I laughed, I cried, and my heart swelled with pride as the true story of the Dolly Mixtures was brought to the stage.
This is the amazing tale of eight extraordinary women who came together to raise £100,000 for cancer research.
For 15 years throughout the 1970s and 1980s, they toured the male-dominated social clubs of the North East putting on shows and donating every single penny to the cause.
It started when Margaret (Patricia L Whale)’s husband and Hilda (Angela Hannon)’s brother, Ken (Steve Halliday) was diagnosed with cancer, and continued after his tragic death.
To put it into perspective, the £100,000 they raised is worth more than £1million today. That on its own is enough to make you proud of these homegrown heroes.
But this Customs House production goes so much further than that. It takes you on an overwhelming emotional rollercoaster.
The Dolly Mixtures is a poignant, heart-wrenching story that really hits home.
We’ve all been touched by cancer, and this show, penned by South Tyneside duo playwright Tom Kelly and musician John Miles, is something that we can all identify with.
Right from the outset, as the on-stage band played the overture and black and white pictures of the real-life Dolly Mixtures flashed up on a giant screen, I was hooked.
Margaret and Hilda joined forces with pals Betty (Sarah Boulter), Joan (Christina Dawson), Liz (Kylie Ann Ford), Sylvia (Victoria Holtom), Jean (Samantha Phyllis Morris) and Doris (Georgia Nicholson), and did something truly amazing.
Each member of the strong female cast was incredible. They captured the heart and humour of the girls and their story, as well as raising plenty of laughs when they donned coats and caps to play the men running the social clubs, calling the bingo, and agents trying to profit from what they were doing.
Halliday too was wonderful as Ken. After his character’s sad passing, he stepped in to narrate the show, and every time he appeared on stage, I was overcome with emotion – simultaneously sad about his loss and happy to see him.
The show’s soundtrack is incredible. The girls had us in stitches with numbers like Squawk, Rattle and Shake and The Pheasant Plucker’s Song and fighting back tears to the likes of The Fight, Love Is A Four-Letter Word and Making A Difference – something that they really did.
But it was the touching duets from Margaret and Ken that had me in bits. I cried flood of tears as Halliday and Whale performed Always You and Say Goodbye.
The infectious soundtrack had everyone tapping their toes and clapping along as the cast sung out memorable numbers like One More For The Road and One Hundred Thousand Reasons – and there really is that many reasons to love this show.
The static set was put to great use. The cast used chairs to transform the social club stage into tiny dressing rooms that they squashed into together and Hilda’s living room, where they sat together to make costumes and discuss ideas for their shows.
The musical, directed by Ray Spencer with help from choreographer Mina Anwar, is an absolute sensation that brought the packed audience to their feet in a rapturous and thoroughly-deserved standing ovation.
If I wasn’t already emotional enough, I cried even more as the surviving Dolly Mixtures were invited on stage to be presented with flowers and awards, and recognised by Cancer Research for what they did.
Hilda’s grandson, South Shields X Factor champ Joe McElderry joined them in a touching and special moment to present their prize.
This is a heart-warming true story that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops.
I’ve never been so proud to be from South Tyneside.
Get tickets while you can – and take a tissue!
The Dolly Mixtures runs until Saturday, September 3. Click here to book tickets.