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The Dolly Mixtures review at Customs House, South Shields – ‘full of humour and heart’

The Dolly Mixtures at Customs House, South Shields. Photo: Photo credit: Chris J. Allan – Wycombe 89 Media

Big-hearted musical The Dolly Mixtures returns to The Customs House three years after its well-received premiere, staged as part of the theatre’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

Based on real events, the show tells how a young Ken Graham’s (Steven Lee Hamilton) illness inspires his wife Margaret (Sarah Boulter), sister Hilda (Natasha Haws) and their friends to embark on a fundraising mission, performing in working men’s clubs to raise money for cancer research.

Many of the cast reprise their roles, with choreographer Mina Anwar now also taking the directorial reins (she was assistant director on the original show). This familiarity results in a slick, fast moving production.

The personable cast gel together well, with newcomers Haws, Hamilton and Zoë Hakin ably holding their own. John Miles’ songs are serviceable rather than showstopping, but the comedy ensemble pieces are done with aplomb (Jordan Bagnall, Karen Cummings and Paul Shriek deserve plaudits for the gorgeously garish costumes), while the slower numbers carry genuine emotional heft.

Although often very funny and packed with affectionate digs at 1970s local culture (mentions of leek shows and meat raffles elicit knowing laughter), Tom Kelly’s book doesn’t shy away from the sexism the group encountered, performing in venues where women weren’t allowed in the bar, regularly mistaken for strippers.

There’s little in the way of plot or suspense. The women sometimes squabbled, but were firm friends; husbands might have occasionally grumbled, but were supportive – all of which is nice in real life, but doesn’t make for much dramatic tension.

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North East-set musical full of humour and heart that's firmly embedded in its local roots