Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Interview with David Baddiel

WHEN people think of fame it's either the glamorous or the tragic side - champagne-filled parties or the untimely deaths of public figures such as Amy Winehouse.
But is that all there is to it? Comedian, writer, actor and football pundit David Baddiel thinks not.
In his new show, which he is bringing to South London for a four-week run starting tonight, he aims to lift the lid on fame and what it's really all about.
The 49-year-old is well placed to talk about the subject. He shot to fame in the late 80s with Rob Newman as part of the four-piece comedy sketch group the Mary Whitehouse Experience.
Then in the early 90s he and Rob branched off to do the BBC TV show Newman And Baddiel In Pieces achieving almost cult status in the process.
They became the first comedians to sell out arenas - and were credited as inventing comedy as the new rock 'n' roll - attracting a level of fandom normally reserved for pop stars - which I witnessed firsthand when I saw them at a show at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.
"Well, to be fair they weren't really screaming for me," he chuckles modestly.
But in 1997, David took a step back from stand-up to concentrate instead on various TV collaborations with Frank Skinner, write a number of books, a screenplay and is currently penning a sitcom for Channel 4.
But now he's back at the mic stand after his enforced hiatus and, although he admits to a few initial nerves, he is clearly enjoying himself.
We speak as David takes a short break in Cornwall, before he takes to the stage at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark.
I start with the obvious question: what is fame?
"When people think about fame they think either of the baubles, the glitz and the glamour of it all or the downside of it, the loneliness and tragedy associated with fame," he says.
"It can be both of those things but I think there's another aspect and that is the mundane and absurd nature of it, which no one talks about.
"The show is not glorifying fame and saying how wonderful it is to be famous. Instead I try to illustrate the reality of it and demystify it.
"It's an interesting thing that can happen to someone - fame is thrilling but it can also be incredibly annoying."
This annoyance extends to Twitter, being recognised and stopped in the shops, and dealing with people's misconceptions.
"Social media, like Twitter, has changed the nature of fame," he says.
"Twitter is great but people can get in touch with you at any time. You see different levels of your fame as people discuss you and you have to deal with people who hate you.
"If you get too famous there is a version of you out there that isn't you, so it gets uncontrollable. I had problems with that, which is one of the reasons I stopped doing stand-up.
"For me it's about being slightly more visible.
"The ideal scenario is that you don't feel so famous that things seem out of control, but there is enough fame that people are interested in what you are doing."
And he denies it's a naval-gazing exercise.
"I basically tell a series of stories in which I am the butt of the joke in some way or another in all of them," he laughs before sharing some of the gems he will be sharing in the show.
"As an example I was reading Cormac McCarthy's book The Road on the Tube not so long ago and started crying. People were looking at me and were probably thinking, 'There's that bloke off the telly crying, he's clearly having a breakdown'."
This self-mocking also extends to talking about being mistaken for other famous individuals, most notably BBC executive Alan Yentob, who is 20 years older than him and even comedian Ben Elton not to mention showing the audience mistakes he has made on TV and Twitter over the years.
Jokes aside, David says fame has changed since the heady days of the 90s with the screaming fans and says he is happier now as a result.
"When I was touring with Rob, things were so different. Not least because I was 20 years younger and doing all the stuff a 20-something would do," he says.
"My life was out of control back then and I wasn't really comfortable with it.
"This feels different and I'm really enjoying it.
"Now, I am coming back home most nights, being a dad and doing the school run rather than living in some kind of closed-off bubble, but that was what you do when you are young.
"I loved those shows, but I think it would be stupid to expect things to be the same now -- andI shouldn't be trying to generate that kind of response now - it would be ridiculous!
"It's funny though because I look out at the audience and I do wonder whether some of them know the History Today sketches - some will know the 'That's you, that is' catchphrase but I'm sure the younger ones don't know what the hell I'm talking about!" he laughs.
Now he says he has a clear sense of who he is and is keen for the Menier audiences to see the real him.
"The Menier a lovely theatre," he says. "It's a really cool place, does brilliant shows, is near the Tate and, of the theatres that asked, it was the one I wanted to do the show in.
-- "It's also a good size. I'm actually very anti big venues these days -- partly because I don't think I could fill them, but I like the intimacy and this show suits a small room.
"I am slightly worried about having to do it every night for four weeks though," he jokes. "It's a while since I have done that but I'm looking forward to it!"

Fame: Not The Musical is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until May 23. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call 020 7378 1713 for tickets.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Review - A Vie From The Bridge at the Young Vic


FROM the moment the solid wall that is a curtain surrounding the Young Vic's main house stage is lifted for its production of A View From The Bridge, I was hooked.
Dark, gloomy, almost suffocating in its intensity, this is the most stunning production of Arthur Miller's classic play.
The story centres on Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone and his unhealthy and frankly creepy obsession for his 17-year-old niece Catherine.
Since the death of her mother some years earlier Catherine has lived with Eddie and his wife Beatrice.
Under the guise of protecting her Eddie clearly has a hold over her but when Beatrice invites her two Italian cousins, illegal immigrants in the country, to stay with them things take a dark and sinister turn.
Tensions begin to build but in doing so we, like Eddie's lawyer, who also narrates the piece, know something awful is going to happen.
The acting is superb particularly that of Mark Strong as Eddie. His portrayal of this tragic man is flawless. It is both heartbreaking and shocking to see him gradually collapse and disintegrate in front of our eyes as the play moves towards its inevitable awful and brutal end.
Phoebe Fox is delightful as Catherine, Nicola Walker puts in a beautifully moving performance as Beatrice, betrayed so cruelly by her husband, and Michael Gould brilliantly combines the voices of the lawyer Alfieri, and the narrator.
The set deserves special mention. It is performed on a thrust stage bordered by a low rise wall of perspex. The curtain is left hanging just above the action throughout the piece before it sinks gradually onto its base as the final heartbreaking scene is played out.
Throughout it gives a sense of the claustrophobic and suffocating atmosphere that exists in the home and that of the relationships within it.
Despite it being a bladder-busting two hours with no interval, this production is totally gripping and is without doubt one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen this year. A must see.

A View From The Bridge is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until June 7. Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Review - A Small Family Business at the National Theatre


IN 1987 playwright Alan Ayckbourn wrote A Small Family Business for the Olivier stage at the National Theatre.
Now, some 27 years later it is back in a glorious revival directed by Adam Penford, and again on the Olivier stage.
It was written as a response to the Thatcherite greed is good philosophy of the 1980s.
Ayckbourn's hero Jack McCracken is a man who has inherited the family furniture business from his father in law who is in the early stages of dementia.
To celebrate the new job, Jack's wife organises a surprise party for him, inviting all the extended family who it transpires all have certain "interests" in the firm.
Jack somewhat naively promises a new regime of absolute honesty, right down to accounting for every last paperclip.
What he doesn't realise is that the entire family has been bleeding the company dry over the years, filching a bit here a bit there, and all under the absolute belief that they are doing nothing wrong.
They even, thanks to Jack's sister in law Anita McCracken, have rather dodgy connections to the Italian mafia.
If Jack thinks he can implement his plans he's in for a shattering shock right from the get go thanks to an unwelcome visit from a private investigator with some compromising information.
And so as Jack's integrity starts to fade away, the scene is set for a farcical series of events which build to a macabre climax.
The cast is great though special mention must go to Niky Wardley who is brilliant as the vampy, tarty and totally amoral Anita.
Nigel Lindsay is fantastic as Jack desperately trying to stay on the moral high ground and being genuinely angry and disgusted at his family's attitude to stealing.
Matthew Cottle is suitably oily and disagreeable as the creepy inspector, hunched and wearing a dirty trench coat and trilby hat which look grubbier as the play progresses.
But for me the real star of the show was the amazing revolving set, a two storey house, designed by Tim Hatley.

A Small Family Business is on at the National Theatre until August 27. Tickets from £15. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Review - Oh My Sweet Land at the Young Vic


WE are all used to seeing horrific images on our TV screens and in our newspapers of the horrible situation in war torn Syria.
But a new play now on at the Young Vic aims to delve more deeply into the human tragedy of the situation while weaving in a love story.
Oh My Sweet Land was conceived by actress Corinne Jaber and written by Amir Nizar Zuabi after the pair travelled to Syria to meet those trapped in the country and hear their stories.
It is beautifully written and is performed by Corinne on the Waterloo-based theatre's small Maria stage.
The audience is taken on a journey from Corinne's Parisan kitchen across the seas and continents to Syria as she tries to find her lost love.
Half Syrian herself, we hear about her childhood growing up in Europe and her adult life in Paris which seems a world away from her Syrian heritage.
She meets a revolutionary in Paris with whom she falls in love. But when he leaves her to go back home she decides to go to Syria to find him.
It is a heartbreaking, emotional and emotive story interspersed with real life accounts of what is happening to ordinary people in refugee camps and in towns and cities across this war-torn land.
All the while Corinne is cooking kubah, a spicy traditional Syrian meat roll.
The fantastic smells that come from the pan of spices, onions, meat and pine nuts brings the Syria very much to the Maria stage.
The piece does not aim to be sensationalist, nor does it offer any answers to the situation. What it does do is remind us of man's inhumanity to man, the resilience of human beings and the power of hope and love as human emotions.

Oh My Sweet Land is on at the Young Vic until May 3. Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Smashed - at Udderbelly Festival

THIS year's Udderbelly Festival is now in full swing and promises a veritable feast of acts between now and when it ends in July.
Among those making its debut in the purple upside down cow tent is London-based Gandini Juggling.
This nine-strong group promises to wow audiences with its hour long show, Smashed.
A mesmerising mix of circus and theatre, and inspired by the work of the late German dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, Smashed will feature the jugglers perform with four crockery sets and 80 apples.
"It's very choreographed and has an element of dance within it although it's not a dancy show," explains the company's boss Sean Gandini.
"There is no story as such but there is a narrative running through it so different members of the audience will take different things from it.
"But it's ornate and fun and there is a real pattern to it with the apples.
"There is also a theatrical context because it is based on the ideas, choreography and dances of Pina Bausch and plays a bit with formality and the relationships with men and women," he adds.
"We are not a circus group, nor are we musicians or dancers but we do combine all those elements with theatre and juggling within our act and we have scores and mathematical notations to make patterns with the apples.
"It's also got to be very precise so we practise between three and four hours a day which is quite intense!"
The company was set up 20 years ago by Sean who was born and grew up in Cuba.
"I grew up in Havana and was fascinated by magic and mathematics as a child," he says. "I started off doing a few magic tricks which included a bit of juggling as most magicians know how to juggle but one day I saw a professional juggler and it completely hypnotised me.
"I got obsessed by it and taught myself - this was before the advent of all the circus skills classes you could go to - and that was it. I was hooked!"
He came to London started performing in Covent Garden where he met his Finnish-born wife Kati Ylä-Hokkala.
"We met after her career as a rhythmic gymnast had ended and she became as obsessed as me about juggling," he laughs. "We set up the company and that was it.
"I am very lucky as I have a great team of jugglers. They are like my extended family!" he laughs.
Since then, Gandini Juggling has made a name for itself with its clever and intricate juggling sets and has performed in more than 2,500 shows from art galleries to palaces, street corners to stadiums.
But it is the first time the company has performed at the Udderbelly Festival.
"We were approached by the organisers when we were at the Edinburgh Festival last year as they had seen us perform and thought what we do would be a good fit for Udderbelly," says Sean.
"We are all so excited to be here as the atmosphere is fantastic when you come to the Udderbelly. Also, as we are based in London, to be doing a run of shows on home soil is fantastic.
"It also means we can indulge in our ballet addictions in the afternoon and do some classes!"
As well as the 28-date run the company will also be doing a 'come and have a go' juggling lesson near the London Eye on the South Bank on Tuesday next week (22nd April) at 4pm.
Anyone will be free to come along, bring some apples, and try their hand at juggling, guided by these world-famous maestros.
And Sean says they are all excited about being in the purple tent.
"It's such a fun thing to look at from the outside but inside it has a fantastic stage. It's not very big - in fact it's quite intimate, but that's great because the audience will be so close to the action and we hope they will feel very much part of it.
"It's going to be amazing."

Smashed is on at Udderbelly between April 22 and May 18. Tickets from £12.50. Visit www.underbelly.co.uk/ or call the box office on 0844 545 8252

Cirque Tsuki

A SOUTH London office basement is the setting for an immersive theatre show which tells three different stories based on folklore from around the world.
Using a blend of shadow puppetry, magic, juggling, music, theatre and dance the performers in The Three Rings Of Cirque Tsuki lead the audience on a journey across continents exploring a trilogy of stories - Birthday, Feast and Parade - that together make up the show.
But not only are there the three separate stories, within the framework of the production is a half hour at the beginning of each show in which the audience is introduced to and gets to know the performers's characters.
Over the course of the three pieces they see them grow and develop as both individuals and as a community and have a chance to interact with them.
It is being performed by ImmerCity, a Southwark-based theatre company set up two years ago and specialising in immersive, site specific and interactive theatre.
"It's very intense and sounds complex but it all knits together so those who come and see it will find out all about the different characters who make up the circus troupe," explains director Rosanna Mallinson.
"It's set inside a circus and told by the community of circus performers. The idea is that over the course of the trilogy, the audience becomes part of their community and shares their back story."
The first one is based on the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood. The second is inspired by 1,001 Arabian Nights and the third is Night Parade, a dark and haunting tale from Japan.
They are performed by a group of about 12 with a core of six who are in all three shows.
"At the beginning of the first show, Birthday, we get to see the circus performers arrive, introducing themselves to one another, and finding out why they had left their old lives behind to join the circus," explains Rosanna.
"There is a birthday party that the audience is invited to so there is a lot of laughter and celebration.
"In Feast, the second one, the performers discover love, play cards, do fortune telling and encourage the audience to join them. This carries on into the third piece, Parade, although by now they are older and are beginning to suffer loss and death.
"Each story and its themes are darker than the last and by the time we get to Parade it is much quieter and more serious and sombre."
The idea for The Three Rings Of Cirque Tsuki was born out of previous shows ImmerCity had done and Rosanna's love for immersive theatre.
"We started exploring the ideas for it back in January so it's been quite an intense few months to get it to a point where we are happy to bring it to an audience," she says.
"We looked at the origins of circus and of folk stories and fairytales from around the world and how they affect us.
"We also looked at what happens when a person joins a circus and how that person has to give up their life to be part of that community."
At the end of a series of workshops and discussions The Three Rings Of Cirque Tsuki was born and will be staged between now and April 27 in the basement of Babel Studios in Southwark Bridge Road.
"We love this part of South London and are based in Southwark so it made sense to put the show on here," says Rosanna.
"The owner was very interested in the project and was happy for us to use and transform the space.
"It's quite a small area but we have turned it in to a black and white circus with a circus ring which looks amazing," she adds.
"It's going to be very theatrical but the emphasis is very much on the storytelling and we hope the audiences will enjoy being part of this amazing journey."

The Three Rings Of Cirque Tsuki is on at the Babel Studios until Sunday, April 27. Tickets £15, £7.50 concessions. Visit www.cirquebirthday.bpt.me to book.

Interview Nick Fogarty

A BRITISH musical will finally get its London premiere this week - after eight years in the making.
Written by former pop star, Nick Fogarty, Best of Friends was due to open at the Arts Theatre in central London last summer as The Golden Voice, starring Darren Day.
However, it was delayed multiple times before it was eventually cancelled.
But now Nick is bringing it to the Landor Theatre in Clapham, where it opens tomorrow and he couldn't be more delighted.
"It's been a real labour of love," he laughs warmly in a break from rehearsals.
"Throughout my career I've collaborated with a lot of people but with this one project I wanted to do myself - and that's what I've done - including learning to play all the instruments which feature in the score! I just didn't think it would take this long to bring to the stage!"
The story is about two friends and music lovers, Mike Chariot and Jim Ryan. In their 20s they used their passion to start a band, but after five years of trying they weren’t as successful as they’d hoped.
When Mike enters a talent show it ultimately destroys all the major relationships in his life, including the band.
But after 20 years of not speaking, he returns to make amends. Will Jim – now entangled in the London underworld – accept a truce?
"It's based on my own experiences of the music industry as well as a desire to see more contemporary musical theatre being created, which is something close to my heart," says Nick.
"My background is pop music but I also love traditional theatre. Historically we've had composers who have produced some amazing musical theatre, but I don't think there are enough composers trying to find a modern voice.
"I hope this show will help encourage a new generation."
He also stresses it's not so much about talent shows so much as friendship.
"It was always about two best friends," he says. "Although it's not really about talent shows per se I hope it sends a message to kids that while talent shows have their place and give youngsters a bit of exposure, they don't necessarily give them careers.
"I'm a vocal coach now and hear kids all the time saying they want to win X Factor which is a shame as it's not the way we are going to find real artists of the future."
Happily, despite the trials and tribulations of writing the piece, it has inspired him to do more and another show is in the pipeline.
"The whole process has been incredible and I'm delighted to be bringing it to the Landor which is a great theatre with a fantastic team," he says.
"I think it's a really good show - it's dramatic and emotional - and I'm really proud of it so it's great people will finally get to see it."

Best of Friends is on at the Landor, Landor Road, from tomorrow until Saturday, May 10. Tickets cost £19. Visit www.landortheatre.co.uk/ or call the box office on 020 7737 7276.

Interview Aidan McArdle

THIS year marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Described afterwards as 'the Great War', more than nine million people were killed in combat in what was one of the deadliest wars in history.
When it ended in 1918 it was hoped it would be the war to end all wars but history has sadly proved that not to be the case.
It is perhaps not surprising then that museums, concert halls and theatres up and down the country will be staging various events this year to commemorate the centenary of this historic and tragic conflict.
The National Theatre is no exception, thanks to a revival of Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie which opens on the Lyttelton stage on April 23.
Written in 1928, it is set in Dublin during the war and centres on the dashing Harry Heegan who plays for his local football team. After celebrating his team's latest victory he grabs his kit and heads off for the trenches along with thousands of other Irishmen.
But a nightmare world awaits and the men are reduced to cannon fodder as the war progresses. Although Harry survives, he returns home months later, a cripple.
Among the star studied cast is Charlton-based actor, Aidan McArdle, most recently seen as Silvester in the BBC's drama Garrow's Law and as Lord Loxley in the ITV drama series Mr Selfridge.
We chat when the Dublin-born 44 year old is in the middle of rehearsals for the show in which he plays Harry's father Sylvestor Heegan and he's clearly relishing the experience.
"I'm really excited about this play," he enthuses. "I love O'Casey - I'm reading his autobiography at the moment - and I've always wanted to work with [director] Howard Davies so I knew it would be great to do.
"I also love the National. It's a brilliant place to work, a real luxury and although I'm at that stage in the rehearsal period where I get a bit nervous about it all, I'm really excited.
"It's a fantastic, powerful piece. It's wonderfully written though hasn't been given the credit in the past it deserves."
Warm, friendly and chatty, Aidan says he is also delighted to be working alongside fellow actor Ronan Raftery, who plays his on-stage son Harry.
"We both trained at RADA which has a buddy system and while he was there I mentored him. Now he's playing my son so it's a double thrill for me."
But he admits there is a poignancy to being part of the production.
"Although I live in Charlton now, I'm from Dublin originally which is where The Silver Tassie is set. About 200,000 Irishmen fought for the British army in the First World War but it's a part of Irish history that has almost been erased because of what happened with Home Rule.
"When I was growing up in the 1970s Irish historical narrative was very nationalistic and there was no sense of the huge numbers of Irish lives lost in the war.
"It was much more about the new republic and the civil war."
"Also, those who came back disabled from the war were an embarrassment and the state didn't know what to do with them. Some of the injuries were horrific and they didn't want to be reminded of that. They were treated very badly by the system.
"I think that's where O'Casey was coming from when he wrote the play. It's about the futility of war. These brave men fought for a cause and gave everything and for what?"
But he insists despite the subject matter it's not all doom and gloom.
"It's a tragi-comedy," he says. "Although it is set against the backdrop of the war it's actually a really funny play. In a way it is more about the impoverished backgrounds of these working class people and how they did what they were told.
"I think people will identify with them. They cope with it and get on with it and look on the bright side of things. It's much more about the different levels of humanity and how they cope in extreme situations.
"They keep on dancing, laughing and singing - they really do what the song says and pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and smile!
"That's what good theatre is all about though - when you get something serious happening in the midst of something funny - O'Casey is a master at that as he will throw in a line that's breathtakingly tragic."
And the experience has inspired him to explore more of O'Casey's work.
"I always wanted to be an actor - I was a total show off when I was a kid, getting a kick out of expressing myself on some level that wasn't just showing off - and I've been lucky to play some amazing roles in my career.
"I love O'Casey's work though. He was at the top of his game when he wrote this so I'd love to do more in future."
But for now his focus is on this current production, not to mention enjoying life in Charlton.
"I've lived in New Cross, Lewisham and Blackheath but love Charlton - it's a fantastic area," he says warmly.
"The Marion Wilson Park is lovely and I take the kids there as they like the ducks and cockerels. There is also an amazing little café in the children's park run by a Japanese woman. It looks ordinary but they serve tea in bone china - it's fantastic - a real jewel in the middle of the park."

The Silver Tassie is on at the Lyttelton until Thursday, July 3. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000  

Monday, 14 April 2014

Review - Blithe Spirit


IT'S not often that a theatre audience applauds the mere entrance of one of the actors on to the stage.
But it's not often that a national treasure and theatrical legend who has been away from the British stage for a while comes back with a sparkle and spring in her step.
Said actress is Oscar-winner and five-time Tony Award-winner Dame Angela Lansbury who is currently starring on the London stage for the first time in about 40 years.
The British-born actress is playing Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's somewhat absurd comedy Blithe Spirit. Written during World War Two, it is the story of novelist and socialite Charles Condomine who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to supper one evening to conduct a seance in the hope it might provide material for his new book.
The evening proves to have life changing consequences for Charles and his second wife Ruth with the arrival of his first wife Elvira who is summoned back from the dead by Madame Arcati.
Elvira is somewhat temperamental and annoying and does as much as she can to wreak havoc in the Condomine home.
This current revival on at the Gielgud in Shaftesbury Avenue, sees Dame Angela on sparkling form. She inhabits the personna of Madame Arcati to perfection, dripping in jewels, a bohemian attire, a no nonsense approach to proceedings and downing dry martinis with aplomb.
It is a glorious performance and she is riveting to watch.
But credit must also go to the rest of the seven-strong cast and those who are responsible for the special effects.
Charles Edwards, one of this country's finest and yet underrated actors, is deliciously smug and suave as Charles Condomine. Janie Dee and Jemima Roper are fabulous as Ruth and Elvira respectively and Patsy Ferran, in her stage debut, is brilliant as the maid.
But it is Dame Angela everyone has come to see - only having to enter the stage and receive a round of applause without uttering a word - and she doesn't disappoint.

Blithe Spirit is on at the Gielgud Theatre until Saturday, June 7. Tickets from £12.25. Call the box office on 0844 482 5130.

Interview with actress Olivia Hallinan

A LOVE of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov has brought one young actress to a South London stage for the first time.
Olivia Hallinan is starring in Chekhov's 1900 masterpiece, Three Sisters, which opens at the Southwark Playhouse on Thursday for a five week run.
Adapted by Anya Reiss, the play is about the decay of the privileged class in Russia at the turn of the last century and the search for meaning in the modern world.
It centres around the three Prozorov sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina, and their brother Andrei who have lived in a provincial town for the past 11 years but who yearn for a return to their former life in Moscow.
The all star cast features Olivia alongside Holliday Grainger and Emily Taaffe as the three sisters and Paul McGann as Vershinin.
It will be the first time Olivia has appeared at the Southwark Playhouse and she says she's looking forward to it.
"I love this theatre. They always put on amazing productions so I'm very excited.
"It's also a lovely part of London - with places like Borough Market and cute bars and restaurants - which I'm enjoying getting to know. My friends can't believe I've only just discovered it!" she laughs.
The 29-year-old first came to prominence in the BBC's adaptation of Lark Rise To Candleford but she has been working as an actress since she was a child.
"It's what I always wanted to be and sometimes I forget that I've been doing this for 20 years!" she says warmly.
"My mother ran a drama club on Saturdays and one day a casting director came in while we were doing our end of year show and asked if I'd audition for a role on children's TV."
She got the job and has not looked back since.
"I grew up on TV sets and so it became a career out of a hobby. It's always been part of my life. I have never known anything different," she says.
"Sometimes I think I must get a proper job!" she jokes.
But it's her love of theatre, and Chekhov in particular which has brought her back to the stage from a succession of roles on TV and film.
"I haven't done so much theatre since university but it's electrifying when you are on stage and I love the fact you get a different audience each time.
"Also, I studied Chekhov at university and think he's a genius," she says cheerfully. "I'm a big fan. It's quite scary though as there is so much in his plays. He is one of those playwrights as an actor you want to tick off your list so I'm really excited to be part of this production.
"He wrote so well for women which is great for an actress. This play centres around these three sisters and explores their different characters. He captures them so brilliantly."
Olivia plays Olga, the eldest of the three which she says has been a chance to step out of her comfort zone.
"Olga is the matriarch of the piece and is the one trying to hold the family together.
"I am one of four children and had to go to my elder sister for inspiration and advice because Olga is not like me at all!" she laughs cheerfully.
"I'm actually more like Masha because she's a bit feisty and a bit of a rebel..... I'd love to play her one day.
"However, I've discovered there is a lot to Olga - she has lots of layers. She keeps her emotions in check and stays strong rather than cries and shouts which is often easier to convey.
"She's very much trying to live but all the while regretting things that she could have done."
Fear and regret are recurring themes in the play which Olivia says audiences will relate to.
"People have regrets about all sorts of stuff so I'm sure everyone who comes to see this will empathise," she says.
"All the sisters have a fear of change. They moan about their lives, what could have been and what they would like to do - including moving back to Moscow - but they don't do anything about it.
"Instead they have been stuck somewhere for many more years than they thought they would be.
"They identify Moscow with their happiness and it represents a sort of perfect life to them but as the play develops it's clear they will never move back and so their dreams are just that.
"It's quite tragic in a way but I'm sure people can relate to that underlying emotion of fear."
And fear is something she can relate to having chosen a profession which is notoriously insecure.
"Absolutely! There is a fear of coming out of one job and not having anything else to move on to. But that's part of what makes it so exciting!
"Generally I let things happen although recently I have started to think I ought to have a career plan!" she laughs.
And if the acting ever dried up, she says she wouldn't mind having a go at directing.
"I have always loved creative writing but would love to try directing at some point. I also want to do more stage and more film but good quality and exciting projects.
"I do get cast as a 'naive', 'sweet' or 'good' character rather a lot which is fine but I can do crazy and bad so I'd love to show people another side!" she laughs.
And when pushed she admits to hankering after two specific roles.
I'd like to play Lady Macbeth," she muses. "And Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire as I love Tennessee Williams.
"It's about getting out of the box to show I can play baddies and crazy people. Theatre is always good way of doing that and Olga will give me a chance to play a different character which is fantastic!"

Three Sisters is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway from Thursday April 3 until Saturday, May 3. Tickets cost £18. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Rubbish - preview

A DUCKLING created from old tea utensils that have lost their shine, a bin-bag boy, and a crotchety shoemaker crafted from old leather and the tools of his long lost trade.
These are just some of the charming characters who will be gracing the Purcell Room stage at the Southbank Centre from Friday.
Rubbish is show with an original blend of puppetry and comedy produced by Theatre-Rites, one of the UK’s most celebrated children’s theatre companies.
Directed by seasoned puppeteer Sue Buckmaster, it is a family show designed to encourage the audience to reflect on the importance of recycling and to engage with the magical potential of discarded materials.
In it, the puppeteers bring to life four inquisitive excavators, fully-equipped with protective gear, who rummage and scavenge through bins brimming with unloved rubbish.
Out of each bag an animated figure will be fashioned entirely from objects that have been discarded showing audiences the skills and processes used by puppeteers to give life to inanimate objects.
"The piece has been inspired by a culture which encourages us to constantly upgrade, update and disregard," explains Sue.
"It aims to show rubbish and waste materials in a new light to children and adults and hopefully get people to think differently about what they throw away and what impact it has on our environment.
"The work we do as a theatre company is object led rather than script led so we start with an object and find out what stories they have got to tell, writing it as we go."
For this show, the team collected 25 bags of rubbish to find a whole array of objects from plastic bottles to vintage items that were no longer needed, useful or wanted.
"We chose six bags which had the most interesting contents and presented what we had found to the puppeteers and asked them to improvise and we went from there," says Sue.
"It was a fascinating process and extremely interesting to see what was in the bags and what was created."
And although the show has a serious side to it, Sue says there is a lot of humour in the piece too.
"It's funny and enchanting and will resonate with anyone aged five and over though in different ways.
"Recycling for children is like breathing though," she adds. "They totally get it and it's great to see their reactions and the amazement when they see what we've created."

Rubbish is on at the Southbank Centre from Friday, April 11 until Monday, April 21. Tickets cost £12 for adults and £6 for children. Call the box office on 020 7960 4200.  

Oh My Sweet Land - an interview with Corinne Jaber

ROMANCE, war and violence collide in a new play about a woman who travels back to Syria to find a lost love amid war and bloody violence.
Oh My Sweet Land was conceived by half-Syrian actress Corinne Jaber and written by Amir Nizar Suabi after the pair travelled to the war-torn region to visit refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
The finished piece, performed by Corinne at the Young Vic from tonight until May 3, looks at everyday life in Syria and the stories of its two million refugees.
But what makes it different is that throughout the hour-long show, Corinne is cooking.
I stand in the middle of the stage and cook Kibbeh, which is a traditional dish and absolutely delicious,” she says.
I tell the stories that were told to us while I cook. It’s technically demanding as it has to be precise so I have to be exact with what I’m doing and saying but it’s what Syrian women do – they cook, talk, gossip and it keeps their minds off the horrors of what is going on outside.”
These “horrors” of chemical and bomb attacks on millions of the country’s people have been well documented, although Corinne believes we don’t see the full extent of the situation on the news.
It’s worse,” she says. “The camps can’t cope with the numbers of people and they all feel abandoned. It’s a terrible situation.”
Despite this, she says the refugees cling to hope their stories would get out and be told.
When we were travelling in the region we talked to a great many people because we wanted to find out what they had to say – what their hopes, fears, loves and lives were like.
They thanked us for listening to them and they all kept urging us to pass their stories on,” says Corinne.
So this is what I have tried to do.”
Corinne admits there are too many stories to put in the play but she hopes this snapshot of what life is like for Syrians are taken by the audience and talked about afterwards
It’s a serious play, although there is humour in it, but what I don’t want to do is produce something that sensationalises the situation.
We wanted to get away from the atrocities and awfulness of it all as there is enough of that on the news – but I do want people to think. It’s more about how do people live in a situation like that, and that’s why cooking is in the play because that’s what people do. It’s a distraction.
But I want people to carry these stories and pass them on. This is what’s going on in the world right now.”
Oh My Sweet Land is at the Young Vic, The Cut, until 3 May. Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Occupied at Theatre503


CHALLENGING our preconceptions of immigration is the main thrust of a new play now on at Battersea's brilliant Theatre503.
Occupied has been written by up and coming playwright Carla Grauls and takes place in a disused public toilet in London.
Unspeakably grim, the floors are dirty, there is rubbish everywhere, a sink that isn't plumbed in properly, newspaper clippings adorn the walls - mostly Daily Mail stories about the "threats" of immigration - and lying in the middle of the floor is a man dressed in lurid green tracksuit bottoms and an ill fitting jumper, bound and gagged. At the back of the stage a young woman is playing the accordian.
They are soon joined by a second man, Alex, who it transpires has come over from Romania in search of a better life. Along the way he has hooked up with fellow immigrant Andrea and taken over the toilet to make it their home.
She spends her evenings earning a bit of money as a prostitute and he likes to drink but has not had much success in finding a job.
Driven by a desire to belong, in a genius moment Alex has decided that to be more English he needs the help of an Englishman and it soon becomes obvious that the pair have kidnapped the man on the floor to help.
When the man, Tom Jones, wakes up he is understandably nervous, scared and angry but as the play progresses they all grow used to each other. Tom even teaches Alex how to dance to attract a potential girlfriend and gives him a few choice chat up lines.
As well as the obvious cliches about immigration and the arguments from both sides, the play explores what we call home, the value of "stuff" in our lives and how seemingly having everything may not make you happy.
The set has been well designed - so much so that the audience can almost smell the stench that must surely pervade the atmosphere - and the acting is first class with stand out performances from Joe Marsh as Tom, Josie Dunn as Andrea and Mark Conway as Alex.
Despite the grim setting, the tension that and sadness of the characters, there is plenty of humour to this piece which has been beautifully written, and with a few twists and turns along the way the ending is not in the least bit obvious. A must see.

Occupied runs at Theatre503 in Latchmere Road until Saturday, April 26 April. Tickets £15, £10 concessions and pay what you can on Sundays. Visit www.theatre503.com or call the box office on 020 7978 7040.

Three Sisters - Southwark Playhouse


THREE Sisters was originally written by Anton Chekhov in 1900. However, it's been given a 21st century makeover by young rising star playwright Anya Reiss.
She has set the piece somewhere in the Middle East, now, within an ex pat community where the three sisters, Olga (Olivia Hallinan), Masha (Emily Taaffe) and Irina (Holliday Grainger) are languishing with their financially inept brother Andrey (Thom Tuck), and pining for their London home after the death of their father.
There is a brilliant sense of them all being trapped in various forms - that of being trapped in the wrong marriage, the wrong job, the wrong country, a different culture, in a home they don't really like and financially - and the feeling of frustration and claustrophobia this all brings.
Throughout the course of the production these feelings intensify. Andrey pushes them into debt with his gambling, Olga pursues her career as a teacher even though she's not keen to do so, Irina eventually agrees to marry a man who is madly in love with her although she doesn't really feel the same, and Masha strops about the stage railing at how bored she is - clearly referencing her nerdish husband.
It is well acted by the very strong cast and there is a wonderful rapport between the three leading actresses who put in great performances.
Paul McGann is suave and intense as attache Vershinin and Emily Dobb is suitably trashy and shrewish as Andrey's wife Natasha. However, although the audience is never given a sense of lust between her and Andrey, it is perhaps for that reason that it is easy to understand why she has an affair with someone else.
However, there are some elements which don't work - such as why the sisters don't just get on the first plane back to London and why doesn't Masha leave her husband as she clearly doesn't love him.
For Chekhov purists this production may not appeal but for everyone else it is worth a look.

Three Sisters is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, May 3. Tickets cost £18. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Interview with Rainer Hersch

WHAT do comedian Rich Hall, opera singers, the London Firebird Orchestra and Oompah Brass have in common?
They are all joining musical maestro Rainer Hersch at the Southbank Centre for a mash up of music, song and comedy on Easter Monday.
Taking place at the Royal Festival Hall, the April Fools Comedy Concert will be hosted by Rainer and promises a two-hour fun filled musical jamboree for all the family.
The comedian, writer, performer and classical musician will bring his own unique take on a selection of music which he has chosen especially for the occasion.
It will feature star turns from his special guests American comedy legend Rich Hall, Oompah Brass, stars of classical music plus full a symphony orchestra and choir for the afternoon of comedy, music and mayhem.
It is the fourth year running Rainer has brought his April Fool show to the Southbank Centre and comes hot on the heals of his sell out Yuletide show last year.
"That was amazing," he says. "It was the first Christmas one I have done and it was brilliant fun - a sell out, full of people wearing antlers and festive hats - I've never seen anything like it!"
But now he's in the middle of rehearsals for his legendary April Fool's show, though admits it's a bit late in the month to be holding it.
"Easter is really late this year and April Fool's day actually was on a Tuesday so perhaps not the best day for families to come along," he says by way of an explanation.
"This is a family show and in the end it seemed a good idea to do it on Easter Monday.
"We are in the middle of rehearsals and it's pretty amazing so far."
And he says he's very excited not least because he'll be on the RFH stage, which he loves, with "loads" of people.
"It's the biggest concert I've ever done," he laughs. "As usual I oversee everything and this time I've got a 170-piece orchestra, a 72-piece choir plus the extras so it's pretty mega.
"I love the RFH - it's the best concert hall in London and probably the country as far as I'm concerned.
"It's the perfect place to do a concert like this and I'm very excited to be back.
"There's a great line up too so I know the audience will have a brilliant time - it doesn't matter if you are a music professor or couldn't tell a string quartet from a string vest, this is the show for you.
"It will be a guaranteed laugh every four bars. It's going to be very, very funny."
Music-wise, this year the concert will feature Queen's Bavarian Rhapsody, fictitious composer, PDQ Bach's Missa Hilarious, Rossini's Largo al factotum (translated), Rich Hall as Otis Lee Crenshaw and much, much more.
But don't expect any of the original versions.
"As with all my shows, it's a completely different interpretation that the audience will hear," he says. "For example the Oompah Brass band will do chart hits in an oompah style and it will be like nothing you've heard before. I'm really looking forward to their bit because it's utterly brilliant."
And he says working with comedic legend Rich Hall has been fantastic.
"Rich Hall is the comedian's comic," he says warmly. "He's so, so funny but he's also very musical and has released several albums.
"He has a spoof character, a Dixie country singer called Otis Lee Crenshaw who plays a guitar. We have taken some of his songs and scored them for an orchestra which he will be performing with our 170-piece orchestra as a sort of backing band. In between all of this he does his stand up so it's quite something."
As a piece de resistance he has the Queen coming in to do a rendition of God Save The Queen.
"It's not the real Queen of course," he laughs. "Last year we had her parachute in as a homage to the Olympics. This year of course she has a new grandchild, heir to the throne, so I've written a special version of God Save The Queen which will be hilarious.
"There's a lot happening! And it will all be done in my own inimitable style," he chuckles.

April Fools Comedy Concert takes place at the Royal Festival Hall at 4pm on Monday, April 21. Tickets from £9.50. Call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

Debris - Southwark Playhouse

ENCOURAGING young people who have never stepped foot in a theatre to do so is no mean feat but one director may have the answer thanks to an outreach programme linked to her latest venture.
Abigail Graham is directing Debris, written by Dennis Kelly, and which is being revived in London for the first time since it was premièred 10 years ago.
The play, about orphaned teenagers Michael and Michelle, is being staged at the Southwark Playhouse for four weeks from April 23.
"I don't want to give too much away as I don't want to ruin the plot but it's about two young people who are orphaned and who are trying to make sense of their dysfunctional lives," she explains.
"They are trying to survive and desperate to find a kind of hope in a slightly hopeless world. They want to piece together their story and find out where they came from.
"It's a fantastic and very challenging piece and about giving young people a voice," she adds. "There is a lot of humour but it's also about love, loss, pain, imagination and a sense of belonging.
"It certainly packs a punch."
As part of the production, the companies involved in putting the show on are running an extensive education and outreach programme with youngsters from charity Kids Company and students from LeSoCo.
"Southwark Playhouse is exactly the right place for this to be staged," says Abigail. "It is a theatre which takes risks and encourages the staging of bold and challenging plays and its audience likes to be challenged.
"We also wanted to stage the play somewhere where it would be possible to engage with the local community.
"Again, it was the perfect fit because of the connection the theatre has with the community around it.
"It's right in the heart of Southwark, in the middle of the Elephant and Castle where there are lots of young people and community groups."
The education and outreach programme has included giving 150 tickets for the show to local schools and giving work placements to some of those involved with Kids Company and LeSoCo.
It has allowed them to become part of the creative team and have access to the designers, lighting crew and production teams.
"They have all been mentored by members of the creative team," says Abigail. "They get to go to production meetings, have input, sit in on rehearsals and find out how staging a play in a theatre works.
"They've been absolutely amazing - asking loads of questions and not holding back when they think something doesn't work. They are also totally unpretentious in their ideas, enthusiasm and approach which is very exciting.
"It's been hugely beneficial for them as it gives them an insight into how it is all put together but it works both ways and we have really enjoyed working with them," she says.
As well as the work placements, Abigail and her team are employing some young people as marketing consultants to set up pop up box offices in various rather unlikely places around the borough.
"It's about bringing a new audience to the theatre," she explains. "There was a report out last year that said 28 per cent of people go to the theatre because of word of mouth. But if that 28 per cent doesn't include your peers or community that's 28 per cent a theatre company can't communicate with."
So to reach out to those who have never been to a theatre before, the box offices will be in places where young people hang out.
"They will be chicken shops, at bus stops, colleges and clubs," says Abigail. "The tickets will be £3 so hopefully they will see it as an attractive idea and if they come along we hope they are inspired to come again."
What she won't say though is where the pop up box offices will be. "We want people to find them!" she says.
The project won't stop at the end of the run either, as Abigail says they will be working with the youngsters and students for a year afterwards.
And she hopes the success of this project will lead to more collaborative ventures.
"It's been a fantastic experience for all of us and I really want to do more work like this in the future.
"If we get young people, or anyone who has never been inside their local theatre before to come in, have a good time and get something incredible out of it that will inspire them to come back and try something else, then that can only be a good thing."

Debris is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway between April 23 and May 17. Tickets £16, £14 concessions. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234  

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Interview with Omid Djalili

OMID Djalili is a busy man. The award-winning actor, comedian and avid football fan has, by his own admission had a “bit of a day” by the time he is able to speak to me.
Meetings with various people about the autobiography he’s writing, roasting a rabbi and writing material for a new tour – it’s all go.
And when we do chat, he is on his way to do a gig in Bedford. "I'm so sorry," he says apologetically. "It's been a mad day with meetings and what have you so I've been a little bit rushed off my feet.... I'm not one to complain though," he jokes.
"But now we’re good to go,” he adds warmly.
And go he does, through a whole manner of different subjects close to his heart - his love of grassroots football, dying on stage and learning how to recover, celebrity, acting and reacting successfully to hecklers.
In fact he's on sparkling form talking 10 to the dozen throughout the conversation.
But he starts by telling me about his appearance tomorrow as the headline act for this year’s Udderbelly Festival on the South Bank.
"I was very pleased to be asked and to be able to do it as I've been wanting to for a while," he says. "A lot of my friends say it's a brilliant venue so I thought why not?
"Besides, it’s a tent isn’t it? I've always done well in a tent... maybe it's a Middle Eastern thing," he chuckles (Djalili was born in the UK to Iranian parents).
The Udderbelly gig will act as a wram-up for his nationwide Iranalmadingdong tour later this year.
"This is part of my pre tour - a chance to try out my new material and see what people think," he explains. "You have to do loads of gigs before you get it right."
And those who go to the Udderbelly show will be in for a treat.
The 48-year-old's trademark rapier wit will be in full force for the entire evening as, not only is he the main act, he's his own warm up as well.
"I had a warm up man once and you pay for them to basically come on and do a load of old material and then spend 10 minutes berating the audience for not laughing.
"It's very easy and I thought 'I could do that'. So now I do!"
During the evening he will talk about "all sorts of different things" before finishing with a Q&A session.
One of the main topics of conversation will be how he's "cracked the code" of relationships.
"There is a universal code on all relationships," he says. "It's not just romantic ones but any that people have. We don't know why we are friends with certain people nor why any relationship goes wrong.
"It's intriguing and something I'm very interested in. I've done my research - I've been married for 22 years - and I've now cracked the code and will be revealing it at the Udderbelly," he adds proudly.
As well as relationships, he will be putting our obsession with celebrity under the microscope.
"Celebrity is relevant to all our lives," he insists. "We are all celebrities in one milieu or another - if you get promotion, when you are perceived to have more power than others and how you deal with the power, it's not just about those on TV."
What he won't be doing is talking about topics he is perhaps best known for - such as that of being an Iranian in Britain.
"I've done all that being a fish out of water stuff," he says. "When I started I felt I had to do talk about those kinds of things. I'm actually very integrated in this country so I need to do something different."
He says that making sure the audience has a good time and laughs a lot is what matters to him most though.
"I'm very quietly pleased when people put nice things about my gigs on Twitter," he says warmly. "When they say they've had a great night, that's fantastic. I think that brings me far more pleasure these days.
"They've paid their money and want to laugh and enjoy themselves. It's the memory you create for an audience that's important."
And Twitter has had another impact on his time recently. When he found out that Hereford United Football Club was in danger of being wound up due to a lack of cash, he sent a supportive Tweet.
"They need about £78,000 and I started a campaign to help raise the cash they need," he says.
"Hereford were the original giant killers when they beat Newcastle United in 1972 so if the club goes it would be a real blow.
"I am a passionate supporter of football, particularly grassroots which is really struggling right now.
"It's disgraceful because it offers amazing outlets for kids to join a club, have a go at a team sport and get some exercise in the process.
"I worry that if Hereford goes then other clubs will follow."
Instead of donating money, he offered to do two fundraising gigs, which have raised £21,000.
"They've even promised to name a stand after me so there's a bit of pressure - hopefully I'll be hilarious!"
And pressure to be funny is something he knows about only too well.
"Between 1998 and 2002 there was a gaggle of us who used to drive around the country doing gigs," he says.
"There was a lot of banter in the car and we laughed a lot. It was great fun and some of them are the funniest people I have ever met."
But not only were they funny, they also didn't hold back in giving Omid the brutal truth about his performances.
"They did take the piss out of me, doing bits of my act that went badly. And I've had my fair share," he laughs.
"I've had some real stinkers - one night at Jongleurs the crowd was shouting 'off off off' before I'd even come on so I ended up doing a disco dance and they just started chucking beer cans at me. I kept dancing and they kept chucking stuff. Eventually I managed to turn it around but it was close!" he chuckles loudly.
"You need to do about 1,000 gigs before you find your voice and I've done 2,500 now so I'm easy with it.
"I have learned over the years to develop a bullet proof skin!"
But the memory of those bad gigs has not deterred him and the past 20 years have seen him sell out gigs around the world, win awards and branch out into acting.
"I flit between acting and comedy depending on what else I'm doing and scripts that I get. It's great to have the variety and acting helps me do my stand up. It's very exciting to have two disciplines.
"But I haven't found the perfect role yet. One day I might even write a film," he muses.
But for now he says he's looking forward to the Udderbelly gig.
"It's wonderful travelling around and performing to people in places I've never heard of, but London is my home town and the older I get the more I connect with a London audience," he says.
"I also tend to see a lot of people who look like me - slightly squat, bald, over weight, Middle Eastern with a chin beard....
"It's going to be hilarious!"

Omid Djalili is at Udderbelly on Saturday, April 12. Tickets cost £25. Visit www.underbelly.co.uk/ or call the box office on 0844 545 8252

Friday, 4 April 2014

Interview with comedian and actor Alan Davies

TWO years ago Alan Davies returned to stand up comedy with a huge and long awaited national tour of his show Life Is Pain.
After an enforced absence from the circuit of more than 10 years he could have been forgiven for being a tad nervous.
But as it turned out if he was, he needn't have been, as the tour was a huge success receiving rave reviews.
The 47-year-old is now back with his hotly anticipated follow up show, Little Victories which he is currently taking across the UK and will be bringing to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on April 12.
But why the absence I ask as we chat ahead of the gig?
"There was so much going on," he says almost apologetically by way of explanation.
"I was away for about 10 years. I stopped touring and found I didn't have any material for a start so it was a catch 22.
"Good material is kind of essential - you can't go on stage talking about nothing - you have got to have something to say, preferably funny stuff, otherwise the audience will get bored.
"Plus I was doing TV and other things, then I met Katie, my wife, and then had kids. 'Life' happened basically.
"But I did miss it and it's really nice to be back."
For his legion of loyal fans it is good news. Not least because Alan is held in such obvious esteem and with immense affection, though he baulks at the idea of being labelled a "national treasure".
Since he broke onto the comedy circuit in 1988 he's rarely been idle. In fact these days he's a busy man with TV appearances as the resident foil to Stephen Fry's genius in QI, or as the duffle-coated crime solver Jonathan Creek in the BAFTA award-winning TV show of the same name, not to mention writing scripts, books and material for his stand up shows.
But stand up is his first love and where he started and when we chat he is in the midst of tinkering with the material for Little Victories, which has been inspired in part by the arrival of his two young children.
"They provide me with endless amount of material," he laughs when I ask what these Little Victories are.
"It's like the children finally eating something - especially stuff you've been trying to force them to eat for ages," he chuckles.
"Or getting them to put their shoes on, or even just getting their shoes on them. Or managing to get some sleep - I've spent the last few years having had little sleep! It's about life's little moments when you think you have beaten the system and then find you are back under again!
"The show tries to find the funny side to being a parent and all that that entails. I think people empathise with these events in life."
So plenty to talk about then.
"Yes, absolutely," he says. "I found the last show resonated with those who came to see it which was extremely gratifying especially as I'd been away for so long," he adds warmly.
"Basically Life Is Pain was about becoming a dad in my 40s. This show is more about anecdotal stuff that happens once the novelty has worn off! It's very hard work being a dad you know," he jokes semi seriously.
"All the clichés are true!" he adds in mock horror.
He admits he worries about "stuff" more now he's older and has parental responsibilities and Little Victories is no exception.
"When I toured two years ago I was nervous but it was better than I expected. We did 55 shows and 81 per cent of the tickets were sold which was amazing - I didn't anticipate anyone coming out so it knocked me sideways!"
Affable, chatty and down to earth Alan is also surprisingly modest and unassuming about his success. The only time I sense a slight tension creeping in is when he mentions his TV show Whites which was axed after one series on the BBC.
"I was disappointed about it," he admits. "I thought it was worth another series."
Despite this he's happy with his lot.
"I have worked hard and love what I do," he says. "Writing my book [My Favourite People And Me] was really hard but I was proud of it. But after Whites got cancelled I thought I ought to do something I know I can do - and that is stand up.
"It's incredible because I still get a buzz from it although there is the responsibility to give the audience a good time," he adds. "They've made the effort to come out and booked the babysitter so you should never forget that."
Which brings us neatly to Fairfield Halls, a venue he says he's fond of.
"I like Fairfield Halls although it's a big room. It's very nice and relaxing there. It could do with some attention..." he chuckles before adding: "But it's much loved and one of those places where anyone who's anyone has performed.
"It's very manageable and you can see the audience in a room like that which is great. For me that's what it's all about.
"That's one of the reasons I wouldn't want to play somewhere like Wembley - apart from the fact I'm not sure I'd fill it, I just don't fancy it and wouldn't feel comfortable because you have to charge so much money.
"Also you can't really have a chat with an audience if you can't see them or they you.
"I get why some people do the stadiums but I prefer smaller venues," he adds. "If I was that popular, I would rather do a long run in a theatre where people can see you.
"The worry is there are so many tours out there that some comedy clubs are suffering which is a shame because that's where most of us start out.
"I won't be a national treasure if this gig isn't a sell out though!" he adds laughing heartily.
I ask what’s next after the tour finishes. “Well I’ve been trying to write a sitcom and there’s a novel waiting to be written.
"We're filming Series R of QI in May and June. It's a show I love though I don't remember any of it afterwards," he laughs. "I am in it trying to think of something interesting to say!
"But who knows, I might enjoy this tour so much that I’ll write another show.”

Alan Davies is at Fairfield Halls on Saturday, April 12 at 8pm. Tickets from £20. Visit www.fairfield.co.uk or call the box office on 020 8688 9291.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Interview with Boy George

BOY George needs little introduction. Born George O'Dowd in Bexley in 1961 he shot to international superstardom as the lead singer of 80s pop band Culture Club whose string of hits included Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, Time (Clock of the Heart), and Karma Chameleon.
The group enjoyed phenomenal commercial and artistic success selling millions of records with top 10 hits in every country and scooping a multitude of awards.
With its heady mix of reggae, soul and new wave not to mention the allure of Boy George and his soulful voice and androgynous look the band was at the forefront of the era's New Romantic movement.
But by the mid 1980s George had taken a back seat from making music, instead forging a successful career behind the decks as a DJ.
However with all the success had come an addiction to drugs and all that went with it....
But now he's back, clean, lean and raring to go with his first studio album in 18 years - the aptly titled This Is What I Do - and a small tour which includes the Indigo2 on April 3.
The new album, a sublime mix of soul, reggae, rock and pop, has been well received, which George is clearly delighted about.
"It's a really good record," he says proudly. And as we chat it's clear the passion for making music is still very much in evidence.
"I wanted to do something old fashioned and more traditional and it felt the right thing to do to make a studio record with a live band."
He made it with some of his "favourite people", including producer Youth, and some of the tracks were co-written with Culture Club bandmate Mikey Craig.
"I changed management and started fresh with people who see me as I am now, rather than as I was," he says.
"I don't have a record label but I felt it was the grown-up thing to do to make it myself, find a distributor and do it independently."
Inspiration came from his South London roots and the 1970s music scene which was the soundtrack to his youth.
"I grew up in the 1970s so that was what I went back to. It was the most incredible but bonkers decade - the last time the kids had music their parents didn't like!" He adds: "This album reflects the eclectic music of that decade.
"There is still the reggae influence but there's also pop and rock elements. I really enjoyed making it."
And it brought back plenty of memories.
"I remember seeing Bowie at the Lewisham Odeon," he recalls.
"I was 11 years and 11 months. "God knows how I managed to get a ticket! I can't think how my parents allowed me to go as I was so young.
"I spent a lot of time at the Lewisham Odeon - I saw Chuck Berry, David Essex and loads of others. If I couldn't get a ticket I'd either blag my way in or hang out at the back to meet them after the gig.
"In those days you were more likely to be trampled on by a stampede of girls wanting to catch a glimpse of Rod Stewart as he tried to leave the building and get into his Rolls-Royce which was parked at the back! There were no cameras in those days, so no selfies!" he laughs.
"The funny thing about South London is I ran screaming from it when I was 17 but my family is still here so I visit regularly. When I started DJing I played in Dartford and the crowd shouted 'You're one of us!', which was amazing. I am really proud of where I come from, though. South London is still a really vibrant, funky place with a great vibe.
"But it was so different back then. "Back in the 1970s fans knew their place. We used to sit outside Bowie's house in Beckenham. His wife told us to f*** off and we were really happy - things have changed since then," he says, laughing loudly.
In fact, the whole industry is different, though George is philosophical enough to "just get on with it".
"Back in the day you'd turn on the radio and hear everything and anything. It's much more formatted now, which is a real shame, and radio is no longer as creative - but I don't get depressed about it."
But the biggest change has been the advent of social media, which George has embraced.
"It's great!" he laughs. "Facebook and Twitter allow fans anywhere in the world to talk to you - even somewhere like Mongolia. It's the direct contact and relationship with your audience: it's brilliant.
"I do wonder who they are, though, because all they want to know is what I had for breakfast! It's hilarious."
As well as his upbeat view on life, he comes across as wiser and more philosophical: "I feel the same passion as I've always had but I feel more privileged to do what I do and feel blessed that I do the job I love.
"At 19 it fell in my lap and I didn't have the gratitude. I didn't have to stop and think, and when you are young you don't. You get more in touch when you are older and learn to say no to things.
"Now as an older man I can invest in happiness and do stuff that makes me happy. That's the difference between now and then."
But right now he says he's looking forward to the Indigo2 gig.
"I have got a great audience and when I do live shows it's just amazing," he says warmly.
"It is exciting - the most powerful thing, and it's the only place where no one else can be you and you can be 100 per cent yourself. There is only one live Boy George!" he laughs.

Boy George is at the Indigo2 on Thursday, April 3. Tickets from £27.50. Visit www.livenation.co.uk, www.ticketmaster.co.uk