People come from far and wide to the Newcastle Festival, here are some of their stories...



Paul Bench, Adjudicator, said to all his classes, “This is a festival, a celebration. We’re celebrating you, and enjoying your work, and giving you a chance to enjoy each other’s work.  It’s meant to be a happy occasion and the competition just makes it a bit more interesting and gives you something to aim for”.



Fourteen year old Jennifer Kendall won the, Girls and Boys Vocal Solo 13 to 15 Years class, with a moving performance of “Nothing” from A Chorus Line, and Musical Show - Girls and boys vocal solo 13 to 15 years,playing singing Somewhere From West Side Story.  She has been singing since she was ten, having lessons with Mrs Lamplough, and will be performing this song for her Grade 8 exam, so this was a useful and productive part of her preparation.  Jennifer attends Stafford Grammar School where, along with music and drama, she also particularly enjoys sciences and maths.  This was Jennifer’s first Newcastle Festival and we hope to see her in future years.


April Durnin is huge fan of the Newcastle Festival, having played in the Pianoforte Open classes since 2008.  It was Munro Blair, our previous chairman, who first got her involved and she has never looked back, enjoying taking part and sharing her music.  April says all the adjudication is very fair and it helps her improve her playing.  The adjudicators are always very supportive and the piano itself is beautiful to play.  April says the festival is very friendly and she plans to keep playing in it for many years to come.


Thomas Amigoni got two wins this year. He won the  Strings 15 Years and Under, for the second year running, this time playing Caballero by John Merle, and also the ‘Any Instrument’ for aged 12 and under, playing 'America' From West Side Story - Bernstein, Arr Angel Schofield.   Aged 12, he attends Madeley High School and has been playing the double bass since he was five.  The instruments are growing with him – this year he is playing a ¾ double bass so it won’t be long before he is handling the full size instrument.  Thomas says that once he is on stage he is not nervous and he finds the tips given by the adjudicators are very useful because they give him things to work on and improve his playing.  This was Thomas’ fourth Newcastle Festival and he plans to be back next year.


Winner of the solo drama class for performers aged from 16 to 18 years,  Clarke is in his last year at Painsley Catholic College and took time out from his GCSE revision to prepare a piece from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for this year’s festival.  It was time well spent as he won his solo drama class.  This is the third time Clarke has taken part in the Newcastle Festival (he also enters the music section).

 His advice to others entering the festival is “Make sure you’re prepared.  Give yourself some time so you can come with the best possible performance you can give.”

 Clarke is planning to take A level drama next year before heading towards a career in acting, music or both.  He finds the festival invaluable for getting experience and unbiased feedback and for performing in front of other people.  We wish him luck in his future career.


Sanhiru Panadura-Acharige , aged 9, won the Pianoforte Solo under 10s class with his rendition of Ecossaise by Hummel.  Sanhiru has been learning piano for the past three years and this piece was his own choice for the festival.  He won his class last year too and says he finds the comments of the adjudicator very helpful.  He says he’ll be back next year to try and make it a hat-trick.

The winner of this class each year receives the Tostevin Trophy.  It was very poignant this year as Mrs Tostevin was there to present the family trophy in the absence of her late husband, Neville, who died very recently.  She is shown here with Sanhiru and adjudicator, Sam Durkin. The Tostevin family have been great supporters of the festival for many years and Neville will be greatly missed.


Stafford Grammar School had another very successful year at the festival.  Pictured here with adjudicator Luan Shaw are representatives of the school’s concert band who won both the Orchestra/Bands 19 years and under class and the final of the section with their performance of Highlights from Wicked by Schwartz, arr Brown.





Deleila has been taking part in the Newcastle Festival since she was 7 years old when started Speech & Drama lessons with Mrs Sawyer and  Mrs Jones. She has previously won the Acting trophy for her age group and in 2016 won the Solo Acting age 9-10 years class and the Prose Reading age 9-10 years. She loves to take part in the Festival and enjoys the opportunity to perform in front of her parents and friends who come to support her. Deleila looks forward to returning to the Festival next year.





Pictured here being presented with the Philpott Family Trophy by Speech and Drama adjudicator Anita Gilbert, Matthew, who is 12 years old and attends the Stafford Grammar School, won two classes this year, the Speech and Drama Sight Reading for ages 11 and 12, and the girls and boys Vocal Solo 12 years and under. For the last 5 years he has been having Speech and Drama lessons from Mrs Darley at school each week, enjoying prose, sight reading and duologues. He is now working towards his Grade 5.

He also started singing lessons 2 years ago, initially to help him with his love of musical theatre.   He has weekly lessons in Classical voice and Musical Theatre, taught by Mrs Lamplough of the Stafford Grammar School, and is currently working towards his Grade 5 and 6 in these respectively.  Matthew takes part in local musical theatre productions, his latest being Pirates of Penzance in June. He is is about to take part in Macbeth at the Stoke Rep in April.  He recently won a place in the National Youths Boys’ Choir of Great Britain.

“I love taking part in the Newcastle Festival.  I have been very lucky to have won something each year in the Speech and Drama categories. I was over the moon to win the sight reading class again this year.  It was great to bring the trophy back home and I was really pleased to have been the first boy to win it in the 13 year history of the competition for the second time! This was the second year that I had entered the singing competition.  Last year I came second in one category so I was really pleased to win this year. It shows that I am improving! The Festival is a great opportunity to practice the pieces I learn in a competitive environment.  It gives me experience of performing in front of others and the feedback I get from the judges really does help me.  It’s often nerve wracking but well worth it.  I am looking forward to next year already!”



Oliver Moore and Isabella Edwards, winners of the 12 years and under duologues class with their performance of ‘There’s Nothing To It’ by Phil Jamieson.  Isabella and Oliver have taken part in the Newcastle Festival since they were both 7 years old. They started with the Poetry classes, then took part in the Solo Acting classes as well. Their teacher, Mrs Jones, suggested that they should try performing duologues together so for the past 2 years they have also entered the Duologues class for age 12 and under. Last year they were awarded 2nd place and this year they were awarded 1st place so are both very pleased with their progress! They both love to take part in the Speech and Drama Festival as it is good practice for their LAMDA exams and the feedback from the adjudicators helps them to improve.


Vinuki won a set test piece for Pianoforte Solo, 10 years and under. She goes to the Seabridge Primary School and has been playing the piano for 3 years. This is the second year running that she has entered and is proud to have won the trophy





Aged just 13, Naomi Bazlov competed in the Pianoforte Open classes and won four of the seven classes she entered, including the Final.  Although Naomi is a veteran of music festivals around the region this is the first time she has entered the Newcastle Festival.  Naomi lives and studies in Birmingham, attending King Edward High School.  Besides piano, she plays the violin and, unsurprisingly, is part of a very musical family.  Naomi has been playing for eight years and, asked if she has any advice for other young festival performers she said, “Don’t panic, take a deep breath, remember everything you’ve practised at home and just play”. She also stresses that she holds a huge debt of gratitude for her teacher, David Quigley. Naomi is seen here with adjudicator John Gough.


Frank, aged 7, won the verse speaking class, 7 years and under. He attends Newcastle under Lyme School where he takes classes in Speech and Drama with Mrs Walker.  He puts in lots of practice and really enjoys performing. Frank was a winner at last year’s festival too and feels the adjudicators give helpful advice. He says he’ll be back to take part again next year.




Amy, aged 10, is the winner of the set test piece Verse Speaking 10 years and under. She attends Walton Priory Middle School where she enjoys taking part in the lunchtime drama club. A friend talked her into taking part in the festival for the first time because she thought it would be a good experience. It certainly was. Amy has only just started doing poetry at school and she prepared the set piece, ‘Friends’ by Elizabeth Jennings, herself. Amy says of all the performances “they were all different and they were all right because it was their own interpretation”. In a high scoring class, Amy was awarded 90 marks, which is outstanding, and was thrilled. She says she’ll definitely enter again next year. She is seen here with adjudicator Paul Bench.


KKarl Stanley, aged 16 from Uttoxeter, playing the trumpet, was the winner of the brass class for players 18 years and under, playing Variations in F by F D Weber arr John Wallace.  He is 16 and at Thomas Alleyne's High School in Uttoxeter. His teacher, Gavin Lamplough, head of music at Stafford Grammar School, encouraged him to compete at the festival.

 Karl has played the trumpet since he was 8 years old, and also plays the piano and guitar. He plays as principal solo cornet with the Uttoxeter town brass band. He also plays in big bands helping Stafford Grammar and Newcastle High School in the concerts and festivals. He has in the past played with the National Children's Orchestra and has performed in Derby and Stoke in the pit for musical shows.

Karl says he enjoyed playing at the Newcastle festival and would like to take part again next year.

He was also awarded the Lions Brass Trophy. This trophy is awarded to the most promising player of a brass instrument at the festival.  The player may be a soloist or a player in a group or band which may not necessarily be the winners of their class. The adjudicator’s decision is taken following completion of all classes involving brass. Karl is shown here being presented with the Lions Trophy by adjudicator, Luan Shaw.









Georgina, now aged 10, has won the under 12 instrumental class three times, aged seven, eight and nine and has won the piano duet trophy with her friend Amelia.

A mix up on dates and times in this year’s festival meant she didn’t compete in her usual class, but was given the chance to shine instead in front of a much bigger audience with a non-competitive performance piece that held everyone in the enormous main hall enthralled.  The huge applause was matched by great feedback from the adjudicator who was clearly impressed.

Georgina’s original motivation in entering the festival was to have a trophy, but she’s way beyond that now and, despite her tender age, she is already playing with the Northern Chamber Orchestra and has played as soloist with others.


Catherine first entered the festival 10 years ago aged just 6. She forgot a verse of the poem but says the adjudicator was lovely about it.  So all these years later Catherine came back and she won two trophies.  She says it’s down to her teacher, Angela Walker, who she has been with for 12 years.  Catherine is much more confident now and thinks the festival is great fun and very exciting to take part in.



Eleven year old Rudra Shah has been taking part in Newcastle Festival for four years.  He is taught by his mum and likes the speech and drama classes.  He says, “When I’m older I want to be able to give good speeches.  I find it exciting to compete and especially like the part where they announce the winners at the end.”




Ten year old Ramya Shah, like her brother Rudra, is taught by her mum.  She says, “I like talking in front of people and giving speeches.  I practise little and often and learnt my piece for this year’s festival in five days.  I do it for fun really but the adjudicators always give me good tips that I try and use the next time.”  This was Ramya’s third year with the festival.



Kate is an old hand at Newcastle Festival, having taken part in every one for the last 11 years since she was six.  She says, “I love the competition, performing to the adjudicators and the audience and meeting new people.

I get a real sense of accomplishment, confidence and appreciation of others’ performances.  I’m currently applying for drama school so my experience with the festival is invaluable.”



Kate has been involved with the festival since she was a child. For several years she competed as a flute and piano player.  Now she takes part in a different way - as a competitors’ steward. Kate says it’s lovely to have been associated with the festival for so many years, in so many different ways.




Kate is Head of Drama at Moorlands 6th Form College and drama teacher at Painsley High School and has years of experience behind her.  She says, “This is the first year I’ve entered students in the festival but when I was young I entered festivals and loved it.  I see it as a stretch and challenge exercise and it is so good they need more.  The expert feedback is invigorating.

“Britain is a world leader in the creative industries and this competition shows young people they can have a career in acting and drama.  I have students auditioning for national drama schools now and want to encourage more.”

Kate gets a lot of encouragement and support herself from the festival and finds it particularly helpful when the feedback is the same as she has been telling her pupils.  She says, “The adjudicator didn’t say anything to the students that I haven’t, but it shows we’re on the right track when someone as experienced as Brian Rawlins says it.”




Gillian came along to the last day of the Festival and was thrilled with her experience.  She said, “I thought the festival was efficiently run and everyone was very friendly.  Certainly everyone knew what they were doing.  I saw huge bands on the move but it was all very calm and efficient and I thoroughly enjoyed the band performances I was able to watch.”



Hannah has been playing flute for 9 years, influenced by her mum who is private flute and piano teacher.  Hannah started on the recorder at school before making the transition to.  But it wasn’t a smooth change.  At first she hated the instrument, but three years after her first try she picked it up and played of her own accord, soon joining orchestras and flute choirs.  After a break to accommodate university and work Hannah has resumed her love affair with the flute, although it has to fit in with her other interests, mainly motorbiking!


Callum has been composing for a short time and the piece that won his class was only his third composition.  He composes mainly for piano, the instrument he started to play at age seven.  “I normally start with a short melody then expand it and go with the flow to see where it goes.  Working on and off, ‘Coasting’ took me around two months to compose.  I do it purely for enjoyment but I’m delighted to win my class at the Newcastle Festival this year.”


It is a West Family tradition to play music together.  The whole family play, including River Shingler, aged 8, and they get together every two to three weeks to rehearse.  The family has played in lots of different competitions and concerts and have won family classes before.  They have been coming to Newcastle Festival for 25 years and this year came particularly to give River chance to have a go, to have fun and have another reason to play together.


Brian lives locally and was called in at the last minute to cover for the planned adjudicator who had been taken ill.  Brian has been adjudicating for 20 years and was instrumental in expanding the festival to include speech and drama.  He is on the national list so goes all over the place adjudicating in competitions.  He has travelled as far as Hong Kong with the work.  He says, “The standards now are higher than they used to be and we have good drama schools in the area.  Although I have been doing this work for so many years I love seeing young people performing and want to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the festival.”



The Moorlands 6th Form College drama society presented a clever and scary devised performance to win class 51 at the festival.  Kate Phillips, their teacher said it was and early work in progress that the group was preparing to take to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016.  The students thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to perform their work and found Brian Rawlins’ expert feedback invaluable in developing it ready for full performance.



Aged 28, Sarah has been with Mow Cop Players for 15 years.  She usually plays principal boy in panto but has been doing Oh What a Lovely War and was due to play Field Marshall Wilson in the April performance at the Potteries Museum.  Sarah says, “I was really shy in high school and my mum persuaded me into drama to help with my confidence.”  Sarah takes singing lessons with Ali Spender and this is her first competition.  She is particularly pleased that she did so well after only a couple of rehearsals and will definitely take part in the festival again.


Roni was thrilled and excited with her win.  She said, “I get inspired by everyone and everything.  I think of stuff in bed and am inspired by games.  I often write stories and I think I’ve got a good imagination.  I was nervous taking part in the festival at first but am really pleased to have won my class.”