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 . 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....