film and upload directly to Youtube, and provided even more rich content for audiences to engage with.

Me in action!

Tip 4 – educate your audience

Since Flaming Prints was taking place during The Late Shows, and Northern Print was open and expecting over 1,000 people through the doors, we knew it was important to explain to real life visitors (as opposed to virtual ones) what on earth was happening. Posters were hung around the venue and by the live projection with information about the Flaming Prints project and all the links and hashtags to use. This created many mentions and uploads of appropriately tagged images.

Several people even became social media users for the first time due to their wish to take part and visitors were fascinated by the live feed as we added images and tweets from around the world.

Late Shows visitors watching the live feed from facebook, twitter and flickr which was projected onto the Northern Print Gallery wall

Tip 5 – concentrate!

As well as seeding conversations and setting up the various Flaming Print channels in advance of the project, I knew it would be essential to physically attend the Late Shows at Northern Print in order to be there to capture images, project the live feed and react to any unexpected circumstances or unforeseen opportunities. For example we realised we had some artists in the building with connections to the international studios and I was able to make short vox pop videos of them and add these to the campaign. During the event it really was a full time job to monitor and move the campaign forward during those crucial 24 hours.

Anna Wilkinson weilding the social media station on the first night of the Late Shows

Return on Time

So what were the results of this no-cost but labour-intensive campaign?

In the month leading up to Flaming Prints, Northern Print’s ‘True Reach’ score on Klout (measuring Twitter influence) went up 165 points. True Reach is the number of people you influence, both within your immediate network and across their extended networks.

Overall Northern Print’s Klout score went up 9 points to 40 during that month.

On Twitter, @northernprint had 103 retweets and 128 mentions in the week of the campaign, and gained at least 150 new followers.

On Facebook, the campaign week was Northern Print’s most popular week, with 54 new likes (a 10% increase) and 331 mentions giving a reach of 2,547.

Crucially, several of the new Facebook connections were international artists with whom Northern Print will actively network.

The Flaming Prints project is visually archived on the Pinterest boards with a growing collection of images from all over the world, which will provide a permanent network between the studios involved, and allow people viewing the images to find those artists easily by clicking the images.

For me the Flaming Prints social media campaign delivered a range of interesting benefits, both quantitative in terms of follows and fans, and qualitative in terms of the conversations and active engagement with a global fraternity of printmaking artists.

Northern Print gained a new level of online profile, but crucially so did the other studios and artists involved. The campaign was designed strategically to compliment the project, and I am happy that it did this, and has paved the way for future international online campaigns.

If you want help with social media strategy, contact me on carogreener@gmail.com.

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Play your part in Flaming Prints!

Northern Print in Newcastle’s Ouseburn is staying open for The Late Shows on 18 and 19 May. Head along to add your fiery thumbprint to the giant flame being created as part of Flaming Prints, the round the world printmaking relay. There are lots of other crafty things to do for the whole family and entry is free.

A flame made of thumbprints

If you can’t make it along on either evening, you can still take part! Just make a thumbprint in a fiery colour and take a photograph of it. Upload it to twitter and tag it #flamingprints, post it on Northern Print’s facebook page (link above), or email your  photo to enquiries@northernprint.org.uk.

Just make one print and send it in!

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All change at What’s On HQ

It’s been a hectic few weeks, as I have been helping with the close down of Audiences North East, where I worked for six years and from where I edited whatsonnortheast.com. The company lost its funding in the recent round of public spending cuts, and so a new home had to be found for our lovely listings website. Luckily, the wonderful people at Visit County Durham were keen to take on the site, and also me for a little while to help them get to grips with it. I’ve gone freelance, and this is my very first contract so I’m trying hard to impress :-)

So here I am, in their lovely buzzy office in the heart of Durham, bang in the centre of the North East, adding listings and new venues and organising tickets for bloggers, and writing previews and reviews and all the other stuff I love doing.

What with everything going on I’ve not been out much (well, for me anyway). My top cultural picks from the last few weeks have to be… hyper violent message movie The Hunger Games, the impeccable brow humour of Jimeoin at The Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre, and 20:20 at Northern Print (oops I spent quite a lot of money there on prints). Most brilliant new restaurant on the list is Bruges in Jesmond, which does the MOST amazing Belgian beer, waffles, chocolates and chips…

Looking forward to the opening of BALTIC 39 on Thursday, and flashing my new Durham VIP pass about over the spring and summer.

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