Once upon a time...
a long time ago - 1995 to be exact - legendary north east entertainer Brendan Healy got together with fellow performers, Maxie Peters and Billy Mitchell with the idea of putting on a pantomime in his favourite north east theatre, The Tyne Theatre & Opera House.
With brains as well as talent, Brendan realised they needed a "suit" to count the money and approached leading Newcastle accountant Eric Armstrong to join them and so MHM Productions was born (MHM standing for Mitchell Healy McIntyre).
As multi-talented performers, the team were responsible for the show both on and off stage: Brendan wrote the scripts, arranged the music and was musical director with Maxie directing. Aside from being respected entertainers in their own right, Maxie and Mitch had been known on the circuit for years as a musical comedy duo and they continued their comedy partnership on stage, playing the Ugly Sisters in the company's first ever production, Cinderella.
Brendan even met his future wife, Steph during the first production when she played the part of Cinderella. In later productions, the two collaborated on writing the scripts.
For more than two decades, the company - which became known as Newcastle Panto Ltd - delighted families with their annual Christmas pantomimes at the Tyne Theatre, distinguishing themselves by creating productions with a truly local flavour in both humour, references and cast members.
Brendan was passionate about the North East accent and wanted to celebrate it's uniqueness. He also felt very strongly about creating shows suitable for the entire family to enjoy, eschewing gimmicks, stars, special effects and innuendo in favour of good old fashioned silliness and routines with live music and plenty of audience participation.
As the company grew, Brendan eventually stepped back from performing in the shows in order to concentrate on the music and production side. Later still, Billy took the difficult decision to leave the company completely to allow him to fully focus on his music career as lead singer of Lindisfarne, solo performer and various musical projects, although he still returns each Christmas to watch the show and catch up with the rest of the Company.
Brendan remained an active part of the company right up until his death in February 2016
In an ironic turn of events, the year of Brendan's demise also saw the company's long run at The Tyne Theatre brought to an unforeseen end. Inexplicably, the new management company responsible for running the Grade I listed theatre, decided to replace the locally based company with a theatre company from the South.
The final run in December 2016 was hugely emotional and it was feared that it would signal the death knell on the company for good.
Watch Maxie's Emotional Farewell to the Tyne Theatre
2017 was a difficult year for the production team. Extensive searching did not provide a suitable alternate theatre venue for the company to stage future productions. When all seemed hopeless, Gateshead Council stepped forward and offered a solution. Those company members who had remained loyal during the uncertain months were rewarded with a new opportunity to create a unique family entertainment experience.
In December 2017, under the rebranded name of Geordie Panto Co. the company were back with a thoroughly modern, fully accessible show staged in their purpose built theatre housed within the main building at Gateshead International Stadium.
Creating a theatre from scratch involved a lot of hard work and sharp learning curve, but equally, it has given the Company total control over the kind of experience they can offer their audiences.
These days, Maxie writes the script, casts the show, directs the production and stars as the Dame. The name and venue may have changed, but the company's principles remain unwavering: to provide festive pantomime entertainment suitable for the whole family, made possible by a cast and crew of talented north east professionals.