Tag Archives: Royal and Derngate

For your little Drama Queen – Theatrical birthday parties at Royal & Derngate

Here’s a press release from Royal & Derngate about their new birthday party idea. Rather them than me . . .

For parents looking for something a bit different for their child’s birthday party, Royal & Derngate now offers a new option – theatrical birthday parties packed with music, games and activities and with the excitement of a starring role in a mini theatrical performance!

Taking the hassle out of organising a party, the theatre considers every detail, tailoring it to suit each individual’s needs and catering for the ages of the children. Armed with the perfect party music, bold and beautiful craft materials, exquisite face paints and fabulous costumes for dressing up, Royal & Derngate’s professional team will be brimming with creative ideas and will lead the party from start to finish, ensuring each and every guest experiences a truly special birthday party.

The theatre can also provide a delicious selection of party food, so all that is left for parents to do is to enjoy the event in a safe and relaxed, family friendly environment.

Parties cost £150*, with an additional £5 per child if food is required. Parties are available for children up to 14 years, with a maximum of 25 children per party.

For more information or to book, please contact Natalie Diddams on 01604 655777 or email natalie.diddams@royalandderngate.co.uk.

*prices went up fifty quid after I originally posted this

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Stunning, sickening and a huge success – Review of the Bacchae, Northampton Festival of Chaos season

THERE were points in Royal & Derngate’s adventurous modern retelling of Euripides’ The Bacchae where I had to look down and attempt to read the program. In the dark.

For all the knowledge that we were sitting in my former employer’s old printing press watching actors in a play, the last scenes were pretty shocking. And rightly so. After all, this isn’t panto, and I’m a total wuss when it comes to horror.

The Greek tragedy tells the story of Dionysus, half-God, half human, who returns to the city of his traumatic birth to wreak havoc on the human family who dishonoured his dead mother. (There’s a considerable complicated back story we don’t hear about in the two hours without an interval, so worth doing some homework if you aren’t familiar with two and a half thousand-year-old mythology).

Amanda Wilkin in The Bacchae – Pics ©Robert Day

The staging is brave – a huge space, complete with burnt-out car – within the decaying former printing press at the Chronicle & Echo, whose editorial staff still work next door. (It was originally arranged and adapted to be staged in a working casino, but thankfully that location fell through).

It was odd for Bloke and I, who had been part of the Chron generation who actually went in and out of the press halls when they were fully operational. You could smell the newsprint and almost hear the deafening noise of the presses that once filled the space.

The set designer has used this modern location to good effect – especially as the audience is in tiered seating very close to the action with TV screens above their heads.  The hall’s upstairs offices are used to great effect and amazing musicians are hidden up there in the balcony throughout. Take a coat though – it’s pretty chilly this June.

Although the principle antagonism is centred on the male leads of the lascivious Dionysus (Ery Nzaramba) and his arrogant cousin Pentheus, King of Thebes (Liam Bergin), it’s the women who dominate the action. The brilliant ‘chorus’ of the Bacchae, a girl gang entranced by Dionysus’s message of freedom, bewitch the women of Thebes to run animalistically amok in the desert (off stage). The Bacchantes presence is particularly effective during the ‘justice’ song (and yes, I jumped).

There’s ‘light relief’ in the form of Pentheus’s grandfather Cadmus and his blind prophet pal Tiresius who camp about the stage enjoying Dionysus’s wine, but the comedy is quickly eclipsed the imposing willowy figure of Pentheus’s regal mother Agave. Enticed to abandon herself to the freedom of the desert women, she returns blood-soaked and bonkers. A jaw-dropping and draining performance by the excellent Kathryn Pogson.

There’s some relief as it’s over, not because the show isn’t good – it really is – but because there’s certainly no happy ending. And your bum will be very numb from the seating.

I was surprised to see the majority of the audience seemed to be pensioners. Not that I have anything against pensioners, heaven forbid. But I expected a more varied demographic. (I witnessed several shocked older ladies elbowing their husbands and mouthing their distaste during the ruder and sweary-er points; it was like watching embarrassing sex scenes on TV with your parents).

There are parts of the production that just didn’t work for me – the over-long TV news sequence is clichéd and unnecessary. The key scenes where Dionysus turns his ranting, despotic, misogynist cousin from city slicker into cross-dressing acolyte (and takes off his pants) had as much spark as a mini Metro engine on a cold rainy morning.

But I loved the women. And the setting, and the ambition of the thing. The cast are amazing, particularly Amanda Wilkin, Alicia Davies, Donna Berlin and Philip Cairns. And you really have to give the whole company a standing ovation for the graft they’ve put in running this draining story in rotation with Blood Wedding at the Royal, (worth seeing after The Bacchae (see review here ).

Ery Nzaramba and Liam Bergin

You really should go and see The Bacchae, regardless of your age or knowledge of theatre. You should see it because it is a unique and thoroughly entertaining experience AND IT’S IN NORTHAMPTON.

You should go. Go on, get some culture, buy some tickets now.

The Bacchae runs at the Printing Press in Earl Street, Northampton until Saturday June 30. Call Royal & Derngate on 01604 624811.

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Review of Blood Wedding – part of the Festival of Chaos at Royal & Derngate

Blood Wedding Review – Royal & Derngate, Northampton


Blood Wedding_Seline Hizli The Bride and Kathryn Pogson The Mother

GOODNESS I love Royal & Derngate. I can’t help it. I’ve seen those theatres going through their ups and downs of the last twenty years and fight and win against the finance-sucking behemoth of the London arts scene.

They’ve been consistently producing attractive and challenging theatre – with the brilliant Made in Northampton branding – while other regionals have struggled to survive.

So when they announced the Festival of Chaos series of plays – The Bacchae (staged in the abandoned Chronicle & Echo press hall), Blood Wedding and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler – it was further proof of their refusal to allow regional theatre to drop the curtain and bow out.

Yes. Exciting, original theatre in our little Midlands town. World premieres, national arts press heading north to visit, international playwrights drafted in, unfailingly fabulous sets and live musicians; what’s not to like?

I’ve been particularly looking forward to The Bacchae (which I can’t help but pronounce with a Scouse accent, as in; ‘aye, where’s me baccy?’), but couldn’t see it today on the afternoon press show.

So first for us was Blood Wedding, a new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s tale of family feuds and infidelity set beneath the searing Andalucian sun.

We’re introduced to The Groom (Liam Bergin) and his whining, mourning mother (Kathryn Pogson) as she constantly revisits the terrible deaths of her husband and son at the hands of the vicious Felix family. She’s seeing snakes in the kitchen and hidden all the knives.

But the central setting is not the events of the past but the wedding of her surviving son to the daughter of a successful widower, brought up in isolation on one of Spain’s many desolately dry farms. (So far, so Shakespearean).

While the wedding formalities are arranged we’re presented with the stifling poverty of Leonardo’s family. While his wife (played beautifully by the arresting Amanda Wilkin) and baby wait for him to get work and feed them physically and emotionally, he’s already detached himself and riding his horse into the dust to pursue illicit liaisons with the bride-to-be.

As the marriage date arrives the (surprisingly large) cast gather to celebrate, but the Bride and Leonardo behave less like star-crossed lovers and more like spoilt teens. The Groom’s mother continues to dominate the play both physically and mentally as she perpetuates the mythology of her victimised family and drives the last good thing in her life away to seek revenge.

As always the Royal’s staging is beautiful, innovative and makes the small stage work like a much bigger canvas.

The cast work most effectively in the wedding scenes, when the swaying choreography and sweet vocals combine to give the audience its only sense of a hot Spanish setting.

There’s also the surreal but effective performance of Robert Benfield (yes, a grown man) as The Girl, a dirty voice of reality who dips in and out of the action and whose purpose lends more to the playwright’s poetic obsession with death than the fluidity of the story. By the time The Cousin turned into The Moon I was truly confused and a little bit bored.

The monologues dragged on, the occasional forays into ‘modern’ humour grated and broke the flow, and the search through the woods gave me no sense of jeopardy, perhaps because I already had no affection for the fugitives anyway.

Seline Hizli as the Bride tried her damnedest to portray a woman who wanted to reject the path chosen for her as a woman, (while looking like a cross between Rose Byrne and Rachael Weiss). Similarly Amanda Wilkin gave the inexplicably rejected wife a life of sorrowful inevitability.

Some of the movement was allegorical and beautiful. It was lovely to watch, but I wanted to feel the oppressive dry Spanish landscape of the 1930s. I wanted to care.

Still, two rather buff male characters got their shirts off quite a lot, which was nice.


Blood Wedding runs at Royal & Derngate, Northampton until June 30. You can find out more about the whole Festival of Chaos line-up and book tickets on 01604 624811 or via http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk.


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Spymonkey’s Oedipussy review, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, February 2012

YOU can hardly move in Northampton at the moment without spotting a poster for the intriguingly-titled Oedipussy, a comedy about, of all things, an incestuous Greek tragedy.

It’s performed by Spymonkey, an accomplished physical theatre group with faces you vaguely recognise but then aren’t sure if you’re mixing them up with others: Petra Massey of Miranda and Hyperdrive fame reminded me of Tracey Ullman circa her Three of a Kind years, while Toby Park has something of the bewildered Mark Heap about him, Stephan Kreiss is a funnier, German version of Stephen Frost from Whose Line is it Anyway while the hilarious Aitor Basauri is a one-off – a deadpan clown whose physicality and expression carried the whole show. So, is it worth the hype? We’d been promised laughs, our audience trooped in to the smell of fresh paint – last minute set change perhaps? And then the four-strong cast told how their last show had received a poor review. This one was going to make up for it.

Switch then to the story of Oedipus – you should swot-up on Wikipedia if your Greek mythology isn’t up to scratch – where a baby is dispatched to die in the hills to avoid the Oracle’s prediction of son-kills-dad-marries-mum coming true.

Mixing a static set with multiple character and costume changes, the troop tell the ancient tale with tongues firmly in cheeks. The performers literally throw themselves into it, with plenty of laughs coming from the fact these are not fresh young teenagers straight out of theatre school. They’ve had to drag themselves to the gym to get themselves in shape and battle the aging process all in the name of slapstick. I fully believed the lines about being on painkillers to make it through the show night after night. If it had been performed by younger actors, it wouldn’t have been as funny.

There were weaker sections. I liked some of the actor’s soliloquies, particularly Toby Park’s heartfelt description of his high-achieving family, but they sometimes unnecessarily interrupted the frantic flow of the narrative. The first half took a good half hour to fully engage the bemused audience, but once the story was in full flow the pace and energy took most of the observers along for the ride.

I was with a group of 19-22 year old students who just didn’t get a lot of the references – PlayAway, Bond films, Wilson, Keppel & Betty’s sand dance and Morrison shelters flew over their heads. But they did laugh at the strange grown-ups running around in nappies. By contrast, a large percentage of the audience were of pensionable age and they were falling about in the aisles.

There is a flash of full-fronted nudity (hence the warnings on the posters and the advice that it’s not for under-14s) but I’m not sure it serves its purpose for a single, albeit funny, joke.

There’s clever and comic use of props and effects – low-fi gory cascading blood, a 70s sci-fi hint to the costumes, Aitor’s show-stealing lepers, silly and sad songs and hilarious Oracle eyes that just reminded me of Cookie Monster from the Muppets.

Oedipussy is a dazzling show, performed by highly-competent actors who have fully honed their craft. Having reviewed dozens of shows over the years, I was relieved that nothing irritated or bored me about it. I laughed solidly throughout, but could also see others around me just not getting the joke.

It’s undoubtedly bold and bizarre, as is Spymonkey’s way, and you can imagine it going down a storm at Edinburgh’s Fringe. But it’s starting its run in Northampton’s traditional Victorian Royal Theatre, and once you get your head around that, you can sit back and enjoy another piece of innovative theatre Made in Northampton.

Oedipussy runs in Northampton until February 18.

Book your tickets now, go on, via www.royalandderngate.co.uk or on 01604 624811.


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Down the Rabbit Hole at Alice in Wonderland, Royal & Derngate, Northampton

MY daughter and I don’t get as much time together since she started nursery, but we took an afternoon out last week to take in a show.

Your daughters might be of an age where you can go for a nice meal or a coffee beforehand, do a bit of shopping perhaps, then spend a civilised evening at the theatre.

For me and Bonnie, it was a packet of jelly tots and a Fruit Shoot in the car park at lunchtime, before being dragged down a make-believe burrow by a rabbit impersonating Frank Spencer and a grown woman dressed as a little girl.

This was Down the Rabbit Hole (DTRH, to save my word-count), the latest interactive show for the under-fives at Royal & Derngate’s Underground, a ‘companion piece’ to the Alice in Wonderland show running in the Royal.

I’ve been to several of these pre-school shows before, including the excellent Where’s the Bear, Knit-wits, Wish-wash, Flathampton and What Makes us Tick?

But if you haven’t, be warned: you need flexible joints and knee pads. There’s a lot of crouching and sitting on the floor.

What makes these productions unique is that you have a small bunch of toddlers following actors dressed in funny clothes around a ‘set’ of rooms, being given little tasks and having their own conversations with the characters.

It’s a recipe for disaster really, but somehow they keep the whole thing just about together. It’s proper storytelling.

In DTRH, the ‘audience’ of kids and parents/grandparents meet the White Rabbit in the foyer, where he’s looking for ‘Mary-Ann’ and switching in and out of a Frank Spencer impersonation (one for the olds).

Then we meet Alice, the aforementioned grown-up lady dressed as a little girl, in a style to make Grayson Perry jealous (one for the arty types).

We (the audience) end up following Alice, who is following the Rabbit, down a series of small doors and tunnels, strangely decorated with oversized rabbit bottoms. Like moose-heads on the walls of a baronial dining room.

We arrive in a small room where a picnic table hangs from the ceiling adorned with upside-down cups and teapots. We’re met this time (*whispers*, same actor), by The Mad Hatter, who sits us on cushions, sings us a silly song, treats us to tea and disappears, to be replaced by the Duchess, Mr Punch and the Pig Baby.

The latter gets passed around to be rocked by the sitting toddlers, sometimes cuddled to make it snort or pushed away in bewilderment and/or fear. (*whispers* it’s a rubber pig-shaped dog chew)

Then we make jam tarts for the Queen’s party from play-dough and meet an odd caterpillar which looks like a fluffy scarf accidentally put through the tumble dryer.

There’s a clever distraction as the children see the tiny door from the famous Drink-Me/Eat-Me scene, when Alice gets them to collectively drink from a bowl using oversized straws. “It’s just blackcurrant squash Mum!” piped up one relieved boy.

When the drink’s finished, the door has been replaced by one that’s big enough for an under-five to crawl through, into another ‘land’ where they play croquet through playing cards using flamingo umbrellas and fluffy (toy) hedgehogs.

Eventually we get to meet the weirdly-Geordie Queen, who is dispatched by the cheering toddlers to a chorus of “off to your bed!” (nicer than ‘off with your head’)

The two actors manage to keep the whole thing together in a very enclosed space, and eventually the audience is ejected back into the relative sanity of the theatre bar where they can play with various props and hidden rooms.

Bonnie was completely transfixed, embracing all the ‘pretend’ tea-drinking and conversations. At three-and-three-quarters she’s probably about the ideal age for this. Younger children were either clinging to parents, or ignoring pleas to sit and rolling under curtains.

Bonnie was slightly confused about why this white rabbit, hatter, duchess and queen didn’t appear to look anything like the ones she’d seen on the big stage at the very same theatre just a couple of days earlier. But she loved it nonetheless and has talked non-stop about it to anyone who will listen.

I was slightly disappointed (alright, very stiff from kneeling) because unlike previous ‘underground’ performances, the show didn’t really move beyond one very cramped room.

However, Down the Rabbit Hole is worth the £5 ticket price to see your pre-schoolers engage with the story of Wonderland up-close and interactive – without any help from technology.  It runs until January 8.

ON the subject of Alice In Wonderland, our family went to see the ‘bigger’ show at the Royal. For the only the second time in far too many years of reviewing the Royal’s usually excellent Christmas offering, I was disappointed (the other one was the Ugly Duckling one).

It had an enthusiastic cast, including a Queen of Hearts channeling her best Queenie from Blackadder while dressed like Vivienne Westwood and Lady Gaga’s laundry had been mixed up in the launderette. Hatter was engaging, and the lizard bloke works his socks off. But presented with one of the most magical and familiar stories ever, the plot was ludicrous. Unengaging in most parts, using slapstick more akin to the imported panto next door. That’s not what the Royal’s Christmas show is about. A woman behind me actually fell asleep. A return to the magic and other-worldliness next year please?

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A little late, but I’ve never been good with figures: Numberjacks review, Royal & Derngate, Northampton

IF you’ve seen the Numberjacks TV programme on Cbeebies, you’ll already know it’s more odd than even.

What with computer generated talking numbers alongside human baddies, including a creepy bloke in a white top hat and frockcoat called the Numbertaker, yes, very odd indeed.

So imagine this transferred to a live stage show at Northampton’s vast 1,400 seater theatre – with fewer than 50 in the audience.

If you were going expecting a ‘like the TV show’ experience you’d have been disappointed, as well as £10+ per ticket poorer.

The only ‘real’ Numberjacks appeared on a giant TV screen well into the show. Numbers 1 and 4 staggered about as tatty foam shapes with legs, and watching a human ‘Number 3’ emerge from her parked foam ‘body’ was surreal, too much like that scene from ‘V’ and altogether a little disturbing. Almost as disturbing as the actress’s high-pitched shrieking.

The two main characters, a cleaner called Jamie (think CBBC’s Barney’s scruffier cousin) and waitress Astra (a younger, brunette version of Amanda Holden) managed to somehow string out a plot and interact panto-like with the audience.

For all its weirdness, Bonnie, who loves the TV show, and her fellow pre-schoolers were gripped throughout. Bonnie sat on my knee whenever the Numbertaker came on stage and has been talking about him as some kind of generic bogeyman everytime she wants to get out of doing something ever since: “I can’t, the Numbertaker will get me” kind of thing.

I don’t think it’s Royal & Derngate’s fault, but the production people of this touring show need to have a good long think about whether this should have been booked for such a huge space.

If they’d sold tickets at say, £3 a head to local nurseries and reception classes, and filled the Royal stalls, I think they’d have a larger number of children enjoying a theatre trip and a better atmosphere in which to show that both theatre, and  numbers, can be fun. If a little weird. . .

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We need safety in numbers at the Numberjacks

CHILDREN’S theatre can be a joy. It can also be a bum-numbing ordeal. I can say this because having had four children in ten years, I’ve seen it in most guises.

Northampton’s Royal & Derngate gets a huge range of shows for the good parents of the region, with its own award-winning shows and many touring productions.

Coming in September is TV shoe tie-in The Numberjacks. And quite frankly, it freaks me out. A combination of real-life kids and computer generated talking numbers and the weirdest baddies you’ve seen.

Mention the Numberjacks to my three-year-old daughter, however, and she’ll jump for joy. Loves ’em. Not freaked out at all.

So we’re going to the show when it comes to Northampton. Just to see how on earth they will be transferring that weirdness to the stage. You should go too. Safety in numbers. . .

The Numberjacks and the Puzzler

The press blurb:

CBeebies award-winning television series, Numberjacks, takes to the Derngate stage on Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 September as part of their exciting UK tour, helping young children learn about numbers, shapes and sizes in a fun and imaginative way.

 Embarking on their first live adventure these ten superheroes need the audiences help solve tricky problems which crop up along the way, but watch out for the dastardly meanies who do all they can to disrupt proceedings.

 These horrid meanies include The Numbertaker, tall and silent he causes trouble by taking numbers and numbers of things and hiding them up his very long sleeves. He and the Spooky Spoon delight in stirring up trouble but with Northampton’s help the Numberjacks could win the day!

 Winning the Royal Television Society Award for the best pre-school educational programme two years running, and adheres to the Early Years Foundation Stage syllabus and the Primary National Strategy Framework for Teaching Mathematics, Numberjacks introduces children as young as two to the world of maths in a fun and lively way.

 Join the CBeebies heroes at Royal & Derngate when Numberjacks perform live on Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 September. Tickets are priced at £13 and are available by calling Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk.

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De ja vu repost of Flathampton review as it returns to Derngate

THE innovative and interactive show Flathampton is returning to Royal & Derngate in Northampton from July 15-30. The show is for children of all ages and their families but there are a couple of shows for teens/adults only.

Weekday term-time performances are ideal for early years (under 6s) and their families and along with schools and nurseries (tickets £6 each), while weekend and school holiday performances are suitable for children of all ages with their families (tickets £7 each). To check times and prices or to book, call the Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk.There are also two special evening performances, with a grown up twist, on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 July for teenagers and adults only (tickets £10).

Review, Flathampton, Royal & Derngate to Saturday 17 July, 2010

ROYAL & Derngate should be applauded for its determination to provide innovative, engaging theatre for pre-schoolers. It’s always going to be unpredictable.

This time it’s a huge production, with a larger audience. Flathampton uses the entire Derngate auditorium, with the seats removed. The whole space has become a giant children’s playmat.

Like previous shows, Knit-Wits, Wish-Wash and Where’s the Bear, Flathampton is directed by Northampton’s own Dani Parr and doesn’t involve toddlers sitting wriggling on grown-up laps. Everyone’s part of the ‘show.’

You’re greeted by the bus conductor in the foyer and taken up and down stairs and through to Flathampton, where a story emerges. Everything in Flathampton is flat, until former resident Kate arrives and converts the horizontal set into a vertical, 3D one. It’s like watching dozens of under-sixes make a town from baby-flat-pack.

There are actors in character controlling an area of the town – the children can DJ at the music-store, dress-up at the make-over shop, visit the post-office, get money from the Flathampton Bank to spend at the grocer’s and treat their parents at the hospital.

It’s weird, it’s chaos, but the kids adored it.

Our two-year old and six-year old were baffled at first (too long queuing for the bus) but were soon running around trying everything and talking to the characters. After an hour and a half they had to be prised out of the theatre.

Try and get a ticket if you can, embrace your inner-child, and enjoy a visit to a show that’s anything but flat.

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Osmonds ‘Final’ UK tour, coming to Northampton, April 2012

NOT sure this is strictly my thing, but apparently the Osmonds are coming to town (and many others). Our date is sandwiched between Glasgow and London.

The Northampton show is at Royal & Derngate, Friday April 27, 2012, 7.30pm, and tickets go on sale TODAY (June 8).

For Northampton tickets, priced at a whopping £30.50 and £28.50, contact the Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit



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Lee Evans to perform in Northampton in June. Tickets go on sale today.

One of Britain’s best-loved and biggest comedy stars, Lee Evans will be performing at Royal & Derngate in June as a warm up to his forthcoming arena tour.

Tickets for his gig, on Thursday June 30 , go on sale at 10am today, initially only to members of the theatre’s Friends scheme. Booking will open to the general public from Friday June 3.

Ex-boxer Lee Evans, whose previous 2008 tour Big was the UK’s biggest ever solo live comedy gig, will be performing from notes trying out new material for his record-breaking Roadrunner tour which will see him perform 50 nights in the biggest venues around. This will be a fantastic
opportunity for Northampton audiences to see this comic genius at work up close before he sets out on tour.

 Tickets are expected to sell quickly and priority booking will be given to members of Royal & Derngate’s Friends scheme (previously called enjoy) until Friday June 3. Anyone joining the Friends scheme during the priority booking period will be eligible to book tickets for Lee Evans at the same time.

Friends can enjoy advance email notification of shows going on sale, ticket discounts, priority allocation of tickets, no postage fees and a host of other rewards, from £30. Tickets range from a minimum of £1 off to £5 off per ticket and 2 for 1 offers, varying from show to show. For full details or to join call Royal & Derngate Box Office on 01604 624811.

Tickets for Lee Evans’ ‘warm up’ gig on Thursday 30 June, 8pm, are priced £28.50 (£27.50 for Friends). Members of the Friends scheme can book by phone on 01604 624811 or in person from Tuesday May 31 to Thursday June 2, from 10am to 8pm.
General booking opens from 10am on Friday June 3, by phone, in person or online at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk.

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