Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Summer promenade productions in South London

TWO of South London's parks are to be the settings for two family shows this summer.
Brockwell Park in Brixton and the Streatham Rookery Gardens will play host to Goldilocks And The Three Endings and Alice In The Walled Garden respectively between now and August 17.
They are being presented by Lambeth-based theatre company Sixteenfeet which has been bringing its summer promenade productions to venues in South London for the past four years.
After last year's successful run, Alice In The Walled Garden makes a welcome return and will once again bring Lewis Carroll's famous tale to life.
Audiences will enter a fantastical world inhabited by some iconic characters including the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts and Mock Turtle.
The performance features original music, which is played live by the cast of actor-musicians.
This year it is transferring from the walled garden in Brockwell Park to Streatham.
It will make way for a brand new show, Goldilocks And The Three Endings, penned by Brixton-based Andrew Walsh.
And if you think you know the story of Goldilocks, think again because Andrew says he's given it a bit of a twist.
"It's a fairytale and based on the classic texts of some well known stories so there is a mix of recognisable characters all in the one play," he says.
"I love fairytales and as a writer they are very important because you learn story structures from them but they have changed a lot over many years.
"Goldilocks is an interesting character but how she is portrayed today is very different from how she started out - she was originally an old woman - so this is my take on her and moving the story on again for a new generation."
The action is set in Everwasland which is in danger. The villain is missing, the Midnight Clock is ticking and everyone and everything could disappear in a heartbeat.
It's up to Goldilocks and the Prince Charming - and the audience - to help save the day.
"It's been really fun to write because it's not like a normal theatre show where you just sit and follow the story," says Andrew.
"With this one the audience is very much involved and it's really interactive.
"It starts off as a typical production but about half way through the audience gets to choose which characters they want to follow, what they do and what happens in the end - hence the title!
"By getting the audience to take part by influencing what happens it will bring it to life more so it's very exciting and gives it a nice twist."
The interactive nature of the show has been inspired in part by Andrew's work writing video games.
"I started out in theatre but then moved into writing for TV shows such as Emmerdale," he explains.
"But then from there I've done all sorts of stuff including writing video games which is great fun but totally different to writing a script.
"In a game you have to give the player the element of choice and I thought this might be a good thing to bring to Goldilocks, although at times it was quite complicated.
"It's all scripted so there is no element of surprise or improvisation as far as the actors are concerned but there is for the audience.
"It's funny, really entertaining and action-packed with lots of live music which is performed by the actors, and because it's aimed at a family audience there are different levels and elements for adults and children to take from it."
As in previous years it will be a promenade production whereby the audience follows the actors as they move about the garden.
"The Walled Garden the most beautiful space and really lends itself to this kind of show," says Andrew. "It's had to be quite carefully choreographed because the audience chooses who to follow and they move to different parts of the garden.
"I'm really pleased with the result and all we need now is for this glorious weather to hold!"

Goldilocks And The Three Endings is on at Brockwell Park until August 10 and Alice In The Walled Garden is at Streatham Rookery Gardens between August 7 and 17. Call 07958 448 690, visit www.sixteenfeet.co.uk or email info@sixteenfeet.co.uk to book tickets or for full listings.

Forbidden Broadway - review


EVER seen Phantom Of The Opera? Miss Saigon? Les Misérables? Matilda?
Well a fabulous show which pokes fun at these and other musicals will make you see them in a new light.
Forbidden Broadway, on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is a guaranteed giggle-fest and features send ups of all those famous shows including old timers such as Les Mis, Phantom and Miss Saigon as well as relative newcomers to the West End stage, Pajama Game, Spamalot and Jersey Boys.
In fact any and every show is fair game and even some of the actors are not immune from being mocked - for example Idina Menzel in Wicked and Alex Jennings as Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
Created in 1982 by Gerard Alessandrini that lampooned the Broadway shows and stars of the day, this current and updated version focuses very much on the West End.
It features just four performers, Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis who sing and dance their way through a series of numbers from a variety of productions with some very swift costume changes along the way and an extremely generous and infectious dose of pizzazz.
The songs are attacked with gusto and feature some classic re-writing of the original lyrics as well as some suitably hilarious and hammy acting and a few clever props including a toy aeroplane which zooms along a zip wire during Miss Saigon.
And even if you have not seen some of the shows chosen for mockery you will undoubtedly recognise them from the revamp of the songs.
It is all great fun and at times my ribs were aching from laughing so much.
In fact there are so many highlights it would be impossible to list them all but my personal favourite was their rendition of Les Misérables - one of the funniest things I've seen on stage in a long time.

Forbidden Broadway is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark Street until August 30. Tickets from £25. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

Holy Warriors - review


COVERING the best part of 1,000 years of conflict in the Middle East is an ambitious task but that is what writer David Eldridge has done with his new play now on at the Globe.
Holy Warriors starts, and has as its main theme running throughout, the Crusades of the 12th century where the two mighty leaders of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin come to blows over their claims to the Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Not only do we see the power struggle that emerges between these two great men but also the conflicts they have to deal with their family and followers. Saladin has his war-hungry son Al-Afadal to rein in and Richard his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is desperate to join him in the Holy war.
It is an epic play, covering centuries and continents and to carry off this somewhat ambitious production there is a cast of 20 tackling more than 70 roles - including priests, presidents, kings, queens and fighters on both sides.
The first half concentrates on the build up to, and the end of, the Crusade and by the end of it Richard is dead.
The second starts with Richard in purgatory with his mother. He is shown some of the key events that happened in the region over the following 900 years - done at breakneck speed - before his mother shows him what could have happened were he to live again and make different choices.
With this alternative view of history we are left wondering if Richard had done things differently would the subsequent conflicts in the Middle East still have happened. And does the current conflict stem from his actions - so is it all his fault?
The second half is a bit disjointed and there are moments when it doesn't quite work - trying to cram 1,000 years of this incredibly complex and difficult history into two hours is a tall order.
That said, it is an interesting and entertaining piece of theatre and there are moments of great humour as well as sadness - particularly when Eleanor lists all the major atrocoties that have happened as a result including 9/11, the London bombings, the bombardment of Gaza and the recent kidnap and murder of the Israeli teenagers and the Palastinian boy.
The acting is also superb throughout with standout performances from John Hopkins as Richard and Alexander Siddig as Saladin.

Holy Warriors is at the Globe, Bankside until August 24. Tickets from £5. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919

Preview - Dogfight

TWO years ago, Dogfight, a new musical based on the 1991 film of the same name, premiered Off-Broadway.
It tells the story of a group of young American marines who enjoy a last night of freedom before they go off to fight in the Vietnam War.
So successful was it, winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and gaining seven other award nominations, that it is to receive its European premiere this month at the Southwark Playhouse.
It is being produced by Southwark Playhouse regular Danielle Tarento and stars Brixton-based actor Samuel Weir who is making a welcome return to the company following his appearance in Danielle's production of Parade three years ago.
"It's a real privilege to be part of," says Samuel as we chat during a well earned break from rehearsals. "It's just a fantastic story - it's well written and beautifully composed so we are all really excited - especially as the Southwark Playhouse was chosen for its UK and European Premiere.
"It's also really great to be back at this theatre," he adds. "The old venue near London Bridge was very atmospheric but this new building is fantastic - there is always a real buzz about the place and the quality of the shows they put on here is incredible.
"With this one, there are only 11 of us in the cast so we're quite small in number but we are like family now and rehearsals are going really well so now we can't wait for the run to start."
The bulk of the play is set on the night of November 21, 1963. It is the night before their deployment to Vietnam, and the three young Marines set out for one final boys’ night of debauchery.
But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, the unassuming and idealistic waitress he enlists to win a cruel bet, she rewrites the rules of the game and opens his eyes to what really matters in life.
At first glance it may sound rather distasteful in tone but Samuel insists at the heart of it is a love story.
"In their last night of fun, the marines hold what they called a dogfight in which they all put some money in a pot, have a party and whoever brings the ugliest date to the party wins the money," he says.
"This bit is not nice at all, but it's actually more about the love story between Eddie and Rose and how she changes his perceptions of things."
Samuel plays Fector, one of Eddie's friends and a fellow marine and he admits to seeing a bit of his younger self in the role.
"Fector is up for a party - he loves life, everything about it and lives it to the full," laughs Samuel.
"He's fun loving and if you dare him to do something he will likely do it - he just wants to get all there is out of life.
"He's about 19 so a bit younger than I am but I do see a bit of him in me - we both embrace life and like to enjoy ourselves and he's a great character to play.
"We are also based in cities which are creative and culturally diverse and exciting and where there is always a huge variety of stuff going on all the time - he was in San Franscisco and I live in Brixton - so there are definitely a few crossovers between me and his character although I think there is always some part of you that relates to the character you play.
"But he's much more go-getting, fearless and daring than I am and more open to doing crazy things than me," he adds laughing.
"The highlight of my weekend is exploring Brixton market, which I love because there is so much to see, sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by or going to the Ritzy!"
As well as the love story between Eddie and Rose, the play also explores the relationships between the young marines and how they grow up during the course of the play which Samuel says is quite emotional.
"They are all about 19 so still very young in terms of life experience," he says.
"At that age though you think you know everything and are invincible and fearless - these men especially because they were told they would come back heroes. So this last party is like an initiation to manhood and it is a really big thing for them.
"The story explores the fragility of life and their innocence.
"We also see what it's like to return from war and finding the country has changed. It was a double whammy for these young men. They came home - some terribly injured and shell shocked - hoping to be welcomed back with open arms and as heroes but they were spat on and people turned away from them. It was terribly damaging for them and there was no support.
"So it's a bit of a rollercoaster for the audience - you are taken from one emotional extreme to another!"
Despite all this Samuel insists the show is a celebration of life and audiences are in for a treat.
"It's such a great story you can't help but be moved in all ways," he says. "These men are having the time of their lives and don't have a care in the world really.
"This is reflected very much in the music which is beautiful and brings out that joyous and patriotic atmosphere.
"At the moment I'm going to bed with six songs buzzing around in my head!" he adds laughing. "You know a musical is good when you can't get the music out of your head!"

Dogfight is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway between Friday, August 8 and Saturday, September 13. Tickets from £12. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Preview - Groove On Down The Road - Southbank Centre

WHEN Zion Battles saw a production of ZooNation's Groove On Down The Road at the Southbank Centre last year he was so inspired he signed up for dance lessons.
Now the exhilarating family friendly show is back for a four week run at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the 12-year-old from West Norwood is one of its many stars.
"I saw it last year and loved it so much I wanted to be in it," he says simply.
"I'd never really done any dancing before but the show was so amazing I rang ZooNation afterwards and asked to join their dance classes. I've worked really hard but I'm so excited - it's going to be amazing to step out on that stage!"
The youngster is one of several from South London who are part of the cast for the show which is made up entirely of dancers aged between 10 and 19.
Written and directed by ZooNation's founder and award winning choreographer Kate Prince, the story is inspired by that of the Wizard Of Oz and its theme of friendship overcoming all the odds.
But whereas the original story was set on a farm in Kansas, Kate's version has been relocated to an urban classroom.
It is here where Dorothy's adventure begins and where her relationship with Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion develop.
And set against a soundtrack featuring music by Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, José González, Janelle Monáe and Miguel it features the phenomenal talents of the young performers who body pop, hip hop, groove and breakdance their way down the yellow brick road with a pair of ruby trainers in lieu of the ruby slippers.
This year there have been a few tweaks to the choreography and a few new faces to the cast including that of Zion.
In fact a good proportion of the young cast hail from South London and say to be part of such a show is a dream come true.
"I'm properly excited and can't wait," enthuses 14-year-old Blaze Porter from Kennington who performs a variety of roles as part of the ensemble.
"I've been dancing for a long time - since I was about seven years old," he says. "I've always loved it and always wanted to perform. This is my first time at the Southbank Centre and it's going to be fantastic."
He is joined by Saskia Horton, who is also in the cast for the first time.
The 17-year-old from East Dulwich was inspired to join ZooNation after a friend recommended she audition.
"A friend who was in a dance group encouraged me - I am so glad she did because I love it," she says.
"I'm in the ensemble and play lots of different characters - from a mechanic to a munchkin!
"The story is really fresh and exciting and the way Kate has written and choreographed it is incredible."
As well as the new faces, some of the cast are back for another spin on the stage.
They include 17-year-olds Jamila Alleyne from Lewisham and Dylan Mayoral from Camberwell.
"It's a really fun show and lovely to be back," says Jamila. "I always wanted to be one of the animals in the musical Lion King so when my older sister started going to local dance schools I went too. Eventually I ended up at ZooNation and haven't looked back.
"It's different, original and refreshing and great to see a hip hop youth company do a fun happy show that can appeal to everyone.
"I think that's why people like it - it's uplifting and brings happiness. And it inspires a lot of kids."
"I did it last summer and I'm so pleased to be back," adds Dylan. "I'm in the ensemble and understudy Toto and Lion so I've have got a lot to learn," he laughs.
"This summer it's about improving what we did last time and getting the choreography a lot cleaner and stronger.
"Rehearsals have gone really well but it's hard work! Kate's been amazing though. She really believes in us and is an inspiration.
"But we are all better dancers this year because we've learned a lot from last time.
"We've been able to introduce different tricks and styles into the routines so if you saw it last summer you have to see it again because it won't be the same!
"We are bringing a piece of theatre to life and it really comes across as something special and magical. It's great to showcase young people's talent and I'm so proud to be part of this and really looking forward to the next few weeks."
For Mikey Ureta there is also a personal element.
The 18-year-old from Tooting is back this year playing Tin Man whose characterisation he created himself.
"I love being Tin Man especially as I choreographed the dances myself so it's really personal for me. Kate asked me if I'd like to do it which is such an honour - she liked my ideas and she trusted me.
"As soon as we heard we were coming back we were all really happy!"
Mikey came to ZooNation after having seen its show Into The Hoods in 2008 and immediately got the dancing bug.
"It was amazing and mum put me straight into ZooNation classes," he laughs. "I've been there six years now and I have grown up with them - I was nervous to begin with but I've made so many friends. It's like family now.
"It makes me proud to be offered an opportunity to perform, and to inspire people like Zion is really special."
And as for Zion he says he's savouring the moment.
"Now I'm here it's a dream come true," he says happily.
"It's not like a typical dance show - it's about acting through dance. It's hard work but I love it because it's something that is inspirational in so many ways and really captures your imagination."

Groove On Down The Road is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, from Tuesday, August 5 until Tuesday, August 26.

Tickets from £11. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk or call the box office on 0844 847 9910.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Show Preview - Clouds, Southbank Centre

THE artistic universe of Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte is the inspiration for a new show which starts at the Southbank Centre tomorrow for a five-day run.
Clouds is an hour long contemporary dance show which features lots of props as well as swirling clouds, miniature horses and enchanting music.
Devised especially for younger audiences it is being brought to the stage by award-winning dance company Aracaladanza.
It is the first time the Spanish dance group has performed at the Southbank Centre and company founder Enrique Cabrera says he is very much looking forward to it.
"We are really excited about jumping onto the stage and dancing for the audience," he says cheerfully.
"We have never been to this venue before so it's going to be very exciting for us.
"We cannot wait for the curtain to rise!"
When it does, he says the audience will be in for a surreal and dreamlike treat where butlers and ballerinas dance in a riot of colour, where clouds turn into sheep and shadows make beautiful patterns to create a world of colour and surprises.
The show has been choreographed by Enrique who says his fascination with Magritte has been used as a starting point for the piece.
"I have always been fascinated by the symbols and elements he uses in his work and I have tried to incorporate these in the show - bowler hats, apples, men in black coats, ladders, doors, umbrellas, tables and clouds – they are some very London trademarks, aren’t they!
"However, these elements do have their own identity in the piece. Clouds is magical, surreal, dreamlike, fragile and dynamic. It is a dance work where dancers and objects melt and turn out to perform as just one body."
And because of the dream like nature of the show Enrique says there is also no traditional narrative or story running through it.
"Clouds is a dream, so it works like a dream," he says. "In a dream you find images that do not seem to have any kind of relationship between them but which push you from one to the next.
"Sometimes you can find a narrative thread between them sometimes do not. It's like floating in the air and being moved by just one finger.
"There are no wicked characters or a beautiful princess in peril. It's not a fairytale. It's just like a big and non stop dream in which everyone can build one's own story.
"It will be pure dream, happiness and fun."
And it is this ethos that runs through the majority of Aracaladanza's work.
"We love to creating shows that are fun and that appeal to the child within every adult and to allude to the possibility of being surprised, amused and moved, feelings that we as adults often hide," says Enrique.
"We suggest stories through images so everyone can have a unique interpretation of what they see. That is why I believe children especially constitute a perfect audience because they don't pre-judge. They are free to feel, believe, enjoy and dislike on the spot and have very little or no restrictions to let adults know exactly how they feel."
For the music, which Enrique says is an integral part of the show, the company has worked with Spanish composer Marian Lozano and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
"Music plays a very important part in the performance," says Enrique. "Because the show is purely dancing there are no words so the music helps to create atmospheres and climates.
"But it also helps with the illusion of the dancers. There are only six on stage but the choreography, the many costume changes and the music together with their comings and goings in and out of the stage give the impression there are about double that amount."
The show is also part of the Southbank Centre's Festival of Love, something Enrique says is a neat fit.
"Where on earth would you imagine it would be a better place to do this show?" he says. "Nowhere! A festival celebrating love is just perfect. When you are in love you walk in clouds, don't you?"

Clouds is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre from Saturday, July 26 until Wednesday July 30. Tickets cost £18 for adults and £9 for children.

Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk  

Review - In Lambeth, Southwark Playhouse


AN imaginary meeting between poet and philosopher William Blake, his wife Catherine and the revolutionary Thomas Paine is the subject of a play now on at the Southwark Playhouse.
Written by Sam Shepherd, In Lambeth opens to what looks like a scene from the Bible with Adam and Eve, naked and communing with angels.
However, the people in this serene tableau are actually the Blakes, stark naked and up a tree in their garden. William is also playing a pipe and Catherine reading from Milton's Paradise Lost.
Very soon their oasis of calm and tranquillity is shattered with the arrival of Thomas Paine who climbs over the wall to their Lambeth garden.
He is seeking sanctuary from the anti republican mobs who patrolled the streets of London during the 1790s.
Without asking why he's in their garden, the Blakes encourage him to stay to dinner and the two men engage in debate about inequality whilst sharing rabbit pie.
Said debate is both interesting and intellectually stimulating. Both agree on the need to achieve equality but they come from different starting points - William believes in the power of language and Thomas says it requires political action.
The irony is of course that neither include Catherine in the discussion, despite the fact she sits there, admits she cannot read and suggests that girls should be educated.
The arguments are well made and the debate they have is lively and at times heated and it is up to Catherine to calm things down when sparks fly.
The 90-minute play is beautifully set and well acted with great performances from Tom Mothersdale as William, Christopher Hunter as Thomas and Melody Grove as Catherine who brings a tenderness and thoughtfulness to the role. She may not have many lines but she is clearly an intelligent woman.

In Lambeth is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until August 2. Tickets from £16. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Review - Great Britain


UNLESS you have been living on Mars for the last few years it cannot have escaped your notice that the news has of late been dominated by phone hacking, sleeze, expenses, cover ups and fraud - much of it interlinked.
Last week some journalists were handed prison sentences for their part in a phone hacking scandal that brought into question the behaviour of the media and police.
And in a genius and hot off the press move, just as the sentences were about to be dished out, the National Theatre announced it had been secretly rehearsing a play dealing with all of the issues above and which duly opened a few days later.
Written by Richard Bean, directed by outgoing artistic director Nick Hytner and with a stellar cast headed up by Billie Piper, Great Britain has hit written all over it.
Billie Piper plays Paige Britain, the ruthless, scheming and seductive news editor at the Free News, a red top headed up by editor Wilson Tikkel (Robert Glenister) who rings his bell while barking orders and an Irish media mogul Paschal O’Leary (Dermot Crowley) who has designs expanding his media empire by opening a TV station.
As befits any self respecting tabloid hack, Paige just wants to scoop her rivals and will do what it takes to do so.
This of course includes sleeping and schmoozing with policemen and politicians and eventually getting her stories by illegal means.
At near on three hours it is long - but it needs to be to weave in all the topical stories of phone hacking, a murder of two children and the subsequent hounding of the father, corruption of the police, the ruthless ambition of the journalists and more.
There are of course some recognisable characters although the best lines are reserved for the inept police commissioner Sully Kassam played by Aaron Neil.
Towards the end there is even a Rebekah Brooks lookylikey editor parachuted in to the newsroom by O'Leary to take over when Tikkel gets promoted to communications director at Number 10.
Granted it has a very thinly disguised plot, with stereotypical characters but it is hugely entertaining and very funny and with a fantastic set which includes moving screens and videos of a rapping police commissioner.

Great Britain is on at the National Theatre until August 23. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call 020 7452 3000

Holy Warriors - The Globe

A FEW cuts and bruises are par for the course for any actor but avoiding being clobbered in the midst of a series of sword fights whilst on stage is currently uppermost in Jonathan Bonnici's mind.
The Bermondsey-based actor is one of the stars of a new play, Holy Warriors, a kaleidoscopic tale of war and bloody revenge that spans continents and centuries and which opens at the Globe on July 19.
Written by David Eldridge it takes in Richard the Lionheart’s third crusade, Hamas suicide bombings, the Roman army and George W Bush - and as you would expect there are plenty of fierce battles to recreate.
"It's a huge swashbuckling epic and really exciting," enthuses Jonathan. "We are opening soon and so we are in the final stretch - it's at that stage where there is a mix of nerves and excitement that builds as it all comes together!"
We chat as Jonathan takes a well-earned break from rehearsals and it's clear he's enjoying his first season at the Globe.
"I love it here and this is a great production to be part of," he says. "It's exhilarating, interesting, fascinating and there is a real energy about it that we are all really enjoying.
"I love all the swashbuckling that goes on," he adds. "The choreography is really important but you still have to be careful because it's easy to become complacent and then accidents happen. I've been caught a couple of times but it comes with the territory.
"I remember at drama school getting hit all the time - once I ended up with a hole in my cheek during a sword fight training session and it really hurt."
Sword fights and injuries aside the 31-year-old says the play is an entertaining "swipe through history" with a serious message.
"It centres around the third crusade with Richard the Lionheart," he says. "It starts when he went over to the Holy land and met Saladin and it explores their relationship and the battles they had.
"Their struggle is used to talk about the whole history of western intervention in the Middle East.
"It is fascinating because it asks some interesting questions about history repeating itself. And of course it's very timely with all that's happening in the region at the moment.
"It shows how much western influence is bound up with the experience of the Middle East and how much of a concern it is."
Jonathan plays Al-Afdal, son of Saladin and he says in developing his portrayal of the character he looked in part to the relationship with his own mother for inspiration.
"Al-Afdal's like a child in many ways because he's very headstrong. However, he's also a war monger and is constantly pushing and encouraging his father to engage in bloody battles with the invaders while Saladin is telling him to calm down and shut up.
"Al-Afdal tells his father he is stupid and has no technical ability to fight a battle and that he has lost control, is not fit for power and needs to change strategy.
"In dealing with the character I thought about how when they are growing up children think they know everything and tell their parents what to do - I was no exception!" he laughs.
"Sometimes with my mum I feel I know best and tell her what she should do. She constantly disputes that of course because I don't.
"But it's interesting how kids sometimes think they know better than their parents when really they have no idea because they've not had that life experience - so I'm channelling a bit of that feeling."
Holy Warriors is the second play Jonathan is in as part of this current Globe season - he is also in Antony and Cleopatra - and he says the ability to have fun and interact with the audience is one of his favourite things about being on the Bankside theatre's stage.
"The Globe is a big old stage but I love it!" he says. "It's a very special place - they look after us and there is always a really buzzy atmosphere. There is so much support especially with all the voice and movement people so it's a fantastic place to be.
"It used to feel very intimidating as the audience is on every side and there is nowhere to hide. If you are standing on stage with the audience looking at you you can feel exposed.
"To begin with it was a bit nervewracking but now I've got used to it I love the eye contact and interaction you can have with the audience - that's what makes live theatre so special."
And he says theatre is where his heart lies.
Indeed it was an outdoor production directed by a family friend that Jonathan saw when he was nine which inspired his love of Shakespeare and set him on his chosen career path.
"I was just entranced by the whole thing," he remembers. "It was a production of Taming Of The Shrew and I just thought the language and storytelling was amazing.
"I love film - I'm fascinated by it and would like to do more in the future but there is something special about the immediacy of theatre, the fact anything could happen on any given performance and that you can interact with the audience and ad lib a bit. It's great."
For the time being though he says he's very settled at the Globe although he admits being in Holy Warriors can be exhausting. However he has found a way to deal with it.
"I live in Bermondsey near the Finnish Church and there is a sauna there which not many people know about," he says.
"It's a proper Scandinavian sauna so it's quite brutal," he adds chuckling. "But after all the running and leaping about on stage and fighting battles it's great to go and let the steam get rid of all the aches and pains!"

Holy Warriors is at the Globe from July 19 until August 24. Tickets from £5. Visit http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ or call the box office on 020 7401 9919

Elephanton preview

LAST year the team behind the National Theatre's War Horse took a well loved story about a little girl who is visited by a blue elephant and turned it in to a glorious show with puppets, music and dance.The Elephantom was such a success the National has brought it to the West End where it is now playing at the New London Theatre until September 6.
Among its stars is Streatham-based actress Susan Harrison who plays the girl.
"It is the most joyful show," she enthuses when we chat about her involvement.
"The illustrations in the book are beautiful and the show is a fantastic adaptation from the original story.
"We opened at the weekend and the response has been great - there has been a lot of laughter!"
For those who've never read Ross Collins' picture book, The Elephantom is about a little girl who lives with her parents and who likes to draw elephants.
Her parents are career people, wrapped up in each other and don't pay much attention to their daughter or her achievements at school.
That is until the girl begins to dream of elephants and then gets an unexpected visit. Soon their lives are turned upside down by a giant ghost-elephant who is both cheeky and rude and just wants to play.
"The audience really warm to the girl because she is ignored much of the time by her parents," says Susan.
"There is a lot to her and it's been lovely to explore the conflict between her and the elephant, from his arrival to when things start to go wrong and it gets her in to trouble.
"But she has more to her than being a sweet little girl," she adds. "She's courageous in the way she confronts the elephant and she uses her imagination in a way that her parents won't let her do most of the time.
"It shows what amazing adventures you can have if you use a bit of imagination and it's how she empowers herself. It's a lovely message," she says.
So what's it like to be on stage with a gaggle of elephants I ask?
"It's so funny," laughs Susan. "It's all very well choreographed but the puppeteers are so clever in the way they move the elephants - they are all different sizes and can move quite freely.
"At the Shed it was quite a confined space but in this theatre we can go into the audience and run through the aisles so they can touch the elephants."
Working with puppets is not new for Susan though, having been part of the hugely successful Charlie And Lola shows which she performed at theatres including Polka in Wimbledon.
"I have never worked with puppets this big though," she laughs. "However, it's been great fun and I'm really enjoying it - particularly as the story is done without anyone speaking and just told through the movement, sound, dance and music of the actors, puppets and the musician.
"I particularly love the dance sequence when four of the elephants come round to the girl's house for a party.
"They go into the audience and have a boogie. It's very funny and the kids roar with laughter. To hear that is just the best!"

The Elephantom is at New London Theatre until September 6. Tickets from £13. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Pacific Overtures - The Union Theatre


STEPHEN Sondheim's Pacific Overtures is not often performed but thanks to a beautifully presented production at the Union Theatre I was left wondering why.
The story is set in 1850s Japan where a community fears the colonial ambitions and influences of the West and America in particular.
Having dispatched the Dutch some years earlier, Japan has now banished any foreigner entering its shores because they fear their culture and sovereignty will be eroded if not.
This splendid isolationism extends to anyone leaving the country and it is enforced particularly harshly.
But when an American warship looms over the horizon a lowly fishermen is sent to urge them to turn round and go home. But they don't listen.
An invasion brings treachery, deception, murder, Samurai revolts and ultimately social change.
Michael's Strassen's production is made up of an all male cast clad in next to nothing and with white face paint.
The story is interesting and well told and although the score is clearly not easy it is performed well by the on-stage musicians.
Many of the cast play multiple roles and there are some fine performances from all involved particularly Ian Mowat as the Old Madam, Emmauel Alba as Manjiro the fisherman, Ken Christiansen as the Reciter and Oli Reynolds as the chief Samurai.
It is an incredibly entertaining piece of theatre, beautifully staged and well choreographed and proves once again that you don't need to go to the West End to see a musical done brilliantly.
The Union has clearly not lost its golden touch.

Pacific Overtures is on at the Union Theatre, Union Street, until August 2. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.uniontheatre.biz or call the box office on 020 7261 9876.

Love Mowtown - Royal Festival Hall

FANS of Tamla Motown are in for a treat this weekend with a concert devoted to some of the best love songs from the iconic American record label.
Love Motown! will feature South London singer, songwriter and musician Noel McKoy at the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) performing a selection of the songs for one night only on Saturday, July 19.
The 52-year-old will be joined on stage by Southbank Centre's 200-voice Voicelab choir, singer Beverley Skeete, the Jazz Jamaica All Stars and Urban Soul Orchestra.
The concert will be a celebration of the great love songs from the extensive back catalogue of hits and among the highlights will be new arrangements of classics including Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On, The Jackson 5's I'll Be There, The Supremes’ Can't Hurry Love, The Commodores’ Easy and The Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart of Mine.
It has been put together by Jazz Jamaica’s founder and leader, Gary Crosby especially for Southbank Centre's Festival of Love.
And while Noel says he can't wait to be back on the RFH stage, he does admit to a few nerves.
"I have known Gary for quite a while and over the years I have guested with Jazz Jamaica so I was really pleased to be asked to do this gig," he says.
"I have done the Festival Hall before many times but not for a while so it will be great to be back although I am quite nervous," he adds.
"I've got good memories of performing there though. It's a great stage and you can connect with the audience really well. It's also got great sound and acoustics and I'm looking forward to it - it's going to be mega!"
And he says it's just the sort of music he loves to perform.
"You can tell a story with music and for me I think I express myself better with love songs. It's how you view love and how you feel it. Music definitely touches the soul and you feel love through it.
"I loved being in the James Taylor Quartet which was more acid jazz but I'm a ballard singer really. I love crooning," he laughs. "So this festival is right up my street!"
We chat as Noel is playing guitar and composing songs for a new album.
"Music is key for me - it's my life and my passion and I've always got lots of projects on the go.
"Over the past three months I've been busy in the studio doing stuff including for the new album but I've always been like this," he says warmly.
"I am writing a song for Kool and the Gang at the moment too. I supported them the year before last when they played in Brixton.
"And I'm obviously also thinking about the up coming gig and practising for that.
"It's very exciting," he adds. "We will be performing all the classic songs but with different arrangements. My favourite is Marvin Gaye's What's Going On but there are so many others I love - the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder - we will be playing them all.
"We've got a huge orchestra and choir so it will be quite something - I've certainly never done anything on this scale before and I'm sure it will be very moving."
That Noel's passion is music should not come as a surprise. Born and raised in Clapham and Battersea he was surrounded by various musical influences as he was growing up.
His mum and aunt were both singers and he learned to play several instruments at school where a discipline and strong work ethic was drilled into him.
He also spent much of his teenage years listening to a wide variety of music as well as working at recording studios.
"South London was an amazing place to be in the 1970s and really informed and influenced me and my music," he says.
"I grew up in Battersea and spent a lot of time in Brixton and there was all sorts of different but great music everywhere - from Bowie to T Rex, jazz to reggae and everything in between.
"Now I enjoy an array of musical styles - roots reggae, classical, lovers rock, blues, jazz, rock and soul...and everything else that's called music."
"But it was an amazing time and really set me on my path."
And what a path it's been. After he left school he formed bands such as the Albians, Impak and then McKoy with his sister and two brothers, before fronting the James Taylor Quartet in the 1990s.
He has also released numerous albums, is working on a film - in which he is also composing the score - and has worked with the likes of Juliet Roberts, Mica Paris, Beverley Knight and has even jammed with Stevie Wonder.
"One of my best memories was at the Rotterdam Jazz Festival playing for 30,000 people with James Turner Quartet. And jamming backstage with Stevie Wonder was a personal highlight!" he laughs.
"I'm very lucky," he adds. "I don't really consider this a job because it's something I love so much and get a great deal out of.
"I've done so many things and met so many amazing people. It's a blessing."

Love Motown is at Royal Festival Hall on Saturday July 19. Tickets from £17.50. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk or call the box office on 0844 875 0073.

Review - Julius Caesar, The Globe


THE stage at the Globe is beginning to take on a reddish hue this year thanks to the amount of blood being spilled on it.
So far copious amounts have been shed in productions of Titus Andronicus and Anthony and Cleopatra but this is being added to thanks to Julius Caesar which has just opened at the Bankside theatre.
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole the action starts way before the bell goes thanks to Roman musicians and entertainers who mill about outside the theatre. The audience even gets a chance to see Mark Anthony run a circuit of the courtyard before the curtain goes up.
It all sets the scene for a brilliant and hugely entertaining production of Shakespeare's political play which charts the rise of Mark Anthony and the fall of Julius Caesar and all the bickering and political posturing in between.
The quality of the production stems from the brilliance of the actors and the way they deliver the text.
However, credit too to the stage itself - the Globe is the perfect place for this play - it has the space for the actors to roam around and it allows for both Mark Anthony and Brutus to deliver their addresses after the assassination of Caesar to the Roman people - us, the audience, most of whom are looking up at them from the yard.
Tom McKay gives an assured performance as the smug and self assured Brutus - the man who thinks is arrogant enough to believe he is right all the time yet makes the wrong decision at every turn.
George Irving gives Caesar a steely arrogance and with just enough arrogance and menace.
Luke Thompson is great as Mark Anthony - initially seen as drunk after a night on the tiles, but transforming into an impressive orator.
Elsewhere Christopher Logan as the somewhat camp, gossipy Casca was a joy and Katy Stephens was brilliant as both Calpurnia and one of the citizens who heckles from amongst the groundlings.

Julius Caesar is on at the Globe, Bankside until October 11. Tickets from £5. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919

Resonance Festival - Bedford pub, Balham

TWENTY years ago Mike Morton played his first gig at the Bedford pub in Balham. Now the 52-year-old is back with his band The Gift to host a four-day music festival which will also act as a fundraiser for cancer charity Macmillan.The idea for the event which takes place between Thursday, July 31 and Sunday, August 3 came about after Mike and band mate David Lloyd were travelling back from a festival last year.
"We started talking about the music and discussed setting something up ourselves so we could feature the music we wanted," says Mike.
"Prog rock and classical rock bands don't get the audiences they used back in the 70s when they were more in fashion but there is still an appetite for it so it seemed a good thing to do."
But the idea really gained momentum when Mike lost his mother Marion to cancer in September.
"Mum had bowel cancer and at one stage we thought she'd beaten it but then it came back and eventually it took her life," says Mike.
"She was 79 and it was a shock because she was always so full of hope and positivity.
"I wanted to do something to remember her and Dave and I had a chat and decided that a music festival featuring adventurous guitar bands would be the perfect opportunity to do that and raise money for Macmillan in the process."
"Macmillan was great and provided my family with so much help and support towards the end of mum's life and I couldn't think of a better charity to raise funds for."
The Resonance Festival will feature an eclectic mix of national and international bands and genres from prog rock, hard rock, metal, punk and avant-garde.
Among those appearing will be Also Eden, Mostly Autumn, The Enid, Big Elf and Anglagard.
"We have described it as music without boundaries," explains Mike. "We had a wish list of bands we wanted but it took a good few months to get the final line up.
"There are lots of up and coming bands included - those who have taken inspiration from the great bands of the 70s - which we are really excited about and they were really keen to be part of this.
"It was more tricky to get the established bands - some had other commitments and for others they need a bigger space - but we have been really lucky because Anglagard is coming over from Sweden especially for the festival and Bigelf is flying in from California so there has been a lot of good will."
And he hints that there may be a few other famous faces popping in throughout the four days.
What was never in doubt was the choice of venue. This was partly because Mike lives in Balham, but also because the Bedford has a well-deserved reputation for hosting other festivals including the Comedy and Folk Fest.
"It is such a great venue with three amazing rooms which are so full of character and are actually quite intimate so it's the perfect environment," says Mike.
"I played my first gig there so it has special memories for me.
"It's also a great area generally - there's always so much going on and there's a real earthiness to it. I grew up in Streatham and in those days Balham was always considered to be quite gritty.
"Now it's a bit more gentrified with lots of young people moving in and it's got a really bohemian atmosphere with a great cultural and ethnic mix.
"Growing up in Streatham in the 70s, groups like ELO, Yes, Queen and Genesis were very much my diet and they really informed and influenced my musical tastes," he adds.
"The South London music scene in those days was brilliant and full of budding musicians. There were loads of opportunities for us back then and lots of places like the basements of pubs in Tooting, Streatham and Balham where we would play and rehearse.
"The 70s was a very fertile time when it was great to be young and into music."
But he insists there is still a place for prog and classical rock and says he hopes the festival will prove a success.
"I want to raise at least £15,000 for Macmillan because the work they do is fantastic but I also hope the festival will be popular enough that we can make it an annual event!" he says.

The Resonance Festival takes place at the Bedford pub, Bedford Hill between Thursday, July 31 and Sunday, August 3. Visit www.resonance-festival.com for full line up and tickets.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Love Poems at the Southbank Centre

SOME of the greatest love poems ever written will feature in a special celebratory performance as part of a summer festival.
The 50 Greatest Love Poems of the Last 50 Years will see poems from 30 different countries read by actors and poets on the Royal Festival Hall stage on Sunday, July 20.
It is part of the Southbank Centre's Festival Of Love and the biennial Poetry International Festival which was set up by poet Ted Hughes in 1967.
Among those being performed will include Celia, Celia read by the subject of the poem, Adrian Mitchell’s second wife and widow Celia Hewitt, and The Present read by Michael Donaghy’s widow Maddy Paxman.
Elsewhere actress Harriet Walter will read Margaret Atwood’s Variations on the Word Love, her husband Guy Paul will read Philippe Jaccottet’s Distances, Siobhan Redmond will read Edwin Morgan’s Strawberries and Don Paterson will read his poem My Love.
The evening will close with one of the greatest love poems of all time – Derek Walcott’s iconic Love After Love.
The poems have been selected from 30 countries across the world, from Saint Lucia to Iraqi Kurdistan and there will be readings in Arabic, Turkish, Macedonian and Tamil, with English translations.
They have been chosen by a team headed up by Southbank Centre’s head of literature and spoken word, James Runcie.
He said: "We have drawn on the expertise of our Saison Poetry Library to curate a truly international and stylistically diverse selection of what we see as the best 50 love poems of the past 50 years – from young poets such as the first Young Poet Laureate for London, Warsan Shire, to world greats such as Chinua Achebe and Ted Hughes.
"It was tough restricting ourselves to just 50 poems, but I think we’ve come up with a wonderfully rich and varied offering of some of the world’s greatest love poems, which, read by some of our finest readers will be an one-off evening to remember."
During the same weekend the Southbank Centre will also present a dramatised reading of some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking poets’ letters ever written.
These readings will take place on Saturday, July 19 and will be performed by actors and poets including wife and husband Harriet Walter and Guy Paul who will read the letters between Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Rilke and Marina Tsvetaeva.
Ben Lamb will read love letters by Keats and Rupert Brooke, Susannah Fielding will read Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Pablo Neruda and actor Jason Hughes will read one of Dylan Thomas’s last letters to his wife Caitlin, as well as poems by Ted Hughes, Wilfred Owen and Russell Edson.

Tickets for Saturday's event cost £10 and for Sunday cost from £12. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk/love or ring the box office on 0844 847 9910.

Review - Pajama Game


A MUSICAL set in a pajama making factory in 1950s midwest America may sound a somewhat strange idea but don't be fooled because one such which has recently opened is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
The Pajama Game is packed with fun, jolity, fabulous music, cracking songs and brilliant dance routines from the off and don't stop until the curtain comes down, ensuring the audience will leave the theatre with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.
Richard Eyre's production was first seen in Chichester last year but has now been transferred to the Shaftesbury Theatre.
The story concerns the workers of the Sleep-Tite pyjama factory who are desperate for a seven-and-a-half cent an hour pay rise.
However their tight fisted boss Hasler is having none of it and hires the handsome Sid Sorokin as his superintendent to keep them in line.
In the true traditions of all good love stories he immediately falls in love with feisty union rep Catherine "Babe" Williams who is in charge of the grievance committee.
Their relationship starts of on rocky ground as a result but of course just when you think things are plain sailing it all falls apart when he has to fire her for a misdemeanor.
Elsewhere there is much hilarity thanks to the brilliant secretary Gladys who does a great burlesque routine and Vernon Hines, a time and motion man in love with Gladys but who has a penchant for drink and knife throwing - mostly at the same time.
Although there are superb performances from the likes of Michael Xavier as Sid and Gary Wilmot as Hines, it is an ensemble piece where the entire cast get their moments to shine.
And shine they do. This is a toe tapping, glorious, colourful, vibrant and utterly blissful show.

The Pajama Game is on at the Shaftesbury Theatre until September 13. Tickets from £20. Call the box office on 020 7379 5399.  

Theatre Review - A First World Problem

Amelia (Molly Vevers), Hebe (Milly Thomas),

L-R Amelia (Molly Vevers), Hebe (Milly Thomas), Lydia (Kate Craggs)
pic credit Jack Sain


IF you ever wondered what life could be like at a posh girls only boarding school then check out a production of a new play, A First World Problem which is currently on at Battersea's brilliant Theatre503.
Disturbing, funny, emotional and sad this brilliantly observed piece by Milly Thomas hits you right between the eyes with its brutal depiction of life at a fictional institution for extremely privileged girls who work hard and play hard.
It is like a 21st century version of St Trinian’s with its references to drugs, teenage hormones, porn, sex, eating disorders, bullying, extra curricular activities with male teachers, attempted suicide and feminism.
These subjects are played out and explored by Hebe (Milly Thomas), Lydia (Kate Craggs) and Amelia (Molly Vevers), three 18-year-old friends anxiously awaiting letters which will tell them whether or not they’ve got into Oxford University.
Hebe is a mouthy but extremely bright and articulate girl on the verge of womanhood. Vulnerable but strong she is a nightmarish and volatile cocktail of raging hormones and cruelty in the way she speaks and acts.
Milly Thomas is fantastic as this troubled teen switching from foul mouthed ranting bully - who has no off switch when it comes to controlling her nasty outbursts towards her fellow pupil Amelia - to sexy and seductive when she ends up having extra history lessons with young teacher Steve.
Kate Craggs and Molly Vevers put in great performances as the other two girls as well as their portrayals of Steve and headteacher Ms Broad.
And putting the production on at the tiny Theatre503 is a stroke of genius as it gives a sense of the claustrophobic atmosphere these girls live in.
At just 90 minutes, this is an intelligent piece, well staged, that tackles serious and important topics in a sensitive but enthralling and entertaining way.

A First World Problem is at Theatre503, Latchmere Road until July 12. Tickets from £10. Visit www.theatre503.com or call the box office on 020 7978 7040.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Robert Newman - New Theory of Evolution at the Balham Comedy Festival

JUST over 20 years ago Rob Newman and his comedy partner David Baddiel were selling out stadiums and commanding an astonishing level of celebrity status and success.
The pair were the pin ups of their generation and responsible for turning comedy into the new rock’n’roll.
However, while David went on to find a continuation of fame and fortune with projects such as Fantasy Football League after they split, Rob's career went a totally different way.
Indeed for a while he virtually disappeared from view, shunning the limelight and only popping up from time to time to do one-off solo projects.
The time away allowed him to reinvent himself from the poster boy image he clearly felt uncomfortable with to the politically astute, anti-establishment comedian and writer he actually was.
But now Rob, or Robert as he prefers to be called, is back with a new show, the New Theory of Evolution and which he is bringing to the Balham Comedy Festival next week.
Part of a nationwide tour, it is his first new show for seven years and as we chat it's clear the 49-year-old is delighted to be back behind the mic.
"I've never done the Balham Comedy Festival before but I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "The Bedford Pub, where it's held, is a great venue and I've seen some amazing comedians there over the years.
"I did perform there once and it was the sweetest loveliest gig so I'm pleased to be able to bring the show here."
The New Theory of Evolution sees Robert tell the story of how a series of personal disasters and jammy flukes led him to stumble upon a whole new theory of evolution, which he calls the Survival of the Misfits.
It’s a story which includes altruistic vampire bats, Prince Kropotkin’s daring escape from a Tsarist dungeon and Richard Dawkins’ postman wrestling naked.
"I've been touring it for a few months now," he says. "It's normally 90 minutes long but at Balham I only have an hour so the audience will get a greatest hits version with a bit of ukulele at the end - great comedy always ends with a song!
"But the main thing is I put forward a new theory of evolution."
It sounds a bit heavy I suggest tentatively. Do people need a degree to understand it? He laughs.
"Oh yes, everyone who comes along will be required to sit a general knowledge test and those who fail will be banished to the next room!
"Actually although it's more focused on science it is tremendous fun to talk about," he enthuses. "It's about ideas, and if you have got ideas, you open up this whole new world which gives you much more material to talk about - for example the strange behaviour of wolves or flat worms.
"Audiences want ideas and I think there is a hunger for that - it certainly gives you more to get your teeth into and it doesn't make it less funny - in fact it makes it more funny.
"There is a big industry out there telling us that we are born selfish and it's such a depressing idea so it's the job of the comedian to cheer everyone up and get rid of that wrong idea by tearing a hole in it.
"I have had a few guffaws from audiences...!"
Softly spoken, but warm and extremely polite, throughout our chat Robert comes across as thoughtful, almost nervous and at times seems almost embarrassed by his younger self.
"When I read these reports of what it was like back then [at the height of his fame], my experience was completely different," he says simply. "It's not something I recognise.
"I remember being chased around back stage by the security guards. They just saw a scruffy bloke and thought he shouldn't be back stage so they chased me. It was quite tense.
"I got very nervous and stressed out - I didn't have any sang-froid."
So are things better now that he's back I ask?
"Oh yes," he enthuses. "I am really loving it although I wasn't sure how I would feel initially because I'd been away for a while," he admits.
So why the long time away? It appears health, parenthood and other projects got in the way.
"I wrote my book The Trade Secret which took me six years - I'm a slow writer and thinker," he says somewhat apologetically.
"It's based on a true story and there's a lot of Elizabethan swashbuckling that goes on in it so it was great fun to do and I enjoyed escaping into that world.
"I also had a couple of operations on my back and spent a year learning how to walk again though I'm OK now. And then I became someone's dad.
"It was only after all that I started on this show and it involved a lot of workshops and research.
"I hope now I'm back the comedy is richer for all that experience - I'm certainly enjoying it very much," he adds. "People have been warm and generous in their reaction and appreciation which is fantastic.
"I think I'm enjoying it more these days although I do miss the tour bus and my tour manager," he jokes. "These days it's just me on my own and in smaller venues."
And this is something he prefers.
"I did a gig at the Shepherd's Bush Empire with Mark Thomas which was nice but I thought I was going to have a heart attack beforehand as I was so nervous.
"It was terrifying and really scary. Now I think anywhere bigger than the Hammersmith Apollo doesn't work for me - or for comedy come to that, and I regret having set a bad precedent.
"Even with bands it is always disappointing in a large venue as you can't see them - if I was that popular again I don't know I would choose a large venue.
"I love smaller places and the connection you have with your audience so I'm really looking forward to the gig at the Bedford.
"The only thing is that the pub is right next to the railway line so you always hope a train doesn't come by in the bit just before the joke's punchline!"

Robert Newman's New Theory of Evolution is at the Balham Comedy Festival, Bedford Pub, Bedford Hill on Friday, July 11. Tickets cost £16. Visit www.balhamcomedyfestival.com or call the box office on 0208 682 8940.

The Valley of Astonishment - The Young Vic


ONE of this country's most eminent theatre directors makes a welcome return to the Young Vic with a fascinating self penned piece on synaesthesia and the impact it has on peoples' lives.
The Valley of Astonishment has been written by Peter Brook and grew out of an earlier work focusing on memory, Je Suis Un Phénomène.
This production, which is being performed on the Waterloo theatre's main stage, is a 75-minute long performance from three actors and two musicians in which we delve into the lives of people who have synaesthesia - a neurological condition in which people find their senses blend together - for example, music has colour, words have pictures and numbers have flavours.
The central performance is that of Kathryn Hunter as ordinary woman, Sammy Costas, for whom synaesthesia results in an extraordinary capacity to remember sequences of numbers and words which she sees as pictures dancing in her mind.
We meet her when she is a reporter at the local paper. She has no need of a notebook because of her phenomenal ability to remember absolutely everything. Her news editor is so stunned he sends her off to see two neurological scientists who put her in for a series of cognitive tests.
They encourage her to see her abilities as a gift which can further her career and suggest a career in theatre which she eventually turns to. However after a while it all gets too much and she goes back to them complaining that she has so many things in her head she feels as though it may burst.
In asking for their help in how to get rid of all the information stored in her brain she sees it as more of a hindrance rather than a gift.
Her story interweaves with others including Macello Magni's one-handed magician who gets two people from the audience to help him in his tricks and Jared McNeill's jazz loving artist for whom music and colour are as one.
And although the subject matter sounds somewhat heavy, it is actually gentle, fascinating, touching and funny, thanks in part to the beautiful music played by Raphael Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori who sit on the stage throughout.
It is a beautifully staged piece with great performances from all those involved.

The Valley of Astonishment is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until July 12. Tickets from £10. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Brockley Open Studios

A GROUP of talented artists are throwing open their doors to the public on Saturday (july 5) as part of an annual three day exhibition.
Now in its 22nd year, the Brockley Open Studios is a chance for people to come and have a look at the work of painters, sculptors, ceramic artists, photographers, printers, leather work, metalwork and textile makers who live and work in the area.
It will be an opportunity to meet the artists, see them at work and buy or just browse their pieces.
Many of those whose work will be on display are former Goldsmiths and Camberwell Art Schools graduates.
All the studios are within walking distance of each other.
The annual event, which started in 1992, will this year run from 2pm to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday, and 5pm to 8pm on Monday July 7.
Thirty six artists and their studios will be open over the three days.

Visit www.brockleyopenstudios.co.uk for full listings.