Le Mystère de St Denis - This was a fabulous play. I have never seen so much focus from the entire year group at once! The play has enthused the students and allowed them an entirely fresh perspective on French learning.

Teacher, Hexham Middle School

On Friday the 4th of October, many year 8 and 9s went on a trip to Hartlepool Town Hall theatre with three amazing teachers: Mme Craig, Mme Hughes and Mme Thomas, to watch "Le Moulin Magique". "Le Moulin Magique" (The Magic Windmill) was a theatre show performed in French by four extremely good actors. They all played a variety of parts and some also played instruments. They spoke entirely in French and involved us (the audience) a lot, to help with our French. We each had a booklet with a summary of the production, songs in French and English and all the vocabulary we needed. It was extremely funny and exciting. I loved it, because it was something different and it has helped me with my understanding of French. All the other pupils would definitely agree with me. It was so good, I would rate it at: *****

Elena, pupil, All Saints RC School, York

Canary Gold is an interesting play, slightly flawed in concept, but performed with verve. The plot surrounds a modern-day businessman’s plan to import malmsey – that’s wine from the Canary Islands – and the machinations of his trading partners as they try to unload a particularly precious vintage. We also see scenes from the colonial era, which teach us about the history of malmsey and carry some knowing parallels to the present day. But I was attracted to Canary Gold for one simple reason: it’s performed, which supertitles, in three languages, English, Spanish and French.The technique works well during the colonial scenes, when it reinforces a sense of tribalism or general separation; but in the twenty-first century part of the play, it often seems to be done for no particular reason. The dialogue is fast, making it a challenge to follow the captions, and occasionally the actors or parts of the set blocked my view of the words. Most oddly of all, there was a scene which combinedphysical comedy with dialogue in French, which meant I had to choose between reading the supertitles orlooking at the capering. In general – while I admire the decision to try something different – I felt the multi-lingual sections needed to be approached with a little more consideration for the audience. Visually, on the other hand, this play works very well. There’s some elegant design around a simple set, which successfully evokes scenes as varied as a sailing ship and an upmarket apartment using little more than a packing crate on wheels. And the 16th-century costumes are gorgeous: look out in particular for Elizabeth I, whose outfit is made partially with pages from the Financial Times. Somewhatunexpectedly, Elizabeth also breaks into an operatic aria, and while that’s not my area of expertise it seemed a remarkably impressive performance to my untrained ear. The modern-day scenes, however, are less stylish. At times they were a touch too realistic – you even have to sit through a business presentation – and the script is a little heavy on overt exposition. Thereare a couple of highlights, including one fast-flowing scene where we see a woman seeking a mortgage being passed from bank to bank until she’s been lent far more than she could possibly afford, but overall I thought this part of the play needed to focus down more onto what’s truly essential to the plot. There are some hints of clever parallels between modern times and history, but I felt they remained under-developed; the colonial sections are almost relegated to scene-setting for the contemporary plot. Or so it seems, until the jaw-droppingly weird moment when a 16th-century merchant arrives on stage with an electric guitar. And that, I think, sums it up: Canary Gold is fun and adventurous – piling up a host of neat ideas, though sometimes in a slightly ramshackle order. They haven’t quite found treasure this time, but I’d sail with them again.

Richard Stamp FringeGuru

My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed Canary Gold. I really liked the social commentary on the credit crunch, but I also liked the fact that it wasn't too heavy because it was so funny in parts. From a personal perspective, I lived in Mallorca for 8 years when I was younger so it was also really nice to hear some native Spanish!

Audience member, Northern Stage, about Canary Gold

Just a note to say how much we enjoyed the performance of Canary Gold last night at The Wynd in Melrose.  It was such a lively evening with lovely touches of humour and the music added to the charm of the whole performance - it must be one of your best productions so far!  Thank you for a really good evening's entertainment.

Audience member, The Wynd, about Canary Gold

This production sang like a canary and shone like gold, but was it fool’s gold? The story begins in the sixteenth century, shifting back and forth to modern day. The song “What would you do with a drunken sailor, what would you do with a merchant banker” encapsulates much of the essence of the story. ‘Canary Gold’ is a highly prized sweet white wine from the Canaries, being a sweet classic Madeira grape, golden in colour, hence its name; known in England as Malmsey, it has been around a long time and always highly valued. Shakespeare refers to it in Henry IV part 2, Falstaff says “You have drunk too much Canneries, that’s a marvellous searching wine” and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night has a “cup of Canary”. The piece endeavours to relate the 500 years trade between the Canary Islands and the UK. It refers specifically to the pirates that stole it and to modern day speculators who use it purely as investment, to the point of deception. What is the difference between thieves, pirates or bankers? In the 16th century goods and wine were unloaded at Canary Wharf, which today is the international centre for banking and finance. “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies” said Thomas Jefferson, who features in the story. A rare bottle with “Th J “on the label appears for sale in London; can this have belonged to the USA president Thomas Jefferson when celebrating the Declaration of Independence, or is it a fake?

The cast of four play many characters spanning centuries. Sir Francis Drake alias Bob Drake (John Cobb) handles many lengthy monologues with ease, showing his theatrical expertise and experience; Jason Hawkins (Paddy Burton) portrays many characters and displays his musical talents. The two women are a good counterfoil, Milagros Alonso (Josefa Suarez) being the strongest Spanish contributor and Clemence de Lafayette (Sophie Millon) the French.

Live music, songs, frequent costume changes, varying from Elizabethan to modern and movement maintain an exuberant, youthful atmosphere, maintaining non-stop action. Exotic, outrageous characters, real and fictitious, meld together with the wine back and forth through the centuries. Some of the choreographed movement is very clever and witty, the mixture of languages and time frames well handled,

The set (Alison Ashton) facilitates a multitude of possibilities regarding all aspects of the production; comprising mainly of trucks and four tea chests which are adapted to form many locations; a very well designed set for a touring production. The lighting (Dimas Cedres) creates very atmospheric effects on the back cloth and drapes, together with sound effects which enhanced the action.

This is a co-production between the Hexham based Theatre Sans Frontiers and Teatro Tamaska from Tenerife, both formed nearly 24 years ago. Mainly in English, the Spanish and French have unobtrusive surtitles, which are often not required as the meaning is generally gathered from the action. A cross between a child’s pop-up story book and serious message with songs, all delivered with tongue in cheek, with a rather naive quality. Whilst the themes were all connected and relevant, ‘Canary Gold’ is an over flowing glass quite suddenly drained with a song, making the show a little frantic, a lot of content indeed for 100 minutes! If you do not get a chance to see the show it is touring Tenerife in April, culture on holiday.

The full house took to this feast with relish showing their appreciation audibly. The Q&A with the company and offer of wine tasting after the show continued the personal feel of the evening, which was educational and entertaining.

Anna Ambelez The Public Reviews



Can we trust what it says on the bottle or in the small print at the bank? David Whetstone reviews Canary Gold, a new play premiered this week at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham.

A RICH evening’s entertainment hangs on the tale of a bottle of wine – allegedly a very old bottle.

I say allegedly because this is a play mainly about greed and duplicity, linking 16th Century pirates with the big beasts of 21st Century high finance.

Is that bottle of wine, supposedly from the same batch as the bottle uncorked by Thomas Jefferson to toast the American Declaration of Independence in 1769, real or fake?

If its monetary value is reliant on its contents never being consumed, does it really matter?

The ironies of the investment game – with particular regard to wine – provide the production’s funniest lines, although some of these are well-known, as in Laurence J Peter’s “an economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today”.

Canary Gold is an intriguing, full-blooded co-production between Theatre Sans Frontieres, which is based in Hexham, and Teatro Tamaska from Tenerife.

The leading lights in both companies have studied and performed together over many years and share an interest in physical and multi-lingual drama.

What better theme for them both to explore than the historic part played by wine in relations between Britain and Spain, and specifically the Canary Islands where so many of us go for sun-kissed hols?

A talented cast of four – two English actors
(John Cobb and Paddy Burton), one French (Sophie Millon) and one Spanish (Josefa Suárez) – take us, in the first half, back to the 16th Century and to encounters on the high seas between Francis Drake and those sailing under rival flags.

Condemned as a common pirate by the Spanish, Drake’s habit of returning home with glorious trinkets for Elizabeth I prompted her to dub him Sir Francis and build the foundations of the British Empire on his example – or so we are told.

Little wooden boats, some of them strangely reminiscent of packing cases with sails, provide platforms for the actors as they are pushed around the stage, with even smaller hand- held versions used to illustrate the turbulence of the sea.

Meanwhile, in the present day, a banker called Bob Drake hosts an investors’ day at Canary Wharf where wine experts are extolling the virtues of Canary Gold, a wine with the promise of paradise and, naturally, of a good future mark-up.

They look so trustworthy, those wine experts, just the kind of people you’d entrust with your hard-earned cash. But as we learned during the credit crunch, a well-cut suit is no guarantee of reliability.

Canary Gold, directed by Carlos Belda, offers much food for thought as actors change costumes and languages while cavorting around Alison Ashton’s simple yet effective set.

The second half of the play, with an infusion of modern-day intrigue surrounding that bottle of Jefferson plonk, works better than the first.

But in the spirit of Robert Lepage, the influential Canadian theatre director for whom members of both these companies have worked, the fine-tuning will continue until things run as smoothly as Canary Gold. 


David Whetstone The Journal

Prepare to be moved and mesmerised by Robert Lepage’s epic, 9-hour, trans-continental, multi-lingual theatrical journey, Lipsynch. Yes, you read that right - 9-hours! It’s amazing to consider that, Australian Ironman triathlete, Craig Alexander, recently completed a full Ironman event in less time than it took to sit through this brilliant theatrical event. And, I’m so glad I stayed the distance!

A sprawling Canadian and British co-production, alternatively spoken in English, French, Spanish, and German and broken up by five intervals, Lipsynch’s 9 human stories / melodramas (some of which are inter-related) explore our seemingly ever-increasing desperate need for recognition, self-expression and connection from various angles.

Speaking of the need for self-expression, I understand that, this production was conceived about 6 years ago, which probably explains the rather interesting omission of references to Twitter and Facebook and other forms of all-pervasive electronic social media all of which have, sadly, altered forever the manner in which we communicate with one another. So insidiously pervasive in fact, that, for the first time in Olympics history, we are witnessing the sad spectacle of world-class athletes blaming their addiction to social media for their poor athletic performances.

Lipsynch explores some disturbingly familiar and universal themes: the fragility and impermanence of human relationships (including mother and son, husband and wife, brother and sister), and the sickening exploitation of those who are the most vulnerable in our society, including the mentally ill, women, and the poor and disenfranchised.

There are three essential lynchpins to the 9 stories – Ada (Rebecca Blankenship), the kind, generous and loving opera singer; Lupe (Nuria Garcia), a young 15-year old prostitute who is sold to a German pimp by her evil uncle; and Jeremy (Rick Miller), Lupe’s son, adopted by Ada after Lupe’s tragic death aboard an airplane during the dramatic opening story. And, much like the recently screened TV soap, Revenge, once you have seen the first two or three of the nine stories, you will find yourself hooked in and wanting more, including the identity of Jeremy’s father. The answer to that latter puzzle will leave you feeling unclean and unsettled.

Lipsynch features some of the most intelligent and versatile set design (Jean Hazel) you are ever likely to see outside of a Transformers movie. With the aid of a highly skilled, efficient, and visible backstage production team, sets miraculously and effortlessly morph from airplane cabins, to London underground trains, to radio studios, to book stores, to film sets, to Nicaraguan cantinas, to brothels.

Could this production have been told in under 9 hours? Probably. Some of the stories (Michelle’s, for example, and the lengthy movie making sequence) are not as compelling and as satisfying as others (the opening and closing stories are, for me, the pick of the bunch), and one senses that, just like the favourite rationale for climbing Mount Everest, Lepage and his producers included all of the stories because they were there and because they could.

Ultimately, however, you should not let the marathon running time deter you from seeing this truly affecting, memorable and once-in-a-lifetime theatrical odyssey.


Joe Calleri freelance writer

I work at Arts Centre Melbourne, and as such I was lucky enough to see your magnificent show twice - both your opening performance on Saturday the 4th and your closing performance on Sunday the 12th. I can't tell you how satisfying the last week has been - speaking to excited patrons before the show, discussing the story during the intervals, dissecting everything after the completion of the performance. During the week we had dozens of people coming in asking "So what is this Lipsynch thing every one is talking about?"  
It was my sincere pleasure to rave about your show, to convince them to buy tickets, and to see them again post-performance and see the tears in their eyes.

You symbolise all that is great about theatre, and you made this the best week I have ever had at work.

Thank you, grazie mille,


Hannah, about Lipsynch

The performance and workshops were brilliant. Children were commenting during their lunch how much they enjoyed the workshops.

Teacher, Stretford High School about La Chanson du Retour



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