Friday, 26 September 2014

Interview with John Cooper Clarke

DESPITE being told he'd never make a career out of poetry, John Cooper Clarke has certainly proved his school career adviser wrong.
Not only has he forged a successful path writing and performing his poetry - and has been at the forefront of the poetry movement for the past 40 plus years - John has also seen his work adapted by musicians, released several albums of his own, performed on the same bill as the likes of the Sex Pistols and has been hailed as the Bard of Salford.
Indeed his acerbic, satirical, political and funny verse, delivered in a rapid-fire performance style can be heard through a wide breadth of popular culture from the Arctic Monkeys to the Sopranos earning him the label punk poet in the process.
Not bad he says for a boy from Salford who went to a "slum school" and "hated every minute of it".
The 65-year-old is still writing and touring and is about to take to the hallowed stage of the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday, October 4 as part of the Southbank Centre's London Literature Festival.
He will be joined by special guests, Mike Garry, Luke Wright, Simon Day and Phill Jupitus in what promises to be an entertaining and eclectic evening.
We chat ahead of the gig which is part of his latest nationwide tour. Frank Sinatra is on the stereo in the background and John is just back at his home in Essex after a five week family holiday in France.
Whether it's the music or the fact he's feeling relaxed from his recent break, he is not feeling any pressure to think about the gig.
"I know it's on the horizon but I don't tend to think about it til a week in advance," he chuckles. "Me and Johnny my driver will have a banter in the car on the way to the gig and it will all flow from there. I don't have a set.
"There will be the classics," he adds in his still noticeable Salford accent. "But mostly it will be new stuff. People shout out requests and I try and accommodate them, so there will be something for everyone - it's the way it has to be.
"It's great because there's no specific demographic and usually I get an audience made up of people aged between 14 and 98. To have all these new fans and attract the youngsters - it's terrific."
The fact he has a whole legion of young fans should come as no surprise given that he and his poetry have been a feature within the GCSE syllabus for some time, something of which he's rightly proud.
"You cannot want for more than that as a poet can you?" he says warmly.
It appears that his love of poetry stems from his own school days.
"I enjoyed poetry at school - in fact my whole class was really interested in it because our teacher John Malone inspired the whole class," he says.
"He was a rugged outdoor type, like Ernest Hemingway, who'd go skiing and mountain climbing but he had this passion for 19th century romantic poetry which he instilled in the entire class.
"It was a slum school, a run down secondary modern in Salford and I hated every second of it," he laughs. "But this man was a rose in a garden of weeds and he made it live and breathe. So yes, I was lucky.
"I loved some of the poetry more than others of course but it inspired me - although as a career it's a non starter and I was told it wouldn't work so to keep it as a hobby.
"Everyone we ever liked didn't make a career out of poetry alone," he adds. "TS Eliot was a banker wasn't he. They had something else to do so I feel lucky in a way to be able to make a living out of it."
It was seeing the career trajectory of Pam Ayres that convinced him to give it a go.
"Her success on the TV show Opportunity Knocks gave me encouragement," says John. "She writes about her world and I write about mine. If you write what people like then why not? That's what I thought.
"Also whenever people are being kind about any work of art or movie or music, they say it has a poetic quality about it. So poetry is everywhere."
Since then he's inspired generations of artists and musicians although it's the punk era with which he is best known, thanks in part to his look - tall and thin with drainpipe trousers, dark glasses and wild, black hair.
"I was working in Manchester and I had this moddy look that was totally out of fashion until punk rock came in," he says.
"The Buzzcocks asked me to do shows with them and said I would fit right in. I'm glad I did. It was edgy and a bit hostile but not for very long and it was the right thing to do.
"It got me out of Manchester and out of England. Since then I've circumnavigated the globe nine times. I couldn't have done that without punk rock."
Since then his influence has extended over the years and to new bands. He is particularly pleased with the band Arctic Monkey's version of his poem, I Wanna Be Yours.
"I loved what they did and their version is absolutely fantastic," he enthuses. "They covered a light hearted poem into a heartfelt love ballad by not doing very much. The guys are really top."
And he says he "loves" their stuff though admits to being a bit "old school".
"I'm a very old man and have listened to music all my life," he jokes. "I've got Sinatra on the CD now but like Doris Day too and other popular music. And I'm appreciative of Elvis of course."
And it seems music has influenced his poetry.
"Beasley Street is inspired by a song in the musical 42nd Street," he says. "I wanted something cheesy and worked my way backwards.
"I don't rely on inspiration though," he insists. "It's all about graft and putting in the hours. Inspiration is for amateurs. I've always got a notebook with me and am constantly making notes - sometimes even on stage.
"I've got books full of lines - sometimes that's all it takes. Sometimes one line gives rise to a five page poem."
So no plans to retire then?
"Oh no, poetry is not something you have to retire from and I've no intention of ever quitting," he says categorically.
"I've been lucky - there have been ups and downs, of course there have, but I feel lucky to have the opportunities I've had to do this.
"The level of success I have now is greater than I've had before and it's better now.
"My stuff is better and I'm writing more - in fact I've been writing a lot lately so a new book is definitely due!
"I couldn't have planned it though - in fact if I had it wouldn't have been like this," he chuckles.
"And I'm just amazed that as an old man I'm still packing out the halls and people are still wanting to come and hear my stuff.
"That's pretty good isn't it?"

John Cooper Clarke is at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday, October 4. Tickets cost from £22.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

Review - Ballyturk, The National Theatre


SO what is Ballyturk all about then? Actually I have no idea. It could be a play, a comedy sketch or just a piece of physical theatre and as such it's a bit difficult to explain.
Written and directed by Enda Walsh and now on at the National’s Lyttelton stage, it consists of two characters, named or known as 1 and 2 who live in one windowless room adorned with just a few pieces of furniture, a shower in the corner and a cukoo clock.
Played by Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi the pair don’t stray out of the room at all. Instead they adhere to series of bizarre daily routines which consist of manically dressing and undressing each other, showering each other in talcum powder, racing around the room, playing darts, manically dancing and jigging about to pop music, pretending to be a range of funny and absurd characters from an imaginary Irish town of Ballyturk, talking about bunnies and leaping about the set with considerable athleticism.
Who they are is unclear - they could be on speed, they could be hermits, in some kind of institution, or the inhabitants of someone's mind.
About half way through just when I was thinking the piece was just going around in circles like a hamster on a wheel, the back wall slowly falls down and in walks Stephen Rea, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette.
It’s not clear who he is either but whatever and whoever he is, there is an awkward silence where they all sit down before Mikel Murfi makes tea and a brings in a Jenga-type tower of biscuits which inevitably collapses.
As 3 Stephen Rea breaks the routine and brings a certain amount of calm and sombreness to the proceedings. But once he has left they ramp up the absurdity of the situation resulting in Cillian Murphy’s character having a fit on the floor before the final exit.
It's shocking, mad, bonkers, energetic, frenetic, loud and absurd and there was so much energy exuded in this piece that it's exhausting.
And while I may not have understood much, if anything, about what was going on, it was an enjoyable 90 minutes nonetheless filled with both laugh out loud humour and poignancy.

Ballyturk is on at the Lyttelton, South Bank until October 11. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Interview Will Featherstone - Doctor Scroggy's War

IN the centenary year of the outbreak of World War One, a new play has been written which takes a sideways look at one of the deadliest conflicts in history.
Written by Howard Brenton, Doctor Scroggy's War explores the work of doctor Sir Harold Gillies and the profound impact he had on the lives of hundreds of injured and traumatised young soldiers.
It focuses on the pioneering work he did at the Queen's Hospital in Sidcup (now Queen Mary's Hospital) treating those who were horrifically injured in the conflict
It was here that Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery, performing more than 11,000 operations on more than 5,000 men.
His incredible story has provided the basis for the new play which has its premiere tonight (Fri 12th) at the Globe theatre.
It stars Peckham actor Will Featherstone who plays Jack Twigg, a young man in the middle of a university degree who signs up to fight with the London Regiment.
But almost immediately he suffers life changing injuries and is sent to the hospital where Dr Gillies helps save his life and his sanity.
For the 28-year-old actor it has provided a chance to find out more about those who were a vital part of the war effort but whose remarkable lives and contributions are often overlooked.
“It’s been fascinating and such an opportune time to put on the play,” says Will. "We all know about the battles and huge loss of life but I've learned so much about what happened away from the theatre of war.
"This play looks at those who were behind the war effort and the impact it had on their lives - the mums and dads whose sons went off to fight, the girlfriends they left behind, the doctors and the real belief they had that it would be over by Christmas.
"What surprised me was the fact that despite their terrible injuries most of these men were desperate to go back to the front. It was a kind of badge of honour and a glory for them."
For Will's character Jack, this is no exception
“Jack Twigg is an Oxford undergraduate who enthusiastically enlists," he says. "The play follows his war journey - from signing up to going to France and his fight to get to the front and what happens to him when he does.
"Within days he loses half his face and gets sent back to Dr Gillies. He feels worthless and yet despite all that pain, suffering and trauma he clings on to the fact he just wants to get back to the war.
"Howard gives him lots of reasons not to go back - he loses his best friend, the love of his life but he is so determined.
"It’s an incredible mindset and I admire his perseverance, determination and loyalty. He was so young - only 19 - and it was the biggest challenge for me to get into the part because I've never been put in the position of having to make a choice like that.
"Who is to say how we would feel and whether we would do the same. It was a different time and a different method of warfare to its modern equivalent.
"But Jack was like so many young people at that time who really believed in their duty to fight and protect their country. They were so brave."
Despite the subject matter, Will says far from being maudlin, the play celebrates life and features a huge amount of humour.
"It does sound very heavy and it's obviously very moving but it's hilarious at times," he laughs. "It's brilliantly written and a fantastic and wonderful story.
"It's all down to the writing - I think Howard Brenton is the greatest living playwright - he is a writer who makes you cry one moment laugh the next. It’s incredible.
"But it's also because Doctor Scroggy, who is a mysterious figure within the story, is all about the medicine of fun.
"His alter ego, Dr Gillies was pioneering - he was doing all these amazing things medically but psychologically he believed in the healing power of humour and would dress up and muck about with his patients to try and alleviate their suffering."
And he says he's looking forward to helping tell the story to a Globe audience.
"It's a wonderful place to share a story especially one as great as this which is of such bravery and courage," he enthuses.
"The greatest privilege for me is to be part of this story and we are all now really excited about getting on to the stage."
And Will is no stranger to the Globe having played Romeo in its Playing Shakespeare production of Romeo & Juliet two years ago.
“It was amazing because we all knew it would be the closest we would get to what an audience would have been like in Shakespeare’s day,” he says.
"It's a play about young people, for young people and the pit was full of teenagers and they were really interacting with us – shouting out and when we had lines which ended with a question they’d shout out an answer – it was fantastic – they got so into it. It was brilliant!"
There may be less of that interaction this time around but it hasn’t dampened Will’s excitement.
“The Globe is one of the most amazing stages," he says. "It is such an inspirational space – it’s so lovely to be back and I can’t wait!"

Doctor Scroggy's War opens at the Globe tonight and runs until October 10. Tickets cost from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.

Review - Comedy of Errors


MISTAKEN identity is a common theme in Shakespeare's plays but his Comedy Of Errors takes it to extremes by introducing not one but two sets of identical twins. Things are complicated further with the fact that each twin has the same name.
Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio were separated from their brothers, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio soon after birth.
However when they are unknowingly reunited in Ephesus many years later all manner of hilarity and farce ensues.
It is one of Shakespeare's best plays and a new production by Blanche McIntyre now at the Globe really does it justice.
Despite a somewhat slow start, with the Antipholus brothers' father Egeon rather laboriously setting the scene, it zips along at almost breakneck speed with some amazingly choreographed physical comedy, timed to perfection.
It is exuberant, entertaining, hilariously funny and full of mayhem, chaos, farce and slapstick - parts of the set collapses, there are explosions and fights with various foodstuffs including a pink octopus.
And the acting is fantastic. Simon Harrison and Matthew Needham not only excel as the Antipholus brothers they also look incredibly similar, making it hard at times to identify them - as is the case with Jamie Wilkes and Brodie Ross who are fantastic as the put upon Dromio brothers.
Hattie Ladbury as Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, also puts in a particularly good performance and Emma Jerrold as the Courtesan is a gem.
And with sumptuous costumes, lovely music and a great supporting cast this is definitely a production to savour.

Comedy Of Errors is on at the Globe, Bankside until October 12. Tickets from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.

Review - Fully Committed


THERE'S no doubt that waiters, waitresses and bar tenders can find themselves on the receiving end of some disagreeable customers from time to time.
But spare a thought for the drudge who takes the bookings - especially those for the most popular and sought after restaurant in town.
A glimpse into what their lives must be like is the focus of Fully Committed, an hilarious one-man play by American writer Becky Mode which has just opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory and which could have you thinking twice next time you want to berate the poor soul who can't get you into the Chiltern Firehouse.
Starring Kevin Bishop, it is directed by Mark Setlock who helped create the original show and which launched the Menier 10 years ago.
Kevin plays resting actor Sam Peliczowski, who, in between trying to boost his flagging career and making time for his father, mans the phone at the most swanky and in demand restaurant in Manhattan.
He sits in the basement, alone save for the phones which ring incesently and an intercom to the restaurant upstairs.
Every day he speaks to, or rather is spoken to, a whole manner of characters, most of whom want to eat at the restaurant.
They include coked up Bryce, an Australian PA to model Naomi Campbell who demands a vegan tasting menu for 15 and who promises to bring in his own light bulbs if the restaurant doesn't have any dim enough, Sam's prima donna boss, a fellow actor who bitchily rings him up to gloat about his own success at the expense of Sam's, a wealthy dowager who demands to be at the top of the VIP list, a mafiosa boss and plenty of others in between.
Kevin not only plays Sam but every other one of the 40 characters Sam speaks to. Not only are there different accents and mannerisms to portray but it demands dazzlingly quick character changes.
All of which Kevin does effortlessly. It is an astonishing performance and combined with an hilariously witty and biting script makes this play one to recommend.

Fully Committed is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark Street until November 15. Tickets cost from £29.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

Interview - Kerry Godliman

MENTION the name Kerry Godliman and you will no doubt think of Derek, the Ricky Gervais sitcom in which she plays care assistant Hannah.
However, the role, which Gervais wrote with her in mind, is just the tip of the iceberg that is her impressive and versatile career.
As well as being the host of her own Radio 4 show Kerry's List, her CV boasts numerous TV appearances including BBC's Silk, Spoons, Miranda, Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow as well as the Gervais creations of Extras, Life's Too Short and Derek.
And not only is she an actress, she is also a critically acclaimed stand up comedian, making the final of the 2003 Babycham Funny Women competition, supporting Micky Flannagan on his recent Out Out Tour, appeared on BBC1 TV's Live At The Apollo and enjoying sell out gigs at the Edinburgh Fringe with her Wonder Woman show.
She is now about to take the mic once again but this time a little closer to her West Norwood home at the Magner's Greenwich Comedy Festival on September 26.
The five-day festival, which kicks off on September 24, includes such notables as Arthur Smith, Rich Hall, Nina Conti and Milton Jones and Kerry says she is looking forward to it, particularly as it's "not the O2".
"I did the O2 and it was absolutely terrifying," she laughs. "It was an incomprehensible size - you can't see the audience but know they are there. You can't be relaxed in a place like that.
"This one will be great - it's more intimate and you can create a lot of energy - though you are really exposed. If it doesn't go well it's like a dinner party where you forget to cook."
We chat not long after her arrival in Edinburgh as she prepares to go on stage for a short run of gigs as part of the annual Fringe Festival - something she describes as like an "AGM for clowns".
"I'm acclimatising - it's very different to West Norwood," she laughs. "I've not been here for a few years and wasn't going to do it again but I got persuaded to do the last two weeks of it so here I am.
"As a comic it helps keep you match fit and it's a really lovely, amazing event and there are plenty of toilets for us to cry in when it all goes wrong!"
So what persuaded her to do comedy for a living.
It turns out it was while she trained as an actress, graduating from Rose Bruford College in Deptford in the mid 90s, that she secretly harboured ambitions to be a comedian.
So, after "bimbling about" doing just enough to earn a living - which included role play work for companies and schools which she describes as "unfulfilling" - she did a course in stand up at London's City Lit and hasn't looked back.
Indeed, she is now in the enviable position of being able to do both acting and comedy - and is in demand for both.
"I feel very lucky to do both and like the variety," she says.
"I like working alone because I'm not answerable to anyone but by the same token comedy can be isolating and lonely especially when you are on the road.
"Acting isn't like that - it's a community and you are dependent on a team of people. So it's great to be able to do both - I don't envy those who do just one or the other.
And she modestly insists that her work as a comedian helped her catch the eye of Ricky Gervais.
"When Ricky created Hannah he had me in mind which is lovely. She's an amazing character and the kind of woman you don't see a lot of," she says.
"I was in Extras and Life's Too Short so I think Ricky just remembered me from that really. I got a call, had a meeting about it and got given the part," she adds simply.
For the moment though she has her comedy hat on and is gathering material for the Greenwich gig which she says will be an amalgamation of bits from her recent Face Time tour, her life as a working mum and other general "frustrations" in life.
"I'll have a chat about cyber friendships, real life identity, social media and washing machines," she says.
Washing machines?
"Yes," she laughs. "The sheer number of settings you get on these things - it's ridiculous - there are too many! I don't know what they all mean. Also, it took me a week to choose a machine when I was buying it."
It's not just domestic appliances that inspire her comedy. Her family have provided her with "more than enough" material over the years though she says she tries to find humour in most things.
"My last tour was about being a parent and I did a lot of stuff about when the kids were new.
"The whole parenting thing is so full on - it defines you. Last time I was at Edinburgh two years ago my whole show was about it.
"I thought it would be my USP but I have moved on now and find other things frustrate me - my Banksy son drew all over the wall with marker pen - that kind of thing.
"I get more sleep now they are a bit older though," she adds chuckling. "I have a couple of friends who are having babies and I look at them with pity!
"Sometimes it's a bit twee but that's my life now so I try and get comedy out of it."
Parental anecdotes aside she adds that property and lifestyle guru Kirstie Allsopp will also come in for some scrutiny as well as material with a local bent.
"I love this area and there's plenty to talk about," she says.
"After I did my course at Rose Bruford I stayed here though migrated a bit westwards.
"I lived in Dulwich and now live in West Norwood - it's cheaper - and of course much cheaper than North London! You can't have a nice house with a garden there!" she laughs.
"West Norwood was a well kept secret but more and more people are moving in now.
"I love South London though. There is always loads going on. A new swimming pool has just been built and my kids are the first in take of a great local school - it's a nice place to bring up kids.
"I'm living the dream!" she laughs.

Kerry Godliman is at the Magner's Greenwich Comedy Festival, National Maritime Museum on Friday, September 26. Tickets cost from £18.50. The festival runs from Wednesday, September 24 until Sunday, September 28. Visit for full listings.


WE may be in the last vestiges of summer but there is still time to cram in one more festival into this year's calendar.
Elefest, the Elephant & Castle Festival is back for its 12th year with what its organisers promise is a bigger, bolder and more eclectic programme than ever.
The largely free event, which this year runs from October 2 until October 5, aims to celebrate the many and diverse communities within the Elephant & Castle area and shines a light on its cultural legacy.
The birthplace of Charlie Chaplin, and in its 1900s heyday a home to more than 40 cinemas, this little pocket of the capital is once again at the centre of attention as one of London’s largest regeneration projects and a growing hub of creativity.
Over the four days, a range of venues will host an eclectic mix of arts, culture and fun for all the family including bands, film screenings, children's comedy workshops and theatre.
Among the highlights will be screenings of new and classic sci fi films with live soundtracks at the Cinema Museum, a new pop up park on the site of the former Walworth petrol station, a South London Film Crawl which will visit film locations and old cinemas, a children's slapstick comedy workshop in honour of Charlie Chaplin and an Asian-style food and craft night market.
It kicks off on Thursday October 2 with a live music session at the Coronet by some of London’s most promising bands including Camberwell band Movie, guitar-based band Escapists and Lois & the Love.
Other events include a Treasure Hunt, which involves looking for clues around the roundabout, The Local Quiz, Guided Walks for uncovering hidden gems of the past and for the adrenaline junkies, Peckham BMX will be creating a temporary track.
Elefest will end on Sunday October 5 with a closing party at Longwave Bar in The Artworks, the Elephant and Castle’s new cultural quarter.
Elefest's director and founder Rob Wray said: "Elefest is more than a festival - it is the celebration of the area’s colourful past and cultural legacy, its present revival and hopes we hold for its future.’
"Its aim is to bring together one of the most diverse and vibrant communities of the capital for a few days of arts, entertainment and fun."

Most events are free of charge. Visit for full listings and price details.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Ruby Wax - Sane New World

SHE may have had a reputation during her long, varied and entertaining career for being brash and ballsy with a rapier wit but these days Ruby Wax comes across as more thoughtful and serious, although the humour is definitely still there.
In fact it is very much in evidence when we chat ahead of her appearance at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley to which she will be bringing her one woman show Sane New World on September 21.
"I was just on holiday," she begins. "I was in Africa and went on safari which was lovely.
"It was a lot of fun - in fact I was dragged back kicking and screaming," she adds laughing.
And then without taking a breath she tells me all about the show which she has been touring around the country for the past few months.
Sane New World is her unique look at the brain and is based on her critically acclaimed and number one bestseller book of the same name which has been described as a manual on how to survive the 21st century.
In both the book and the show Ruby looks at the human brain, how it works, how we can rewire our thinking to find calm in an increasingly frenetic world and how to become the master not the slave of our own minds.
It all sounds pretty deep and a real change from her career to date in which she spent most of her time making us laugh.
Although she was trained originally as a classical actress, it was with comedy that her career took off and she became a successful stand up and writer, including script editing the multi award winning BBC TV series Absolutely Fabulous.
This led to a hugely successful stint as an interviewer and during the 1980s and 90s she was rarely off our TV screens, fronting shows such as The Full Wax, Ruby Wax Meets…., and Wax On Wheels.
She was famed for her acerbic wit, humour and sharp shooting, straight from the hip interview style.
Her famous and unsuspecting interviewees were putty in her hand thanks to her fearless style where no question was off limits.
Her encounters were legendary - who could forget for instance her hilarious meetings with Imelda Marcos and the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson?
But it was while she was promoting the charity Comic Relief that her battles with depression came out and she unwittingly became the poster girl and then campaigner for mental health and which subsequently led to her career change.
Five years ago she did a Master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University and hasn't looked back.
"It was really interesting," she says. "It wasn't about depression and the point of doing it wasn't to understand depression.
"I was just fascinated by the whole subject of mindfulness and I had a chance to do it and I jumped at it.
"It was two years work and for me it has been the greatest, most interesting and satisfying thing I have ever done. Ever."
The content of both the degree and the book have formed the basis for the show which she says audiences have been "very warm" about.
"I love it," she enthuses. "I do a book signing after each one and people will come up to me and talk about their own experiences and give feedback on what I've said. It's lovely."
And she insists far from being dry, the show is laced with her own inimitable brand of comedy.
"Oh it's definitely funny - I'm hilarious!" she chuckles. "It would be very dull if it wasn't. I don't preach at people, and I don't have anecdotes but there is a lot of humour in it. I couldn't do it otherwise.
"Besides, what could be more interesting than how your mind works? What’s going on upstairs? It's fascinating and I love it."
So infectiously enthusiastic is she of her subject that she chatters 10 to the dozen barely pausing for breath.
"It's about giving information," she says. "Everyone wants to know how and why their mind works. So I give a tour of the brain - what to do with it, what's going on, why we're screwed and why we have these critical voices.
"We are driven by this idea that we are never good enough. We are not at our best when we are knocking ourselves out with our own thinking and pushing ourselves."
And she says technology hasn't helped.
"Basically, we are not equipped for this century," she says. "It’s too hard, too fast, and too full of fear. We just don’t have the bandwidth so I talk about how we're burning out and why stress is such a killer.
"Our brains can’t take so much information in a world where we’re bombarded by bad news and force-fed information. I can just about take in the weather then I’m exhausted. You open a newspaper, everyone’s dead.
"The news is heightening levels of fear. Now we can't tell if danger is behind us and what the fear is.
"I am not saying technology is bad because who's not happy to do on line shopping in the morning but we need to take a step back and unplug.
"We have to understand why we are in this state, where our brain is and find the tipping point and not constantly try and keep up with the next guy."
Mindfulness she adds has given her a practical way to self-regulate her feelings.
"I can hear early the tip toes before I go under but sometimes it does take me by surprise," she admits. "Back in the day I just got busy and then ended up doing more work and more dinner parties.
"Now I can tell a little bit when I need to watch it. But when you are in that state you think something must be wrong with you.
"I want people to leave knowing a bit more about what goes on upstairs but also that they have laughed about it.
"People have told me that the book was life changing - so buy it and come to the show. It'll be great and you'll love it!"

Ruby Wax will be performing Sane New World at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre on September 21. Visit for full listings.

Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax is published in paperback by Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99.

Annie Get Your Gun - New Wimbledon Theatre

WHEN Emma Williams got the part of Annie Oakley in the touring production of Annie Get Your Gun she didn't realise it would result in her learning a whole new set of skills.
The actress, who stars alongside Jason Donovan and Norman Pace in the show, not only had to perfect her mid west American accent, she also had to master using a trapeze and says it had unexpected benefits.
"It was quite scary to begin with," she admits. "I didn't know it was going to be a feature of the show when we started but it's actually helped conquer my fear of heights.
"I got really into it and it was brilliant to learn all those tricks and stunts!"
Stunts aside Emma says playing the part of Annie has been "a dream come true" and says she will be sad to leave the character behind when the run finishes at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week.
"It's every actresses dream to play a role like this and I'm no different," she laughs. "She's feisty, go getting, determined and a lot of fun. She also develops and changes over the course of the show so a fantastic part to play.
"She's also been played by so many incredible actresses before so it's a privilege to fill her cowgirl boots."
For those unfamiliar with the story, Annie Get Your Gun is about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West female ace sharpshooter, Annie Oakley and her romance with fellow sharpshooter, Frank Butler.
When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show comes to town, it only takes one glance for country girl Annie to fall head over heels for its star marksman, Frank Butler.
But there are many twists and turns along the way proving that the path to true love doesn't run so smooth.
And it features some classic Irving Berlin musical numbers including Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better, You Can't Get A Man With A Gun and Doin' What Comes Natur'lly!
"I've loved every minute of it," says Emma. "It's been the most magical and joyful production and we've all become like one big family and to play alongside Jason and Norman has been a dream.
"It's such a great love story, great fun with lots going on and audiences have been really generous in their responses - most of them singing along to all the songs which has been fantastic - so I will miss playing Annie when we finish the run.
"However I'm so looking forward to bringing the show to Wimbledon - I love the theatre - it's got such character and charm and the audiences there are always great so I'm sure we'll go out with a bang!"

Annie Get Your Gun is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre from tonight (Tuesday) until Saturday, September 13. Tickets cost from £10.50. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646  

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Review - Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse


THE Southwark Playhouse is on a bit of a roll at the moment. Its recent programme of musicals and stage plays has been varied, interesting and crucially, great to watch.
Its latest offering is Dogfight, a musical by Ben J Pasek and Justin Paul, directd by Matt Ryan and produced by Danielle Tarento. And it has "hit" written all over it.
Set in San Franscisco on the eve of Kennedy's election victory, a group of young US marines spend their final night of freedom before being posted to Vietnam partying.
As part of the celebrations, they host a "dogfight", a rather unpleasant and cruel competition where they aim to bring the ugliest date to a party.
By a twist of fate, one of the marines, Eddie Birdlace, happens upon a cafe where he meets Rose, a waitress who has a passion for music.
They chat, he asks her to the party, she goes, he starts to feel uncomfortable about bringing her, she a nice time til she hears about the dogfight bet and then storms out.
It is a predictable love story of boy meets girl, gradually and unwittingly falls in love with her, they fall out, get back together and he realises the error of his angry ways.
Despite the predictable storyline there is much to recommend this production, not least the beatuiful music and the fantastic cast who are essentially a group of unknowns.
Indeed Laura Jane Matthewson makes her stage debut as Rose and was absolutely awesome. She portrayed Rose brilliantly showing her quirkiness, vulnerability and humour as well as the excitement at being asked on a date for the first time and a ballsy attitude at dealing with Eddie's complex character.
Jamie Muscato excels as Eddie, full of pumped up testosterone and out for a good time.
As well as the solid and consistently good performances from all the cast it was a beautifully staged show - passionate and energetic with moments of sadness and great humour. A winner.

Dogfight is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, September 13. Tickets from £12. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Land of Our Fathers - preview

BY his own admission, a play about a group of miners who get trapped down a pit may not sound a "barrel of laughs" but for playwright Chris Urch it has proved to be a successful story.
Land Of Our Fathers is his first full length play and had its world premiere at Battersea’s Theatre503 in September last year. It proved to be such a hit, that a year later, it is transferring to the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.
Set on the eve of Margaret Thatcher's 1979 election victory, the story is that of four men, trapped deep underground and their desperate attempts over a period of two weeks to escape.
For Chris the success of the play was the culmination of several years of hard work after leaving drama school.
"I'd written four shorts before but this was my debut full length play so it's pretty special to have it transferred to the West End," he says.
"I wasn't sure how it would be received because it doesn't sound that interesting as a subject but Paul [Robinson, artistic director at Theatre503] and the audiences really took to it which was great and so I'm over the moon."
The play itself came together after a long period of research.
"In 2012 I was chosen as one of five writers to be on Theatre503's 503 Five, an 18-month residency where we each had to write a play," says Chris.
"I'm orignally from a former Somerset mining town as I was thinking of ideas my parents told me about a harrowing incident in the town's mine in the 1890s.
"I read up on it and that set the seed. Then I went to a mining museum run by ex miners who talked about their experiences and it went from there.
"I was really lucky because they were incredibly helpful especially with all the characterisation and technical details."
But he says it was the faith and confidence of the Theatre503 team which has been instrumental in his subsequent success.
"Paul and the team were great because of the help and support they gave me throughout the process," he says. "They made it so much easier and less stressful!"
Indeed it is this support structure that is a key part of Theatre503's aims to encourage and promote new writers.
The Latchmere Road theatre has built a strong reputation for staging plays by first timers, launching the careers of playwrights such as Dennis Kelly, Phil Porter and current Bruntwood Prize winner Anna Jordan.
“We are known for taking risks on new writers and we have a loyal audience who are always up for seeing something new so we are very lucky," says artistic director Paul Robinson.
"Writing a play is difficult especially in terms of its structures and there are not enough opportunities for new writers to get their work on stage.
"That's why programmes such as 503 Five and Rapid Write Response - where we find, nurture and develop new writers - are important.
"It's how we found Chris and we've been able to build a relationship with him since then.
"To see his play debut here and then go to the West End is fantastic and we are thrilled."

Land Of Our Fathers is on at Trafalgar Studio 2, Whitehall from September 3 until October 4. Tickets cost from £15. Call the box office on 0844 871 7632.

Interview with Andrew Logan - sculptor, performance artist, jeweller and host of Alternative Miss World

STEPPING into Andrew Logan's Bermondsey home-come-studio almost takes your breath away.
The sculptor, performance artist, jeweller, portraitist and painter has lived in his amazing home, named The Glasshouse, in Melior Place for the past 25 years and over that time has filled it with knick-knacks, objet d'art, his own extraordinary and colourful creations, paintings and plants.
Light and space are in abundance and beautifully show off the 68-year-old's vibrant coloured glass-encrusted sculptures which are placed around the airy interior, some of which hang decoratively from the ceiling catching the sunlight that floods in.
Nestled in the shadow of the Shard, The Glasshouse - designed by Andrew's architect partner Michael Davis - is exactly as its name describes - with a pitched glass roof making it feel almost like an enormous greenhouse.
And although right in the heart of such a busy location next to London Bridge station, a more tranquil spot in the city you'd be hard pushed to find.
But all this is about to change as Andrew and Michael prepare to say goodbye to their home after 25 years.
The move has been driven in part by a desire to downsize but also to devote more time to Andrew's Museum of Sculpture in Wales.
Another reason is the green light which was given recently by Southwark council to a seven-storey development next door.
Once built it will change the outlook of their home by overshadowing the glorious glass pitched roof therefore knocking out some of their precious light.
"It's a real shame," says Andrew. "Michael designed it and we've had a fantastic life here but there will be so many flats looking in once they've built it so it's time to go.
"This whole part of London has developed enormously over the years," he adds.
"We've now got the Shard which I love - but to me it represents everything that is bad - the greed and all that goes with it.
"Its shadow has spread over us and has changed this area. And I don't want to be living in a building site for the next 20 years."
But before he packs his bags and amazing artwork and heads off to pastures new, there is the small matter of a show to organise.
Said event is Alternative Miss World (AMW), an extravaganza he's been hosting and running on and off since 1972 that has become something of an institution.
For those unfamiliar with it, AMW is exactly what it says on the tin. It's not a beauty contest - rather a transformation - and it's open to anyone and everyone to enter and over the years it has seen an array of famous and unknowns take part.
For those who do, it's a chance to show off their creative spirit in a series of extraordinary and inventive day, swim and evening wear.
And when it comes to the costumes, anything and everything goes - and each year they get more outrageous.
There is a parade of the contestants in their outfits and an interview with Andrew before the judges announce the winner after which there is the obligatory after show party to celebrate.
Since its inception it has achieved something of a cult status and has garnered a legendary following including luminaries such as Boy George, Grayson Perry and Zandra Rhodes, as well as members of Andrew's family.
"My brother Richard is entering this one," he chuckles. "He is a retired school teacher so it will be interesting!"
After a five year hiatus, it's now back for a 13th run and comes to the Globe theatre, a mere hop, skip and a jump away, on Saturday, October 18.
Given the show's popularity why has it been so long since the last one I ask?
"With AMW there is always a big gap," says Andrew with a wave of his hand.
"It's very much when I've got the energy to do it. But I also think that gives it its strength - it's a one off and you won't ever get the same show again.
"Every time we put it on we have to reinvent everything, which is part of its charm but it's a lot of work. But I felt this year the time was right.
"Also the shows have grown but not enough to make them unwieldy or to lose their magic or charm. They are like a surreal art event for all round family entertainment and I always get a warm feeling when I'm on the stage."
Over the years AMW has taken place in a variety of places, from London's Roundhouse to a massive circus tent on Clapham Common and always has a different theme - this one is Numbers.
The Globe he says is the perfect setting for this year's show although he admits the venue's proportions have necessitated a size limit on costumes - a mere seven feet wide by five feet high only - and only one backstage helper per contestant.
"It's perfect - a fantastic stage and amazing setting and I think Shakespeare would have approved," says Andrew with a twinkle in his eye. "In fact I think he would have entered.
"When the Globe was suggested Dominic Dromgoole (artistic director) loved the idea and the whole concept so it just happened and here we are!"
Andrew will once again be the "host and hostess" and will have friend Grayson Perry as co-host. Another friend, Jonny Woo will be minstrel, mingling with the audience.
There will be no rehearsals which Andrew says is "exactly how it should be" which means anything can and often does happen, and he admits he's excited about seeing what the costumes will be like.
"It's all part of the show," he smiles. "But the most important aspect is the contestants. Every year they really do go to town which is lovely.
"I am always joyful that people take such effort, do such wonderful things and are very inventive - they are always quite outrageous!
"Miss Fancy Chance is the current winner. Her last outfit was amazing - it brought the house down!"
With only six weeks to go before showtime, Andrew has much to do including ensuring his own costume - made by Zandra Rhodes - is complete and finishing making the all important crown which is currently glittering in his studio - a work in progress.
Despite the undoubted stress of putting on such a huge event, Andrew remains remarkably zen like - something he puts down to his passion for yoga which he practices daily.
"I've been doing yoga for years," he says. "It enables me to carry on working and being positive about everything.
"I teach it too - all over the world. It's so beneficial in terms of mind and body.
"In fact it would be so nice if it was taught in school as it would be great for children," he muses. "I'm sure the world would be a different and better place."
At the back of his mind though is what happens next.
His home, the very place that has inspired him and his work over the years is now contributing to his departure.
"I've had some wonderful memories here," he says referring to the legendary parties that have taken place over the years.
"It's wonderful this space has been shared by so many - as well as our parties we've had book launches, weddings and funerals - we've done everything here!
"But I am approaching 69 and this is a huge building to run.
"We will be sad to leave - it's magical but it's too much now and it's time to let someone else enjoy it," he adds philosophically.
"I would love to put more time into my museum so we plan to spend a third of our time in Wales, a third in London where we want to find a smaller place to live and then the final third travelling and working.
"I'm doing an installation in Mumbai airport next year which I'm looking forward to and I'm thinking of writing a book.
"The future is exciting and full of possibilities," he smiles.

Alternative Miss World takes place on Saturday, October 18. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.