Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Spanish Tragedy


THE Spanish Tragedy might as well have been called People Pie given the amount of dead by the end of proceedings.

Written by Thomas Kyd it is thought to have influenced Shakespeare's play Hamlet among others.

It has been given a fresh outing by Lazarus Theatre Company at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell and it certainly packs a punch.

Essentially it is the story of how Andrea, slain in battle in a war between Spain and Portugal, wreaks revenge on all and sundry with the help of the spirit Revenge.

But as ever with these revenge tragedies it is slightly more complicated than that and at times during this particular production, which was pared down somewhat, it was rather confusing.

The action starts after a battle which has seen the Portuguese defeated and the Viceroy's son Balthazar captured by the Spanish.

The Spanish King gives the spoils of war to his nephew Lorenzo and Andrea's best friend Horatio and puts Balthazar in the charge of the scheming Lorenzo.

Meanwhile Andrea's widow Bel-imperia falls for Horatio who in turn is killed by Balthazar aided by Lorenzo. There then follows a series of betrayals, liaisons and deaths until there really is no one left.

The production succeeds on many levels though I wasn't sure about the women sewing a curtain at the back of the stage. But the cast, large in number, all got to have their moment and there were a number of standout performances - particularly the many death scenes.

In particular Roseanna Morris as the King of Spain reminded me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland with a slightly mad and wild smile fixed to her face for much of the play.

Danny Solomon as Hieronimo who carries out a series of murders to avenge the death of his son Horatio gives a fine portrayal of a father who goes mad with grief.

Felicity Sparks as Bel-Imperia and George Clarke as the Portuguese Viceroy also shone.

And if you have not made the trip to the Blue Elephant, you should. It's great and well worth the effort - and if you are resident of Camberwell postcodes of SE5 and SE17 there are a limited number of free tickets for the shows.

The Spanish Tragedy is on at the Blue Elephant Theatre, Bethwin Road until Saturday.

Visit for shows, times and prices.

The Scottsboro Boys

IN 1931 nine black teenagers boarded a train in Scottsboro, Alabama, in search of a new life. By the end of their journey, their lives – and those of every American – would be changed forever.

The boys were falsely accused of raping two white girls and were arrested, tried and found guilty.

Over the next seven years there were more trials and appeals and despite one woman recanting her story, only four of the boys were found not guilty and the rest received either prison or death sentences.

The case, which deeply divided America, had a powerful effect on American history and the American Civil Rights Movement. It is now widely regarded as a miscarriage of justice that led to the end of all-white juries in the American South and other major Supreme Court rulings including the right to proper legal representation.

But behind the headlines was the devastating story of nine young men, desperate to prove their innocence to the world.

In 2010, it provided the inspiration for a musical - The Scottsboro Boys - by award-winning composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb that was nominated for 12 Tony Awards including Best Musical before it closed on Broadway in December that year.

But now it's being revived and will receive its UK premiere at the Young Vic on Friday October 18 ahead of a two month run at the Waterloo-based theatre.

It will be directed by Susan Stroman, Tony Award-winning director and produced by Catherine Schreiber who says it’s been a labour of love to bring it to the London stage.

“I have never been more passionate about any other show,” says Catherine ahead of rehearsals. And as we chat it’s clear she’s totally serious.

“It’s just one of those stories which gets you right there,” she says. “It is the most tragic story, a total miscarriage of justice in the treatment of these young men who accused of something they didn’t do.

"However, there are so many people growing up who don’t know what happened and I wanted to change that.

“It wasn’t widely reported outside America so I'm really proud to be able to bring these boys’ story to the UK."

“I think it will resonate in different ways with a British audience and I think they will see the story more objectively."

And she says there was never any doubt as to where it should be performed.

“We always wanted to bring it to London and our number one choice was the Young Vic,”she enthuses.

“The creative team here take risks, are incredibly inventive and have a fantastic energy and they were immediately keen to do it when I approached them.

“It’s not a typical show – it’s certainly not Mary Poppins – it’s edgy, upsetting, disturbing, moving and direct but it is entertaining. The music is breathtaking, the dancing is amazing - I’ve never been so moved.

“Also the audience profile fits perfectly – young, multi-cultural, up for shows which are thought-provoking and keen to see something new and innovative which this definitely is. And of course it’s in the best part of London. It was the perfect choice.”

Taking the lead role of Clarence Norris - one of the nine teenagers - is Adebayo Bolaji, fresh from his success as Harpo in The Color Purple at Southwark's Menier Chocolate Factory.

Gently spoken but with a clear passion for his craft, the 30-year-old – whose acting credits have included James Bond film Skyfall – says there was never any doubt he wanted to be involved.

“I didn’t know very much about it before I auditioned, but having read up on it and then being offered the part of Clarence it was a complete no brainer.

“Clarence was the only one sentenced to death although he was later exonerated and pardoned.

"I want to do the character justice because this is such an important story, and still hugely relevant, so for me as a young black man it's important it's told.

"There are still issues about racism and peoples’ attitudes even now. I think the presentation of young black men in this country is somewhat towards the negative and many are ostracised, misunderstood or objectified.

"That said, I’m really lucky to have been born 30 years ago in London - had I been born in the 1900s it would have been different because of the colour of my skin."

But he insists the musical is far from doom and gloom.

“This isn't just another story about people being mistreated," he says. "Yes, it explores the legal side of the case and discusses nine black boys who were accused of something they didn’t do simply because of the way they looked.

“However, it's simply an amazing production - hard hitting and heart breaking and will make people think - but with humour, fantastic choreography and stunning music.

"Ultimately it's a human story that should be told so I’m really excited and honoured to be part of it.”

And he says he is equally pleased about performing in one of his favourite places.

"I love this part of South London because is so vibrant and it's always really buzzy especially round the theatre.

"And I love the Young Vic and some of the best plays I have ever seen have been staged here – it’s an incredible place and to be able to perform here is a dream."

The Scottsboro Boys is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo between October 18 and December 21.

Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Lyons - Menier Chocolate Factory

SETTLING down at the Menier Chocolate Factory to watch Nicky Silver’s play The Lyons I realised this is not the sort of play you should take anyone to who has just lost or is in the process of losing a loved one.

The story is a simple one. Ben Lyons (Nicholas Day) is lying and dying in a hospital bed. His odious wife Rita (Isla Blair) is busy plotting her life once he’s popped his clogs, looking at home decor magazines for inspiration with a view to erasing any lasting memory of him in the house.

Their two children, recovering alcoholic and single mum Lisa (Charlotte Randle) and gay short story writer Curtis (Tom Ellis) are summoned to their father’s bed and told just before the end comes - and it doesn’t go down well.

In fact the news causes many old wounds to re-open, tempers to flare and truths to come out.

So, unsurprisingly Ben is not exactly full of the joys and spends what little time he has left cursing anyone and everyone.

Although achingly funny in places it is ultimately a sad tale of a dysfunctional New York Jewish family who are all nursing grievances of one sort or another.

The cast is superb, particularly Tom Ellis as Curtis whose cack handed attempt at seducing Ben Aldridge’s estate agent was one of the highlights of the piece.

But the star of the show was Isla Blair as Rita. She was brilliant, dispensing nasty, distasteful and caustic comments to both her husband and children with absolutely no compunction whatsoever. Brilliant.

The Lyons is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until November 16.

Tickets from £31. Call the box office 020 7378 1713

As You Like It - The Rose Theatre Bankside

THE shadowy and dark setting of the Rose Theatre on Bankside is the perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s romantic play As You Like It.

And director Jessica Ruano’s lively and spirited production now on at the Rose Theatre is a real treat.

The play centres on Rosalind, the daughter of a banished duke, who falls in love with Orlando at a wrestling match. Jealous of her popularity her uncle orders her to leave the court, despite protestations from both Rosalind and her cousin Celia.

Disguised as a boy she flees in the dead of night with Celia and court jester Touchstone and seeks out her father and his friends in the Forest of Arden.

Here she meets Orlando again and, under the guise of a young man, counsels him in the art of love.

This is a much pared down version of the Bard’s classic with no sub plots and an absence of Touchstone.

But although it appears slightly disjointed in places and has a rather abrupt ending, it is entertaining and makes fantastic use of the archaeological site in which it is staged and the seven members of the cast convey the story well.

The sparring early on between Suzanne Marie as Rosalind and Stacy Sobieski as Celia and was great fun and Andrew Venning as Jacques was suitably melancholy.

However it was the delightful paring of Matthew Howell as Orlando and Suzanne Marie as Rosalind which really shined.

As You Like It is on at the Rose Theatre until October 26. Call the box office on 020 7261 9565

Gina Yashere

SHE may call LA her home but award-winning comedienne Gina Yashere maintains her love of Britain.

So much so she is back on home turf for a nationwide tour of Gina Yashere: Live! and is coming to the Albany next week.

A former lift engineer, Gina made her comedy debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1996 and went on to sell out shows in the UK, Japan, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Europe and America, where she now lives.

Fans may also have seen her on such shows as the BBC's Mock The Week, Live at the Apollo and in ITV's Single Married Other.

But it's stand up which she is best known for and the 39-year-old has just landed back in Britain to continue the tour which she brought to the South Bank earlier in the year.

"I had a great summer," she says. "I did Udderbelly at the South Bank which was amazing and then went abroad with it but now I'm back and coming to the Albany!"

Fans of her brash, direct and in your face brand of comic fare, not to mention her infectious laugh and that twinkle in her eye, will not be disappointed as she promises to discuss anything and everything including hilarious anecdotes and such subjects as Jimmy Savile, the Olympics and "not being able to pee in a straight line".

"It's a new development and part of the ageing process - I'm falling apart!" she laughs.

"It'll basically be a round up of the last two years but I'll just be having a chat with the audience so will see what they want me to talk about.

"I love the Albany - it's one of my favourite rooms - and I've performed here quite a few times so it'll be great to be back.

"It's such an intimate space and the audiences are always really warm, excited, pumped up and raring to go so we'll have a good time - as soon as I get on stage it's like a party atmosphere.

"It's what I love about places like the Albany. Don't get me wrong I'd love to sell out somewhere like the O2 but you can't see the audience past the first couple of rows so it's much more difficult to chat to them all.

"At the Albany you can see everyone which is great - and I like to talk to the audience and incorporate them into the show. It makes it much more friendly and relaxed."

But despite her good humour and love of London, Gina is in no rush to move back.

"I love the sunshine in LA too much! However, I love the fact I can say what I want when I'm doing a gig here and I do miss the mix of people and cultures in the UK.

"I'm planning to move to New York at some point to be part of that kind of mix - but I won't be staying for their winters - much too cold."

Gina Yashere: Live! at the Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford.

Saturday 26 October 7pm. Tickets from £12. Call the box office on 020 8692 4446

Interview with Michael Rosen

ANYONE who has children will probably be familiar with the name Michael Rosen. The legendary writer, broadcaster and former children's laureate has been a leading figure in children's literature in Britain for more than 30 years.

With a canon of 140 poetry books and novels under his belt including such classics as We're All Going On A Bear Hunt, not to mention being a regular on TV and radio, he has become a firm favourite with families across the country.

The 67-year-old was also one of the first poets to make visits to schools and is now a regular on the road, touring his one-man show to enthuse youngsters with his passion for literature of all kinds.

He has just kicked off his latest nationwide tour exploring science, imagination and sound and is coming to the Albany in Deptford on October 19.

Said show is Centrally Heated Knickers, based on his book of the same name featuring 100 poems about science and technology and which is supported by the Wellcome Trust, The Institute of Physics and the Arts Council of England.

But what makes this particular show different from others he has done is that it is a collaboration with music collective The Homemade Orchestra.

Fusing rhythms with rhymes, it aims to breathe life into the weird and wonderful world of science and sees Michael recite and perform live on stage accompanied by the orchestra's versatile gaggle of musicians.

"The book is a whole load of poems based on ideas to do with science and technology and which was commissioned by the Design Council," he says.

"They are funny poems to show children ideas about gravity, chemistry and designing things.

"The wonderful musicians Homemade Orchestra approached me and suggested putting it together and make it a show. So that's what I did."

Using poetry and puppetry and with the audience’s help, Michael and the musicians explore such questions as what am I? where am I? and how does it all work?

They discover how ears work, how music is made and even how a spot of electric circuit building can help keep our knickers warm.

"It's really good fun and although we try and make it as entertaining as possible, there is obviously an educational element to it," he explains.

Although Michael says he loved science at school he recognises that as a subject it can be a turn off for some youngsters. This show aims to change that.

"I was keen on Biology and liked Zoology very much. But I had teachers who were engaging. If it is not taught well in schools children find it dull and confusing," he says.

"Because we have invented science as a subject it can seem distant from real life. Whether we are breathing, standing or running or cooking these are all based on scientific things and the question is how we get kids interested in it.

"Science teachers have one way and poets have another way. With this show we discover things have rhythm and that it's something we take in through our bodies.

"We look at the ear, which is utterly fascinating and mysterious, and how sound gets in there.

"It's also about how we feel about something. Science is not really mad keen on how we feel. We have got to start with feeling in order to be interested.

"I hope it brings out the fun side in a subject that is often complex and confusing - there is a lot of humour in it!"

With so much passion and enthusiasm for inspiring kids, he is, as you would expect, not shy about giving his opinion on the education system.
"It needs to excite children," he stresses. "The best way to get kids to learn is by exciting them.

"I grew up in the 50s and it was very different. Nowadays schools have become little fiefdoms and it's something I would love to change.

"There is an attitude to professionals that they can only be bribed through performance related pay which is insulting.

"I would get teachers together to find out what works and what excites children in their learning."

And for Michael an essential component of this is access to libraries.

"Libraries are essential," he stresses. "It has been devastating to see them close - particularly in places like Lewisham - and shows the hypocrisy of what the government is saying about eradicating poverty and literacy.

"We have got to have places where people can read. People can't afford to buy books, schools don't have a budget for books and there is no statutory requirement to have libraries in schools. It's absurd.

"There is plenty of research to say if you want children to advance they have got to have access to as many books as possible. They have to be convenient. If we don't have libraries that won't happen.

"I was lucky as my parents were both teachers and loved literature and I was massively curious so they fed me books and I was hugely encouraged by them. It was the reason why I became a writer.

"I want children to read as much as possible to get them excited about words and language - and I hope this show will inspire and encourage them."

And he says he is looking forward to doing just that in Deptford.

"I've been to the Albany twice before - it's very matey with a strong local feel and commitment to it," he says.

"It's a lovely place to perform so I'm sure we'll have some fun there with this show."

Centrally Heated Knickers is on at the Albany in Douglas Way, Deptford on Saturday, October 19 at 2.30pm and 5.30pm.

Tickets cost from £12. Call the box office on 020 8692 4446.

The Light Princess - interview with Rosalie Craig

BEING offered the opportunity to learn exciting new skills must surely be one of the perks of doing any job. And for Rosalie Craig this has certainly been the case with her latest project.

The Crystal Palace-based actress is currently starring in The Light Princess at the National Theatre.

But far from being merely a stage play where she keeps her feet firmly on terra firma, this new musical sees Rosalie float above the stage for much of the proceedings.

Written by award-winning singer-songwriter Tori Amos, its central characters are a prince (Digby) and princess (Althea - played by Rosalie) who live in opposing kingdoms. Both have lost their mothers but deal with their grief in very different ways.

Digby becomes so heavy-hearted that he can never smile and trains as a warrior and Althea is unable to cry, becomes light with grief and floats.

"It's a fantastic story and very well crafted," says Rosalie. "It's about growing up and deals with those who may not be socially acceptable and how people react to them.

"Althea grieves for her dead mother and floats up to be near her but Digby is very grounded.

"That lightness is an aspect of many things - being light of mind and in her relation to things that are difficult to deal with."

To get her character to drift above the stage, Rosalie had to train with aerial artists and acrobats, something which, far from terrifying her, was an exciting proposition.

"I've never done anything like this before," she enthuses as we chat ahead of the show's opening.

"Marianne (Elliott, the director) came up with the brilliant idea about how Althea should float. It involves acrobatics so I had to train with an Acroyoga teacher and had to do aerial training.

"I have done a few musicals and lots of general theatre so that's not new territory but the demands of the physicality of the part really was. But it's a new journey that's been a complete joy."

However, this journey was not for the faint hearted as Rosalie had to train for 18 months, not just how to get to grips and feel comfortable with all the equipment to keep her up in the air and move around, but also to feel safe.

"It's not without its risks and it's been pretty full on but it's been such a luxury to learn a new skill and use it in a new job," she says.

"Physically and mentally it was exhausting but it's been so exciting and fantastic fun, especially working with Tori as she's incredible and so generous," she says.

"She totally understands how a musical should work and that songs need to be story and character driven, rather than writing a song for the song's sake. She's completely normal and approachable and not at all starry!" she laughs cheerfully.

"She has been there every single moment of every single day in rehearsals to make sure it's the best it can be - whether it's to change the music slightly or to give encouragement and that's been invaluable for me especially given what I have to do!

"I've also had to learn to trust the rest of the cast in a completely different way and to just go with it."

But despite the demands of the role, Rosalie says she has rarely felt nervous.

"I've just thrown myself into it," she laughs.

"I think I've been of the mindset that if I worry about being up in the air then I won't be able to do it."

This mindset has extended to other potentially nervewracking situations on stage, including her recent appearance in Table at the National's Shed stage in which she stripped off.

"It was one of those things that if I'd thought about it, it could have been a problem," she admits. "It was just another part of the show but was handled so respectively, sensitively and tastefully it really didn't feel as though it was a big deal."

Rosalie puts her "get on with it" and "can do" attitude down to her training at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup.

"I can't really remember not wanting to be an actress and part of a theatre company," she says.

"I love that I always felt like that. It made things very easy and my parents were supportive and I was so lucky to go to Rose Bruford.

"It was great training - hard work and long hours but was an incredibly good foundation and gave me a good grounding and attitude to work."

And as for the future Rosalie says she just wants to keep working.

"I don't have a role that I covert particularly but I'd love to stay at the National!" she says.

"It's such an amazing theatre and it attracts people who are creative and brave which is fantastic. There's also a sense of community here which is rare. I love it and I'd like to stay here for the rest of my life," she laughs heartily.

"Also, I live in Crystal Palace so it's very easy to get to work which is a massive help - it's a great place to be based. I've lived here for four years and I love it.

"It's just fantastic - it's green, there are lots of lovely independent shops and it's lovely to just be able to potter around.

"There are also a lot of festivals and food markets which I love!"

As well as the National, Rosalie admits to ambitions of working on screen.

"I'd love to do a bit of TV and film which I have not done much of," she says. "The good thing about this job is that there are so many possibilities and I'm keen to grab as many as I can - I've been very lucky so far.

"And this role has really inspired me and has been a great thing to do to banish any fears within myself.

"I'd also like to keep up this new skill and use it in the future - it will feel quite bizarre to put my feet on the ground again!"

Whatever she does next, it's clear that Rosalie is quite literally a rising star.

The Light Princess is on at the National Theatre's Lyttelton stage until Thursday, January 9.

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