Friday, 15 August 2014

Review - Top Hat, at the New Wimbledon Theatre and then on tour


FROM the moment the curtain goes up on Top Hat you know you are in for a treat. The musical has just started a nationwide tour beginning at the New Wimbledon Theatre after its huge success in the West End, in which it won three Laurence Olivier awards including Best New Musical.
Top Hat is based on the film of the same name which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and features the music and lyrics of Irving Berlin.
It tells the story of Broadway sensation Jerry Travers and self confessed confirmed bachelor who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont with whom he has unexpectedly fallen in love.
There are plenty of twists and turns along the way which are interspersed with some glorious dancing and song with music and lyrics
Celebrating the golden era of Hollywood, it is an uplifting romantic comedy, full of slapstick, farce and hilarity, and while it may not be the most original of storylines it is nonetheless an absolute belter of a show.
As Jerry and Dale, Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch the light up the stage. They have great chemistry and sing and dance beautifully.
Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill are great as the wisecracking and bickering Hardwicks and John Conroy does a delightful Bates.
One of the stars of the show is undoubtedly Sebastien Torkia whose petulant, passionate and outrageous fashion designer Alberto Beddini is a dream.
The attention to detail is spot on in every respect - from the silk of the top hats which makes them shine under the spotlights, to the sumptuous art deco set, the fabulous costumes and the pitch perfect singing.
But the real stars of the show are of course the dance routines and the songs which include Cheek to Cheek, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Let’s Face the Music and Dance and, of course, Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.
It is the most joyful, sublime, fun and exuberant production. The West End’s loss is the provinces gain as this fabulous show tours the country – catch it while you can.

Top Hat is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday, August 23. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 

My Perfect Mind - preview - Young Vic

IN 2007 actor Edward Petherbridge was two days into rehearsing the title role of Shakespeare's King Lear in New Zealand when he was suddenly and unexpectedly struck down by not one but two strokes.
In the space of 24 hours the now 78-year-old had gone from knowing one of the greatest parts in theatre to being barely able to move.
It was, by his own admission, a devastating and frightening time - not least because it was a role he had been coveting for a long time and is often regarded as the pinnacle of any thespian's career.
By a miracle - though he tells me he hates that word - he recovered and as he did so he made a startling discovery - that he remembered every word from the role he cherished so much.
It inspired My Perfect Mind, a semi-autobiographical play in which Edward plays himself and King Lear and which was staged at the Young Vic last year.
He devised and co-wrote it with fellow actor Paul Hunter with whom he stars in the show and director Kathryn Hunter (no relation).
And he says he's "absolutely delighted" it is being revived at the Waterloo theatre for a four week run starting tomorrow night (Wednesday, Sept 3) before heading out on a small nationwide tour.
"I don't believe in miracles - you only have to look in the garden every day to see the magic that is life," he says.
"But it was an incredible thing to bring all the strands together and create the piece and I'm thrilled we can do it again."
The two-man production is partly a look back through the archives of Edward's illustrious 50-year career as a classical actor - he was the original Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, worked with Laurence Olivier at the National and Old Vic Theatres and has played practically every major stage role since.
It is also a chance for him to finally play Lear - at least in part - as well as show how one event can turn life upside-down.
Amusing reminisences and anecdotes from Edward's life are thrown into the mix making it a piece which is funny, touching, poignant, gentle and almost surreal.
He and Paul - who takes on a multitude of roles including Lear's Fool - perform on an off-kilter stage which he admits was a bit of a worry at times though he says he only fell off once.
But he says it was a "delightful" show to devise.
"Paul and I met a few years ago while we were rehearsing for The Fantasticks, an off Broadway show," says Edward.
"We hit it off immediately and we began talking about what had happened to me. I told him about an idea I had do something based on it, and he suggested there was a better show to be done.
"He runs theatre company Told By An Idiot so I thought if anyone could make it happen he could.
"We didn't have to discuss very much though because it just happened - almost by osmosis!
"It's been a joy to do - especially working with Paul and Kathryn - although of course I was trying to get in as much Lear as I could!"
And he says its positive reception from audiences was "a joy".
"Years ago I played the original Guildenstern and remember going home from rehearsals on the bus to Peckham where I lived and immediately thought this part was tailor made," he says.
"It had all the sorts of things I'd wanted to bring out in myself as an actor. I could feel it working and that's what I felt with this show," he adds.
"A great recognition point is the laughter - when you know the audience has got it. It's a visceral point of understanding between the audience and the actor.
"There was definitely a sense that it would lift off. I don't know why the elements came together as we rehearsed in a loose kind of way but it just worked," he adds laughing.
Paul agrees though he admits its success took him by surprise.
"Plays aren't revived very much as they tend to exist in the present, there for a short time before disappearing for something else to take their place," he says.
"But there was something about this show that really connected with people so when the Young Vic asked to bring it back we were all very much up for it.
"I always thought there was potential in it and that it had a lot of resonance but I couldn't have predicted the hugely positive response we got which spanned all generations - we played to a wide range of ages.
"But that's the joy of it - it touched a lot of people. In fact it was one of the most successful shows of the past 21 years my company, Told By An Idiot, has put on!
"I know it has a lot of life and breath still in it."
I ask Edward finally if he still yearns to play Lear in full.
"I'm not sure," he admits. "I was asked not so long ago by a fringe theatre company but I didn't feel the conditions were quite right.
"I've not completely given up the fantasy to do the whole thing though," he adds chuckling.

My Perfect Mind is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo from September 2 until September 25.

Tickets from £10. Box office 020 7922 2922.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Unlimited Festival - Southbank Centre

IN 2012 the Southbank Centre was asked to commission and bring together a host of disabled artists for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
The result was the first Unlimited Festival, part of an unprecedented £2.4million, three-year initiative funded by Arts Council England, Spirit of 2012 and Creative Scotland which funds disabled artists to produce work which aims to transform our perception of the world.
More than 30,000 people saw 29 acts perform over the two weeks of the event. It was deemed such a success Southbank Centre is bringing it back for a second time.
Taking place over the course of six days between Tuesday, September 2 and Sunday, September 7 and across the organisation's entire 21-acre site, Unlimited Festival will showcase and celebrate the talents of disabled artists with an ambitious mix of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts.
"These days there is a real commitment to look at ways to make the world accessible for everyone," says head of performance and dance, Wendy Martin.
"There are so many exceptional disabled artists out there who are making a difference and the work they are doing is very much part of our arts culture.
"The 2012 festival was so successful Arts Council England made a commitment that it should not be just a one-off event which is fantastic.
"Also Unlimited Festival captures the essence of Southbank Centre’s core belief in the potential of art to change the way we see the world, so I am thrilled to again be presenting such an eclectic range of bold new work that values and celebrates difference."
The six days will feature more than 100 international disabled dancers, choreographers, theatre makers, cabaret stars, stand-ups, puppeteers, musicians, poets, film makers, visual artists, activists and thinkers.
It includes more than 20 performances, 11 exhibitions and installations and a wide ranging programme of talks, debates workshops and free outdoor and indoor activities.
Among the highlights of the impressive line up are a video dinner party with an alcohol-infused butler, a tender look at Alzheimer’s and family relationships, a frank and funny sex comedy, non-dancers dancing, an exploration of religion’s attitude to disability and a mass participatory signing and dance to Pharrell Williams’s hit song Happy.
There will also be post show discussions for audiences to meet with and talk to the artists about their work.
"It's quite a line up," enthuses Wendy. "There is a huge amount going on and it would be very difficult for me to pick out anything in particular so I would say people should just come along and see as much as they can!"
And although she is reluctant to be drawn on naming personal highlights she says artists such as Michelle Ryan, Claire Cunningham and Katherine Araniello should be in audience’s itineraries.
"Claire was one of the 2012 artists we had and has made an astonishing piece of dance theatre," she says.
"Katherine Araniello deals with the clichés of disability in her show and then there is Michelle Ryan who is a leading contemporary dancer from Australia. She was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago aged 30 and this is her first performance in 10 years.
"So there will be a chance for people to see and hear from artists who were born with a disability as well as those who have had it come to them in later life.
"Also our family show, Edmund The Learned Pig which is based on an unpublished poem by Edward Gorey is lovely. It's a circus story and has been set to music by Martin Jacques from The Tiger Lillies and is just great."
"But because of the funding from the Arts Council, people can trust that what they are going to see or hear will be exceptional."
One thing Wendy is keen to stress is that most of the events and performances are free, including the final show on Sunday night, Graeae Theatre Company's Reasons To Be Cheerful at the Clore Ballroom.
"It's an extremely important part of the ethos of Southbank Centre that arts should be accessible to all and so as much as posible we try to make the work we do free," she says.
"So, there are workshops and free performances going on in the foyers and in our outside spaces and we hope that people might see and stumble across them even if they didn't know about the festival.
"It means they could be interested enough to explore the festival further and see and discover more going on. We hope it inspires them."
She also hopes people will come and think as well as be entertained by what they see and hear.
"There is a strong political point underscoring the events and performances but there is also a huge spirit of fun," says Wendy.
"It's about people thinking more compassionately and is a fantastic way of creating an understanding between everyone."

Unlimited Festival takes place at the Southbank Centre between Tuesday, September 2 to Sunday, September 7 September. Visit for full listings.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Muse of Fire at the Globe

LAST year the Globe theatre's education department put on a promenade production especially for children.
Muse Of Fire was part of the very first nationwide Family Arts Festival and was devised by the Globe and creatives from theatre company, Punchdrunk, performer and sound artist Melanie Wilson, and Little Angel puppet theatre.
It was so successful that not only did the show achieve a 10-day sell out run but it won three out of five categories in the Festival awards - Best Family Welcome, Best Family Venue and Best Family Event.
And head of Globe Education, Patrick Spottiswoode says its success has inspired the team to bring the concept back to the Bankside venue later this month, this time with a new story but featuring some familiar faces.
"We are known for our mainly adult-focused productions but last year was a first attempt at a specific family theatre show and we won three awards which was fanastic," he says.
"It pleased us hugely because our aim is to introduce Shakespeare to as many people as possible and it's lovely to engage families in his stories.
"But we were thrilled and totally bowled over by how popular the show was. What was so great about it was the way in which it was constructed - it's like a series of episodes with various theatre styles and atmospheres.
"The audience is constantly being stimulated in different and imaginative ways so you can never sit back.
"And of course it's great to see kids who are totally absorbed by what they see on the stage."
The show is a sequel to last year's story which wowed youngsters and their families with a tale of a the Muse, a dragon who was desperate to burn the Globe theatre down.
"He's back," laughs Patrick. "We had great fun and the dragon was so popular we had to do it again.
"Last year we based the story on the 400th anniversary of the burning down of the Globe.
"The audience was taken on an interactive journey where their help was needed to uncover vital clues to stop the dragon in his quest to set fire to the building.
"Fortunately he didn't succeed but he's an obstinate thing and is back and determined to finish what he tried to do last year. However, this time he has in his sights our new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and he's got great confidence that he can burn it down - and as it's lit with candles and made of wood, I suppose he's got every chance!"
The immersive and interactive promenade production, which will play between August 18 and 27 August, takes audiences on a journey around the unseen areas of both theatres.
It starts within the exhibition space and then invites them to discover strange, magical characters including an Elizabethan hermit hiding under the stage, fight ethereals in a secret forest and have tea with some strange puppets who live in an abandoned library.
There is also a meeting with one William Shakespeare before they come face to face with Muse, the fire breathing dragon.
Audiences will be treated to a variety of puppets, actors, props and special effects of which Patrick says the dragon is the most spectacular.
"He is a giant puppet which takes three people to operate," he enthuses. "It's a wonderful piece of puppetry and the smoke and fire effects are brilliant.
"It's going to be very exciting!"
Once again, the show has been devised in house, with help from Punchdrunk, Melanie Wilson, and Little Angel puppet theatre and is directed by Adam Sibbald, Globe Education Events manager.
It is also an important part of the Globe's continuing and developing programme of creating opportunities for different audiences.
"A really important part of our ethos is to create suitable workshops or performance pieces for a particular audience," says Patrick. "This one is about devising a programme for children and it has been a wonderful journey for us as it has been a great way to create conversation and a shared experience for families.
"It has also encouraged us to look at our website and develop our Globe Playground for children to provide them with more ways to engage with Shakespeare."
As well as the website and specific productions the education department has also set up regular storytelling sessions at the theatre which Patrick describes as "absolutely joyful" and its Playing Shakespeare productions aimed at teens are now a regular feature of the Globe's programming.
Plans are also afoot to take Muse out on the road to other theatres across the country.
"This has been a fantastic project which we hope will once again inspire and excite families," says Patrick.
"It's such an exciting journey and if it goes as well as last year we will be very pleased."

Muse Of Fire is on at the Globe theatre, Bankside between August 18 and 27. Tickets cost £10 for children, £12.50 for adults. Visit or call the box office on 0207 401 9919.

Theatre review - Groove On Down The Road, Southbank Centre


LAST year a group of youngsters raised the roof at the Southbank Centre with their show Groove On Down The Road.
Now this talented bunch from award-winning choreographer Kate Prince's acclaimed ZooNation Dance Company are back with an updated version of this fabulous production.
It is essentially a re-telling of The Wizard Of Oz and has as its themes, love, friendship and overcoming adversity - a perfect fit for the Southbank Centre's Festival of Love.
Set to a toe-tapping soundtrack that includes Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, José González, Janelle Monáe and Miguel the youngsters, who are all aged between 10 and 19, groove, body pop, hip hop and street dance their way down the yellow brick road towards a better, happier and friendlier life.
It is quite simply the most joyous show, with an unbelievable amount of energy and fabulous characterisation not to mention an infectious enthusiasm from all those on the stage who were clearly having the time of their lives.
The dancers are incredible and some of the tricks are awe-inspiring thanks to the amazing choreography - which allows everyone to have their moment in the spotlight.
The entire cast shines but it is 12-year-old Arizona Snow as Dorothy, 17-year-old Mike McNeish as Toto, 18-year-old Mikey Ureta as Tinman, 16-year-old Jaih Betote Dipito Akwa as Scarecrow and 17-year-old Dylan Mayoral as Lion who deserve special praise.
On their feet and grooving for the entire 80 minutes, their energy, tricks, flips and twists are phenomenal.
Heart warming and utterly uplifting, this is a show that will appeal to all the family and get you on your feet dancing and clapping along. An absolute belter!

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

Tickets from £11. Visit or call the box office on 0844 847 9910.

Review - Medea, National Theatre

Four Stars

EURIPIDES' Medea has to be one of the most scary and terrifying of all characters in Greek tragedy.
But she is also one of the most complex. This is a woman who has already killed her own brother and left her father because of her intense and obsessive love for her husband Jason.
But after he discards her for another woman she sets about exacting revenge in the most brutal and horrible way - that of killing her own children.
And a new production now on at the National Theatre's Olivier stage is gripping from the outset.
Pulling no punches it doesn't miss a beat thanks to a tight script by Ben Power and a fantastic musical score by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp which adds to the heavy atmosphere which lingers about the stage.
There is also clever choreography with the chorus of 13 Corinthian woman displaying nervous tics and judders in time with the music as Medea's torment reaches intensity.
Even the set has a sense of the horrors about to come with shabby furniture and a creepy wooded garden area at the back of the home Medea shares with her two young sons and the nurse.
Helen McCrory is excellent as Medea. She brilliantly conveys both her vulnerability and her cold steeliness, her rage at being humiliated and abused by her errant husband and yet equally appalled at the thoughts of killing her own sons.
She paces the stage, shaking, full of nervous energy, smoking, raging and railing at the gods. She is both rational and irrational, one minute caring greatly for her children, kissing and stroking them tenderly and in the next plotting their demise.
It is a fantastic production and the supporting cast is superb - in particular Michaela Coel as the Nurse - but it is Helen McCrory who steals the show with her fabulous performance.

Medea is on at the National Theatre until September 4. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000. Medea will be broadcast in cinemas by NT Live on September 4.

Titus Andronicus - theatre preview

A MULTI-STOREY car park in the middle of Peckham probably isn’t the first place you might think of as a place to stage a Shakespeare play.
However, for theatre company The Theory Of Everything, the Bold Tendencies multi-storey car park off Rye Lane has provided an exciting setting for one of the Bard’s bloodiest tales – Titus Andronicus.
The immersive and site-specific show will take place in and around the ninth level of the venue for a four week run starting on August 31.
It is being directed by Denmark Hill-based Pia Furtado who has created a contemporary production with a live beatboxed musical score by BellaTrix as well as some of the country’s leading Parkour performers alongside a community chorus of local residents from South London.
Promising a high octane and immersive joyride of a show, Pia says Peckham is the perfect place to explore the play’s themes of love, revenge and allegiance.
“I love Peckham, I grew up here and there is a real sense of community and diversity with lots of different groups of people all rubbing along together,” she says.
"The play is set in Rome but there is nothing in it to say that Rome hadn't seen better days. It's not historical but it shows this great city at the end of an era and on the brink of a new moment where everything is up for grabs.
"Peckham is very much like that with all the regeneration that is happening and the diverse groups that make up this community.
"When we were considering putting it on it seemed the obvious place to have it performed."
Titus is the first play to be staged at the car park which was originally intended as a venue for pop-up sculpture exhibitions run by Hannah Barry's small Peckham gallery.
It's labyrinthine layout and concrete make up lends itself to the updated nature of the production which Pia says has given her the opportunity to make the audience very much part of the show.
“It's an amazing space - gritty, urban and enclosed and it looks a bit tatty so it immediately puts you in a place where there is lots going on," she says.
"It all happens in the streets of Rome and there are meant to be swathes of Romans so it felt right to involve the audience.
"The first half is immersive. It’s all happening around the audience and that will be very exciting and I hope it will create an immediate connection to the characters.
"With a play that's so renowned for violence there is only ever any point in telling that story if you understand the characters so if you can see them close up you get more of a sense of them."
But she admits it’s not necessarily an easy play to watch.
"It’s not easy to experience whether you are in the audience or one of the actors because the performance asks a lot," she says.
"My initial thought was that it was a bloody play with a body count that’s quite high. It’s the one thing that everyone knows about the story but I did a workshop on it with some actors a few years ago and it became clear there were a lot of things in it other than the violence.
"Also, no one kills without feeling they have to and I was interested in exploring the reasons why these things happen.
"When they do there is then no end to the cycle - it doesn’t stop. And we can see this today in places all around the world so it’s a message that to me felt worth exploring."
The production has also allowed Pia to show how Shakespeare's plays still have relevance to the hear and now.
"I’m interested in how and where Shakespeare takes us with his stories. He was a brilliant writer - these are plays which are hundreds of years old yet they contain themes which resonate with people today so it feels entirely contemporary.
"Love is one of the themes in Titus and is still a thing that drives world events.
"It allows us to reflect on our own lives by seeing it in this context and there are lines in the play that feel extraordinary in this place.
"He was also multi-disciplinary – his plays are full of dance and music and song - this is just a 21st century version.
"I hope our interpretation makes it accessible, particularly to a younger audience who may not have seen Shakespeare done before."
But putting a show on in such a location hasn't been without its challenges.
"It's an incredible space to work in but I am not sure how we are going to get all the kit up to the ninth level,” laughs Pia. "There are some tight turns! But there is also no electricity and no light rigs so we are having to bring the generators up.
"Then there is the issue of the ambient noise so we are doing voice work with the actors.
"It’s very different to being on stage in an enclosed and more traditional theatre space. But it forces you to think creatively - you look at the space in a different way to see how you use the space to tell the story.
"There are always big challenges though and sometimes the restrictions force you to ask what the show needs for storytelling. We have worked around the issues and are really pleased with what we have come up with.
“Being in Peckham, and bringing this show to my own back yard, it’s something special,” she adds. “Most of the people involved in this production are from South London so we have a personal connection with it.
"If the audience goes away having enjoyed it and have engaged with it it I will be really happy!"

Titus Andronicus is on at the Bold Tendencies Multistorey Car Park, 7th & 8th Floor, 95A Rye Lane between Sunday August 31 and Sunday September 21

Tickets cost £19.50, £10 concessions. Visit to book.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Interview - Paul Bellamy

THEY say travel broadens the mind but anyone who is or has teenagers who are about to set off on their first round the world backpacking adventure may feel a sense of trepidation if they read the debut novel by a South London writer.
Backpackers by Paul Bellamy is set in and around Thailand, its islands and India during the late 1980s.
It charts the exploits of Andrew and Kirsten, friends who have met whilst travelling and who become embroiled in a series of deadly goings on.
They are an unlikely couple - Andrew is a backpacker seeking adventure and fun, and besotted with Kirsten. Kirsten is a mystery, escaping her past and seeking a revenge which gradually becomes clear as the story progresses.
Unfortunately their holiday is marred by the appearance of Carlo, a smuggler, who is hunting his nemesis, Maurice, a killer with a grudge and a taste for backpackers.
The journey into fear takes them across the backpacking trails of Asia from Indonesia to Nepal and features plenty of sex, drugs and gruesome deaths.
It is the first novel for Paul and was partly inspired by his own travels over the past 20 years.
However, the 54-year-old who was born and grew up in Lewisham says he got the writing bug at school.
"I wasn't a particularly academic child but I absolutely loved writing," he explains. "I went to Stillness Primary and then to St Joseph's in Blackheath and spent a lot of time writing stories.
"Unfortunately I got fed up with school and when knew I wasn't going to get through my A Levels I dropped out and ended up working in a bank in Jamaica Road.
"One day some of my colleagues announced they were going travelling and asked if I'd like to come along. It sounded fun so I did.
"Two years later I was still going even though they'd come home!"
Since then he's been to 94 countries "and counting", left the bank, been kicked out of Iran, had guns stuck in his face in Nigeria, worked in a variety of jobs including as a toilet cleaner in the Falklands, sailed across the Atlantic, was in Tienanmen Square during the student riots of 1989 and is now a civil servant for the Home Office sorting out peoples' visa applications.
But it's the travelling which he really enjoys and inspired the storyline for Backpackers although he admits it was originally intended to be a comedy.
"When I first went off in 1988 I wrote about 600 pages of a travel diary and when I got back I thought it would be good to put something together that was a bit more fun," he says.
"However, it didn't work as a comedy so I set about writing something more serious - I don't know where I got the idea of putting a serial killer in though!" he jokes.
And although he insists it is in no way autobiographical, he admits some of the characters are based on those he has met on his travels and all the places he describes are those he has visited.
"It follows my own travels around Asia but the only people I based specific characters on were a young English couple I met once who were smuggling cameras," he says.
"They did that because it was something to do and you could make a bit of money out of it. Obviously there are incidents with drug smuggling and I saw lots of backpackers off their heads. In the book, Andrew and Kirsten become involved in drugs and drug trading and it helped fund their travels. But it's not the norm for most backpackers - it's too dangerous.
"However, when you are relaxed, away from home and having a good time, that's when you let your guard down, things can happen and some people do get caught up in situations they wouldn't normally.
"I remember once I was getting a new passport in Delhi once and on the wall were a huge number of pictures of people who were missing," he adds.
"I was young, and at that age you think you are invincible but it is quite a shocking and sobering thing to see when you are feeling free and adventurous and miles from home.
"In the end though you do what you can to trust the right people - the book is a cautionary tale."
So, is there a sequel I ask.
He laughs before adding: "Yes I think so, but I am focusing on a screenplay first because some people have said it could be good as a film."
And he says far from discouraging people, he would recommend travelling to anyone.
"Travel broadens the mind," he says. "The last thing I would do is suggest backpacking is a bad thing to do. It isn't.
"It breaks down barriers, you grow as a person and make so many friends. I have friends all over the world - it opens your life up.
"I worked in a job centre in South London once and thought people should spend their benefits on going to live in India to learn about life. Some people might come back really changed.
"I didn't bother with the career thing and I've never married so I've enjoyed a stress free life," he adds chuckling.
"Besides there are still places I want to visit. I have been to 94 countries and am working my way towards 100.
"Malta is one of them, I would like to be posted to Africa so I can go to Kenya and Tanzania and I want to do a safari in Zambia.
"As long as you are careful and have your wits about you it can be the most amazing and fantastic adventure."

Backpackers by Paul Bellamy is published by Troubadour and costs £7.99. It is available from all good bookshops.

Preview - Homefront at the Union Theatre

WHEN John Kristian ended up homeless in February two years ago he said it was one of the worst experiences of his life.
The 23-year-old had split up with his girlfriend, had run out of money and had run out of sofa hopping options.
He ended up spending three days sleeping rough on the streets where he was scared, hungry and alone.
However, he has turned the experience into a positive one as it inspired him to find out more about those he met sleeping rough and ultimately to share their stories.
The result is a new musical, The Homefront, which he is showcasing at the Union Theatre in Southwark for a four night run this week.
"I was going through a really rough patch and although I could have called my parents, with whom I have a very good relationship, I was too proud to do so," he says.
"I was only on the streets for three nights - which was long enough - but I met some extraordinary people - a real mix including doctors, students, army veterans and some very young people as well as those struggling with drink or drug addictions.
"I realised there were little communities of rough sleepers all over London which I never knew existed. They looked out for each other and I saw at first hand the lengths to which they go to to keep themselves alive.
"They had incredible stories to tell about why they had ended up in their situations - many were completely heartbreaking - and initially it gave me the idea for a novel."
He then spent three weeks going back to visit those who he had met when he had been homeless and taking down their stories.
The novel turned into a play which eventually morphed into a musical although John says it's a mix of the three. But at its heart it is based on the verbatim accounts of what life is like for those who are homeless in London.
The audience follows the fortunes of three such men living in London and sharing their stories of day to day life, seeing the inside of a jail cell for the wrong reasons, facing fears, experiencing tragedy and coming to terms with their fate.
Each of these homeless men are at different stages of their journey, but their stories bring them together, and, in turn, also tear them apart.
"There are three characters on the stage and through them we see the reality of what it's really like out there," says John.
"Yes, it could come across as stereotypical in terms of the stories they tell but they are all real - and for the most part, these people are invisible. And it's a frightening existence."
Happily John is now settled, living in Grove Park and enjoying life again.
"I am very lucky," he says. "I have work and a place to live in an area of South East London that I absolutely love.
"But others that I met on those cold nights are not so fortunate and I want this play to be challenging and make the audience think.
"I'd like to think in the future the run could be extended at another theatre so that more people can see it, because these are stories that need to be told and heard."

The Homefront is on at the Union Theatre, Southwark Street from August 6 until August 9. Tickets cost £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7261 9876.

Review - A Streetcar Named Desire


AFTER sitting in the Young Vic for three and a half hours watching A Streetcar Named Desire I was exhausted.
Tenessee Williams's powerful play set in America's Deep South is long, intense and builds to a shattering and dynamic climax and Benedict Andrews' thrilling production doesn't allow the audience any room to sit back and let it wash over them.
From the explosive storyline, and constantly revolving set, which looks like a cage, to the sporadic blasts of very loud music from Jimi Hendrix to Chris Isaak, this is one production guaranteed to keep you on your toes.
But it is the acting which really sucks you in. Gillian Anderson, fresh from appearing in ITV's The Fall is simply superb as Blanche Du Bois, the damaged Southern Belle who comes to stay with her sister Stella and Stella's coarse and brutish husband Stanley, in New Orleans when she loses her home in Mississippi.
She first sashays confidently and seductively onto the stage wearing sunglasses and an elegant outfit trailing her enormous suitcase behind her. There is no hint of what has happened to bring her to New Orleans.
But as the play progresses, terrible truths are exposed, Blanche's lies catch up with her and her hold on reality starts to fall apart. By the end she is broken and humiliated as she is carted off to the asylum. It is a testament to Anderson's acting that it is almost too terrible to watch.
Indeed, Anderson captures Blanche's character perfectly - her mix of fragility, loneliness, neediness, and flashes of anger in her outbursts and her delusions of grandeur.
She is well supported by an impressive cast. Ben Foster as Stanley, is a burley, sweaty, tattooed man who is constantly simmering, lashing out at the slightest provocation.
Vanessa Kirby is great as Stella who finds herself torn between loyalty to her husband and to her sister. Her torment at the end is heartbreaking.
The only slight niggle was that the revolving set made it difficult at times to see the actors or hear what they were saying.
However, that aside, this was a fantastic production and although the entire cast was superb, the night belongs to Anderson.
If you can get a ticket do. For those who can't, the National Theatre will broadcast it live from the Young Vic to more than 550 UK cinemas and many more worldwide on September 16 as part of National Theatre Live. Visit to find a venue.

A Streetcar Named Desire is on at the Young Vic until September 19. Visit or call the box office 020 7922 2922 for tickets.