Friday, 16 May 2014

REVIEW: Cats at New Wimbledon Theatre


ONE of the West End's longest running shows is wowing audiences in the regions thanks to a nationwide tour.
Cats, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s extraordinary, record-breaking, smash-hit musical is currently at the New Wimbledon Theatre for a two week run.
For those who haven't seen it, it is based on TS Eliot's seminal work, Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats which was written for the poet's godchildren in the 1930s.
Lloyd Webber decided to compose a score around the words and Cats was born, opening at the New London Theatre in May 1981.
Now 27 years later and despite no longer in the West End it still has a loyal and growing fan base - which was evident at the New Wimbledon Theatre last week.
And the appeal of the show is not surprising. With an amazing musical score that includes the timeless song Memory, made famous by Elaine Paige, spectacular set designs, stunning costumes and breathtaking choreography, Cats is utterly captivating.
Although there is not much of a story, it doesn't matter. It's the costumes, the dancing and the set which provide the wow factor and this current production doesn't disappoint.
There are some highlights though - the Jellicle Cats scampering in amongst the audience and Mistofelees, played by Joseph Poulton, who performs the most amazing dance in the second act in a costume studded with glittery sequins - is fabulous. It's breathtaking.

Cats is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday, May 17

REVIEW: Fame: Not The Musical


FAME. What is it and is it really all it's cracked up to be?
Someone well placed to spill the beans is comedian and writer David Baddiel. Thanks to a career which has spanned 20 plus years, he's seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to being famous.
And now, coming back to stand up after a hiaitus of about 15 years he's ready to tell all thanks to his show Fame: Not The Musical.
In fact it's not really so much a stand up show than a chat with the audience, punctuated with screen shots of his family or his own public embarrasment and blunders of one sort or another.
Throughout, he explains what fame is and means to him, how it's impacted on his work and his family, how he still gets mistaken for Ian Broudie of pop band the Lightning Seeds, Ben Elton and Alan Yentob even after all this time and what it's taught him over the years.
A fair amount of the show is taken up by exploring the relationship David has with people - those who he knows, and those he doesn't.
And unsurprisingly Twitter gets more than a passing mention with David talking about how it has allowed people from all over the world to contact him at any time of the day and night about anything and how he deals with the trolls of which there are many.
Before the interval he asks for the audience to tweet him and promises to read out a few in the second half - my tweet generated a big laugh.
But the whole show is absolutely hilarious - with some of the biggest laughs being gained by his own public humilation on TV shows, meeting Madonna, being mistaken for other people and his enounters with some of his own idols - Peter Gabriel to name but one.
It also showed that despite the passage of time, he's lost none of the fantastic, intelligent and well observed wit that made him famous in the first place.

Fame: Not The Musical is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory until May 23. Tickets from £21. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

INTERVIEW: Hetain Patel

THERE has been much debate over the years about how TV shows and films can influence a person but for one South London artist they have provided the inspiration for his latest project.
American Boy is a warm and funny self-portrait by Hetain Patel constructed entirely from quotes and scenes from 90s Hollywood movies and TV programmes.
Drawing on the vocal and physical impersonations of Hetain’s playground days, it looks at the multiple personas which we all inhabit in our day-to-day lives.
The solo show which he is bringing to Sadler's Wells on May 20 and 21 marks something of a departure for the 33-year-old who trained and has subsequently built up a reputation as a visual artist.
Indeed Hetain, who lives in New Cross, mostly works in photography and video exhibiting in galleries around the world to critical acclaim.
Recent successes include his performance piece Be Like Water, which has been viewed as a TED Talk more than two million times, and Fiesta Transformer, a large-scale robotic sculpture created with his father from a replica of the Ford Fiesta he was given as a 18th birthday present.
"A lot of my work is for galleries as I'm more of a visual artist," he says.
"But recently I've started doing bits and pieces of physical theatre.
"This is only the third time I've done something for the stage. In the first one I was talking about myself and in the second I did the opposite and spoke in every other way but my own so I learned a lot of languages.
"American Boy is somewhere in the middle taking aspects of both those shows a bit further as well as exploring identity and belonging, race and culture, themes which run through all my work," he says.
"I'm really excited about it and especially because it's fantastic to be at Sadler's Wells."
And he says it was an interesting project to see which films he shortlisted and which were then whittled down to be in the piece.
"There was a big list of clips to choose from!" he laughs. "But all the quotes are personal to me, are about me and describe me.
"It's a self portrait of characters, quotes and scenes from all of those films I used to watch when I was growing up, spliced together to make up the narrative," he adds.
"It's been incredibly interesting to see which films and TV programmes have had an influence in my life and how they have done so.
"I've not used any really obscure films but when I had finished putting it together it was quite revealing," he adds. "A lot of them are guys in suits - Matrix, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Usual Suspects, that kind of thing.
"We know violence and guns are wrong but as a kid gun swinging warriors are cool so I suppose that's why those ended up in the mix.
"There was also a lot of Eddie Murphy including films like Beverley Hills Cop - he was the first person to deal with race in his movies but he does it in a humorous way.
"There were two main things that came up - the first that it was very male with the whole men in suits thing and the second was the questions of race.
"What's great though is that there is a vein of humour running through it.
"I'm being as honest as I can and giving an accurate reflection of being human."
To help illustrate the show there will be costume changes, different accents and even a super hero costume, though Hetain says people will have to go to the show to find out which one.
"When you are a kid wanting to be a superhero is almost de rigeur," he says. "There is one which I could relate to really well so he does make an appearance!"

American Boy is at Sadler's Wells on May 20 and 21. Tickets £17. Visit or call the box office on 0844 412 4300.

REVIEW: Yellow Face, The Shed theatre


THE exploration of how ethnic minorities are depicted and represented on stage is the subject of a brilliantly well observed play by David Henry Hwang.
Yellow Face was written in 2007 and in questioning what race really means, it draws on real life events and experiences of the Chinese American playwright.
These are interwoven with some less real to produce the piece which is now on at the National’s Shed theatre.
The main character is Hwang himself who penned the Tony-award winning hit musical M Butterfly and then became, somewhat unwittingly, the spokesman for the Asian American community.
It begins with David getting caught up in the true controversial casting of UK actor Jonathan Pryce taking the lead in a Broadway production of Miss Saigon in 1990.
David responds by writing a farce, Face Value, but instead of casting an Asian American actor of the calibre required for the lead role, he chooses Marcus G Dahlman, a man who has next to no Asian heritage at all.
To get around this he tries to pass Marcus off as having Siberian connections which Marcus embraces all too readily with unforseen consequences.
While all this is going on America is facing a rise in anti Chinese sentiment and government witch hunts and investigations of anyone with the vaguest of Asian connections.
They even investigate David’s elderly, fiercely pro-American but immigrant father.
The climax comes when David is interviewed by a journalist from the New York Times who tries her best to stitch him up only to be told she will feature as a character in his next play.
Funny and poignant, it is superbly acted by the seven strong cast and beautifully staged in the round on a raised platform under which Chinese lanterns are hung.

Yellow Face continues at the NT Shed until May 24. Tickets from £12. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Interview with Meow Meow

EXUBERANT, fun and unpredictable. Just three of the words to describe international singing sensation that is Meow Meow.
I speak to the Australian songstress, grande dame and tour de force of the cabaret world ahead of her forthcoming residency at the London Wonderground and she is getting “really excited”.
"I’m here and I’m giggling already," she laughs. "I'm doing a photoshoot at the Vaudeville theatre and have been doing jetes around the stage – well it would be rude not to!"
And far from wanting a rest and a bit of "me time" before she takes to the stage next week, she is positively bursting with energy and joire de vivre.
"I got off the plane on Saturday, dumped my bags in the hotel, put on a fabulous frock and went to a concert of the young Von Trap singers and sang a song with them which was lovely," she says.
It turns out she met the group who are descended from the Austrian Von Traps made famous by the film Sound Of Music, in Portland when they did an album with American group Pink Martini and now they are “old friends”.
"At their gig, I came out of the audience wearing a fabulous frock which I just happened to have on and I sang Hushaby Mountain with them. It was divine.
"I’m on pure adrenaline," she adds chuckling.
"It's exhuasting being a showgirl of gargantuan talent but you just have to keep going. That’s the trick!"
And that she does, rarely letting up as she chats away about her love of cabaret, crowd surfing, sparkles and songs.
In fact it’s hard not to be swept away by her joire de vivre – much like it is going to one of her concerts in which she will draw in the audience before blowing their minds with her hypnotic voice and amazing, theatrical performance.
She has been dazzling audiences around the world for more years than she says she cares to remember and has worked with anyone who's anyone.
Indeed her glittering roll call of collaborators includes Australian national treasure, Barry Humphries which she says was "incredibly special", Ricky Gervais, David Bowie and Pina Bausch which she describes as "life changing".
But for her latest show Feline Intimate which she is bringing for a three-week stint at the London Wonderground’s spiegeltent, she will be on her own save for her accompanying musicians.
It's a venue she says is her “natural habitat” and she can't wait to stun the crowd once more with her incredible brand of cabaret.
"I love all those spiegeltents,” she says. “It’s my natural habitat, lots of mirrors everywhere, dark, mysterious and magical. Feline Intimate demands a more intimate space so the spiegeltent is the perfect environment."
The show, her first at the Wonderground, will feature a wide range of her cabaret favourites as well as "sequins, schtick, sexiness and possibly the splits".
"I love the flexibility of cabaret and being able to take risks," she says. "Cabaret songs last through the decades but I especially love the early stuff from the inter war years. It's quite astoundingly erotic and avant garde.
"Society at that time was in such a state of extreme and trauma and experimentation and discovery. There were record players and the radio for the first time. It was such an amazing period with everything hurtling towards the abyss - we are still hurtling. There is a frenetic energy in those songs.
"I am also mad about 1950s and 60s music as those decades featured fabulous singer songwriters.
"But cabaret songs and music can be endlessly reinvented," she adds. "You can touch people's hearts and minds at the same time. There's also an excitement that anything could happen.
"This show will feature gorgeous torch songs, a lot of mayhem and divine musicians as well as some gorgeous frocks of course," she says warmly.
"I don't have favourites when it comes to songs because it depends where I am at a particular time, how I'm feeling and how the audience is but there will be Brecht/Weill's Suraabaya Johnny and Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas which I've sung all my life.
"There will also be some Schubert, which I think of as the beginning of cabaret, Radiohead, Patty Griffith and some original songs. One of them will be something I've written with Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale called Hotel Amour which is a beautiful torch song.
“I might also take requests if forced.....” she muses. "But there will be a plenty of old favourites just because they are incredible and so beautiful."
And she says this concert is much more about the music rather than being tied to a particular story or issue, as has been the case with previous shows.
"There is always a bit of a narrative but this is much more a cabaret show with glorious songs ancient and modern," she says.
"It will be a good rollicking 70 minutes of high and low class entertainment full of all kinds of human emotions," she adds cheerfully.
"Expect passion, laughter, heartbreak, rebellion, loneliness, joy, love, loss, grief, excitement and danger - the tensions between words and music and what happens when they collide means anything could happen! It's terribly exciting.
"I might even do a bit of crowd surfing," she muses.
"I am a person of the theatre after all!"

Meow Meow in Feline Intimate is at London Wonderground from May 20 until June 8. Tickets cost £15.50. Visit or call 0844 545 8282

REVIEW: Minotaur, Polka Theatre


A BRILLIANT reimagining of the Greek classic tale Theseus And The Minotaur is now on at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon.
Written by Kevin Dyer and directed by Michael Fentiman, Minotaur fuses a modern-day war story with Greek mythology to create a dark and gripping high-stakes adventure.
It centres on young school boy Freddie whose father is a soldier fighting with the British army in a far off warzone.
Freddie lives with his mum but lives for the text messages he gets from his dad every day.
But one day he receives a rather mysterious text message from his dad followed by a visit from two equally mysterious figures.
They tell him he must go on a journey – and when his mum agrees and tells him it’s his destiny, he packs his bag and begins his adventure.
Along the way of course he encounters all manner of mysterious and curious creatures that he must outwit before he gets to the twisting labyrinth of ancient Minos and the half-bull, half-man Minotaur.
The story has a nod to the novels of Percy Jackson and brilliantly meshes the old and the new stories.
It is also cleverly staged and well acted by the six-strong cast headed up by Ben Stott as young Freddie.
It is the perfect story not only to introduce kids to the wonders of the Greek myths but is action packed to keep a younger audience gripped and on the edge of their seats right from the beginning.

Minotaur is on at Polka Theatre, Wimbledon until May 24.
Tickets cost £13.50 (£9 concessions). Visit or call the box office on 020 8543 4888.

REVIEW Ace Of Clubs, Union Theatre

Kate Gould


ONE of Noel Coward’s lesser known and rarely performed pieces is being given an airing by the Union Theatre.
Ace Of Clubs is a musical set in a Soho nightclub in the 1940s, so ingeniously that’s how it is staged in the cosy confines of the Union.
Somewhat squashed in like sardines, the audience is seated at cabaret tables so they become part of the action as the actors move about the space.
The somewhat thin but comic plot concerns cabaret and nightclub singer Pinkie Leroy who meets and falls in love with Harry, a sailor who is on leave for a few days.
However one night a scuffle takes place in the club and as Pinkie tries to flee the scene she inadvertently picks up a coat containing a stolen necklace.
There then follows all manner of chaos before things are resolved.
There are some strong performances, notably Michael Hobbs as the club MC and John Game and Liam Bewley as the gangsters Joe and Gus respectively, however it is the central characters of Emma Harris as Pinkie and Gary Wood as Harry who disappoint.
Granted, they both have lovely singing voices and Gary Wood is an amazing dancer – brilliantly displayed with a fantastic tap dance. However, their voices are no match for the orchestra and there are times when they were barely audible.
There were also times when they were hidden at one side of the stage which was a shame so it was sometimes difficult to see what was going on.
Despite this the story is attacked with gusto by the cast and there is an exuberance and fun in their performances which is infectious - the chorus was a particularly delightful highlight.

Ace Of Clubs is on at the Union Theatre, Union Street until May 31. Tickets from £19.50. Call the box office on 020 7261 9876.

REVIEW: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre


A stunning revival of Sean O’Casey’s anti war play The Silver Tassie is now on at the National Theatre.
It tells the story of one young man, Harry Heegan, a football hero in his hometown of Dublin, who has just celebrated the team’s latest victory. All too soon though, Harry and his fellow team members are sent off to war.
Throughout the course of the play we see Harry’s transformation from a young man full of youth and vigour, with a girlfriend and his whole life to look forward to maimed in both mind and body by the war.
Eventually he returns to Dublin, not as a hero but as a man pitied by his friends and family and to add insult to injury his girlfriend has gone off with his best friend.
The entire cast is fantastic but special mention must go to the staging which is amazing. This is particularly so in the second act when the set transforms itself from Dublin tenement building to war zone complete with some of the most amazing visual and sound effects.
This act is performed mostly in song and it is not only incredibly poignant but mesmerising in its intensity.
Ronan Raftery is superb as Harry, brilliantly portraying his transition from hero to a fragile and damaged young man whose life has been totally destroyed. Through Harry we see how the war has changed everyone and everything in different but equally terrible ways.
However, despite the underlying sadness and horror of what war does, the play is actually full of humour. This is beautifully illustrated in Aidan McArdle as Harry’s father and Stephen Kennedy as Simon Norton, the hilarious old codgers who bicker and chat while their sons fight in a war far away.
And Judith Roddy is excellent as the bible-bashing Susie Monican who transforms into a bit of a flirt when she takes on the mantle of nurse in the hospital to treat the war wounded.

The Silver Tassie is at the National Theatre until July 3. Tickets from £15. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

Interview with Nikesh Shukla

FOR many the old adage that the kitchen is the heart and soul of the home rings true.
And for comic novelist Nikesh Shukla, this is no exception but it wasn't until his mother died that he realised quite how much.
"My mother passed away in October 2010 after succumbing to lung cancer and the make up of our home changed," he says.
"The house had lost its centrifugal force and it felt very sterile.
"She was very much the heart and soul of the home and the kitchen was always alive with the sounds and smells of her cooking - lots of spices, garlic and onions and so on. It was amazing.
"Food was what tied our family together and when she died all that went and it was incredibly sad.
"Relatives sent over food which meant my dad, sister and I could eat. But eventually of course that stopped so we had to fend for ourselves.
"We found some food in the freezer which mum had made before she died. When we defrosted it and started cooking it the kitchen immediately came to life again," he adds.
"The scent and the taste was incredible - it really felt like she was there. However, I realised with a certain amount of horror that I didn't know how to cook any of the dishes she had left us and had made for us over the years and she now wasn't around to pass those recipes on.
"My sister and I also realised that if we ate it we would taste her food for the last time which was a devastating thought."
So Nikesh embarked on an emotional journey of discovery in which he decided to teach himself not only how to cook, but to learn how to cook the Gujarati dishes that had meant so much to him when he was growing up and that would remind him of his mother.
Phone calls to his aunts followed and they relayed some of the recipes to him which he copied down and then set about trying to recreate.
"As you can imagine, there were loads of dishes to choose from and it was a question of remembering what they were and working out those things I missed the most," he says.
"Favourites were definitely Khichdi which is peasant food, a simple rice dish with lentils and Kudi which she used to make when I wasn't well.
"Once a year mum made her variation of a Christmas dinner. It is roast tandoori chicken and it is without doubt the best chicken I have ever had.
"I understand what serious drug addiction must be like," he laughs.
"But I grew more confident after a while and I began to recreate my mum's kitchen with all the smells of the cumin and coriander and the sounds of things frying - it was just fantastic."
The discovery of her recipes also led to him finding out more about his beloved mother and other members of his family.
"She couldn't even boil an egg when she first got married and learned how to cook by being on the phone to her mum," says Nikesh warmly.
"I also found out my grandma worked in a battery factory in Keighley, West Yorkshire, and wore a sari on underneath her boiler suit!"
But it was the recipes which were the main focus and to preserve them Nikesh decided to incorporate a selection into his novella The Time Machine.
And Nikesh is bringing an interactive show based on the book to the stage as part of this year's Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre with all proceeds going to the Roy Castle Lung Foundation.
"It's very exciting," he says. "I have done Alchemy before and it's one of my favourite parts of the year. It's a great festival and celebrates South Asian art without droning sitars," he chuckles.
"It tries to find interesting projects that say something about South Asian art in a contemporary way which is brilliant.
"I'm shit scared though," he admits laughing. "I've been to lots of book readings over the years but this is completely different to what I normally do and I will feel totally naked," he adds chuckling.
"This will be more emotive and interactive as there will be cooking live on stage, including some of mum's favourite meals, and I will have readers performing excerpts from the book.
"It will bring back a lot of memories so I'm sure it will be quite emotional.
"But it's been an important part of my healing to learn to cook," he says. "Mum would probably think it needs more salt," he adds laughing.

Nikesh Shukla will be at Southbank Centre as part of the Alchemy Festival on Sunday, May 25. Tickets £15. Call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Abandoman - at the Udderbelly Festival

COMEDY shows come in many guises but surely one of the most inventive must be that of Abandoman.
Abandoman, aka Rob Broderick, creates hilarious freestyle hip hop and rap style songs based on random topics suggested by his audiences.
The Irishman, who has made London his home for the last 10 years, is showcasing his comedic and quick witted talent at this year's Udderbelly festival with his latest show Moonrock Boombox.
He is bringing with him a three-piece band who will join him in the purple cow tent for the five gigs which start on May 20.
“It’s a comedy, rap and improve show all mixed and mashed into one,” he explains.
“I go out into the crowd and chat to them, ask questions and encourage them to give me bits of information about themselves. It could be anything at all – their likes and dislikes and what they want to do with their lives.
“I then turn what they’ve told me into a rap, which is a celebration of their lives. It can be both exhilarating and terrifying because you never know what you are going to get," he laughs.
“We look for people who are smiley and make eye contact. If they are confident I will continue the conversation but if not I’ll go and talk to someone else. It depends who really wants to be on that stage and chat!"
And he says no two shows are the same because it depends on what the audience gives him to work with but that can also mean it can be quite a challenge.
“Even if you came two nights in a row it would be different each time. Not a single lyric will be repeated,” he says.
The show has developed from one he took to the Edinburgh Fringe where it was a huge hit. But with the Udderbelly performances he’s taking the concept a step further and introducing a loose narrative into which all the stories and songs need to eventually weave and knit together which adds to the challenge.
“This one will have a story to it," he laughs. "I’ve set it in the future and will be taking everyone to the moon. We will be on a virtual spaceship in which the crowd is the captain and they steer the course.
“It will still be wholly improvised but it will probably freak them out a bit at first because I need their co-operation and contributions to do the show, but hopefully when they realise the fun we are all going to have they will go with it!"
Rob says he realised he loved freestyle comedy rapping before he fully knew what he was doing.
“When I was about 13 I got into hip hop and was listening to rap all the time,” he says. “It was definitely different – Ireland is hardly full of hip hop!” he jokes.
“I was listening to gangster rap like Snoop Dog but didn’t understand the lyrics. A few years later I tried to rap along but was doing my own version and making people laugh.”
But it was a move to London and meeting rapper, hip hop artist and Breakin’ Convention director, Jonzi D which really set him on the path to Abandoman.
“Jonzi did a workshop for dancers and rappers,” he says. “Everyone else was much more macho and authentic and slightly aggressive but they laughed at what I was doing.
“Jonzi was the best guy and I ended up doing a hip hop theatre show for 18 months to build my confidence. He really guided and encouraged me towards Abandoman.”
And although Rob says freestyling can be a terrifying rollercoaster, he admits he wouldn't have it any other way.
“Sometimes it gets really nerve-wracking and there can be moments of sheer panic because I can be in the middle of a song and really not know where it’s heading but you have to keep going.
"Fortunately I generally get to what I call the Hail Mary song where it all comes together!” he laughs.

Abandoman is on at the Udderbelly Festival between May 20 and May 24. Tickets cost £15.50. Visit or call the box office on 0844 545 8252.

Monday, 5 May 2014

interview with Keith Duffy

SWITCHING from pop music to acting is not necessarily as easy as it looks but for Keith Duffy it has provided him with a second successful career.
The Boyzone singer is still a member of the Irish boy band set up in 1993 and which made him famous thanks to 25million record sales worldwide.
But critical acclaim has greeted his foray into acting thanks to stints in ITV's Coronation Street and stage roles.
Now the 39-year-old is making his London stage debut at Battersea’s Theatre503 in Billy Roche's play A Handful Of Stars.
First performed in 1988, it is set in the Irish town of Wexford during the recession where ‘shot-gun’ weddings are outnumbered only by random acts of violence in the pool hall.
The play was first presented as a stand alone in 1988, and then revived as part of the Wexford Trilogy at the Bush Theatre.
It is being brought to Theatre503 as part of the theatre's Second Look programme.
Keith plays Stapler and although he admits to a few nerves he says he's excited to be in the show.
"I can't wait to get on the stage," he says as we chat during a break from rehearsals.
"It's a great story - full of dark humour - and to be bringing it to London is a great honour.
"The theatre is amazing so I'm delighted to be here. It's a small intimate space and the audience is really close so it's a bit terrifying, brilliant and intense all at once!"
As well as his acting prowess, Keith will be showing off his pool playing skills as the action is set mostly in a pub's pool hall.
"The front room of the pub has all these younger guys and in the back room, where they are not allowed, it's the older ones. I'm somewhere in the middle," he laughs.
"It's a story about what happens to people when they get into all sorts of trouble and their cries for help and attention.
"Stapler has the younger ones looking up to him for advice and guidance and he tries to help them by pointing them in the right direction.
"I think everyone does that when they are young. I know I did - and thinking you know it all when you don't."
And he says the audience will go through a whole range of emotions.
"There will be moments when you roar with laughter and the next when tears will role down your face," he says.
"The first scene is epic and will have the audience gripped from the off. It's fantastic."
Bringing the production to Battersea has also brought back some welcome memories for Keith as he used to live in Balham.
"It's a fantastic part of London and I loved being here. It's so vibrant and exciting and with Streatham and Clapham it's an area I have got to know well over the years so I'm pleased to be back."
And after the run he promises Boyzone fans will see the band in action again with more music to come.
"I love acting and theatre especially What you get out of theatre is immeasurable. It is definitely what I love to do. But Boyzone isn't done yet and we will be back later this year!"

A Handful Of Stars takes place at Theatre503 in Latchmere Road until May 24.

Tickets cost £15, £10 concessions. Call the box office on 020 7978 7040

Turin Brakes - Southbank Centre

IN 2001 Turin Brakes burst onto the UK music scene with their Mercury Prize nominated debut album The Optimist. Thanks to its catchy folk and rock inspired tunes the album received critical acclaim and cemented the band's place in the UK "acoustic movement".
Since then the band, formed in Balham by childhood friends Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian, has toured the globe and sold more than one million records worldwide.
Fifteen years on the now Brixton and Tooting based folk-rock band are still going strong and have been joined by long-term collaborators Rob Allum and Eddie Myer.
They celebrated the release of their sixth studio album We Were Here in October last year and are about to take to the stage at the Southbank Centre (SBC).
It is the first time they have performed at the SBC and Olly admits to a few nerves, not least because he says he feels a certain pressure playing on home turf and at a venue which has played such an important part in his younger years.
"We live in South London – I live in Tooting and Gale in Brixton," says Olly. "We love this area, we grew up here so it's incredibly special to us because we spent much of our youth here.
"For London it’s a culturally significant area with the BFI, the theatres and all the other galleries and museums so it's hard not to spend time here.
"The Southbank Centre itself is an inspiring and fancy venue,” he says warmly. "Lots of great bands that we love and which have inspired us throughout our lives have played here over the years and London is our home so we want to do a great show.
"We love its vibe and are really excited - after 15 years of doing this we think we can take it in our stride!"
They will be playing on Saturday, May 10 on the SBC's Queen Elizabeth Hall stage and Olly says there will be plenty for fans to get excited about.
As well as a selection of songs from their extensive back catalogue, there will be more than a few from the latest album as well as some new compositions.
"We really loved putting it together," says Olly. "It was designed for a live set so it really comes alive when we play it live. We are very proud of it and it's had good feedback from those who've heard it which is lovely.
"We don't like disappointing the fans though so there will be the old favourites that people want to hear."
One of those will undoubtedly be the band's re-working of the song Chim Chim Cher-ee, from the film Mary Poppins which they released as a digital single to raise money for homeless charities.
"It's amazing that it did so well," says Olly. "We did it a couple of years ago as a charity song for Shelter and it refuses to die!
"It keeps getting re-released much to our amazement and delight. It's a song people know from childhood but we did a twist on it and slowed it right down.
"It really struck a chord with people which was fantastic.
"The video that went with it was amazing - it was made up of portraits of homeless people in America and was incredibly powerful. Very little happens but viewers just see the haggard faces in the camera. It's very emotional and quite beautiful."
That song aside, most of their music has been inspired by their friendship, school and growing up in South London.
The band have stayed true to their roots too. They recorded the third and fifth albums in Brixton and until recently had a studio in Loughborough Junction.
The pair met when they were at Macaulay Primary School in Clapham in 1984 when they were about seven years old.
They became firm friends and bonded over a shared love of music, guitars and skateboards.
“We spent most of our time in our rooms, listening to music our parents loved like Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and Laura Marlin, all the Laurel Canyon type stuff – playing guitars and smoking," says Olly. "All the grunge era stuff was big for us and we share a real love for blues and folk music.
"We basically found all our parents' records and enjoyed listening to them," he adds laughing. "It was very influential in shaping our own music."
And he says when they weren't doing that, they were down at the South Bank indulging in their other love - skateboarding.
"We used to go there every week to skate - we spent a huge amount of time there and there was always a great atmosphere," says Olly.
And he admits he’s surprised the skaters’ campaign to keep the Undercroft galvanised so much public support.
"While I was keen for the skateboarders to win, I didn’t think they would,” he says. “I thought big business would win the argument and crush them. It blew my mind when that didn’t happen."
And he says it was a similar feeling to when he and Gale got their first break.
"I was doing a degree at Central St Martin's in Covent Garden making soundtracks for films which was amazing but on the side I was still playing music with Gale," he says.
"We had fun and never really took it seriously but had always made tapes for friends and one day someone happened to hear a bit of our music and wanted to put out a record so we did it. It was completely random but just took off from there," he laughs.
"In the end we got offered this tiny record deal but I thought I could carry on doing film stuff because I didn't think the deal would come to much. However, a year later we had 12 major deals offered to us. It was crazy but I've no regrets as the band has given me so many other amazing opportunities."
And he says travelling the world and playing the music he loves with his friend in front of a home crowd are just two of these. Which brings us back to the SBC gig.
"Every audience is different but playing in London is very special - although it's more nervewracking because it's a home audience with family and friends. But it means more to us and we can't wait!"

Turin Brakes play the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre on Saturday, May 10. Tickets from £15. Call the box office on 020 7960 4200  

Somewhere Under The Rainbow The Liza Minnelli Story at the Landor

A BIOGRAPHICAL piece of musical theatre about the legendary singer Liza Minnelli is to get its London premiere at Clapham's Landor Theatre.
Following a sold-out Irish tour and rave reviews at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Somewhere Under The Rainbow The Liza Minnelli Story features Brixton-based Sharon Sexton - currently in the West End cast of The Commitments.
In the show Sharon portrays Ms Minnelli, sharing legendary stories and secrets from the star's fascinating career whilst belting her way through many of the signature tunes from the Minnelli songbook, including Mein Herr, Some People and Maybe This Time to name just a few.
It was written by Sharon's husband Cillian O’Donnachadha, and came about as a result of his research into the singer's life.
"People told me I looked like her but I didn't want to play one of the roles she had made famous because I didn't want my performance to be compared with hers. So my husband thought we should find out more about her and maybe write something in which I could play her as herself," says Sharon.
"He started reading her biography which was fascinating and he ended up writing this show. It's been the most amazing journey for us both because neither of us knew a great deal about her before we started.
"She had a fascinating career and it's been a joy to discover more about her," she says. "She grew up in MGM studios but was cut off by her parents when she was 16 because they didn't want her to pursue a career in showbiz. She really had to fight for every role.
"So this show aims to tell her story and show a side to her that some people may not know about."
It is set backstage before one of her gigs and sees Sharon as Liza speak to the audience, tell them stories about her life and sing some of her songs.
"I have seen her perform in the past and so it's a massive challenge to play her because she's got such incredible energy and passion," says Sharon.
"She's also very vulnerable and incredibly honest when she sings. Her voice is amazing and she manages to create every character when she sings which I really admire. She can perform like no one else and it makes her unique.
"I'm also a huge fan so I am keen to do her justice."
And she is pleased the show is getting it's London debut at the Landor.
"I love this theatre," she says. "It's small and intimate which is exactly the sort of space that suits the show. The audience is right there!
"It's also close to my home in Brixton which is a place I love because there is always such a great buzz."
And while Ms Minnelli hasn't seen the show her half sister Lorna Luft has written to Sharon about it.
"I had a really lovely letter from her," she says. "It would be amazing if Liza came to the show - that would be fantastic!"

Somewhere Under the Rainbow - The Liza Minnelli Story is on at the Landor Theatre, Landor Road, from Monday, May 12 until Saturday May 17. Tickets £15, £12 concessions. Call the box office on 020 7737 7276.

In The Heights - Southwark Playhouse

AS cities develop and grow it has knock on effects for those people who live in them.It is these communities and the way they cope and adapt which is the subject of a musical which is to get its London premiere next week.
In The Heights tells the story of the largely Dominican-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York City which is coming to terms with changes to its neighbourhood.
Featuring music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda, the story by Quiara Alegria Hudes is set over the course of three days and involves an ensemble cast of characters.
It is a celebration of home, traditions, dreams, community and identity, but it is also a chronicle of the challenges facing a neighbourhood on the cusp of change.
It is directed by Southwark resident and associate director of smash hit West End musical Matilda, Luke Sheppard.
“I was really drawn to it for a number of reasons," he says. "It’s got everything that makes a great musical - songs which blew my mind and took my breath away when I heard them, a gripping story, incredible energy, brilliant choreography and an amazing Latin and hip hop infused score.
"It’s fantastic and with this particular production we have got a great young cast of 17 plus eight musicians so I’m really excited about it.
“I’m also really pleased to be bringing it to the Southwark Playhouse because it’s such a great theatre – there are only about 200 sets in the auditorium but that makes it exciting. It’s a much more imersive experience and the audience will really feel part of the action because they are so close to it.
"Also I've wanted to work for the Southwark Playhouse for years - it has become an off West End venue that London hasn't had for a long time and in so many ways, this piece came along at just the right time.
"I feel very lucky that the theatre took a risk with this show but give me the choice of any theatre and it's the one I would choose."
And the 27-year-old adds that’s not the only reason it’s the perfect place to stage the production which originally opened on Broadway in 2008 and won four Tony awards including best musical and best original score.
"I have lived in the Elephant & Castle area for more than five years now and have seen great change in that time with all the redevelopments going on so the story of In The Heights resonates with me on a personal level and it's a topic that's very close to my heart,” he says.
"Southwark Playhouse is my local theatre and sits at the heart of a community faced with similar significant redevelopment to that which is featured in the show, so it’s an inspiring, and totally appropriate place to be staging it,” he adds.
"It’s a very similar situation though with this piece, rather than Elephant & Castle, it’s set in the Heights, one of Manhattan’s most vibrant communities.
"The Hispanic people who live there are full of hopes and dreams but there are also lots of pressures because of the change that is just around the corner.
“When these different groups moved to New York originally they were ostracised and had to build their own communities. But as the city spread and grew, different groups moved in, gentrification of these areas took place, rents went up and those who had originally made that area their home were pushed out.
“It’s a universally applicable story and I see it very much in my own neighbourhood. There is a strong message here about not engineering communities but embracing them and what they have to offer.
"When they proposed the plans for Elephant & Castle one of the towers was to be called the Tribeca Tower - but why pretend it's like New York when it's not? It makes no sense.
"That said, I feel very lucky to live here - there is so much going on, it's diverse and an exciting cultural hub what with all the theatres, galleries, music venues and the visual arts scene. I absolutely love it.
"However, much like those in the show, I worry that what has happened in other parts of London such as Kings Cross, where small businesses which have been created by these communities end up being forced out because of these big developments, will happen here."
Despite the uncertainty faced by the people depicted in the show, he says it is a story full of joy, hope and the spirit which thrives in these areas.
"It's an incredibly moving story. Of course it is poignant and has a sad edge to it but it is definitely about optimism and the resilience of coping in a tricky situation," he enthuses.
"In fact it's actually a real celebration of the stories behind these characters. I hope it inspires people and encourages those who may not have been to see a show here to take a chance.
"There's a lot of love and laughter and that really shines through."

In The Heights is at Southwark Playhouse, between May 9 and June 7. Tickets £22, concessions £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.