Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Snow White

THERE are moments with pantos when you boo, hiss, shout, cringe, sing, cry laughing and dance.

And Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the New Wimbledon Theatre had all these elements and more.

Boasting a star studded line up with the likes of Warwick Davis, Jarred Christmas and the King of rock 'n' roll's ex herself, Priscilla Presley, it ticked most of the panto boxes.

While it may have lacked a panto dame, it more than made up for this with silly, corny jokes, cheesy songs, a wicked queen, a prince charming and a beautiful princess and seven dwarves, one of whom is obsessed by British paralympian swimmer Ellie Simmonds.

It also had plenty of gloriously hammy acting, a few fluffed lines and a fair bit of add-libbing, not to mention the funniest Gangnam style dance routine I've seen on the panto circuit this season.

The costumes were amazing and the set was as sparkly as the stars in the show having had more glitter thrown at it than you would find in a children's collage set.

Priscilla was the wicked queen and although not always looking entirely comfortable in the role, particularly when hoisted in the air on wires and floating perilously over the stage dispensing wickedness, she delighted the audience with a rendition of Trouble from Elvis's repertoire.

Pacing the stage and sporting a fabulous dress which was cut to the thigh, she was adept at whipping up the audience with malevolent glee and attracted plenty of boos and hisses.

Jarred Christmas was hilarious as her right hand man Herman the Henchman and his attempt at a Geordie accent was one of the funniest things I've seen and heard.

Warwick Davis as Prof, self-imposed leader of the dwarves was brilliant and stole the show with his Gangnam song and dance routine.

But perhaps the best was saved til last when just before the curtain came down, the cast got the entire audience on its feet for a rendition of the Blues Brother's classic Everybody Needs Someone To Love. Fabulous!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until January 13.

Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 0844 871 7646

Aladdin with Lily Savage

FOR organisers, housing panto Aladdin in a pop-up tent within the O2 in Greenwich must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, with tip up plastic chairs on gantry style seating, a severe chill running through said tent and one bar to serve all 1,900 audience members this supposedly good idea must have vanished as quickly as Aladdin's genie appeared from his bottle.

Fortunately, the show has Lily Savage as its star attraction to warm things up and from the moment Paul O'Grady's alter ego came on stage, was greeted by a cheer as loud as the concert playing in the nearby O2 arena.

The story is a familiar one. Lily Twanky's husband has died leaving her nothing more than a launderette in old Peking. To his brother he's left a ring. Lily heads off to Peking with her son Aladdin in tow and it's here he meets the emperor's daughter, falls in love with her and tries to make the feeling mutual. Along the way he encounters the genie, gets locked in a cave and has to defeat the evil Abanazar, brilliantly played by Darren Bennett.

With lavish sets, spectacular costumes, fabulous musical performances and a big cast this was a panto which was as much about style as it was substance and the flying magic carpet was a highlight.

Lily Savage is of course the main draw and she didn't disappoint giving a hilarious mini stand up routine at one point, a few ad libs sprinkled about and an unscripted wardrobe malfunction which left her face down on the floor with her shoes in Abanazar's costume, and the rest of us and the cast crying with laughter.

However, despite all this, it felt more like a West End musical rather than a traditional panto as although most of the classic ingredients were there including a baby elephant in lieu of Dobbin, it lacked the main one for me - laugh a minute silly, saucy jokes. And at three hours it's too long for even the most un-fidgety kids.

That said, Darren Bennett along with Issy Van Randwyck as the Slave of the Ring and Jon Lee as Aladdin put in great performances and it was a real treat to see Lily in all her acidic, bitter, eye-rolling, hilarious glory.

Aladdin is on until Saturday, January 5.

Tickets from £19.50. Call the box office on 0844 856 0202.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Robin Hood at Greenwich Theatre

ANDREW Pollard has done it again. The writer, actor and now director and seasoned dame has put together another barn storming panto at Greenwich Theatre.

This year it’s Robin Hood and from the moments the lights go down and a version of Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer blasts out, the atmosphere is electric.

The next two hours zip by all too quickly jam packed as they are with plenty of gags, live music, dancing, magic, silliness, mayhem, and a fair few ad libs to spice things up a bit.

The action is set in Sherwood Forest – although there are plenty of local and topical references including an obligatory nod to this summer’s Olympics.

Robin Hood (Michael Harris) is hiding out in the forest with his band of merry men including Friar Tuck (Paul Critoph) and Alan McDale (Garry Ellis) robbing from the evil Sherrif (Anthony Spargo) and dishing out the loot to the poor.

However things start hotting up when he realises his childhood sweetheart Maid Marian (Arabella Rodrigo) is staying at the Sherrif’s castle with her nurse Joan Germoline (Pollard).

Pollard’s script is terrific, full of slapstick and manages to produce not one but three love matches, and his naughty naughty nursie is both saucy and silly.

With lots of interaction between the cast and the audience, amazing sets, outrageous costumes, a fabulous cast – particularly Anthony Spargo and his pet vulture – and plenty of jokes to please everyone’s tastes, this is a crowd pleaser of the best sort and proves that you don’t have to have big names to put on a great family show.

Pollard has once again set the bar by which other pantos are judged. It’s an absolute belter of a show and will have you laughing out loud way beyond Christmas.

Robin Hood is on at Greenwich Theatre, until January 6.

Tickets from £19, concessions £16.

Visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk or call 020 8858 7755

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ken Loach

FILM director Ken Loach is known for his hard hitting, gritty films which depict ordinary people telling working class stories.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to find he is actually very gently and softly spoken.

What is not in doubt are his life long socialist values and beliefs which are evident in his treatment of social issues such as homelessness, poverty and labour rights in the films and documentaries he has made throughout his long and illustrious career.

He also has a penchant for egg custard tarts as I found out last week when I spoke to him ahead of a discussion he is leading at the Bussey Building in Peckham tomorrow.

"I've just got a mouthful of cake," he laughs by way of an introduction. "It was one of those egg custard tarts and it was very nice!"

Cake aside, Loach's career, which spans more than 50 years, is peppered with classics such as his documentary Cathy Come Home and films Kes, Riff-Raff, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley which won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

And despite his age - he's 76 - he is not about to go and collect his pension either. His film Angel's Share was in cinemas earlier this year and he is currently working on a documentary on the post World War Two Labour government.

He is also preparing to take part in a post show discussion of The Ragged Trousers at Peckham's Bussey Building tomorrow.

The play, written by Stephen Lowe, has been adapted from Robert Tressell's 1914 book which charts a year in the life of a group of painters and decorators as they renovate a three-storey house for Mayor Sweater.

It traces their struggle for survival doing backbreaking work for low wages and the themes within it chime very well with those Loach has featured in his films over the years.

"The issue of workers creating wealth for other people is still very relevant," he says. "I read the book about 50 years ago but have never seen the play so I'm very much looking forward to it.

"It was written at about the same time the Labour party was formed and is a classic piece of socialist and working class literature. I know so many people who have been influenced by it, myself included.

"It's about how the system works and has to if it's to function. It explores the issues facing working people and it exposes the mechanism of society and how the wheels go round.

"It also goes right back to the inception of the Labour Party which I don't think has ever been a socialist party," he says. "It was trying to make capitalism work for ordinary people and that was its fatal flaw.

"It has never stood for the ideas on which it was founded which makes this such an important book."

I ask him if it's significant the play is being performed in Peckham.

"Peckham is one of those areas where people feel so alienated and removed from the sense they own or have any share in how society is run and feel they have nothing to lose," he says.

"That's what was so evident about the riots. It was an inarticulate shout of rage. It certainly shows us something is wrong with the way we organise society.

"This book shows that very clearly. These are ordinary people who are faced with similar issues to us now - unemployment or a cut in wages or the dismantling of the Welfare State which was actually Labour's biggest achievement.

"The system now can't pay for it and people are faced with the reality of that in their daily struggle.

"What we need is a new mass party of the left - what Labour should have been."

I ask him if he wants to set it up.

"I think it's a bit beyond me!" he laughs. "But I will be there waving the flag!"

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

jogging along nicely

THERE is no doubt the Olympics, and now the Paralympics, have had a positive effect on the nation.

Inspiring and energising, the Games have encouraged people to take more of an interest in sporting activities.

Indeed, if my kids are anything to go by London 2012, and Team GB’s success in the medals table, have been responsible for inspiring many youngsters to pester their parents to sign them up for lessons in swimming, gymnastics, football, tennis and horseriding among others.

But for adults who want a piece of the action there are possibilities to get involved too - even for those who like me haven’t seen the inside of a gym for longer than we care to remember and the only running we do is for a bus.

Indeed the closest I’ve got to wearing trainers in the last eight years is the fashion kind, not the ones I used to go running in before I had kids....

So coupled with a long-held desire to get back into shape and buoyed by the enthusiasm the Olympics has generated, I found myself on Wandsworth Common a couple of weeks ago to give my body an utter pounding – or as the instructor would have me say, a total workout.

As I am clearly never going to have the physique or fitness levels of the likes of Jessica Ennis nor can I ever have a hope of getting an Olympic medal I did wonder what I had let myself in for when I saw trainer James Osborn bringing out the “equipment”. This included kettle bells of various weights, two enormous tractor tyres and harnesses.

I felt even more like a fish out of water when I saw the seven others who were there to be put through their paces. All had clearly done this before and were up for the challenge. I meanwhile, was quaking in my brand new trainers.

The session was run by James who along with business partner Steve Mellor set up their company Freedom2Train 13 months ago.

The two are fully qualified personal fitness trainers and initially offered one-to-one training sessions. However, earlier this year they decided to branch out and offer specially designed outdoor-based high intensity work outs to small groups.

And what they don’t know about training your bodies into peak physical perfection frankly isn’t worth knowing.

The hour-long classes are designed to help people lose weight, tone muscles, become stronger and get super fit. All fitness levels are catered for and as a newbie one of the key pieces of advice was that I was to take it at my own pace and to take rest breaks when I needed to.

So successful have their classes been they are normally booked up well in advance.

After all the introductions were out of the way James got things rolling by taking us on a gentle jog around the Common before getting us to do a series of lunges, squats, stretches, kicks, jumps and sprints to warm up.

I managed this OK but it was clearly the physical calm before the storm as after we had all warmed up nicely we were divided into two groups for the main session.

This involved a set of lifting and flipping over tractor tyres - much harder than it looked and I am ashamed to say made me look and feel like a weakling - swinging and lifting kettle bells, slamming special 5kg slam balls into the ground and sprinting - or in my case trying to sprint - while strapped in a harness and being pulled back by a team member.

All were done in short bursts of about two minutes each with two minute rest breaks after each set and had me utterly exhausted.

James explained the aim is to get the whole body working.

He said: "There are so many benefits to exercise and giving the whole body a complete work out especially if it's done in the open air.

"We wanted to offer something that was a bit different, challenging and dynamic that exercised all muscles but was also fun.

"It's quite addictive and the vast majority of people who have come along for a taster session have signed up for more."

To my utter amazement I found myself getting into the sets although trying to lift the tractor tyre off the ground and flip it over defeated me despite my best efforts.

I even managed to master the art of slamming the ball and crouching down in time to catch it and as the session wore on I found I had more energy than I thought.

Being in the open air too was great and much more refreshing than pounding the treadmill at a gym looking at the wall.

But what was most brilliant was the constant encouragement from James who was an inspiration in the way he kept me going when what I was tempted to do was collapse in a heap on the grass.

Before too long we were ready to warm down with a series of press ups on the tyres, stretches, lunges and sit ups.

Although it was seriously hard work and I could barely walk afterwards, I survived, felt energised and felt a real sense of achievement. So much so I have signed up for more!

Visit www.freedom2train for training session times and prices.


A PLAY which is often referred to as Shakespeare's lost play is currently enjoying a short run at the Rose Theatre in Park Street.

Cardenio has been attributed to Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton and John Fletcher since an anonymous manuscript was submitted to the censor in 1611. Debate has abounded since but there is still no clear definitive proof of who actually did write it.

Whoever penned the words, it is without doubt a fascinating and disturbing play that deals with love, lust, obsession, amorality, suspicion and ultimately revenge and has many of the hallmarks of the three playwrights.

The current production, by the Aporia Theatre Collective is set in feudal Japan with the cast dressed as Samurai warriors or wearing kimonos.

Cardenio, in love with Luscinda, is banished by the tyrannical King Fernando who wants her for himself. Despite his protestations of love she wants nothing to do with him and flees to be with Cardenio.

The King tries all the evil tricks in the book to win her love but to no avail and with each dastardly idea that goes wrong and her rejection, he descends further into madness.

Meanwhile, in a sub plot, Anselmo wants to test the fidelity of his wife Camilla but she ends up falling in love and being seduced by Lotario, the man sent to test her.

The play is bloody and by the end the stage is littered with bodies.

The setting is amazing, with the actors on a small staged area overlooking some of the excavated remains of this Elizabethan theatre which is picked out with blue lights.

The young cast are impressive particularly Ryan Burkwood as the King who displays a jittery nervousness and tyrannical anger while simultaneously getting more mad by the second.

It is a great production and for a play not often performed, catch it while you can.

Cardenio is on at the Rose Theatre, Park Street until Saturday, September 29. Tickets cost £12. Call the box office on 020 7261 9565.

Walking tour with a twist

As those who know me well will testify, I love a good mystery and exploring new places. So when an invitation came through to solve a crime while on a walking tour of the "Sins of Southwark" I didn't hesitate to sign up.

The Hidden Wonder mysteries are not your average run of the mill walking tours. Oh no. These are much more interesting and exciting. Instead they are a three-hour walk around a given area with the outline of a story, a set of questions and a map.

The idea is simple. Each hunt focuses on a mystery that the hunters must unravel by solving puzzles along the route which takes in pubs, churches, theatres, galleries, museums and hidden gardens.

To crack the case, the hunters need to answer the questions by finding clues which can be found along the way. These can be anything from inscriptions on monuments, street names or a sign on a building and many are extremely cryptic.

What adds to the fun is that you will also learn about the hidden history, culture and secrets of the places you are exploring.

As befits any good adventure, you'll need to use your brain as well as your feet. But if you have a desire to explore and an inquisitive mind, then Hidden Wonders mysteries are made for you.

The brains behind it all is Robert Collett who came up with the idea with two friends because he wanted to find out more about London and its history.

Each tour has taken them months of painstaking research spent pounding the streets and alleyways, and hours pouring over books in libraries, to create the mystery which needs to be solved.

There are currently four tours to choose from each focusing on specific areas of the city and all of which are suitable for any age.

I chose the Sins of Southwark, partly because it's close to home, but also because of its literary theme as it features three of my favourite authors, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens - who all have links to the area.

I roped my friend and fellow literary fan Adele to come with me and we met Robert and the other people who were taking part at the George Inn off Borough High Street.

We divided ourselves into teams and were each given instructions, a map and set of questions before heading off.

The crime we had to solve was a death involving just three people. The mystery took us down Borough High Street, Southwark Street and Bankside, along the river, down numerous back streets, through gardens, Borough Market and even a graveyard, past churches and two theatres and up to the Tate before heading back to the pub.

Along the way we found out more about the three authors and the playhouses, pubs and prostitutes that once made these streets the playground of London.

It was fascinating stuff and along the way we stumbled on places and buildings we had either walked passed and never really seen before or simply didn't know they existed.

In one pub, which I confess to have frequented a considerable number of times, I was astonished to see a picture relating to some fascinating facts about Dickens but which I had previously walked passed and ignored.

At Borough Market, another place I love to visit, I discovered the table of rents board which was another blindingly obvious but nonetheless - to me - a previously invisible fixture of the market which I had never properly acknowledged before.

Being a competitive sort I was desperate to get all the clues correct and thus find out the truth about how the person in our story had died.

Some of the clues were relatively easy but some were extremely tricky and Adele and I spent ages at a few locations furiously scratching our heads trying to work out the fiendishly devious ones.

Once we had discovered all the clues, we stopped at the Tate for a quick cuppa and to give us a chance to work out who had done what and who had died.

It wasn't as easy as it seemed though and there was a fair bit of exercising the grey cells to work it out.

Once we thought we had cracked it we hot footed it back to the pub where we met the other teams to see who had got it right.

Unfortunately Adele and I hadn't - mainly due to putting the wrong answer down to one of the clues. But despite this schoolgirl error, which we kicked ourselves over, it was a great way to spend three hours on a Saturday morning.

The genius of it is the inventiveness of it. It was extremely interesting, clever and fun and although we didn't get the answers 100 per cent spot on, we had a huge amount of fun doing it and we learned a great deal more about this fascinating city. And at a tenner each, great value for money.

I'm now off to book a place at the others!


Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Doctor's Dilemma

AT a time when the NHS is under so much scrutiny and decisions are being made on its future, it is perhaps fitting to have a revival of George Bernard Shaw’s witty and entertaining play, The Doctor’s Dilemma.

Written in 1906 it makes a case against privatised medicine and how doctors should be held to account for the decisions they make.

The current production now on at the National’s Lyttleton Theatre is great fun thanks in no small way to the top notch cast and beautiful set.

Aden Gillett plays the newly knighted Sir Colenso Ridgeon who believes he has found a potential cure for tuberculosis but only has a limited number of places on his trial.

One day the beautiful Jenifer Dubedat (corr sp) arrives at his Harley Street consulting rooms begging him to save the life of her artist husband Louis who has the illness.

Ridgeon and five of his medical friends invite the pair to dinner to assess whether Dubedat should be saved.

The medics, pompous and frock-coated, are beguiled by the charismatic Dubedat (Tom Burke) and his lovely wife, and decide his life is worth saving, even at the expense of another.

However, no sooner are they congratulating themselves on making their decision than they realise their friend Dr Blenkinsop is also afflicted with the disease and Dubedat is not the man they thought he was.

Ridgeon then faces his dilemma. Should he help the likeable Dr Blenkinsop (played by Derek Hutchinson) who is a man of principle but has no money, or the morally questionable but gifted young painter Dubedat?

His decision is not helped by the fact he has fallen for Dubedat’s wife (played by Genevieve O'Reilly).

With excellent performances all round and full of hilarious one-liners this is a production which makes for an entertaining evening.

The Doctor’s Dilemma is on until September 12.

Tickets cost from £12. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Mack & Mabel - at the Southwark Playhouse

FOR an evening of great musical theatre forget the West End and head instead to the Southwark Playhouse.
This two-auditorium theatre just off Tooley Street has a well-deserved reputation for putting on amazing productions that would rival any West End show, and at a fraction of the price.
The current offering in the atmospheric setting of its space the Vault is Mack & Mabel directed by Thom Southerland.
It tells the story of the tumultuous romantic relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett (played by Norman Bowman) and Mabel Normand (Laura Pitt-Pulford), a waitress from Brooklyn, New York, who he turned into one of his biggest stars.
The audience is taken back to their first meeting in the 1920s and then through the glory days of Sennett’s Keystone Studios with Mabel starring in dozens of his two-reelers, the creation of his Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Cops and finally to Mabel’s early death from a drug overdose.
We also see how the arrogant and tyrannical Sennett, with single-minded determination resists the winds of change which are happening in his industry, desperately clinging to his silent two-reelers while all the other Hollywood studios are embracing the talkies.
It is this resistance that costs him dear – losing him money, his reputation and ultimately his relationship with Mabel who is poached by a rival studio.
With a spectacular score including “Look What Happened To Mabel” and “I Won’t Send Roses” Mack & Mabel is a touching and ultimately heart-breaking story.
The whole cast is excellent and the dance routines of the Bathing Beauties and Keystone Cops are so energetic, fun and entertaining it was a real thrill to watch.
But it was Bowman and Pill-Pulford as the two stars who stood out, with tremendous voices and brilliantly showed off the tensions, hopes, expectations and sadness of their characters.

Mack and Mabel is on at the Southwark Playhouse until August 25.
Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Jenny Eclair

Last week I was lucky enough to interview Jenny Eclair for a piece in the paper.... My chat coincided with the launch of her new novel "Life, Death and Vanilla Slices" (a good read and thoroughly recommended though don't expect it to be a comedy) which is published today. 

I MUST admit to being slightly nervous about the prospect of interviewing Jenny Eclair.
The self-confessed grumpy old woman with her trademark glasses is well known for her black humour, brilliantly sharp observations and devastating put downs.
However, it is clear when we speak that she is also full of joie de vivre with a predictably good line in filthy jokes and an infectious, if rather naughty, laugh.
Her CV is impressive by anyone's standards. She was the first woman to win the coveted Edinburgh Comedy Festival’s Perrier Award in 1995, has appeared in TV shows Holby City, The Bill, done a stint in panto and even competed in the 2010 UK series of I'm a celebrity... Get me Out Of Here coming third.
The 52-year-old author, writer, comedian, and more recently star of ITV1's Loose Women has seemingly done it all.
But it's her ruthless wit which has been at the forefront of her 30-year career.
She is currently promoting her new novel, Life, Death and Vanilla Slices which was published today (Thurs July 5).
Set in Lancashire and East Dulwich it is a compelling, funny, emotionally manipulative and heartbreaking drama which tells the story of mother and daughter, Jean and Anne, and how one fateful day changes their lives forever.
I tell her it was so absorbing I couldn’t put it down and read it from cover to cover in one day.
Laughing she says: "That was a bit greedy of you to devour it in one day! But thank you - I'm not that quick at coming up with ideas - I've only done three novels in 12 years which isn't very impressive is it! It took 18 months which is twice the length of time normal people write but I'm very pleased with it. It needed to be written."
When I ask her what she means by this she pauses before saying: “I explored a lot of subjects and relationships the characters have with each other that I relate to especially the relationship between a mother and daughter.
"There is a bit of me in all the main characters but especially Anne who is about the same age as me and going through all those hideous hormonal changes that happen to women.”
Beautifully observed, the book tackles dark and brutal subjects including rape and baby abandonment and features some quite awful characters.
She says: “I have always been quite graphic so it wasn't an issue for me to write those scenes and if you are a stand up you do have to deal with hecklers and rude comments.
“It's never been a problem for me to be rude or horrible - in fact, it's harder to be nice and funny!
"Also, I remember growing up reading about babies being found in telephone boxes. It's very much of my time and certainly wasn't unheard of.
“Back then it was very difficult to sort yourself out if it happened as people didn’t talk about these kinds of things.”
The fact it was set in places she knows well is also no co-incidence, hence Lancashire where she grew up and East Dulwich, which is “just down the road” from where she lives in Camberwell with her husband Geof Powell (who she affectionately calls St Geof) and their daughter Phoebe.
Unlike other celebrities who escape the city the minute they find fame, Jenny has embraced the area and has a deep fondness for it.
"It's great. I've been here 30 years and love it," she says emphatically.
"I moved from Lancashire to go to Camberwell Arts College and ended up in a council flat in Walworth Road before moving to Brunswick Villas, Camberwell Grove and now Grove Lane.
"It was more of a convenience thing as I do use the buses a lot and,” here she lowers her voice for added effect, “north London horrifies me and streets I don't know frighten me.
“Maybe I'm lazy but it's so convenient and I feel safe here. There are also some lovely independent and quirky shops and I prefer to be close to town.
“I travel a lot especially to Cornwall which I love but I’m always glad to be back in the thick of it. It suits us and it’s what I’m used to so I’ll never leave."
Her love of Camberwell meant she and Sir Geof were glued to the TV when the BBC showed its Secret Streets programme on Camberwell Grove last month.
"It coincided with our 30th anniversary so we sat on the sofa and got very nostalgic and sentimental!” she chuckles.
"It brought back a lot of memories and it was fascinating to see the social changes.
“It wasn't very nice back then and I don't remember it being quite so friendly and funky as they showed it to be - in fact I found it quite scary at times and somewhere you didn't go after dark but I was a punky girl and wouldn't let it scare me.
“I'm genuinely interested in the past and maybe I'll write something more historical one day.
“It might take me a while though. Books are more difficult to wrestle with than writing gags. It's like a great big octopus wriggling about on your lap and remembering what everyone does and is. But it’s what I do though and I'm not happy if I'm not writing.”
And with that she’s off to “write something for Radio 4” and for the new tour appropriately named Eclairious which starts in September.
"It's important I give my husband a break to be honest!" she laughs.

Life, Death and Vanilla Slices is out in paperback today published by Sphere and priced at £12.99
Visit www.jennyeclair.com for tour details.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Olympic fever

Olympic fever hit Myatt Garden Primary School this afternoon. Jay Osgerby, one half of Barber Osgerby, designers of the award-winning Olympic Torch, brought the torch to the school's summer fair. It was a chance for everyone to get up close and personal with this amazing piece of art - and hold it! The line of people who wanted to hold it and have their pic taken with it was never ending.
It was a real privilege and amazing - it's lightweight, quite long and heavier at the top than at the bottom. It has 8,000 holes perforated in the three sides. One hole for each mile and for each torch bearer. It's a work of art and absolutely stunning.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Interview with Joe Swift

TWO years ago the Horniman Museum embarked on an ambitious redevelopment programme – to totally revamp and transform its award winning gardens.
Last week they were formally re-opened to the public by garden designer, TV presenter and the museum's patron Joe Swift.
I took a stroll with him to check it out

Perched on the top of a hill just off the south circular the Horniman Museum is one of the jewels in south London's crown.
It has graced Forest Hill for more than 100 years and is set in 16 acres of gardens.
In the past these gardens have often been overlooked by visitors keen to see the artefacts in the museum which was established in 1901by Victorian philanthropist and tea trader Frederick Horniman.
But not any more. After a £2.3million refurb and 16 months hard graft by head gardener Gordon Lucas and his team, they have been extensively remodelled, re-landscaped and opened up, to reveal a stunning collection of interlinking spaces.
The gardens were formally re-opened on Thursday last week by garden designer, TV presenter and museum Patron, Joe Swift.
He arrived fresh from triumphing at the Chelsea Flower Show the previous week where he picked up a gold medal for his first show garden at the popular horticultural event.
Wearing his distinctive fedora hat, he is every bit as affable, chatty and down to earth as he appears on TV.
What is apparent from the off as I join him on a tour of the new and improved features is his passion and enthusiasm for the Horniman and its now "fantastic" gardens.
“I love this space,” he smiles enthusiastically, gesturing to the vast expanse before us.
“It’s fantastic. There is so much to see and it's like a celebration. Last time I came here was in the autumn. Just seeing it all finished and the way it frames the views across London is amazing.”
Joe was invited to be part of the project when the idea was first mooted two years ago but is very modest about his involvement.
"They asked me to be patron three years ago and then Gordon [Lucas] showed me the designs and it all made perfect sense.
"I was asked for my input and gave a few planting ideas but really they had everything pretty much spot on."
Looking around it's easy to see why Joe is so impressed.
Work done includes the refurbishment of the sunken garden,the display gardens, the restoration of the 100-year-old Bandstand and the creation of a new specialist plant area.
Other new additions include a Sound Garden with a musical play area and a Community Food Garden.
Later this year an open area for the animals will also be introduced.
The most significant development has been the introduction of a Gardens Pavilion, complete with a living sedum roof and ground source heat pump, which will be used by schools and other groups to learn more about the museum’s collections and how they link in with the gardens.
It is, Joe says, an amazing achievement.
"What has been recreated here is exactly what was inthe brief and Gordon and his team have done a brilliant job in bringing it to life.
"The quality of the planting is outstanding and the way it all links together and brings a sense of what's in the museum, outside, is incredible. I’m proud to be involved."
What makes him smile most is the many children clearly enjoying and exploring the new and improved space.
"Seeing them here today having fun in what is basically an enormous outdoor classroom – that’s what it’s all about – making a connection with nature.
“That’s why what has been achieved here is so great as it offers kids the chance to get out into the open air and learn about nature, plants, the environment and where food comes from."
It's this passion for educating the horticulturists of the future that fires him up.
"In times of austerity it's always horticulture and the arts which are the first to get their funds cut and it's so short sighted. We don't value them enough which is madness as we are supposed to be a nation of gardeners!
"We need more investment to train the horticulturists of the future. We need to grow more of our own plants, reclaim land for community spaces and invest in real gardeners.
“This redevelopment is so important as it shows the value of horticulture at a grassroots level. It should be an exemplar for others to follow. It's inspiring and I think Gordon is a legend for what he has achieved."
Pausing for breath, Joe is asked to give youngsters from Horniman Primary School a hand with some planting. Without a word, his jacket is off, sleeves are rolled up and he gets stuck in to the obvious delight of the kids and their teachers.
Afterwards he chuckles and says: "Actually they didn't need me - they seem to know what to do which is fantastic!"
I ask him which his favourite bit of the park is.
"Well that's a really tricky one,” he says. “I love the borders and the World Food Garden is very interesting. But the entire planting scheme is just so great, I love it all really. Just seeing plants growing and kids getting a kick out of it all is excellent!”
Before he goes off to explore the gardens properly, I ask him what his next project is now he's achieved his goal of designing a show garden for Chelsea.
"I'd like a bit of a rest to be honest," he laughs.
"I'd wanted to do Chelsea for such a long time but never got round to it as it takes a year of your life.
"I had been presenting the show for 10 years and this time last year I decided it was now or never and to make it happen. And I'm so pleased I did.
"I couldn't have made a better garden and the fact my gardening heroes Cleve (West), Dan (Pearson), Andy (Sturgeon) and Chris (Bradley-Hole) came and said they liked it was the icing on the cake. To win gold was like winning the World Cup though - it was just fantastic!
"However, it was a lot of hard work as it's all about the quality and the right plants and the spacing. The creative process was intense and the three weeks of construction were hard work
"I won't be doing it again though!"
I tell him this is a shame but he says he wants to concentrate on his presenting and his passion for creating urban community spaces.
Not bad for someone who didn't know what to do when he left school.
"I've been very lucky. I went to art college and was in a band and then went travelling and worked in a kibutz in Israel and realised I wanted to be outdoors. A job driving vans for a gardening company in north London followed before someone asked him to design a garden.
It was he said a pivotal moment. "I had no idea where to start but it was such an exciting thought that I decided to train as a gardener and I never looked back."
In between his TV commitments, presenting Gardener's World Live on the BBC each year and other gardening shows, he runs his own garden design company.
"This is my passion and in particular creating community spaces. We have so many areas crying out to be taken over and looked after by people who want to create little enclaves of tranquility and space in their communities."
He is currently filming a new series where he works with groups to create such areas.
"It's so satisfying because everyone is so enthusiastic. It's great to work with people who are so passionate and it's hugely rewarding for me."
And with that he's off to explore and inspire the next generation of gardeners.

Henry V

In a summer of national celebrations and patriotic fervour what could be better than to go and see a play about an English King giving his opponents a good trouncing.

What luck then that Shakespeare's Henry V kicks off the Globe Theatre's summer season with a bang, firing on all cylinders from the word go.

Jamie Parker fittingly reprises his role as Prince Hal from the theatre's production of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 in 2010.

When we saw him last, he was having a great time, boozing it up in the taverns of Eastcheap and cavorting with Falstaff and his mates, without a care in the world.

Now as the King he has assumed the mantle of the crown and has grown up considerably into a thoughtful, conscientious and no-nonsense monarch.

We see a young man for whom the burden of responsibility is taken very seriously and who wants to be seen and remembered as a fair and honourable King.

Jamie Parker is superb in the title role, appearing bloodied but unbowed as he takes charge of the stage, and addresses the audience as though we were his loyal subjects.

Indeed, so at one are we with him that when he gives us all his morale boosting and rousing speech before the siege of Harfleur, we willingly join his heartfelt and famous battle cry of "Follow your spirit, and upon this charge, Cry 'God for Harry, England and St George!'" followed by a cacophony of whoops, cheers and clapping.

However, Parker is not alone in making the production superb. The whole cast work well and hold our attention even though at the beginning they were competing with a police helicopter which buzzed loudly and persistently overhead, clearly keen to see the action below.

The battle scenes were inspired - complete with gunpowder, bows, arrows and enormous and frighteningly huge pikes - all beautifully choreographed, and there were some lovely comic moments which proved an antidote to the seriousness of the main action.

Much merriment was had in the opening scene of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Paul Rider) and Bishop of Ely (Brendan O’Hea) who discussed matters whilst on the privy, and Sam Cox as Pistol and Brendan O'Hea as Captain Fluellen who provided a glorious comedy double act.

For an evening of outstanding acting to lift the spirits, go and see this amazing production.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Suit

It’s the 1950s and in Sofiatown, a poor township of Johannesburg in South Africa, Philemon and his wife Matilda live under the cloud of an oppressive Apartheid regime.
All around them are other families living in equally cramped conditions, yet despite this there is plenty of music, friendship and laughter.
A seemingly happy and contented couple, Matilda looks after the house and Philemon, her devoted husband, goes to work.
However, things go wrong when Philemon is told by a friend that his wife is having an affair.
He leaves work and bursts in on the couple. The man leaves in panic in only his underpants, leaving his suit behind.
Utterly devastated and wondering how on earth his wife could do such a thing, Philemon seeks revenge. And the suit left behind gives him a cruel idea. He tells Matilda she must look after the suit as though it were an honoured guest – even feeding it, looking after it, talking to it and making sure sleeps in their room. He even forces her to take it on walks about the town.
Beautifully acted the story takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions and includes music some of it traditional African, with Nonhlanhla Kheswa (Matilda) able to show off her beautiful voice.
The three musicians add to the story telling and are used very effectively as extras in some of the scenes.
Utterly spellbinding, the performances of William Nadylam as Philemon and Nonhlanhla Kheswa (Matilda) are superb.

Four stars
The Suit is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo, until June 16.
Tickets cost from £10.
Call the box office on 020 7922 2922

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Thing About Men

If you want great musical theatre without the West End price tag I suggest heading down to the Landor Theatre in Clapham.
This small, intimate space has a well-deserved reputation for putting on terrific shows and its latest offering, The Thing About Men, is no exception.
Tom is the epitomy of the all American dream. He’s good looking, suave, sophisticated, is at the top of his game as director of a successful ad agency, has a beautiful wife and two great kids and has had a smattering of affairs along the way. He’s seemingly got it all.
However, Tom’s life shatters when he finds out his wife is giving him a taste of his own medicine by having an affair with a younger man. A would-be bohemian artist called Sebastian who lives in a less than salubrious New York Loft apartment.
He does the only thing a man can do in that situation – ingratiate himself into Sebastian’s life and move in as his room mate.
And so the fun begins with the audience taken on a roller coaster of emotions as the characters try and find their way through the situation.
Peter Gerald as Tom, John Addison as Sebastian and Kate Graham as Lucy all put in strong performances.
But it’s the brilliant casting of Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe who between them take on dozens of roles, showing off their versatility to the max and who steal the show with stand out performances. Webb’s officious maĆ®tre d’ is worth the ticket price alone.
Heartwarming, poignant, sad and funny this show has it all.
Top marks all round.

The Thing About Men is on at the Landor Theatre, Landor Road, Clapham until June 9.
Tickets cost £18.
Call the box office 020 7737 7276

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A NEW drama exploring the British police’s contentious stop and search policy and its effect upon black communities is now on at the Broadway Theatre in Catford.
Written by actor turned prison officer turned writer and former Goldsmiths student Dominic Taylor, the play shows how two seemingly happy families are thrown together over the course of one evening.
Callie is 13 years old and black and goes missing one night. In their search to find him, his parents Dianne and Ivan come to discover how little they understand their son’s life when they find 36 stop and search orders in a box in his room.
Meanwhile, soon to be ex-copper Mick and his wife Ann learn more about their own son and his new life as a rookie copper.
Both families lives’ collide thanks to a series of incidents shown as vignettes on the small stage.
There are some twists and turns along the way and the cast of eight do a great job in telling the story and showing how the tensions between young black men and the police still exist.
Renee Castle and Valentine Hanson are excellent as Callie’s loving and ultimately distraught parents, but the evening really belongs to the younger cast members.
Jelissa Campbell as Allana is particularly moving as Callie’s sister and Jerome Holder puts in a remarkable and spine tingling performance as the young Callie.
Powerful, engaging, troubling and brilliantly performed, this is a play for our time and definitely one to go and see.

Broadway Theatre, 
Catford, London SE6 4RU   
27 April to 26 May
Mon – Sat at 8pm. Sat mats 4pm,
 Weds and Thurs mats 2pm
Box Office: 020 8690 0002 / 
 Prices: £14.50 concs £11.00

The Man With the Disturbingly Smelly Foot

Theatre review 
Four stars
Last Sunday, I took my seven year old daughter Lucy to see The Man With the Disturbingly Smelly Foot at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street.
Decisions, how to make them, and making the right ones are the issues raised in the play by Sophocles which has been re-imagined for young audiences.
The Man with the Disturbingly Smelly Foot is based on the legend of Philoctetes and has been brilliantly re-worked for children by Nancy Harris as part of a special Greek season put on by the Tooley Street theatre.
Set during the Trojan war, the play deals with dilemmas surrounding friendship, loyalty, integrity and deception.
Odysseus and Neoptolemus land on a remote island hoping to meet up with Philoctetes, who has lived on the island for nine years. He has remained there abandoned by the Greeks and an outcast because of his injured, and hideously-smelling foot.
Odysseus wants to steal Philoctetes' magic bow and arrow to help the Greek army fight the war. Using his cunning and skills at manipulation, he leaves it to Neoptolemus to get the goods while he watches from a safe distance.
Complete with a stage full of sand, plenty of gross-out moments, delightful and amusing seashells not to mention a strong moral theme, this adaptation is a delight and full of humour.
Alex Austin puts in a superb performance as Neoptolemus who realises what it is to be loyal to your friends and have integrity. Mark Monero is excellent as Philoctetes and Alexis Rodney too as the devious Odysseus.
The production is a gem and Lucy and I would highly recommend it!

The Man with the Disturbingly Smelly Foot runs until Sunday, May 20 and is suitable for ages seven and up.
Box office - 020 7645 0560.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Legend of Captain Crow

Based on the children's book by Eoin Colfer, The Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth is a thrilling and sometimes scary show now on at the Unicorn Theatre.
Caravan holidays will never be the same again for young Will thanks to the legend that is Captain Crow.
The Captain's teeth are rocks part submerged by the sea near a holiday caravan site at Duncade Point where Will and his family spend their summer holidays and which sometimes gleam and flash.
Although Will's dad says the glow is due to phosphorescence, Will's brother Marty delights in scaring Will and younger brothers Donny and Bert with tales of the terrifying Captain Crow who is still searching for the cabin boy who attacked him with an axe at the same spot 300 years ago.
Things come to a head one evening when Marty abandons Will on their way back from a disco and he is left to come home on his own.
Stumbling about and losing his way, Will fears he can hear noises which sound like the Captain's ghost and thinks he sees some of the pirates.
He has to summon all his courage to get home without the Captain catching him.
The parts are played by a cast of five who do a fine job.
Alasdair Hankinson gets the nine-year-old Will spot on with a mix of the raw fear of wondering if ghosts do exist and the energy and self awareness of a child.
Miles Yekinni is suitably scary as the enormous Captain Crow dressed in huge boots and a dark trench coat complete with black feathers and big gloves as well as Will's gentle father.
Itxaso Moreno and Cath Whitefield play the younger brothers and two of the Captain's pirates and Ashley Gerlach hits the mark as the boys' older brother Marty, full of irritating jokes and creepy ghost stories.
Although there are some funny moments such as the disco dancing and the antics of the two younger brothers, the play is also very dark, eerie and sometimes just plain scary, and with plenty of thunder claps, blackouts and sinister music, it's not for children of a nervous disposition!
The Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth is on at the Unicorn Theatre on Tooley Street until Sunday 15 April
Box Office: 020 7645 0560

Dream Space

SOME of Shakespeare's best loved characters have come to life as part of a new show for young children.
The Dream Space explores the magic and mayhem of one of the Bard's best loved and funniest plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe Education Sackler Studios on Bankside.
The fun and interactive show invites children and their families to join a team of Fairy Finders on an expedition searching for a missing fairy.
Dressed as though they are going on a hike into woodland, the Fairy Finders, Snout, Barbara Snug, Peter Quince, Frances Flute and Nick Bottom, greet us with enthusiasm and excitement.
The quest leads everyone from the Globe Theatre down the road to the special enchanted Dream Space inhabited by the classic characters of the play including Titania, Oberon and the mischievous Puck.
Along the way we are given instructions such as wearing our clothes inside out and looking for buttons which fairies like taking from humans. We are also told to keep our eyes peeled for the fairies who may be lurking in the grass between the paving stones.
The five Fairy Finders then lead us into the Dream Space, an enchanted garden full of flowers, soft lighting and treasure boxes.
Using an array of magical puppets, creative costumes and beautiful soundscapes all creating the Dream Space world, this beautifully conceived show brings the characters and themes of the play to life.
The five Fairy Finders, Karina Garnett, Luanna Priestman, Tom Frankland, Michael Imerson and Nick Ash, are wonderful and really capture the children's imaginations and make them feel very much part of the action.
Suitable for children aged five and over, the shows run daily at 11am and 2pm until Saturday, April 14. It's just lovely and well recommended!
Tickets cost £8 or £25 per family ticket and are available from the Globe Box Office on 020 7401 9919 or online www.shakespearesglobe.com.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Stained glass windows

Without wishing to sound too much like TV's Kirstie Allsopp, I've always been envious of those who use their imagination and creative skill to make something amazing and useful.
Even more so those who put their talents to good use and make a living out of their crafts.
One such is Emma Blount who has been designing and making stained glass windows from her Streatham Hill studio for the past 16 years.
The 44-year-old, who trained at Roehampton University in Barnes, south-west London, is one of few artists practising this centuries old craft in the UK.
"It's very specialist and there are not many of us, so it's quite competitive when it comes to bidding for commissions," she says.
"It's very time consuming both in terms of designing and making the piece and sometimes hard work physically but it's a beautiful art form and the end results are stunning."
Commissions can be anything from making something for a house's front door to designing and creating a huge window in a church.
Although her "bread and butter" is domestic work, including doors and windows, she also loves teaching people the art and holds regular courses from a studio in Wandsworth.
Lasting 10 weeks, the classes cover design, template making, glass cutting, leading, soldering, glass painting and ultimately taking home a piece you've made.
I've always wanted to have a go so Emma very kindly invited me to her studio for a crash course.
I was a bit dubious I could create something in a couple of hours but Emma is a good and patient teacher and gave lots of encouragement.
"Glass making is a skill," she says. "There are some who will pick it up quicker than others but with a bit of coaching and help it can be done by anyone.
"I love teaching people because it's great seeing the sense of satisfaction everyone has at the end of the session. The sense of accomplishment of creating something special is lovely and it gives everyone a real buzz."
So, without further ado Emma kits me out with an apron and sets about giving me the low down on what to do.
The first thing was to have a go at cutting pieces of glass with a special glass scorer. This wasn't as easy as it looked especially when it came to doing curves.
Despite Emma airily insisting that cuts were an occupational hazard, scoring the glass and then breaking it with my hands required every ounce of concentration - and courage! To begin with I was sure I'd end up slashing my fingers and see blood everywhere!
For thicker pieces of glass you can use a pair of pliers to break it but there is definitely a knack to breaking it at the right point!
Once I'd got the hang of it, the next stage was to get some paper and design a picture and use it as a template. Emma suggested something small and simple using four pieces of glass.
Secretly I was a bit disappointed as I'd had visions of creating something rather bigger and more elaborate but undeterred I did as suggested and drew a square with four different sized shapes.
I chose red, yellow, turquoise and blue glass, each a different texture and thickness, and then set about cutting them to size using the template as my guide. This proved a bit more tricky and was quite time consuming but despite one or two disasters I managed to fashion them in to the right shapes under Emma's expert, and encouraging eye.
When the glass had been cut to the right shape it was time to fit them into strips of lead.
After putting on the required mask and gloves - essential to protect against potential lead dust - Emma showed me how to stretch the lead and then cut it to size with what looked like a metal spatula. Surprisingly it was quite pliable and relatively easy to cut.
Thicker lead is used for the border and thinner pieces for the insides.
Fixing the glass into the lead channels was very fiddly as the pieces of glass had a habit of moving about. However, with a bit of effort, I managed to get them slotted into position and ready for the joins to be soldered and then cemented.
After a couple of hours work I was able to stand back and admire my efforts.
Despite never being that artistic at school, my glass square looked pretty good for a beginner with Emma even saying she thought I had "natural flare"! Praise indeed!
Although a bit rough around the edges, I have to admit I was pretty chuffed and it's certainly whetted my appetite to do some more.
And my square? It's hanging up in my kitchen window!
If you would like to have a go, Emma's classes cost £250 for 10 weeks and start on Monday, April 16 at Juno Glass Ltd, 46 Lydden Road, Wandsworth, SW18 4LR. Each class lasts for three hours.
Visit www.blountstainedglass.co.uk for details.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Friday was a very sad day at SLP towers. We lost our deputy editor and our news editor as well as three reporters thanks to the voluntary redundancy process that was dumped on us in late January. I came home and cried! It was so sad to see them all go and the office will be a very different animal from next week. There are still three more members of editorial who are due to leave in the next three weeks so by the time we get to April it's going to be fairly horrific. However, two new reporters are going to be recruited and I've been given the chance to go full time which I have accepted. So it's not all bad by any means.

I know this is a good step for me as it's going to be excellent experience. However I'm just really sad that Paul (dep ed) and Lawrence (news ed) won't be there to help steer the ship. Without them I'd have really floundered over the last 18 months. They cracked the whip but were always really fair and never seemed phased by the copy they got from me! They also were really excellent at making constructive criticism - in short they were very good at their jobs and the SLP is going to be all the poorer for losing them. But because they are so good I'm sure they will have no problems finding other work.

The rest of us will soldier on and I am sure it'll be OK. It'll just be different and I've got the best possible opportunity now. The only downside is not being there for my kids as much as I'd like. Tom starts school in September and Lucy goes into Year 3. I'm sure they'll cope though.

so, could be the start of an exciting next few months. Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A stitch in time

I can't remember exactly how old I was when I learned to sew but it must have been about the age of eight. My grandmother was a prolific seamstress and made an entire collection of clothes for my Sasha doll one Christmas.
I've still got the outfits in a box somewhere as they are absolutely beautiful. 
I was lucky enough to go to a school where they encouraged crafts such as sewing and pottery making but encouragement from my grandma was really helpful.
(I even made a skirt which I still have!)
Now my seven year old daughter Lucy wants to learn how to sew and I've tried to teach her. At seven, she still has little fingers which aren't quite as dextrous as an adults' so I looked around for a kit to get her started.
Just before Christmas I happened to be in Brighton and saw in a gift shop something which fit the bill perfectly. It was a rag doll made by Felt Craft (I've since found out you can get them from www.dotcomgiftshop.com)
Nicole is a delightful soft rag doll, which you can create with this simple to use sewing kit. The  kit contains pre-cut felt, fabric, buttons, stuffing, needle, velcro and easy-to-follow instructions. Although Lucy says she has funny eyes, the finished doll is very cute and Lucy was very proud of her achievements. 
It has meant she now has the sewing bug and this week made a small felt bag for her teacher. She cut the felt, threaded the needle, added some decorations, and sewed the whole thing all by herself. And very proud she was too!
It's a great skill to have and now she has plans to make clothes for her dolls and bags and purses for her friends.
It's taught her how to concentrate and she has let her imagination run riot in terms of designs and things to make. Brilliant.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Eye over London

Being invited to a champagne breakfast on the London Eye is something not to be sniffed at. So, last week I accepted said invite and found myself at this iconic structure with several other journalists for the unveiling of the Eye’s latest attraction.
The gadget we were all there to see and play with is a Samsung Galaxy tablet which aims to give anyone taking a ride in one of the pods a more interactive and informative trip.
Simple to use, just find a building that you see outside that you want to find out more about, tap on the screen and up pops a 3D image of said landmark plus some history and key facts about it.
You can scroll round 360 degrees to see and find out more about the 44 landmarks across the city which are included – the furthest being Wembley Stadium, 12km away.
Not only that but you can also get to see what they look like at night time simply by tapping the moon icon on the screen.
For technological simpletons like me it’s easy to use so the kids will have no problem. Its only downside was that I was completely hooked and spent so much time playing with it that I didn’t have enough time to enjoy the views!
The tablets have been introduced following market research done by the Eye to find out how peoples’ experiences of the Eye could be made better. The research, conducted over three months last year, found visitors wanted more information about what they could see from the pods.
I think the tablets are a clever addition to the whole experience and should prove popular for both visitors and London-dwellers alike. They do not intrude into your enjoyment of the ride as you don’t have to use them. But if you do, they provide an insight into some of the buildings which make up this great city.
For more information about all of the London Eye’s products as well as the new core experience visit www.londoneye.com or follow the London Eye on twitter www.twitter.com/thelondoneye. Alternatively customers can book using the telephone booking line - 0871 781 3000

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

King John at the Union Theatre, Southwark

If political intrigue, double dealing, and behind the scenes scheming and back stabbing are your thing then a trip to the lovely and intimate space that is the Union Theatre in Southwark to see King John should be right up your street.
This little performed play by William Shakespeare is the story of a monarch who will do whatever it takes including lie, murder, betray his nearest and dearest and go to war, to strengthen his ever-weakening grip on the Kingdoms of France and England.
His claim to the throne in both countries is tenuous at best. His two elder brothers are dead, but across the channel, young Arthur, the son of his elder brother, survives and is attracting a growing following and presenting something of a threat.
With all the typical Shakespearean ingredients of war, marriage, political negotiations, murder, and excommunication, we watch as King John tries, ultimately in vain, to retain power.
To complement the dark overtones of the plot, the set is dark and minimal with nothing more than four small square tables and a couple of chairs which depict everything from a deathbed to a throne, a battlefield to a castle.
The cast continue this colour theme wearing heavy duty boots and armour breast plates under dark grey or black heavy duty trench coats.
With a minimal set it is left to the actors to bring the dialogue to life and they do so very well.
King John is brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Osmond. He shows us a man who is a complex and frightening mix of extreme cunning, manipulation and cowardice, often behaving like a petulant child desperate to get what he wants and keep it at any cost.
In the end he is consumed by corruption and greed, and veers towards the slightly mad and eccentric as he sees his power and life ebbing away.
Even in death though, he clings on to the crown so much so that Philip the Bastard has to climb astride him to positively rip it from his grip.
Other stand-out performances from this top notch cast include Samantha Lawson who is brilliant as Arthur’s devoted but intense and angry mother Constance.
Rikki Lawton’s dynamic and energetic Philip the Bastard is a firebrand and hot headed man who starts out enthusiastically supporting King John but ends up becoming frustrated and fed up by his King’s actions.
There are also some great touches including the unforgettable scene when Hubert (John Last) has to kill Arthur (Albert de Jongh) and gets out the blow torch, and the scene towards the end where King John, haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, sees them dance a waltz around him.
This is a great production full of drama and humour and is recommended.

King John at the Union Theatre.
Box Office: 0207 261 9876
204 Union Street, Southwark. SE1 0LX
Until Saturday, February 11
Tickets £18, concessions £15

The Scarecrow at the Unicorn Theatre

The Scarecrow - The Unicorn Theatre

A story about a scarecrow who is often rained on and blown about by the wind is the latest offering for children at the brilliant Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street.
Two men plough a field in winter and plant plenty of seed. Then along comes a family of crows who have no respect for the hard work the men have done, and set about destroying the crop.
To try and scare off the feisty and persistent crows the two men fashion a scarecrow out of two branches, an old suit jacket, a balaclava, a scarf and a hat. And so the scarecrow is born.
Over the course of a year the two men look after their scarecrow occasionally bringing him new clothes to wear, and in turn the scarecrow looks after the field and the crop and strikes up an unlikely relationship with the crows who just won’t leave him alone.
The story follows this relationship through the seasons from their beginnings as enemies where the crows land on the scarecrow and peck him and steal his straw, to their conclusion as friends and the birth of the baby crows in his hands.
It is a story which is in turn beautiful, charming and rather dark at times and told with affection, humour, music, song, dance, movement, puppetry, and fun.
Iain Armstrong and Mick Jasper are the two men, the scarecrow and the crows and music is provided by Sharon Lindo and her violin.
Both my kids loved the show and it was a real treat to meet Iain and Mick afterwards to see how they made the puppets and chat about the story.
At three and a half, Tom was a bit young for it to hold his attention for the full 50 minutes so I would recommend it's more appropriate for children aged five and above. It is another gem of a show at this lovely theatre.

Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street
Tue 17 – Sun 29 January 
11am, 1.45pm, 2pm, 4.30pm
Tickets £9 £11
Box Office: 020 7645 0560

Twitter: @unicorn_theatre

Sunday, 15 January 2012


My 7yo Lucy is a voracious reader and this week has finished Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and George's Marvellous Medicine. She is now onto James and the Giant Peach. I remember reading Charlie &TCF and J and the GP when I was a child and loving them. I am so glad she is enjoying them so much. It's also inspiring her to write stories of her own in RD style.
Her 3yo brother Tom is just getting into Hairy Mclairy as well as the Julia Donaldson collection - Highway Rat is the current favourite - though he still loves Thomas the Tank Engine.
My dad was a bookseller and had two bookshops - one in Warwick and the other in Leamington Spa. I remember sitting in his shop as a child, in the children's section reading every Saturday morning. It was bliss.
Both my parents were avid readers and encouraged me and my two brothers to read as much as we could.
I guess my parents' combined love of literature, poetry and history has filtered through the genes and is now showing itself in my kids.
The only downside is trying to keep up with what they are reading!


Lucy has decided she wants to learn to sew. Before Christmas I bought her a beautiful felt craft doll kit made by a company called dotcomgiftshop. It's brilliant because all the pieces have tiny holes so you know where to put the needle. It's got all you need to make the doll including material, stuffing, thread and needle.
Aimed at those aged about 6 (Lucy is 7)  it's a great way to begin to learn how to sew and the instructions are clear so even a novice can read and understand them.
Thanks to this excellent kit, Lucy has certainly caught the bug. She's a master of blanket stitching and it has really inspired her. And of course, now she wants the rest of the dolls in the series and to try and make clothes and bags for her other dolls.
So, I'd highly recommend a visit to the website http://www.dotcomgiftshop.com/ . There are three of these felt doll kits in the range, a boy doll and two girl dolls. And at the moment they are in the sale!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

new year

It's only day seven of the new year and Christmas 2011 already feels like a lifetime ago, except it wasn't as we still have the remnants of the decorations to clear up and put away. Today the kids were invited to a party at the New Cross Scout Hut in Brakespeare's Road. Very good it was too. Theme of Dr Who so lots of seven year olds as darleks making a lot of noise. The cake was shaped to look like a tardis. Brilliant. The pinata was also a tardis. Excellent. Made my efforts for my kids' birthdays look very amateurish. In other news my 7yo is turning into more of a voracious reader than I had thought possible. I bought her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Monday. She's finished it already - part read to her and part read by her. V impressive except she now wants the complete Roald Dahl collection. This is clearly going to be another expensive year....