Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Harlem Dream comes to the Young Vic

IT is not often that theatres devote whole shows to dance but the Young Vic is about to change that with a new production focusing on hip hop.
A Harlem Dream takes inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance, an African American cultural movement that emerged in response to the hardships of the Great Depression, and draws parallels with society today.
It has been choreographed by Peckham based Ivan Blackstock, founder of the hugely successful South London dance company BirdGang Dance.
Working with actor and fellow dancer Ukweli Roach and with an eclectic score composed by Mercury prize nominee Soweto Kinch, Ivan has created a 50-minute show in which a fusion of popping, locking and lindy hopping, burlesque performance, and cabaret combine to create a speakeasy atmosphere with a contemporary twist.
A Harlem Dream is something of a departure for Ivan in that as well as choreographing the piece he has also created the narrative which he admits has taken him out of his comfort zone though he says he's excited about the result.
"It was a challenge because it was the first time I have worked on something like this," he says. "There is a narrative that runs through it - so it's not all about the dancing and the music - and it took me into a different zone.
"But I have had a fantastic team around me, we have worked really hard and it's been great fun to do."
The show is part of a series of dance events at various venues in London by Dance Umbrella which celebrates choreography in all its forms.
Its artistic director Emma Gladstone approached Ivan after the pair had worked together on shows at Sadlers Wells.
"Emma asked me to do something for this festival that Dance Umbrella is organising," says Ivan.
"It's a risk but a good risk and very exciting to be part of especially as it's something different for me. The Young Vic has been amazing and I'd definitely like to do more work like this."
The show itself tells the story of a man from Jackson Mississippi who Ivan says has "big dreams" of making a better life for himself and his friend.
"They go to Harlem but things turn bad," he says. "I don't want to give it all away but it's got a deep story with themes of ambition, greed and love.
"I think we've come up with something that is interesting and dynamic and that will make the audience think about what they have seen as they leave the show, which for me is really important.
"This is a show that you think is going to be a fun hip hop show and then it takes a turn! It's not like a musical theatre show but an immersive experience."
And he says the Young Vic's Maria auditorium is the "perfect" place to stage it.
"The audience will feel very much part of it and will be incredibly close to the performers so I think it will work really well there," he says.
"What's great about it is that I hope it will bring new audiences to the Young Vic, and to hip hop and theatre in general by encouraging young people to take a chance on seeing something else there and bring more young people into theatre.
"I also hope it will encourage those who love theatre to look at hip hop in a better light. TV has put hip hop in a bad light but it isn't all about violence and this show explains the reason why it's how it is now.
"When it first came out, hip hop was more about positivity - bringing the community together. I hope A Harlem Dream will show people that it isn't really about twerking on TV, drugs and throwing money in the air but that we can tell an interesting, entertaining and intelligent story through hip hop."

A Harlem Dream is at the Young Vic in Waterloo until November 1. Tickets from £10. Visit or call 020 7922 2922.

REVIEW - Here Lies Love at the National


AFTER being closed for 18 months for a refit the National Theatre's Cottesloe stage is now back open. As well as a name change - to the Dorfman, although I am sad about this as I loved the Cottesloe - it looks funky and fresh.
Which is just as well because the show with which it has re-opened is about as funky, punky and fresh as you could wish.
Here Lies Love is the brainchild of Talking Heads' David Byrne and DJ Fatboy Slim. It essentially tells the story of the rise to power of Imelda Marcos, though sadly pays no reference whatsoever to her vast shoe collection.
But if you think it's going to be a traditional theatre experience think again. This one is part disco, part musical theatre and part karaoke.
Most of the audience stand in the pit area of what feels like a nightclub where there is a moveable stage in the middle of the space over which hangs the most enormous glitter ball.
To the sides are other moveable platforms, all of which are moved about during the show - meaning those in the pit area move too.
On the walls and any available panels are images both moving and static which are projected throughout the show.
Presiding over proceedings from on high is a DJ whose main job apart from playing the pulsating music throughout and which greets the audience as we walk in - is to chivvy the groundlings into dancing, singing and getting into the groove.
He doesn't need to do much work in this department as it's not difficult to get swept along with it.
And indeed the show itself is a joy. There is hardly any spoken narrative, instead the performers sing, dance and act their way around the space and by the end those in the pit area have become part of the show, dancing and singing along.
It is a fascinating story of Imelda Marcos' life from the back streets of a poor town to being rejected by her first love for being too tall to becoming a beauty queen before marrying Ferdinand Marcos and their rise to power and then exile.
The whole cast and crew do a great job - especially the crew in pink boiler suits and make up who usher the groundlings in the right direction as the stage set moves.
Gia Macuja Atchison is great as Imelda's childhood friend Estrella, and Mark Bautista and Dean John-Wilson put in fine performances as Ferdinand Marcos and Ninoy Aquino respectively.
But it was Natalie Mendoza who, with her terrific voice, gave a blistering performance as Imelda and stole the show.

Here Lies Love is on at the National Theatre's Dorfman stage until January 9. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Interview - Robert Daws

IF his school careers adviser had had his way Robert Daws would have been "commuting to Fenchurch Street every day to work in the city in insurance".
Fortunately for him and indeed the rest of us Robert had another - better - idea and instead set his sights on being an actor. He got a place at RADA and by the time he was 20 he had finished studying and was "out acting".
"Acting was always what I wanted to do - in fact from the moment I thought it was a possibility," he remembers. "I might have toyed with teaching but didn't get much beyond thinking about it - much to the chagrin of my school careers officer who had other ideas for me!"
His persistence paid off as his subsequent 20 plus year career since then has featured star roles on stage and screen most notably as Dr Gordon Ormerod in ITV's The Royal, Sam Mountjoy in Roger Roger, Tuppy Glossop in Jeeves and Wooster and Roger Dervish in the award-winning Outside Edge.
But it's theatre that he's concentrating on at the moment thanks to his starring role in The Perfect Murder which is coming as part of its national tour to the New Wimbledon Theatre.
Based on Peter James’ best-selling novel of the same name the story has been adapted by award winning writer Shaun McKenna.
It tells the story of Victor Smiley and his wife Joan who have been married for perhaps more years than they would wish and now their marriage has reached crisis point. Victor has decided there is only one way to get Joan out of his life forever. And that means murder. But it seems he's in for a nasty surprise.
"It's a great story," enthuses Robert. "It's very funny but it's also very dark and we are having great fun with it.
"It also seems to be going down really well as audience reactions have been lovely which is obviously great for us but really nice for Peter as well.
"It's a real mix of thrills and laughter - I think most people who see it don't expect it to be as funny as it is.
"It's about a couple married for about 20 years who hate each other and they set about trying to murder each other. That's all you need to know really!" he adds cheerfully.
"Victor is a suburban husband who's had enough of the relationship and his wife is equally fed up with him.
"He's middle management and aimed low most of his life. He's a fascinating character and obsessed with great detectives. You could say murder is his hobby and has developed a 53-point plan that will lead to the perfect murder which is quite interesting. So it's a question of who murders the other first!
"Peter James is a terrific writer and really brings the characters to life so what actor wouldn't want to play this IT manager? I couldn't possibly turn that challenge down," he laughs.
"When they offered it to me last year I read the book and then the play and I have now read most of the other books he's written as it's part of a series featuring Detective Roy Grace who's in the show."
However, he sounds a note of caution for die hard Peter James fans.
"If people have read the book they are in for a surprise because although there is much they will recognise there is a different ending. The powers that be decided to give it a theatrical pep! But it's great."
Robert is no stranger to crime stories having appeared in shows such as Midsomer Murders - who can forget his larger than life character Mike Spicer.
"I was drowned in a TV full of red wine," he chuckles. "You don't have to ask what attracted me to that part! Mike Spicer was a fairly wretched individual but he was great fun to play and that episode was voted the most popular ever Midsomer Murders episode which is very nice."
And he also admits to penning his own crime novels, though he is modest about his talents.
"I have got an interest in crime writing and in the middle years of my career I have found myself turning to writing a bit more if I can. I quite like it, though I'm not in the same league as Peter."
But he adds he's not about to give up the day job - which consists of doing work on screen, stage, radio, commercials and giving tips to RADA students.
"I have enjoyed everything - most of the jobs I have done have been great and it's difficult to pick one favourite," he says.
"To be honest I had no idea it would last this long! But I feel very fortunate to have done a range of work.
"Radio is great yet it can be one of the most difficult things because you can't rely on mannerisms though you can be left in a virtual migrane at the end of it.
"I have done a lot of TV which I do enjoy. I loved playing Tuppy Glossop on the Jeeves and Wooster series - I'm a big PG Wodehouse fan and it was a great job - we had fun on set all the time.
"Tuppy Glossop is a fantastic character and is described as a bulldog who had just had his dinner snitched which is fantastic!
"I am so grateful because we had four happy years filming those shows.
"It's a strange world though - one day you could be doing high brow theatre and the next day you can be doing a commercial about oranges! But it's good and I like the variety and versatility of the job.
"But it all comes back to the script and the words - much like this play in fact and although theatre is in its own way a bit more complicated, I love the sense of live performance and doing a show like this is a joy."
And he says he's loving the demands of the tour and is looking forward to coming to Wimbledon.
"It's my first time performing at this theatre though I have been to see shows here before," he says. "One of the reasons I do tours once every three years or so is because I prefer it to being in one place for a long time. It keeps you on your toes and every Monday is a new opening night.
"Each week we are in a different town and it's nice to go and explore the area.
"So as well as entertaining the audiences I'm looking forward to exploring Wimbledon!"

The Perfect Murder head to New Wimbledon Theatre from October 27 to Saturday November 1. Tickets from £12.90. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Alternative Miss World - review


INFLATABLE costumes, glitter, sequins, wigs, make up, neon, lights, colour. All the ingredients for the 13th Alternative Miss World contest which lit up the South Bank on Saturday.
Organised by sculptor, painter and South London-based artist Andrew Logan it was the most glorious evening of fun and merriment and the epitome of fabulousness.
It was staged perhaps appropriately at the Globe theatre. In fact the Bankside stage seemed made for such a spectacle though I’ve never seen it lit up so much like a Christmas tree before!
The proceedings kicked off in style with Andrew as host and hostess being lowered onto the stage via a hatch in the ceiling. He was joined by artist and friend Grayson Perry who was co-host for the evening and between them they introduced the contestants.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it started more than 40 years ago as an opportunity for Andrew to mix his love of parties with fashion. Such was the success of the first event, held at Andrew’s then studio in Hackney, it has now become something of an institution and has featured the well known and unknowns as contestants.
It is not an annual event – in fact it has been five years now since Miss Fancy Chance won the last contest – but such is its popularity it attracts people from all over the world to take part. Indeed, people clamour to be part of it and each time the costumes get more and more inventive, elaborate, flamboyant, fanciful and outrageous.
Like the Miss World shows it features day wear, swimwear and evening wear but unlike the other, this one doesn’t take itself seriously and it is open to all, celebrating diversity and equality.
It is a show to show off in – and this one was no exception. The theme was Neon Numbers and among the outfits to grace the stage was an inflatable octopus, a telephone box and a dinner table complete with chandelier above it. Outrageous? Yes but joyful, funny and hugely entertaining.
In between the costumes there were cabaret acts including Jonny Woo, Eve Ferret, David McAlmont and Le Gateau Chocolat.
The judges – who included Suggs, Zoe Wanamaker and Zandra Rhodes – had a tricky task but they settled on Miss Zero +, also known as Sasha Frolova – who, once crowned was showered in confetti.
It was a glorious and colourful end to an equally glorious evening. There’s no mention of when or if there will be another one. But if there is, I’d recommend going.

The Alternative Miss World was held at the Globe Theatre on Saturday, October 18.

Preview - Grand Guignol at Southwark Playhouse

IN Paris at the turn of the last century the Theatre du Grand Guignol was one of the most popular theatres in the city.
Based in a former chapel in the Montmartre district its success was down to it gaining a reputation for developing a genre of plays specialising in naturalistic horror shows - depicting violence, madness, murder, sex and terror and became the cult of its day.
Although it is no longer in existence - it closed in 1962 - it achieved legendary status and in its heyday tickets to see shows there were amongst the hottest in town.
Now a play by Carl Grose, which has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse after a successful run in Plymouth, pays homage to both the theatre and its principal playwright Andre de Lorde, who between 1901 and 1926 wrote at least 100 plays and collaborated with the experimental psychologist Alfred Binet to create plays about insanity.
Grand Guignol stars South London based Jonathan Broadbent as Andre de Lorde, the playwright who penned the gruesome dramas and his relationship with the psychiatrist who ingratiates his way into the company.
However the boundaries between theatre and truth begin to blur when the psychiatrist starts to unpick de Lorde’s mind with terrifying consequences.
Despite the somewhat macabre elements of the show Jonathan insists it is "very funny".
"It's funny, has lots of drama but is quite complicated," he says. "It's a bit like Carry On meets Hammer Horror! But it's enormously enjoyable and during the run in Plymouth audiences were laughing which is great."
He says it was an interest in the history of the Grand Guignol as well as the the script that persuaded him to take on the role.
"The script was the draw," he says. "I thought it was brilliant. Essentially Carl has written a tribute to Grand Guignol setting the piece in 1903.
"But it's also a pastiche of that particular style of theatre which is quite melodramatic and bloody and incorporates some of the original plays into his own one so the audience gets a flavour of what the plays were and were like but there is a mystery sub plot.
"De Lorde was a pioneer of this style of play and his work was very well known and well documented. Carl made the play about real people with huge dramatic license but essentially it's about a theatre company within the Grand Guignol which actually existed and ran until the 1960s. The productions they staged were hugely popular and were the real must see ticket of the day.
"They featured people like Paula Maxa who we meet in this play and who was known as the Sarah Bernhardt of her day.
"It's so funny, well written and gripping and I read it in one sitting. It was a real page turner and looked challenging to do."
And the challenges presented by the play extended to him being able to develop technical skills such as faking gauging peoples' eyes out.
"There's lots of blood, guts and gore and people have their throats slit so there are a lot of technical things to be achieved to make people buy into the horror of these plays," he says cheerfully.
"I get to gauge someone’s eye out with knitting needles - which is something you don’t do in Midsummer Night’s Dream!" he laughs. "The props department have come up trumps with all the magic and worked hard at things appearing to be real so it's been great fun."
As well as the technical elements Jonathan says the play will keep audiences on their toes.
"The script is very clever and you never quite know where the story is going," he says. "You think you have got a handle on what it is then it goes somewhere else – and it’s like this til the last page. It’s fantastic. It plays on the audience's perception of what they are seeing even to the last page of the script.
"It’s quite brilliant and it makes the audience go somewhere and think rather than just letting it wash over them.
"It's a shame the theatre no longer exists in Paris," he adds. "There was a similar venue in John Adam Street in central London for many years which Noel Coward wrote plays for. Although it's gone too the Soho Theatre does a Grand Guignol season."
And he says that the Southwark Playhouse is the perfect venue for the show.
"Originally the Grand Guignol Theatre was in the arty part of town, down an alleyway and the experience of going there was probably a bit seedy and scary. I don't want to cast aspersions on the Elephant and Castle but the subway is a bit scary!
"The Grand Guignol was a little fringe theatre seating less than 300 people which is much like the Southwark Playhouse. It's also got that 'off the beaten track' feel to it which is exactly like Grand Guignol so I think it's the perfect place to host it.
"It's also a venue where they aren't afraid to take risks with the shows they put on and have a fantastic range of work.
"And it's hosting a play that treats its subject successfully and has a serious story behind it so I think it will be right at home there and it will go down really well - you may even have to kill for a ticket!" he laughs.

Grand Guignol is at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until November 22. Tickets cost £18, £16 concessions. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Deptford stories

AN arts festival which celebrates and explores the lives and legends of Deptford will launch next week.
Deptford Stories brings together art, theatre, music and history of the past, present and future and presents an account of the lives and legends of the neighbourhood, interpreted by performers and artists.
Organised in collaboration with Goldsmiths, it will take place from October 31 in the empty warehouses and workshops of the former site of Arklow Road Trading Estate.
Curated by experimental arts space, Harts Lane Studios, and produced by Greenspace on behalf of property developer Anthology, Deptford Stories will be an eclectic array of mixed-media installations, sculpture, prints, light displays, textiles and tiling.
From James Capper and Katie Surridge’s industrial and structural pieces to Cedric Christie’s iconic light-boxes, Tisna Westerhof’s Delft Blue tile work which depicts scenes of London, to Margot Sanders’ site-specific painting, the artwork will be varied.
It will also include a unique community quilt on display, which features designs from Childeric Primary School in New Cross.
As well as the performances there will be a soundscape over the course of the first two days of the festival where visitors can experience the sounds of the old foundry, complete with sound bites from George Arthur, a local man who worked on the site in the 1960s.
Anthology managing director Mark Dickinson said: "As property developers we certainly see great potential in the land at Arklow Road and believe that a tired run down industrial site can be reinvigorated to provide new jobs in the local area as well as new homes.
"We feel strongly about respecting the industrial heritage of the area and Deptford Stories will celebrate and build a legacy for the site through art, performance and archived history.
"We hope future communities will know that they’re not living in a faceless development - we want to be able to preserve the spirit of the area.
"It’s really exciting to be working with established artists and also students at Goldsmiths University to bring this event to life."
Refreshments will be provided by Pig&Rig, who will be serving up a hog-roast, and the Black Cab Coffee Co and Brockley Brewery will be supplying their own brewed coffee and beer.
The festival will run until November 16. Visit for listings.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Hunters Grimm at the Albany and Deptford Lounge

A GROUP of storytellers are taking to the streets from next week for their new show The Hunters Grimm.
South London-based Teatro Vivo is bringing the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm to Deptford audiences but giving them a twist.
Instead of a traditional theatre experience, audiences will be very much part of the action and will help the actors find the stories in this promenade production.
"The Grimm brothers went around and collected stories from friends, neighbours and people they met in their travels," says director Sophie Austin.
"In fact they also got other people to help them and from there they put the stories together.
"It was very much a collaborative effort and for us it was a fascinating idea - what does it mean to be a story hunter?
"So using our style of theatre we are going to try and recreate this idea with our show."
When audiences arrive at the Albany they will be divided into two groups and sent on a mission taking them around the streets of Deptford.
As they hunt for the stories they will meet actors in character along the way who will help them by telling their tales which will be taken back to the Deptford Lounge which has been transformed into a storytelling lounge.
Some of the tales they find will be familiar but all will be given a dark twist. Among the characters to be met are an anarchic frog convinced he is a prince, musicians and a wicked step mother.
"The wolf who ate Little Red Riding Hood is now a pelt on the floor of Deli X and the nasty step mother is still concerned that she is not as beautiful as her step daughter so she is considering killing her," says Sophie.
"Not everyone will see all the characters as it depends what group they are in but all the stories collected will be brought back to Deptford Lounge where all will be revealed," says Sophie.
"They are all familiar stories but dark ones in that they deal with death and nasty things that happen to people so not really designed for kids - it's more of a grown up event.
"That said there is a lot of humour to be had and even some dancing with the musicians.
"Everyone loves stories and we at Teatro Vivo like telling them in a way people like to hear them," she adds.
"Shakespeare is my big inspiration and groundlings were very much part of the show in his day. This is an old school way of listening and sharing, with the audience very much part of it and they have a clear role.
"We hope it will inspire and engage the audience - it will be a fun evening but anyone who comes along should wear appropriate clothing!"

The Hunters Grimm begins at Deptford Lounge and ends at The Albany. It runs from Wednesday, October 22, until Saturday, November 8.
Tickets cost £12 or £10 concessions. Visit or call the box office on 020 8692 4446.

Electra at the Old Vic, review

Four stars

THERE'S an old saying "you can choose your friends but not your family". I suspect that if she could have Electra would not have picked Clytemnestra to be her mother.
Sophocles’s story tells of Electra, a woman whose father Agamemnon has died at the hands of his wife and her lover.
Agamemnon's beloved daughter has been in mourning ever since. But it's more than just grief. This is a woman who has gone past grief and is now full of hatred, bile and out for revenge.
She doesn't want to just punish her mother with words, she is determined Clytemnestra be punished by death.
A new version of this Greek tragedy is now on at the Old Vic starring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role.
Her portrayal of this tragic woman is brilliant. She is like a petulant teenager holding on stubbornly to the view that her mother and her mother's new lover have no adequate excuse for killing her father.
It is an obsession in which she is being eaten up by rage and a desire for revenge and as the story unfolds, her anger builds.
Electra paces the stage in front of the palace at Mycenae grabbing at her dirty smock dress, bare foot, unwashed hair, wild sunken eyes and looking dirty and unkempt and raging at the injustice of what's happened.
She is almost oblivious to the women around her, including her sister and to a certain extent Clytemnestra, who are full of concern for her and her mental state.
When her brother Orestes returns home from exile Electra's fury finally explodes and the end is bloody, merciless and horrifying.
Played in the round, it is the most astonishing and powerful performance that totally draws the audience in.
The supporting cast is also excellent in particular, Diana Quick as Clytemnestra who clearly struggles with the reality of what she has done and her love for her daughter and Liz White as Electra's younger sister, Chrysothemis, who is caught between her love for both women.

Electra is on at the Old Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until December 20. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7628.

Sweeney Todd at Harrington's Pie shop in Tooting

A PIE and mash shop might not be the most obvious place to stage a famous musical but for one young theatre producer it was her first choice.
From Tuesday Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop in Selkirk Road Tooting will be taken over by the Tooting Arts Club who will be using it to put on a production of Sweeney Todd.
For its producer Rachel Edwards it was a long held dream to do Sondheim's famous piece at this particular venue.
"It's an inspired choice," she laughs as we chat about the show. "The Tooting Arts Club (TAC) was established four years ago as a site specific theatre company.
"We are based in Tooting but don't have a permanent home. Instead we are always looking for local buildings, spaces or venues to host our shows taking inspiration from the area.
"I have always got an eye out for potential venues but we want them to have a synergy with the pieces we choose to perform.
"I'm always thinking about potential projects and seeing if there are venues suitable but with this it was the other way around.
"I walk past Harrington's a lot and love it. It's been at the heart of the community here for 108 years and as it's steeped in history and character I thought it would be amazing to do Sweeney Todd in there."
However, she admits it took her a while to summon the courage to go in and ask the owners if she could use their shop for the show.
"I'd had the idea for about two years and for a long time was nervous about asking them because I thought if they said no I would be disappointed but if they said yes it would be a ridiculously ambitious project to take on!" she laughs.
Fortunately they said yes and now she is in the final stages of rehearsing the show which she admits has been "quite a task" to undertake.
"They were really open to the idea which was brilliant," she says. "In fact it didn't take much explaining and they were really up for it although it is a pretty random thing to ask them to do a full scale production in their shop - but they weren't fazed about it at all and instead were very interested right from the beginning in our company and also what we wanted to do.
"So I'm incredibly grateful to them because this was a long held dream of mine and I do think it's the perfect place to tell this amazing story - though now that it's actually happening it's quite scary!"
When they arrive, audiences will first congregate at Anton’s barber shop nearby before being shown through to Harrington’s, where the décor has not changed much since it was opened in 1908 and which will be transformed into Mrs Lovett’s infamous establishment.
Set in 19th century the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years as a convict from Australia seeking revenge on those who separated him from his wife and child.
He meets Mrs Lovett who owns a failing pie shop. He sets up his barber shop above her shop and prompted by Mrs Lovett his revenge leads to murder with the victims becoming ingredients for her pies.
Despite Harrington's being her perfect venue, staging the show hasn't been without its challenges.
"It's a very small space and the capacity is therefore tiny," says Rachel. "It's actually not much bigger than my kitchen and seats just 32 people so it will be quite an intimate production especially as we have three musicians as well as the eight actors to fit in.
"People will be seated in the booths, on the old fashioned benches with the action taking place on the staircase, behind the counter and in front of the tables.
"We are going to be maximising every inch of space and the audience will be within touching distance of the performers.
"It will be a truly imersive experience experience, thrilling, hugely atmospheric, and I'm really excited about it.
"It's going to be a lot of fun and we've had a huge amount of fun doing it!" she adds cheerfully.
"It's an extraordinary tale that really grabs you, it's brilliantly written with an amazing score and lyrics. It's wonderfully dark but very funny and I think this will be a great way for people to see and experience the show.
"This project sums up exactly what TAC is about and what community theatre is all about - creating inventive work that is born out exciting collaborations with people at the heart of the Tooting community.
"It will be - and already is - a remarkable adventure and I'm really looking forward to it."
And David Sydney Johnson, who has been working at Harrington’s for 46 years and is currently the sole pie maker, says he's also excited to see the finished result.
"Harrington’s has been serving pies to the people of Tooting for more than 100 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever staged a theatre show," he says.
"We’re really looking forward to being a pie shop by day and a theatre venue by night and excited to welcome customers old and new to enjoy the show - and of course our pies!"

Sweeney Todd takes place at Harrington's Pie and Mash shop, 3 Selkirk Road, Tooting from Tuesday, October 21 until November 29. Tickets cost £20. Visit to buy tickets.

Friday, 10 October 2014

House Of Fun at Blackheath Halls - compered by Arthur Smith

SOUTH London comic Arthur Smith is bringing an air of bonviveure and amusement to Blackheath on Saturday with what he describes as a night of music and merriment.
The self-elected Night Mayor of Balham will be hosting the House Of Fun at Blackheath Halls, a variety show in which he will be introducing an eclectic range of acts to entertain the audience.
He promises it will be an uproarious night of variety with fantastic comedy, sparkling music, saucy stand-up, scintillating theatre and more though he admits anything could happen on the night.
"I'm not sure how it's going to go but it sounds a lot of fun," he laughs. "I'm intrigued to find out myself as it's the first time I've done this but I liked the sound of it.
"I have not seen any of them on stage before but I was approached by the organisers and asked to host it and when they told me what was involved it sounded like a bit of a laugh so I thought why not.
"I'm looking forward to it but I'm just going to go with the flow as it sounds like anything could happen!"
The line up includes comedian David Whitney and singer Felicity Duncan and her alter ego Eva the manic cleaner who scatters inappropriate malapropisms throughout the proceedings.
Then there is Slapper, where old-style music hall meets avante garde punk cabaret, a seven-piece band with a highly visual, rather outrageous theatrical style, who describe themselves as full of attitude and humour.
Music will be provided by Danny and the Moonlighters with a blend of upbeat and catchy tunes in a 1950s high-school-prom rock'n'roll style.
Magic will also feature on the bill courtesy of Pete Heat and Scott Penrose who will be bringing their different styles of magic to entertain the crowds.
And of course Arthur will be bringing his own inimitable brand of comedy to the proceedings as the "compere beyond compare".
"I'm going to be the compere beyond compare so will be nipping on and off stage introducing everyone," he says.
"It's great for me as normally I'm in the world of stand up so it's nice to be doing something a bit different and not to be doing a whole show myself.
"It means I can chat to the audience a bit and the pressure isn't all on me."
Each act will be about 10 minutes long which Arthur says is just the right length of time.
"There is a real mix on the bill so it's more of a complete kind of evening," he says. "If you don't like one act you only have to wait about 10 minutes before someone else comes along - so it should make for an entertaining evening.
"But it is exactly what it says on the tin - old school variety with a modern twist.
"Things go in waves and when I started in comedy there was a period where you had to be a stand up as everything else was a waste of time," he adds.
"It was quite right on but things seem to have exploded now and everyone is a comedian and doing every conceivable type of comedy. It's expanded so much and variety shows seem to be back in fashion with more and more cabaret acts on the scene. Even 10 years ago there weren't that many."
And he says he's looking forward to coming back to Blackheath Halls.
"I've done gigs there a few times," he says. "It's good to be doing the show there - it's an impressive building and lends itself to a this kind of show. It's got a fantastic Gothic feel to it and is totally an appropriate place to have it.
"I might even bring Leonard Cohen down for a bit to do a number and I promise to do a few tricks too... I'm quite good at magic - bet you didn't know that," he says before chuckling, "Even as I speak something peculiar is happening in the next room to you involving a dove....."

playwright, king of comedians, professional Leonard Cohen impersonator and star of radio's ‘Loose Ends’, ‘The Smith Lectures’ and tv's ‘The One Show’ and 'Grumpy Old Men'

Arthur Smith presents The House of Fun is at Blackheath Halls, on Saturday, October 18. Tickets cost £17.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 8463 0100.

Preview Stones In His Pocket

FANS of the hugely popular TV show Game Of Thrones will know him as Barristan Selmy but Ian actor McElhinney is also a successful director.
And to prove the point, the Belfast-born 66-year-old has temporarily turned his back on acting to concentrate on directing a revival of Stones In His Pockets.
The show, a two-hander which was written by his wife, Irish playwright Marie Jones, follows the fortunes of a rural community in Ireland whose lives are turned upside down when a Hollywood film crew rolls into town to shoot a movie.
It originally premiered in Belfast in 1996, had a successful four and a half years in the West End, and earned a Tony Award nomination after its run on Broadway
Ian was its original director and he is now back at the helm taking it on a nationwide tour which includes three South London venues.
It is brought to life by two actors, Conor Delaney and Stephen Jones who between them take on all 40 characters from the cheeky lads intent on stardom to a Hollywood Goddess.
"It is quite phenomenal as it's a huge task," says Ian warmly. "They become all parts and represent various villagers and different people in the film industry like the director and leading lady.
"It's difficult to realise as you have to ensure it's very clear and the audience knows who they are meeting and what the context is.
"It's a huge challenge but Conor and Stephen do it with a great energy and verve - it's incredible."
Ian says he is enjoying the chance to revisit the show not least because audience reaction has been so positive.
"It's lovely to be back with it," he says. "Theatrically it's magical. It's a great story, very funny and that's why I think it was so successful.
"Marie never set out to write a comedy, it just evolved that way but it's brilliant - very cleverly written.
"Also it's nice for me to do some directing which I like to do."
So does he prefer acting or directing I wonder.
"I love both actually," he says warmly. "I got the acting bug in my teens and spent most of my time doing plays rather than studying!
"The intention was always to be an actor. However I enjoy both as it makes life more interesting so whenever I have had the chance to direct I have taken it."
And although a jobbing actor for more than 30 years it is for Game Of Thrones that he is now perhaps best known.
"Obviously it has been hugely exciting and has been great to be part of," he says.
"I came to it not knowing it was based on a series of books that were already very popular. You go into a thing hoping it will be good and fun and this looked like it would be. Then you realise the whole world has keyed into it!
"I'm enjoying it though and proud to be in it. It's capturing people's imagination and I count myself very lucky to be part of it.
"It's the same with Stones In His Pockets. We had hopes for it but the success way exceeded our expectations and we are thrilled about it."

Stones In His Pockets is on at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on Friday, October 17, at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on Monday, October 20 and at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Wednesday, November 12. Visit to book tickets.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Interview with Brian Conley

He’s been around the showbiz block more times than he cares to remember, starring in his own TV shows, been a contestant on reality shows such as I’m A Celebrity and is a stalwart of the panto circuit.
But now Brian Conley is about to take on one of the most well known and demanding roles in musical theatre – Barnum. He tells Kate Gould all about it.

pic credit: Johan Persson

COMEDIAN, actor, singer, chat show host and all round entertainer Brian Conley has been at the forefront of the British showbiz scene for more than 30 years.
Indeed, the very definition of old-school entertainer, he has almost dominated the industry with his versatility since he burst onto the scene in the 1980s.
In his heyday he was one of the biggest and best loved names in television - who can forget his larger-than-life caricatures of Nick Frisby, Larry the Loafer and Septic Peg not to mention his catch phrase "it's a puppet".
A multi award winner, the 53-year-old has also appeared on The Royal Variety Show an incredible eight times.
He has turned his talents to almost every medium including carving a successful career for himself in the West End, appearing in such shows as Oliver, Jolson and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang not to mention stints on reality shows including ITV's I'm A Celebrity.
Now he's added yet more skills to his bow - tightrope walking, fire eating and juggling - as part of his role in another musical - Barnum - produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Chichester Festival Theatre.
The show will visit the New Wimbledon Theatre next week as part of a national tour and sees Brian take the role of Phineas T Barnum, a role that he was perhaps born to play.
"He's an entertainer like me, he's got wonderful charm and you have got to be a showman to play the part because you talk to the audience so much," he says.
"I am really excited about it and am very honoured to be part of it - it's spectacular, full of colour, tricks, high comedy and some great songs and when I got the script my wife kept telling me to put it down because I was glued to it!
"It's also a very demanding part because I'm on stage such a lot and I've had to learn some new skills such as how to tightrope walk. It took a long time - seven months but it's something to put on the CV isn't it?" he chuckles.
"I've also learned how to eat fire, juggle, do acrobatics and walk on stilts - and I've lost a stone in weight since we started the tour and now have a 32 inch waist," he adds laughing. "It means I can eat what I want which is great!"
The story follows the irrepressible imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, his life and marriage to Chairy and his subsequent affair with Jenny Lind, a woman he bought into the show.
It follows the legendary showman's life as he lit up the world with the colour, warmth and excitement of his imagination and finally teamed up with JA Bailey to create Barnum and Bailey's Circus.
"It's a true story, and a love story between him and his wife, his rise to fame and all his wheeling and dealing," says Brian.
"He spent $135,000 for Jenny Lind to come over and perform, had an affair with her and made $5million on her.
"He was the Simon Cowell or Cameron Mackintosh of his day. He was also very clever, charming and quite manipulative and always wanted to get his own way, though never ripped anyone off so he's quite a character.
"There are 25 of us in the cast and 11 in the orchestra which is fantastic but there are no clowns - it's more of a spooky circus which is really deep and dark."
And while Brian is following in the illustrious footsteps of Michael Crawford and Jim Dale who famously starred in previous productions of the show, he is keen to make the part his own.
"Barnum was the very first show I saw in the West End," he says. "It was at the Palladium and starred Michael and it completely blew me away.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams that all these years later I'd be playing the role.
"But here I am and it's great though I was keen to make it my own. I've helped Cameron bring it into the 21st century which I think is important. There is a slight change to the story and we've brought the jokes up to date too.
"I also wanted to work on the relationship Barnum had with his wife. He's got to be begging for forgiveness so it's very emotional.
"It will set me apart from Jim (Dale) and Michael (Crawford). They were both actors whereas I'm more of an entertainer, and Barnum is more an entertainer and showman, like me, and used to talking to the audience so I think I can bring something different to it.
"But it's a dream come true and I couldn't wish for a better part to play," he adds.
Indeed he says it ranks up there in the top 10 of his career highlights.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career,” he says. "But this has to be one of my highlights – that and being in Oliver, Chitty and Jolson. Jolson opened so many doors for me which was amazing.
“Working with Cameron is a dream too. It's the premier league - you always dream of doing something like this and for someone like Cameron.
"His investment in time, money and the attention to detail is incredible. He doesn't do things by halves and is not trying to make a few quid - it's all about his passion for the show - he's the only man that can put a West End show on tour."
Brian adds he always wanted to be in showbiz.
"I am dyslexic so at school everything was really confusing," he says. "So I made the kids laugh in the classroom and I embraced it - it made me what I am.
"I was no good at education and I am no good at anything else - in the real world I'm shit!" he laughs loudly. "But being on stage is where I belong. And what I love is taking the audience on a fantastic journey."
And he will be hoping to do exactly that when the tour rolls into Wimbledon. Indeed, it turns out Wimbledon holds special memories for him as well as it is here that he met his wife Anne-Marie.
“It was in 1990 when I was in Cinderella," he says. "I was working with Barbara Windsor, Bonnie Langford and Ray Alan. Ray’s wife said there was a lovely girl in her office and she said she would be perfect for me. She came to see the panto and was impressed and that was it!
"We’ve been together ever since and married for 18 years so it'll be lovely to do the show here.
"We have done much bigger rooms than Wimbledon but what I love is that it's a very intimate venue even though it's a big theatre.
"This show will engulf it," he adds cheerfully. "We don't have a circus ring but the stage goes over the pit where the band is and so we are right there with the audience - it's going to be fantastic and spectacular!"

Barnum is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, Broadway from Tuesday, October 14 until Saturday, October 18. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

The James Plays - National Theatre - Review

James I five stars
James II five stars
James III five stars.

THIS year has been dominated by the lengthy, passionate and sometimes angry debate about Scottish independence.
And to help put it all in context a trilogy of plays has been written by Rona Munro focusing on three of the Stewart Kings of Scotland, namely James I, James II and James III.
It was an ambitious task to distil 80 years of 15th century Scottish history in essentially seven and a half hours, but she has pulled it off to create a thrilling and very special piece of theatre.
They were premiered earlier this summer at the Edinburgh Festival and have now transferred down to the National Theatre's Olivier stage.
Each are very different stylistically and the script mixes modern and old with a beautiful clarity of language. There was also an incredible energy and passion that courses through each piece making them a joy to watch.
They are not history plays per se. True, we do learn about their leadership - and each ruled in a different way - but there is more to it than that.
These are plays about people, their lives, their loves, friendships, politics, how they behave towards each other and how they feel.
There are moments of sadness, cruelty and suffering - the moment Queen Joan rejects her young son James for her lover had me welling up in response to the pain he must have felt - but they are also incredibly funny and at times had the audience roaring with laughter.
In short, Rona Munro has written something glorious, moving and utterly compelling.
Each play is set in the round with a huge sword embedded in the circular stage hinting at the threat of bloodshed, violence and war that is constantly lurking in the background.
The throne is set high up amongst the traditional back of the stage and it is from here that the Kings address their subjects - of which the audience is included.
It kicks off with James I, which after having seen all three, was my favourite. James, who has been held captive by the English for 18 years, is about to be released by Henry V, to take back his throne.
This James is a kind, loving, poetic and sensitive man beautifully played by James McArdle.
He comes back to a country he barely knows with a Queen who doesn't want to be there.
He has an almost impossible task as the country he inherits is poor and he realises the need to be firm and robust with the landowners who have ruled in his absence.
He is not afraid to take difficult decisions in his determination to bring the rule of law to the country but it's a scary proposition and he realises his homecoming is not without danger.
But it's the relationship he has with his English wife Joan, who becomes increasingly disaffected at having to live in remote, cold and cramped conditions, that is both tender and moving.
By the time we get to James II (played by Andrew Rothney) the action shifts gear. We see James as a six year old - he is depicted initially by a wooden puppet - a pawn in the game between the various high ranking and powerful landowners jostling for the best political position.
As a result, danger is everywhere for the boy King and it is a much darker and scarier world. Allegiances are broken, his mother abandons him and he's separated from his sisters. The only person he trusts is his childhood friend William, the future Earl of Douglas.
Gripped and crippled by nightmares throughout his childhood, it is only through the love he finds with his wife Queen Mary that James II is able to fight to keep hold of his crown.
Things brighten up considerably with the lighting, the set and the atmosphere when we come to James III, played by Jamie Sives. This is a King who is at times childish, colourful, charismatic, and a loveable rogue - he is a playboy King.
He rules with an iron rod but with an eye for the ladies and expensive tastes - for example obsessing about creating a choir that he can't afford.
He is both loved and loathed in equal measure but it's his wife Queen Margaret of Denmark who saves him and the monarchy.
The stars of the show of course are the three kings, each different but each totally captivating. They are supported by a uniformally superb cast and there are fabulous performances in particular from newcomer Stephanie Hyam as Queen Joan and Queen Mary as well as Peter Forbes as Balvenie, Sarah Higgins as Meg, Mark Rowley as William Douglas and The Killing's Sofie Gråbøl as Queen Margaret of Denmark.
Each play is brilliant and can certainly be viewed as stand alone pieces - my favourite was James I so if you opt to see just one, make it this one.
However, I'd recommend seeing all of them, and in order as together they become a truly epic, bold and exhilarating piece of theatre.
A thrilling, stunning and fantastic set of stories about this fascinating period of history.

The James Plays are on in rep at the National Theatre until October 29. Tickets from £15 per play. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

How Nigeria Became - Interview with Gbolahan Obisesan

THIS year marks the centenary of the formation of Nigeria. The West African country, which had been made up of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, was formally united by the British after a period of colonialism in the 19th century in January 1914.The story of the country's formation has provided Deptford-based writer and director Gbolahan Obisesan with the basis for his latest play, How Nigeria Became, which is due to open at the Unicorn Theatre on Thursday.
In creating the piece, which he is also directing, it has also provided him with an opportunity to explore the culture and history of the continent for a young audience.
"I had been speaking to Purni (Morell, artistic director of the Unicorn) about creating a children's show to be staged at the Unicorn and I wanted to do something to tie in with the 100 years," says Gbolahan.
"Whilst we were talking about it we discovered there was a guy called Hubert Ogunde, a Nigerian actor and theatre maker who was born in 1916 and who for the most part created social conscience and political commentary plays about Nigeria and the various tribes and peoples within the country.
"He was an important figure in Nigeria's theatrical history and so it seemed appropriate to introduce this man to a larger audience in a way by including him in my version of this particular social construct, though I've changed his name to Herbert!"
Set in 1914 the play features Herbert and his feisty troupe of female actors who have been asked to create and stage a cultural celebration piece for the British Governor and his wife.
Their story of the Spear of Shango is about a brave young woman who must use her strength and agility to save her father's kingdom.
However, the story doesn't quite fit with the Governor's idea of a united country.
"It's about a small theatre company who create a mythical fable about the various Kingdoms in that area of West Africa so it's essentially a play within a play," explains Gbolahan.
"It's got lots of humour in it which I think is a good access point for anyone whether an adult or a child, and there is a lot of energy in it.
"And although it's set in a particular time period, and I've replicated some of the language, I have tried to make it accessible and up to date for a young audience."
To perfect the piece Gbolahan workshopped it at the theatre and included his eight-year-old Godson in the process.
"I wanted it to have a broad appeal to both adults and children but I had to think about how much of the story youngsters would be able to grasp as well as how to somehow represent a lot of the issues I am interested in," he says.
"I had a lot of conversations about it with the Unicorn staff and when we did a reading of the first draft what struck me was that my Godson was engaged and was able to articulate his ideas and thoughts about it.
"So, this story gets the audience to think and it challenges them but there is also a lot of laughter to be had."
It's not the first time the 31-year-old has written about Africa's heritage and culture. He was one of a group of five writers who created the critically acclaimed production Feast at the Young Vic last year, something of which he is understandably proud
"It's a country, culture and history that I'm really interested in and so it's been fascinating for me to be able to have the chance to write something about subjects I'm passionate about and interested in for children," he says.
"Feast was an incredible experience. It's very rare that those sorts of co-author pieces come along and although it was challenging I had a great time doing it and if someone asked me to to do that again I wouldn't say no!"
And he's no stranger to the Unicorn either. His 2012 piece Mad About The Boy transferred to the Tooley Street theatre after a successful run at the Young Vic, The Bush Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe.
"I love the Unicorn," he says warmly. "I live in Deptford so I get to cycle to work every day which is fantastic. The team here is always really helpful and the place is inspiring.
"I love to come and see the shows they put on as it's nice to look through the eyes of a young person and see what they engage with.
"Now we are coming to the end of rehearsals, which have gone well, so it's getting exciting," he adds.
"It has been great to see the play change and develop from my first thoughts to having the actors breathing the right life and energy into the characters.
"I can't wait to see the audiences' reactions!"

How Nigeria Became is on from Thursday October 9 to Sunday November 9. Tickets cost from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560.

Review - Next Fall at the Southwark Playhouse

IT must be a gamble for any actor to leave the cosy confines of a successful and relatively stable job and head for pastures new.
But for Charlie Condou, the decision to leave the cobbles of Coronation Street behind for a return to the stage has been a good one.
And he has picked a decent play to do so. Said play is Next Fall, a funny and poignant tale written by Geoffrey Nauffts about two gay guys and their relationship with each other and religion.
Luke, played by Martin Delaney, is gay, a Christian and from America's Deep South. Despite his obvious strong and unquestioning faith in Jesus, he still "sins" as much as he can, though he prays immediately afterwards.
Adam, played by Charlie, could not be more different. He is an atheist, from New York and gets more and more frustrated with Luke's praying. You almost get the impression that with Jesus in the frame there are three of them in this relationship.
The play itself is set for the most part in a hospital in Manhattan and the action is cleverly played out in both real time and flashbacks.
It is here that Luke lies fighting for his life after a car accident. As his parents, friends and Adam gather round his bedside and try and come to terms with what's happened, the situation becomes tense as long-held secrets begin to tumble out and hearts are broken.
It is a beautifully crafted story, often hilariously funny, at times very poignant, and with themes of love, faith, truth and friendship at its core.
The cast is excellent in particular Nancy Crane as Luke's manic chatterbox mother Arlene who has superb comic timing and Mitchell Mullen's Luke's father Butch. Here is a man who has spent his life believing that gays and blacks have no place in America and yet now has to come to terms with his son's sexuality.
But it is Charlie Condou as Adam who really shines and the scenes with him and Martin Delaney are some of the best.

Next Fall is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until October 25. Tickets cost £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Preview - Betty Has To Go Now

MENTION Betty Crocker and most people will think cake. The American brand was created in the 1920s following a response to a Gold Medal Flour promotion which saw an overwhelming number of letters from women requesting cooking advice.
It was to spawn a complete industry in cake and cookie baking with recipes, books, bakeware and ready made dough, inspiring generations of women and which is still one of the most recognised brands today.
Although she was never a real person, the fictitious doyenne of American home economics has been the inspiration of a solo play, Betty Has To Go Now, written by and starring West Dulwich actress Deirdre Strath.
It features Deirdre as a woman obsessed with Betty Crocker and who lives her life by cake - and the odd cocktail.
She will be taking her creation to the stage at the LOST Theatre's Face To Face Festival on Thursday, October 9 and says it will be an evening for the audience to savour.
"I play a woman obsessed with Betty Crocker and who believes she can bake her way to world peace, one dictator at a time and solve all of our problems at home too," says Deirdre.
"I have a cocktail in one hand and a cookbook in the other and am never far away from a fully stocked cake stand.
"Throughout the play you get to see this woman and the way she deals with things which is basically believing she can bake her way through the world's problems. As soon as things gets stressful she bakes again - so she has a whole table full of cakes and cookies!"
The piece has grown in length since Deirdre originally came up with the idea and she admits she is still tinkering with the script.
"Betty started out as a 10-minute piece and then it got longer and longer and now it's at about the 50 minute mark," she says.
"I had an image of a woman in a dress with a cocktail and a cake stand and it grew from there. It's also very funny with the comedy stemming from her character."
And there is plenty of cake though Deirdre admits most of it is pre-made. There is also a bit of interaction with the audience though she stresses it's not the "scary kind".
"I do go into the audience and chat to them but not in a scary way!" she assures me.
But is Deirdre is anything like her character I wonder?
"Well, she loves to cook and she's warm hearted and likes to do things for people which is a quality I'd like to think I have.
"However there are moments when she is not so nice - for example she's not keen on her son bringing his girlfriend home!" she laughs.
"She also doesn't understand why people don't have freshly made cookie dough in the fridge for when people arrive unexpectedly!
"But despite herself she's good fun and I've had fun creating her," she adds. "I have fallen in love with her a little bit and would like to think she's a bit of a tonic in this world we live in!
"She's taught me to cook better though I have always baked. In fact my first cookery book was a Betty Crocker cook book for kids - I would make a fairytale princess cake and I made a carousel cake which was cool. They never look like they come from a shop window though," she laughs.
"I do what Betty would never do - throw it together!"

Betty Has To Go Now is part of the Face To Face festival of Solo Theatre at the LOST Theatre, Wandsworth. Call the box office on 0207 722 6897.