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The Man & The Donkey (South Shields)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Customs House, South Shields

The story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick is well known in his second home of Australia, but very few of the natives of South Shields could tell you what he was famous for. The Man and The Donkey however ticks all the boxes to put the record straight for his home town.

This production, making its world première, is a concise live action docu-drama; an accurate retelling of Kirkpatrick's story brought to life with pyrotechnics, a dual layer stage and elaborate lighting effects – The Customs House pull out all the stops for the local hero.

Kirkpatrick joins the merchant navy but deserts it on arrival in Australia. Believing the only way home was to join the army, he signs up as a stretcher bearer and heads off to the Gallipoli peninsula where his experience working 'Shields beach with a donkey proves invaluable.

Duffy the donkey is little more than a brown piece of cloth but with skilled hand work by the actors, this modern form of puppetry gives Duffy a personality of his own.

The ensemble put together a polished performance which includes quick changes of both costume and character. Jamie Brown takes on the role of Kirkpatrick and portrays the local lad as a likeable chap with a heart of gold.

At just over 95 minutes long (excluding interval), Valerie Laws's The Man and The Donkey is an entertaining look at the life of a forgotten hero.