Sunday, 25 November 2018

INTERVIEW - Sarah Spence in Seussical

The fantastical and magical world of Dr Seuss will burst into South London with a riot of colour, feathers, music and pizazz this month thanks to a major stage show.
Featuring some of his most endearing and much loved characters - Horton the elephant, Gertrude McFuzz and of course the infamous Cat In The Hat - Seussical will take over the Southwark Playhouse’s Large stage with a feel good music fest for all the family.
Included in the 12-strong cast is Clapham-based Sarah Spence who will take on the role of Bird Girl. Having just graduated from drama school, the 25-year-old says it’s a dream job and one she can’t wait to bring to audiences.
“We have just started rehearsals and it’s already a joy to be part of this amazing ensemble,” she enthuses.
“It’s such a feel good show, high octane with music from the get go that doesn’t stop and that audiences will be tapping their feet to all the way through.
“I play one of the Bird Girls in Maisie’s troupe. I have some great songs to sing so for a first job I couldn’t be happier. 
“It’s also amazing to be here at the Southwark Playhouse as it’s a fantastic theatre and one of my favourites - the productions they put on are incredible.”
Without giving away too many spoilers Sarah tells me Seussical is an amalgamation of some of the Dr Seuss stories but with an emphasis on Horton Hears A Who.
“It’s a very clever adaptation in which we meet lots of the characters who will be familiar to anyone who has read his books,” she says.
“In particular the audience gets to follow Horton the elephant as he journeys through the various different worlds inhabited by Dr Seuss.
“It’s full of excitement, lots of fun and non stop action.”
As in the original tales, the show touches on some of today’s most topical issues - such as the power of loyalty, bullying, unrequited love, inclusivity and acceptance - in a funny and moving way.
“I think the positive affirmations and messages of inclusion and acceptance that run throughout the stories are some of the reasons Dr Seuss is so loved,” says Sarah.
“The issues he references in the books are still as relevant today as when they were written. So I think we can all relate to these themes which are within the show - certainly working in this industry I’ve felt insecurity from time to time. 
“It makes the show very relevant - it’s wacky, mischievous, wild and hilarious at times but it contains important messages and reminds the audience that a ‘person is a person no matter how small’ and that we should be accepted for who and what we are.”
And she insists it’s a production the whole family can enjoy and with the action taking place so close to the audience she says it will be an immersive and thrilling experience.
“It’s a bit like a panto in that respect,” she says warmly. “There are larger than life characters and amazing costumes - I don’t want to give anything away but mine looks fantastic with plenty of feathers! 
“It’s packed with colour, fun and excitement with the most amazing musical numbers all the way through. The score is incredible as it features a whole range of different styles such as funk, big band, swing, rock n roll as well as the more traditional musical theatre numbers. 
“It goes from light and soft to big rocky numbers so there is definitely something for everyone and the tunes are really catchy.
“But there is also real depth to it. It’s inspiring and at times it’ll be really emotional. What makes it even more special is that the audience is so close they can almost touch us and so it will feel really intimate.”
The show opens on Tuesday, November 27 and runs until Saturday, December 29 after which Sarah says she hopes to continue working in musical theatre.
“I was always pestering my parents to sign me up for acting, singing and ballet lessons when I was little,” she laughs. “I always knew this is what I wanted to do - it was definitely a calling. 
“I’d love to do TV and film one day but for the time being, the stage is where I want to be and where I feel most comfortable. I can’t imagine doing anything else really so I’m keen to see where my career takes me.
“I’m very lucky to have Seussical as my first job. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous but I’m also hugely excited about it not least because the Southwark Playhouse was on my bucket list to perform at.
“If the rehearsals are anything to go by, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”



Seussical is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, from Tuesday November 27 until Saturday, December 29. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 0207 407 0234 for tickets.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Greenwich+Docklands International Festival 2018


I speak to Bradley Hemmings MBE artistic director of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival about what this year’s line up has to offer.


WINDRUSH, votes for women and the ending of World War 1 will be celebrated at this year’s Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF).
Now in its 23rd year the annual event takes place at outdoor venues across Greenwich, Docklands and Tower Hamlets between June 21 and July 7.
Part of Royal Greenwich Festivals, GDIF will present an extensive programme of art installations, street theatre, circus, dance and music, produced and performed by home grown acts as well as international artists.
This year’s line up includes more than 130 performances which celebrate dreams of love, struggle, ambition and flight.
It has been put together by its artistic director Bradley Hemmings MBE who says the hunger for outdoor events as a way of bringing people and communities together is growing.
“There is no doubt that outdoor arts festivals such as the GDIF are growing in popularity,” he says. “Not only do they give people a chance to engage and connect with one another, be inspired, excited and entertained, they also allow us to reach a great number of people for whom the cultural infrastructure that you find in Zone 1 is not readily accessible.
“GDIF itself has gone from strength to strength - last year more than 100,000 people came along which is fantastic.”
The inspiration for this year’s line up has come from a variety of sources, not least the areas in which the events takes place and the people who live there.
“Here in South London we are blessed with some fantastic outside public spaces - some like Greenwich and Woolwich that we have used before as well as some new exciting ones,” explains Bradley.
“We also strive to have a mix of local talent as well as artists from other parts of the country and indeed internationally to show the area in a different light.
“It’s not like when you go to the theatre and the lights go down and you focus on the performance. Here, outdoors, you can’t help but be aware of the audience and so it’s OK to talk and chat and respond to what is going on. It makes for quite a remarkable experience.”



Kicking off proceedings on June 21 will be an extraordinary and magical union of public art and nature. For three nights, a flock of 1,500 specially trained pigeons with tiny LED lights on bands around their legs will take to the sky over Thamesmead at dusk in Duke Riley’s Fly By Night.
Bradley says it promises to be a spectacular event.
“We worked with the RSPCA on this and it’s going to be quite something,” he says. “The leg bands on the pigeons which have the lights on them were traditionally used in wartime for carrying messages.
“Just before dusk the LED lights will come on and the birds will fly to create something that will be incredibly special and completely beautiful. It’s going to take place on the edge of land near Crossness which in itself is a fantastic location.”


Pic credit Tod Seele


For Bradley one of the highlights of the festival is the celebration of the arrival of Empire Windrush 70 years ago.
“Outdoor arts have a special role to play in marking moments of public significance and resonance,” he says. 
“With Windrush, it’s a local as well as national story. The fact that it’s been in the news so much for other reasons is coincidental but it’s an important part of our history and should be told.
“Windrush: 492 is going to be very exciting. It’s a performance which will see the names of those who arrived in that ship transcribed in photoluminscent powder on to the ground around the Cutty Sark Gardens. 
“As part of this piece we worked with Greenwich playwright Roy Williams who recorded some of the very many stories and memories of those people who were on board the boat and who came to the UK. It will form part of a soundscape around the Cutty Sark and promises to be amazing.”
Other elements of the programme take inspiration from global stories of mass movement and migration, including Never Set Eyes On The Land, a new installation from Nutkhut recalling the experience and legacy of Partition in 1947, and the French hip hop company Dyptik, who explore the struggles associated with contemporary border crossings in D-Construction, an emotional production that takes place on and around a symbolic fence structure.
The 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) which gave some women in the UK the right to vote, will also be celebrated with performances and participatory events across the Festival.
Undaunted, is a stunning high wire walk from Phoebe Bullzini, the UK’s only female wire-walker and one half of the UK’s leading high-wire duo The Bullzini Family. It has been specially commissioned to mark the ROPA centenary. 
Woolwich will see the world premiere of Rise! an uplifting local and global story of the continuing struggle by women for equality and rights told by French company L’Homme debout.
It will feature giant puppets who will move through the streets of Woolwich - something Bradley says should not be missed.
Woolwich will also be the setting for the world premiere of Graeae Theatre Company’s epic outdoor production, This Is Not For You, honouring Britain’s wounded and disabled war veterans. 
Elsewhere, an established GDIF favourite, The Greenwich Fair will return to delight audiences between Friday June 22 and Sunday June 24.
Highlights include the world première of Icarus from Southpaw Dance Company, co-commissioned with The Place as part of a new outdoor dance initiative called Stomping Ground.
There is also a playful integration of circus and live painting in PLOCK! by Flemish theatre company Grensgeval, and the London première of Belly Of The Whale, a spectacular new production from circus dance company Ockham’s Razor. 

Belly Of The Whale. Pic credit Mark Dawson Photography

At Canary Wharf, this year’s Dancing City programme brings together performances from nine dance companies, including award-winning Catalan Cia Moveo, Candoco Dance Company with a new commission, Dedicated to…, as well as entrancing performances of Dopamine from Ballet Black.
New productions this year include Bicycle Boy which is aimed at those under 12 and will be staged at the Royal Naval College. 
“It’s a lovely interactive piece of outdoor theatre, with the performances powered by getting on bicycles!” enthuses Bradley. “I saw it in Brighton and loved it.”
The finale to this year’s GDIF will be a large-scale, outdoor dance-theatre retelling of Jonathan Harvey’s iconic and landmark LGBTQ play Beautiful Thing, a tale of young love blossoming on a South East London housing estate. The site-specific production, combining spectacular staging and video projection, is staged close to the area of Thamesmead described in the piece and marks the 25th anniversary of the play’s first production.
With such a varied and packed line up, and many of the events free of charge, Bradley is confident there is “something for everyone”.
“The Festival is very inclusive and there is plenty for everyone no matter who or what age they are,” he says.
“There are lots of people who live here who don’t go into the West End or South Bank and so to create quality arts experience on their doorsteps and allow them to become immersed in it all is very special and a privilege.
“For me it’s also about discovering part of the cultural life of this area and shouting about it as much as possible.
“There are great things happening in South London including the exciting new cultural quarter of Greenwich which will open in the next 18 months. It’s an incredible area and it’s fantastic to celebrate it in this way.
“I hope the Festival inspires, delights and amazes.”


Greenwich+Docklands International Festival takes place at various sites from June 21 until July 7. Visit www.festival.org for a full line up.

Friday, 30 March 2018

INTERVIEW - ED BYRNE



Ed Byrne - pic credit Roslyn Gaunt

Comedian Ed Byrne has been making us laugh for more than 20 years both on stage and on TV shows such as Mock The Week.
The Dublin-born father of two is well known for his genial manner with a delightful bonhomie that has endeared him to millions.
So it comes as somewhat of a shock to see him suited and booted whilst brandishing a chainsaw. Fortunately it transpires he’s not branching out to play the villain in the new James Bond film but rather it’s part of the promotional material for the second leg of his latest tour.
Entitled Spoiler Alert it sees Ed bring his unique blend of gentle wit and observational humour to audiences across the country including Bromley’s Churchill Theatre on April 10 and Wimbledon Theatre on April 21.
In a chat ahead of the gigs he tells me the premis of the show will be exploring the thin line between righteous complaining and brat like whining.
“It’s the little things in life,” he muses. “Do we have too much choice and why are things so much easier these days? It makes us lazy - why do we now start a car by pressing a button? What’s wrong with turning a key for goodness sake!
“Then there are the days when the online banking is down so I can’t pay the bills, or when Netflix doesn’t work, or when the room isn’t ready in my hotel.
“It’s about me asking if we are right to be fed up or are we spoiled? And on the flip side whether we are not spoiled enough, which I would suggest in terms of politics we aren’t and so should act a bit more entitled.
“It’s a bit more flippant than what I normally do and a bit more complainey.”
To his credit Ed admits he may be part of the problem, and within the act he references his children who he acknowledges have much more than he did when he was a child.
“Of course the other side is how I’m contributing to it all,” he says. “I compare my own childhood with that of my children and I realise I’m totally spoiling them. 
“I grew up in the 1970s and 80s in an aspirational but working class background whereas my kids are resoundingly middle class.
“It’s not so much about them complaining when the iPad has run out of charge or they’ve had their allotted time on it as that’s progress and I’m happy for them to have these things. But it’s when they ask for stuff that I’ve never heard of - like elderflower cordial and pesto - how do they even know about these things!” he asks in mock astonishment.
As well as anecdotes about his two sons, Ed’s routine includes a neat way of bringing Brexit into the conversation.
He tells the story about the time one of his sons wanted to touch an electric fence while Ed was warning him of the dangers of doing so.
“It occurred to me that it was a bit like the Brexit decision,” he says. “I couldn’t not reference Brexit but at the same time it’s a very divisive subject and you never know how an audience will react. Just like the electric fence, we were all told what a terrible idea Brexit was but people went and voted for it anyway.”
Spoiler Alert started life at the Edinburgh Fringe last year where it won critical acclaim. Ed then took it out on the road for a few months before a well-earned Christmas break. Now refreshed and on the road again, I ask if it’s evolved since the early days.
“Oh yes,” he says. “I’m constantly tweaking and updating it. It also started out as a one hour show with a support act. Then it was about an hour and 15 and now with this second leg it’s just me on stage for about 90 to 100 minutes.
“It gets funnier too,” he adds with a chuckle.
“The stuff about Donald Trump, well that just grows and the punchlines just get better and better. 
“Also, some jokes work better depending on where I am in the country of course. Agas go down better in more well healed spots whereas talking about how I spent my childhood sitting outside pubs eating crisps and drinking lemonade work better in others.”
Although he admits it can be tiring criss crossing the country he says he’s looking forward to bringing the show to South London. Indeed when I ask him about the two theatres he will be visiting he immediately consults his diary that is his constant companion when touring.
“This is the third tour where I have packed a diary,” he explains. “I like to be reminded of what the audiences were like, the theatre and the dressing room so I write notes after each show. Some places are more fun than others.
“Sometimes I rock up to a venue and it’s freezing cold and only 60 per cent of the tickets have been sold and I grumble about it, but when I look in my notes I find the audience last time was brilliant.”
So what about Bromley and Wimbledon? After some frantic flicking through his oracle he tells me he’s got fond memories of Wimbledon but admits he can’t find a reference to Bromley.
“I am going to assume I said nice things about Bromley because otherwise I wouldn’t be coming back!” he laughs.
“Wimbledon was lovely last time I was here so I imagine we will have fun in both places.”
Stand up he adds is where he feels most at home.
“I am myself on stage,” he says. “I feel in control in front of an audience and it’s a great feeling when you walk out on stage.
“TV is great but it’s about reminding myself that I’m still alive. TV is also heavily edited which I don’t have control of whereas the stand up show is just me and the audience. 
“There is nothing like it and I try and tour every two years or so although the downside is being away from home quite a bit. On balance though over the course of the year I see more of my family than many of those who work a 9 to 5 job - some only see their kids at weekends so I can’t really complain. 
“With any tour I have to do a photo to publicise it - but I never have any idea at that point what the show will be about. This time I wanted to do a homage to Very Bad Things, a film with Christian Slater and Cameron Diaz, so that’s why this one features me with a dinner suit and a chainsaw - which is mine by the way.
“It’s a sign of my moving into the middle class,” he chuckles. “I’m not really channeling my inner James Bond… but it looks good!”


Ed Byrne, Spoiler Alert, is on at the Churchill Theatre Bromley on Tuesday, April 10 and at Wimbledon Theatre on Saturday, April 21. Call Bromley 020 3285 6000 or Wimbledon 0844 871 7646 for tickets.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

INTERVIEW Susan Calman - the Calman Before The Storm



TEN years ago Susan Calman was a top flight corporate lawyer working at places including the United Nations in Geneva.
But she says it was unfulfilling and stressful so she made the decision to give it all up and pursue her long held ambition and become a comedian.
Now, a decade later the somewhat diminutive, smiley and very funny Glaswegian has had the success many in her profession can only dream about. Indeed not only has she conquered the stand up circuit with sold out shows at the Soho Theatre and Edinburgh Fringe, she has also showed off her talents on radio with numerous credits including Radio 4’s The News Quiz, The Unbelievable Truth and Now Show not to mention presenting Woman’s Hour.
And if that wasn’t enough she has appeared on the BBC’s hit shows Have I Got News for You and QI, as well as Show and Tell, The Matt Lucas Awards, Dara O’Briain’s School of Hard Sums, 8 Out of 10 Cats, The Dog Ate My Homework, Would I Lie To You and Mock the Week. 
She is currently working on Too Much TV for BBC2, is writing a book and - to underline her appeal to not just adults but the younger generation as well - will soon host 30 episodes of a new quiz show Top Class to be broadcast on the BBC children’s channel CBBC. 
Clearly Susan does not like to sit around twiddling her thumbs nor indeed rest on her laurels as in amongst all this she hasn’t forgotten her stand up roots and to prove the point she is currently criss crossing the country dispensing witty anecdotes in a tour of her new show, The Calman Before The Storm.
In it she tells me she wants to rip through all the preconceptions about her and challenge the assumptions people have about her political views, her height, her nationality and her sexuality.
As part of the tour, the show is heading to South London where she will take to the stage at Greenwich Theatre on Monday, June 26.
What is clear when we chat ahead of the gig is that she is indeed as warm and friendly as she comes across on TV and radio and has plenty to say on most subjects.
But first things first, with so much on her professional plate how has she managed to fit the tour in?
“I do a lot,” she agrees chuckling. “But I do try and tour every two years or so. It’s hectic but it’s lovely to do.
“I’ve been on the road on and off with this show since March and it’s going well. 
“The joy of stand up in a tour like this is that it’s essentially the same show but every night is different as it depends on what the audience likes and doesn’t like.”
And she’s looking forward to her foray into South London.
“I’ve never been to Greenwich Theatre before so I’m looking forward to it,” she says warmly.
“It’s really exciting to stand up in front of an audience in a venue you don’t know. It makes it quite a thrill as no one is quite sure what’s going to happen!
“What’s also nice is that the audience is close to me - I like people to still be able to see the whites of my eyes! It makes it more enjoyable too.”
So what will be on the agenda this time I ask. Quite a lot as it turns out including politics and her home life with a liberal sprinkling of personal anecdotes.
“This show is basically 90 minutes of observational comedy from a personal point of view,” she explains.
“I’ve recently bought a house and it’s quite a change as we are now in a lovely suburban street with some pretty lovely neighbours. It’s great!
“So I’ll talk a bit about this and also stories about me that hopefully people can relate to. I talk about my wife - so much that the audience feels sorry for her!
“Although I do talk a bit of politics I don’t dwell on stuff like Trump and Brexit as I think everyone is a bit sick of it. And I don’t want to dwell on how people voted as I want the show to be much more about inclusivity. 
“So there won’t be any lecturing - it’s going to be a nice jolly evening. I just want people to have a lovely time and get away from all that kind of stuff. So come and see my show and enjoy it.”
Despite her obvious talent Susan says she is surprised at her longevity and success in what is a notoriously difficult business. 
Growing up with ambitions of being a stand up after being inspired by the likes of Billy Connelly, Joyce Grenfell and Victoria Wood, she did a degree in law and became a lawyer, but says she knew in her heart that being a corporate lawyer was not for her.
“I didn’t think I would last this long!” she muses. “In many ways this show is really a celebration of my 10 years in comedy.
“Growing up I was inspired very much by the likes of Billy Connelly. Almost all his stand up featured personal stories which he made so so funny. He did certain things and made fun of himself and was hilarious. 
“I also grew up listening to Victoria Wood - she was the one I loved most and made women funny.
“When I started out I saw her at the Royal Albert Hall. It was amazing - she was the greatest comic. But she was also the most amazing actor, writer and musician and if I can do things a quarter as well as her I would be exceeding expectations. 
“But above all she was a great storyteller and that was what I really loved - I still love listening to other people’s stories.
“I’m not a joke teller - if you want that, people like Jimmy Carr are genius at it but I’m not. 
“I just colour the story in - and hopefully the stories I tell, people can relate to.”
Touring and her very busy workload does mean she spends a good deal of time away from her home in Glasgow which she shares with her wife and five cats.
“Two of them are quite young and I don’t get home an awful lot so when I do I tend to chase them around the room!” she laughs. “What then happens is that they run away.
“I do miss them all when I’m away but no matter how miserable I am for being away from home I always remember how lucky I am to do this.”
And she certainly doesn’t regret her change of direction career wise, even though she admits there were times in the early days it was a “slog”.
“I had always wanted to be a stand up but in 1992 when I left school it would be ridiculous thing to say I wanted to be a comedian. So I went into law but eventually I just realised that if I didn’t try stand up I was never going to do it. So I started doing gigs - it took a good six years before I got to the point that it wasn’t a slog.
“I know I’m lucky but I’ve worked hard and I love the variety of doing all the different things like touring, TV and radio. 
“Things couldn’t be going better and I’m incredibly happy!”

Susan Calman, The Calman Before The Storm is at Greenwich Theatre on Monday, June 26. Visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 8858 4447 for full listings.



Tuesday, 13 June 2017

FOUR STAR REVIEW - Lettice & Lovage at the Menier Chocolate Factory

FOUR STARS


Peter Shaffer’s play Lettice & Lovage was first performed at the Theatre Royal Bath in 1987. Now 30 years later it has been revived by Sir Trevor Nunn at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
It is set firstly in the Grand Hall of Fustian House, a stately pile in rural Wiltshire, where a certain Lettice Douffet is a guide, taking visitors around on tours of the house. It appears to be a miserable job because nothing of note has ever happened there.
So, when one of her visitors yawns at the end of one tour she decides to take action to liven things up a bit. Using her theatrical prowess, gained from growing up with an actress mother who spent most of her time in France, she begins to embellish the stories until some of them retain very little, if any, truth. They seem to be successful, so much so, that bowls she puts out to collect “appreciations” begin to overflow.
However, one day a certain Lotte Schoen turns up from the Preservation Trust which employs Lettice, and berates her for telling fibs to bring in the punters. Despite firing Lettice, it is the start of an entertaining friendship between these two very different women which ultimately sees them joining forces.
It is not the greatest of plays, however there are some very funny moments, including the scene in which they both get sozzled on Lettice’s homemade brew of “verbal and herbal” ingredients.
The big draw in this production is the fact it’s been directed by Sir Trevor Nunn and that its two stars are Felicity Kendal as Lettice and Maureen Lipman as Lotte. 
Kendal in particular is a delight as the flamboyant, theatrical red headed Lettice whose outlandish and entertaining stories of the dull as dishwater Fustian House are regaled with aplomb.
Sadly, the full comedic prowess of Lipman is not able to shine through, although this is really down to the script. There are thankfully, a few moments of brilliance, such as when Lotte discovers Lettice has a cat and proceeds to gag as though she is bringing up a fur ball of her own, which brought the house down.
Ultimately it is a delightful pairing and a treat to see these two great actresses on stage together in what is a hugely entertaining production.


Lettice & Lovage is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until July 8. Tickets from £40.