Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Review - Myths at the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell

FOUR stars

IF you have never ventured to the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell you should. Tucked away on Bethwin Road in the middle of a housing estate, it may not be on the main drag but it packs a punch in the shows it puts on.
And it's got another winner with Myths, a glorious take on the myths and legends of ancient Greece.
Staged by theatre company Hammer & Tongs it features just three actors on the stage in black T shirts and white dungarees with a lone musician at the back.
The three actors play the Fates, a rather posh trio who are getting on a bit now and living in the Underworld. They enjoy endless cups of tea and biscuits and love nothing better than retelling their favourite stories about the characters who inhabit the legends.
And so as they spin the threads of life, they also bring back to life a variety of characters from Zeus and Io, to Orpheus and Eurydice, the Harpies, Medusa and her stylists, Sisyphus and Paris as well as providing a different view on what really started the Trojan war.
Along the way we not only see some re-imagined takes on the stories, we also find out where words such as "harpy" and "fate" come from.
The show itself is a funny and a relatively quick romp through some these classic and fabulous stories.
It is also a clever and inventive way of retelling them although some of the humour may be a bit old for some of the younger members of the audience.
The performers, Suzie Grimsdick, Oliver Yellop and Philippa Hambly, are fabulous and switch between all the different characters convincingly, quickly and with an astonishing ease.
And the musical accompaniment by George Mackenzie-Lowe is lovely.
It is a delightful show suitable for those aged 10 and over.

Myths is on at the Blue Elephant Theatre, Bethwin Road until December 6. Tickets are £12.50, £10 concessions and £8.50 for Southwark residents. Visit www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7701 0100.

Saxon Court - review

THREE stars

THE Southwark Playhouse has built up an enviable and well deserved reputation for being bold and brave in the productions it chooses to put on.
Sometimes it is spot on with shows that razzle dazzle their way across the stage but once in a while there are ones which don't quite hit the mark.
Unfortunately Saxon Court, a new play by Daniel Andersen is in the latter category.
The premis is a good one. Donna is the ballsy founder of a City recruitment firm. She's built it with her business partner from scratch, for which she is proud, and weathered plenty of storms.
You wouldn't want to mess with her though. She's tough and she takes no prisoners whether she's dealing with her staff or her clients.
However with the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 still raging around her - Occupy protesters outside the building forcing her to barricade her and her staff inside - and her partner in hospital with breast cancer, not to mention having to keep a firm rein on her disparate staff one of whom she has to fire, she finds herself in the middle of her own perfect storm.
Her life, career and business is about to go down the pan - or rather it would had the staff toilet not been blocked.
We meet all these characters and get a glimpse of City life on the day of their office Christmas party and predictably all the hormones, secrets and bad feeling that have been kept under wraps come out in an explosion when the party finally kicks off.
It's a play full of stereotypes and clich├ęs though. From the hard nosed, brash and tyrannical woman boss Donna (played by Debra Baker) to the blonde bimbo of a receptionist called Tash (Alice Franklin), back from a recently and massive boob job, to the lewd, vulgar, cocky Jack the lad consultant Joey (John Pickard) who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with male genitalia, to the obligatory ugly geeky office nerd Mervyn (Adam Brown), and the perpetually moody and newly pregnant office junior Nat (Sophie Ellerby) who, in trying to emulate her boss and pull in the punters has merely succeeded in trading herself by sleeping with one of her sleazy clients.
Although there is much to recommend this show - from the brilliant staging, some hilarious and really clever one liners to the top notch cast who attack their roles with gusto - there is too much shouting, the story line is predictable and you can see the ending a mile off.
And in terms of the humour, the emphasis seems to be on sexist, smutty, lewd and vulgar jokes and some questionable behaviour by Joey not to mention some equally questionable comments on race, religion and sexuality.
Ultimately it's a sad reflection on office life in the City.

Saxon Court is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until December 13. Tickets cost £18 or £16 concessions. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

PANTO - Croydon's Fairfield Halls

IT IS 12 years since Gareth Gates stole the nations' hearts when he appeared in the first ever Pop Idol show.
The now 30-year-old may have come second - pipped to the winning post by Will Young - but it didn't stop him from forging a successful career as a singer before branching out into musical theatre.
Along the way he also set up a performing arts academy in his home town of Bradford, qualified as a speech coach and delved into the world of panto.
And he says he loved the experience so much the first time in 2008 that he's been back for more in most years since.
This year is no exception as he's about to take on the mantle of the Prince in Snow White And The Seven Dwarves at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Before all that though he has the small matter of squeezing in a tour with his band 5th Story as well as a nationwide tour of Mad About The Musicals.
"It's really busy for me at the moment," he laughs as we chat in what must be a rare break in his schedule.
"I've got a lot on the go what with the band, doing solo work, recording more music, planning an acoustic tour for next year as well as this year's Musicals tour so it's all go!"
Despite the hectic schedule, he says he's very much looking forward to coming to Croydon and starting rehearsals.
"It's a lovely theatre and the audiences are always really enthusiastic," he says. "I was last here a year ago doing the show Boogie Nights with the Osmonds which was amazing. They were fantastic to work with and we had a great time.
"So I'm really excited to be coming back to Croydon," he adds. "This is my fifth panto. I love the experience of it and over the years it's become very much part of my Christmas.
"Initially I used to find it hard not going back to Bradford where I'm from to see my family but now they travel down to me so it's great.
"There's always a fantastic buzz when you are doing a show like this - it's such an important part of peoples' Christmases and I always look forward to this time of year."
Indeed it was going to Bradford's Alhambra Theatre as a child to see its annual panto that inspired him to go into showbiz.
"Bradford is a real panto loving city and we went every year without fail," he says. "It was a real tradition in our family and one of the best bits about Christmas - it still is really - and every year I'd dream that one day I'd be the one on the stage - sometimes I do have to pinch myself that I'm now able to live that dream!"
Snow White opens on Friday, December 5 and Gareth promises there will be all the usual thrills and spills, music and mayhem that go into making an entertaining show.
"I've worked with writer Paul Hendy before and so I know the script will be great," he enthuses.
"He writes brilliantly and all the essential ingredients will be in there - everyone is well catered for - there are jokes which the mums and dads will get and then there's stuff for the kids plus there's all the fabulous costumes, magic and dancing.
"Obviously everyone loves the ad libs that are a traditional part of it so I'm sure there will be plenty of those!
"I have done lots of West End shows like Joseph which are set and structured and there is no scope for ad libbing or elaborating which is as it should be.
"But the great thing with panto is it's where you absolutely can add bits and bring in your own humour - even on show days you can introduce things - so every night it will be different.
"However, my role as the Prince is quite traditional and quite serious so I don't get as much of an opportunity but it's fun to be on stage with the Dame and have it all go on around me - it's my task to stay on track."
But it's the music that Gareth says he's particularly looking forward to as he will get to have his input into some of the songs.
"In terms of the music Paul trusts my judgement and lets me have my creative freedom which means I will get a chance to suggest songs or harmonies I think might work well."
Despite the merriment and laughter Gareth insists it's hard work.
"Panto is such a major part of Christmas for so many people - it's a huge tradition and so it's important that we all do a good job.
"We have a great cast though - including Quinn Patrick as the Dame who is one of the best in the business - and we all work really hard to make sure we put on the best show possible - we're all really up for it so I know it's going to be a fantastic!
"What's great for me is that I get to be a hero every day and I get the girl - what could be better!" he says.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarves is on at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon from Friday, December 5 until Sunday, January 4. Tickets from £21. Family, group and concession tickets available. Visit www.fairfield.co.uk or call the box office on 020 8688 9291.

INTERVIEW - Andy Nyman

WHEN Andy Nyman was 13 he went to see the film Jaws at the cinema. It was a visit that was to prove something of a lightbulb moment for it planted the seed in his mind that he too could be an actor.
"I looked at the screen and saw Richard Dreyfus, a short curly haired jewish man wrestle with this shark and I sat there as a 13-year-old short, curly haired Jewish boy and was blown away," he tells me.
"I realised I didn't have to look like Robert Redford to make it as an actor. I didn't have to be unbelievably perfect. And that was it really."
In the years that followed Andy has pursued his love of acting enjoying a successful and varied career on stage and screen.
He has also found a level of fame thanks to his love of magic and his work with acclaimed magician Derren Brown.
However, he's keen to stress from the outset that it's acting, not magic, that is his job.
"I love the magic but as a hobby," he says. "I wrote the Derren Brown shows and directed a series and I love doing it.
"It's great fun, and I'm really interested in it, but it is absolutely not my job and I keep it very much in the background.
"Acting is what I do."
And what a career it's been so far. His versatility as an actor has seen him star in a range of roles from the play Ghost Stories to BBC Four's supernatural drama series Crooked House and the BBC 2 series Peaky Blinders to the film Kick Ass 2 as well as voicing several roles in the CBeebies series Sarah & Duck.
But it's theatre which he says gives him a real buzz.
"I don't do so much TV - although I've just done Peaky Blinders but the last thing I did before that was a few years ago," he says. "I am very picky about what TV I do!
"However I do love film and have been lucky to be in some great movies, but theatre is amazing and you get a real buzz from the audience that obviously you don't get with film."
It is the stage that he is currently to be found on thanks to a role in the Stephen Sondheim musical Assasins which is due to open at the Menier Chocolate Factory on Friday.
The show is a sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing examination of the people throughout history who have tried, and sometimes succeeded, in assassinating the President of the United States.
First seen in London at the Donmar Warehouse more than 20 years ago, Assassins shows these murderers and would-be murderers, who are generally dismissed as maniacs and misfits with little in common with each other, and nothing in common with the rest of us, and what happens when they are thrown together.
The show marks a welcome return to the Menier stage for Andy. Indeed he says he's "really excited" to be back at the theatre which he says is one he loves.
"I didn't hesitate," he laughs. "Theatre you don't do for the money, it's not what I'd call a pay day job but I turned down one that was because I wanted to do this so much.
"I think [artistic director] David Babani is amazing and the organisation as a whole is one that takes risks and they constantly do brave work. There is a real magic to this place so I'm delighted to be back here."
Speaking to me in a snatched break midway through rehearsals Andy says Assassins is a show he has wanted to be part of ever since he saw it at the Donmar.
"I saw the original production with my wife 22 years ago and was blown away by it," he enthuses. "It's truly an incredible piece of writing and something really special.
"It's a musical by Stephen Sondheim and is really about why the American dream is a bit of a myth. I think one of the things that's so extraordinary about it is it has a sort of empathy for those people.
"It thinks they are all mad but it says there is a madness in all of us. It's really challenging and a hugely entertaining piece of theatre."
Andy plays Charles Guiteau who assassinated the republican President Garfield in 1881.
"Guiteau was from an American family of French dissent but American through and through," he says.
"By all accounts, he had a bit of a sad life but turned himself around. He was a positive thinker but decided to shoot the president, after having written a speech endorsing him for president. He felt he had been largely responsible for Garfield's victory but he felt he wasn't given the gratitude he thought he should have been given.
"It was a very different time back then. You didn't have the security in those days that you do now so there was much more accessibility to these politicians.
"Guiteau was hanged in 1882 and he danced to the gallows," he adds. "He wrote a long poem of positivity, I'm Going To The Lordy, which he recited as he danced and waved to people on his way to the gallows."
And although Andy says the audience will get a glimpse of the back stories of these people he stresses it's not a history lesson.
"It is a fiction in the sense that while they were real people, you get a notion of them as they are thrown together in one room.
"It's a really interesting and fascinating piece and features snapshots of these peoples' lives. It's interesting to see everyone's story.
"As an actor you always think about the parts you'd like to play and when I saw the Donmar version, I knew I really wanted to play Guiteau.
"However, as you get older you realise you perhaps can't do some things because you are too old or whatever but then the call came out of the blue from the director Jamie Lloyd, someone I have wanted to work with for a long time and I thought, holy cow, it's something special!
"It's one of those rare ones when everything feels incredibly exciting. And also when you'd drop anything to do it."
And he says being part of the show is "every bit as amazing" as he had hoped it would be.
"The script is brilliant and we have an amazing cast," he says. "I feel very lucky to be part of it."

Assassins is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street from November 21 until March 7. Tickets from £30. Visit ww.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

REVIEW - Rose theatre, Bankside


ANYONE who has a love of Shakespeare and his extensive portfolio of work should beat a path to the Rose Theatre.
Tucked behind its bigger neighbour, The Globe, this gem of a theatre is getting a well deserved reputation for putting on interesting and original versions of some of Shakespeare's best plays and those of his contemporaries.
However, the team has now turned its attention to Shakespeare's sonnets and taken some of the most well known and paired them up with a score for a solo cello.
The result is Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, directed by Martin Parr which fuses together the music and the verse to create a beautiful piece about love, conflict and reconciliation.
It features just two performers, actress Katherine Heath and cellist Lucia Capellaro. It begins in darkness save for a spotlight which shines on Lucia as she performs her cello solo right at the back of the space by the water.
We then see Katherine who walks from a spot behind Lucia to the stage which features a double bed, a table and a few clothes.
To begin with the music and words are performed completely separately but by the end they have merged together.
During the hour long show we see a whole range of human emotions stemming from the happiness felt at what it is to be in love, to the anger and sadness at how it feels to then be rejected and then the joy at being reconciled.
They are shown through the words of the sonnets by Katherine but also through the beautiful and complementary music played by Lucia.
The result is stunning - my only regret is that it wasn't longer.

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang is on at the Rose Theatre, Park Street, until Saturday, November 29. Tickets cost £12. Visit www.rosetheatre.org.uk/ or call the box office on 020 7261 9565

PREVIEW - Grimm Tales

AT this time of year there are always plenty of shows for those who like silly jokes, outrageous costumes, singing, dancing and general festive fun.
However, for anyone looking for something a bit different, an adaptation of Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales For Young And Old could very well fit the bill.
The stories - which include The Frog King or Iron Heinrich, Hansel and Gretel, Thousandfurs, Faithful Johannes, The Goose Girl at the Spring and The Three Little Men in the Woods - are being brought to life by director Philip Wilson and a group of 16 actors and musicians in a site specific and immersive production of Grimm Tales.
For 12 weeks between now and February 15 next year, the Bargehouse – a rambling warhouse building which has long cast its shadow across the Oxo Tower Wharf – will be totally transformed.
Its derelict labyrinthine chambers plus three staircases and an attic, will become an inspired world of overgrown forests, slaughterhouse kitchens, crumbling industrial castles and dilapidated attic ballrooms.
Once inside, the audience will gather around the storytellers and musicians before being taken into various spaces within the building in three different groups and introduced to the characters who will bring the tales to life.
"I'm really excited about it because it's such a great place to put on this show," says director Philip Wilson.
"The building is incredibly atmospheric and it's all down to a wonderful group of people who have wanted to preserve it and have not allowed it to be done up.
"They rent it out for short periods for shows and so on, although this is the first time a production of this kind has been staged here, so we are very grateful to be able to use it.
"It's the most beautiful space in a crumbling, paint peeling way! What's glorious is all the rooms have their own story - many are adorned with graffiti dating back years so we know things have happened there in the past - and those who come and see it will get a glimpse of it as they tour the rooms.
"There is a real magic to it so I'm delighted that we are able to introduce people to a part of London's heritage and history that they may not have known about or visited before."
Philip says it will also be a chance for audiences to discover the tales in the traditional way of storytelling.
"This is how the stories of the Brothers' Grimm have always been told - recited by storytellers," he says.
"I was really keen to do an adaptation of Philip Pullman's version them for a piece of theatre and when I contacted him and asked and he said yes I was delighted.
"We did a show in Shoreditch and he loved it and wanted us to do more so I have adapted these six stories for this space.
"When they were originally told they were quite dark and nasty - people have their heads cut off, some are turned to stone and children are dumped in forests because their parents don't have enough to eat.
"We are staying true to the originals and using minimal props so we can let the atmosphere of the space shine through, but there will be twists and turns so it's going to be very exciting!"
And because these will not be the Disneyfied versions, Philip adds a note of caution for anyone thinking of bringing very young children.
"It's not like a horror movie and is not gory but people do die and bad things do happen to them and it's quite dark and a bit spooky in places, so we are suggesting it's more suitable for those aged eight and over," he says. "Some younger children may find it very unnerving.
"It's certainly not panto or what I'd describe as a traditional Christmas show!" he adds cheerfully.
"This is something much less glittery and much more gritty about these stories. However, there is a lot of humour albeit dark humour - not to mention magic and illusion, such as a girl who produces gold coins from her mouth.
"It's also very intimate and the aim is that there is a real connection between everyone - in fact the audience is only really ever a foot away from the actors.
"What we have also tried to do is to give the audience the idea that as they walk around the space listening to the stories, the get an impression that other characters from other tales have left the room before they get there."
And although moving large groups of people around such an enormous building has presented a few challenges Philip says they have not been insurmountable.
"Working out where each part of the story takes place is a challenge but a happy challenge," he says.
"It's just such an amazing space and we are very lucky to be able to tell these fabulous stories in a venue that is so atmospheric and absolutely perfectly suited to their somewhat dark and mysterious tone. It's going to be fantastic."

Grimm Tales is on at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street until February 15. Tickets cost £20 for children and £45 for adults. Visit www.grimm-tales.co.uk for tickets.

PREVIEW - Dusk at the Young Vic

DUSK is a time when everything changes. Shapes, colours, sounds - it can be a magical time of the day as it fades into night.
And it is the magic of dusk that has provided the inspiration for a play which opens tonight at the Young Vic.
Created by the Waterloo theatre's resident company Fevered Sleep, Dusk has been specially conceived for younger audiences.
The show intertwines film and live performance to create a magical experience in which the children in the audience get to play a central role.
"It's unlike anything you've ever seen before," promises co-creator Sam Butler. "It's about the connection with nature and other people, family, loss and being lost and searching for the right thing.
"It's a highly visual show, very beautiful and made with complete attention to detail. It is also completely immersive."
This starts the moment the children come into the theatre when they are given a tail.
"It looks like a fox tail but they are not told what it is - it's up to them and their imaginations," explains Sam.
"They are also invited to become an "It"- the character who features in the show and whose journey the children follow.
"There is not much of a narrative - but by the end of the show they feel they are the same as the character in the film and the character in the theatre - it completely connects them."
The company is no stranger to making shows for children. Last year it had huge success with its piece Brilliant, which was also staged at the Young Vic.
However, this show has its roots in one the company made for adult audiences.
"Above Me The Wide Blue Sky was something we did which was part installation and part stage show," says Sam.
"It had the same themes of nature and our connection to and with it. We wanted to do something for children that would hold their attention and when we began to think about ideas, a version of this show seemed the ideal thing to do."
And for parents who worry their children may not always sit still, Sam says it's all part of the experience.
"We like to put on shows that make people think but that also encourage interaction and participation and this is no exception," she says.
"There is a fine line between the boredom threshold of a young child, them being distracted easily and getting a bit jiggly. We also know they come from different backgrounds and have different experiences of theatre.
"So, we are not asking them to sit rigidly and be quiet - that's very important. They can talk about everything they see and experience to whoever they are with.
"Some children are overwhelmed and some don't know what to make of it. What's lovely is we watch them edge in and settle down and usually they are completely with us by the end of it."
And at the end all the children are given a prop.
"We suggest they go out and explore what's around them - whether it's an urban or a more country environment," says Sam.
"It's lovely to see them excited and fascinated and to watch them go off and have their own adventure with nature!"

Dusk is at the Young Vic until November 29. Tickets cost £10. Visit the box office at www.youngvic.org or call 020 7922 2922.  

Monday, 10 November 2014

REVIEW - Grand Guignol at the 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.
Renowned for its horror plays it shocked and excited its audiences in equal measure.
Now a play by Carl Grose pays homage to both the theatre and its principal playwright Andre de Lorde who between 1901 and 1926 wrote at least 100 plays for the theatre and collaborated with the experimental psychologist Alfred Binet to create plays about insanity.
The production now on at the Southwark Playhouse is a rip roaring piece of unadulterated toe curling and ghoulish brilliance.
Featuring plenty of fake blood, entrails and gore it weaves fact and fiction to tell the story of de Lorde and Binet, brilliantly played by Jonathan Broadbent and Matthew Pearson respectively, and how de Lorde was inspired to write the plays.
It is set in the theatre itself and features characters who were very much part of its set up including Max Maurey and actress Paula Maxa.
We see the theatre, struggling at first with small audiences, gain a reputation for horror and its "fainters" as de Lorde is encouraged to write more and more horrific pieces.
To begin with he is tormented by Edgar Allan Poe who appears in his imagination, but then he finds Binet who inspires him to write more macabre pieces.
As well as the main plot about the two men who feed off each other for their own creative and professional ends, the sub plot features a Whodunit as the characters try to uncover the identity of the mysterious Monster of Montmartre who has been on a murder spree leaving his corpses hanging from lamp posts.
The whole piece is brilliant - from the deliberate hammy acting from Robert Portal as Dr Marbois and Emily Raymond as Maxa - to the great set and fantastic props - the prop department must have had the best time devising ways to bring as much fake blood and horror to the show.
It was gruesome and hilariously funny, especially in the second half in which both the humour and gore were ramped up to glorious effect. In short it is an absolute belter of a show and shouldn't be missed.

Grand Guignol is on at the Southwark Playhouse until November 22. Tickets cost £18. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Rock of Ages - preview

THE 1980s music scene was dominated by guitars, rock anthems, big hair, spray on jeans, make up and larger than life characters.
It is also the inspiration for Rock Of Ages The Musical, a show which is a tongue in cheek celebration of classic 80s rock culture featuring some of the most memorable songs from the decade around which a love story is built.
Following a three-year run in the West End, it is currently enjoying a successful nationwide tour which will come to New Wimbledon Theatre for its final week from November 17.
It stars Ben Richards who takes the role of rock god Stacee Jaxx. Stacee, who Ben describes as "a glam rocker, all big hair, tight clothes and make up" is a world away from previous characters he's played who include Bruno Milligan in Footballers' Wives and Nate Roberts in ITV's police drama The Bill.
We chat as he takes a well earned break between shows and it's clear he's relishing the chance to play a rock god.
"Stacee is a great character to play," he says cheerfully. "I think what attracted me to the part was that as well as the really tight and funny script Stacee is so different to anyone I've played before and it was a chance to play a rock star - who wouldn't want to do that!
"I like to change it up and do something different with each job I do," he adds. "I did a misogynist boss in the musical Nine To Five and then a Victorian thug in Bill Sykes in Oliver in Sheffield and now a 1980s rock star – it’s fantastic really.
“Stacee is quite arrogant and does everything to excess. He's a lead singer in a band and about to go solo. He's used to getting his own way all the time and used to getting yes as an answer to everything – whether it’s a job, drugs, music or women.
"He's very interesting and lost in his own world," adds Ben. "It was a bit weird to begin with putting on all that hair, tight trousers and make up and so on but it's great and I'm having a lot of fun."
The show follows the fortunes of aspiring rocker Drew, who works as a busboy in a Hollywood bar called The Bourbon Room. Drew falls for Sherrie Christian, who has just arrived from Paola Kansas and who has aspirations of being an actress.
However the future of the Bourbon Room is in doubt thanks to a pair of German developers and so owner Dennis decides to bring in Stacee Jaxx and his band to perform at the venue.
"The story is a bit loose but essentially it's a classic love story of boy meets girl, they fall in love and have an adventure," says Ben.
"The boy wants to be a rock star and the girl wants to be an actress but the back story is that German developers want to knock this iconic venue down.
"It’s a bit 'will rock and roll win over the greedy and evil developer?' It's all narrated by Lonny, one of the characters who talks to the audience throughout which is a great element of the show."
Inter-spliced with the narrative are all the classic musical numbers which Ben says have been getting the audience out of their seats and singing along and playing air guitar in the aisles.
"It’s fantastic and it's great to see the audience really get into the spirit of it,” he laughs.
“Once the music starts you hear the crowd just go wild. By the end of Act 1 the audience is absolutely loving it and in fact throughout the tour the reaction and interaction has been amazing and we've had standing ovations every night which for all us performers is just the best feeling and what it's all about.
“It’s a real feel good show that everyone wants at the moment and that doesn’t take itself too seriously which really appealed to me."
Among the classic tunes are We Built This City, The Final Countdown and Don’t Stop Believin’ as well as Ben's personal favourites which include Dead Or Alive and I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner.
“I think I Can’t Stop Feeling is a great song," he adds. "I don’t do it but it’s a funny scene when it’s sung and I love listening to it.
"It's a lot of fun singing all these great tunes especially as I used to listen to this sort of music when I was growing up. At home it was Motown but then I’d go round to my mate Paul’s house and he’d be listening to ACDC, Whitesnake – which was my first concert – and Iron Maiden.
"It was so much part of my growing up and of course being a rock star was a bit of a dream back then so I have to pinch myself now a bit that I’m actually playing at being one."
And as the seven month tour comes to a close Ben admits he will be sad to hang up the spray on jeans and big hair but says he's looking forward to going out with a bang in Wimbledon.
"I've performed at the theatre before – so it will be great to finish the tour in such a lovely theatre and I'm really excited about it - you can't beat the buzz of a live show," he says.
“I know the area well because we filmed the Bill just down the road in Merton and I’ve happy memories of that," he says.
"I was lucky to be in that as it’s a massive part of TV history. But I've been lucky to have a varied career and if the role excites me and it's something that captures my imagination I'll do it. I'd love to be in Jesus Christ Superstar.
"I always wanted to be an actor though and grew up watching musicals so to be living the dream is pretty special," he adds.

Rock Of Ages The Musical is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre between Monday, November 17 and Saturday, November 22. Visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre/ or call the box office on 020 8545 7900 for tickets.

Friday, 7 November 2014

REVIEW - John at the National Theatre


LOVER. Criminal. Father. Arsonist. Graduate. Charmer. Survivor. John is all of these things and more. And he is the subject of a powerful new verbatim performance piece by DV8 Physical Theatre now on at the National Theatre.
John's harrowing and heartbreaking story is told through the performers who dance and speak his words which are based on a series of interviews which were conducted by the company's artistic director Lloyd Newson.
It is an extraordinary story - we see him born into a completely dysfunctional family with an abusive and violent father who rapes the babysitter and physically abuses John's brother and alcoholic mother.
John and his brothers end up in prison, on drugs and in the case of his brothers, dead.
In his search for love and stability John drifts through life, shoplifting, having two children by two different women as well as plenty of girlfriends and liaisons in between, takes drugs, is done for ABH and his weight rockets to 25 stone.
However, after years of crime, drug use and struggling to survive, John’s desire for a new life leads him to a place unknown by most - a gay sauna.
It is here we see more stories unfold - from those who use the facilities and as such John takes a bit more of a back seat in the story.
Unfortunately there seemed to be a link missing between John's story and the sauna which made it a bit unclear initially why and how he had arrived there.
However, that is a minor niggle because in all other respects it was an incredible piece of physical theatre.
It is staged on a fantastic but minimalist revolving stage to a soundtrack which plays throughout. The choreography is more movement than dance - sometimes the dancers move about on their hands, sometimes they look as though they are made of rubber folding and unfolding themselves in all directions, sometimes they are rigid, sometimes balletic in their movements.
John is ultimately about one man’s search for love from the devastating home from which he has come. He is also a real person - we know this because right at the end we hear his voice rather than that of performer Hannes Langolf.
It is a compelling production, brutally honest in its haunting and harrowing portrayal of a man where tragedy, abuse and pain is part and parcel of life, but that is beautifully staged and where the story is expressed as much through the words of the performers as through their dance.

John is on at the Lyttelton stage of the National Theatre until January 13, 2015. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Unicorn Theatre win

ONE of South London's theatres has scooped top prize in a national competition.
The Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street beat of stiff competition from Battersea's Theatre503 and Southwark Street's Union Theatre to win the Peter Brooke Empty Space Award 2014.
It was presented with the prize at a ceremony at the National Theatre Studio on Wednesday.
The award, now in its 25th year, is presented annually in recognition of the pioneering concepts or innovations in the spirit of director Peter Brook.
The Unicorn's artistic director, Purni Morell, said: "I am delighted we have won the Peter Brook Empty Space Award.
"It is great to see that ambitious, innovative and risk-taking work for young audiences is at last being recognised as having equal status with adult theatre. We’re very proud."

The Peter Brook Empty Space award was founded by Blanche Marvin and is judged by a panel consisting of leading theatre journalists including Lyn Gardner, Dominic Cavendish, Fiona Mountford, Andrzej Lukowski and Mark Shenton.  

PANTO!!! Greenwich Theatre's Jack and the Beanstalk

TEN years ago Andrew Pollard wrote his first panto for Greenwich Theatre. The result was a hit and the 47-year-old has been back every year since to pen the Crooms Hill theatre's annual Christmas show.
He has also starred as the Dame for the past eight seasons and last year directed the show as well.
It has been a winning combination that has now firmly established the Greenwich panto as one of the highlights of the theatre's repertoire and one of the best in London.
It is also one Andrew says he always looks forward to, so happily for all Greenwich panto fans, he's making a welcome return to South London and is back at the helm writing, directing and starring in the production which this year is Jack And The Beanstalk.
We chat as he makes last minute "tweaks" to the script which he promises will feature all the essential ingredients that befits any panto worth its salt - a heady mix of magic, mayhem, topical and geographical jokes and references, not to mention plenty of singing, dancing and general all round merriment.
Evidence of its popularity can be seen in ticket sales which are already up on last year. The show has also been extended by a week due to popular demand and Andrew and the team at Greenwich Theatre, headed up by artistic director James Haddrell, are understandably delighted.
"It's fantastic because it's such an endorsement of what we do," he says.
"But it does mean there is a bit of added extra pressure to make sure it all goes well and we deliver the goods so I'm busy making last minute adjustments."
The show, which kicks off on November 20, features Giant Bonecrunch, who is raising taxes, and his wicked Henchman who is making sure everyone pays up.
It means times are hard for Jack and his Fairy. Can an old cow, a bag of beans and a visit from a mysterious fairy really save the day?
The panto happens to be one of Andrew's favourites thanks to its "strong narrative".
"I think it's one of the strongest of the big five," he says. "It has a real adventure at its heart with someone climbing into the sky and a giant.
"It's just a classic story - it's David and Goliath, the little man fighting against the big scary giant, overcoming adversity - a real coming of age tale.
"It's a great adventure which ignites children's imaginations and I think that's why it's endured."
It does present its challenges though, not least how to portray the giant and a beanstalk that's strong enough to climb up.
"I've seen it a few times where you don't actually see the giant and I think that's wrong - it's a cheat not to have one," says Andrew.
"We did it here before about seven years ago and the props department built an 11ft giant for us. It was quite an incredible structure!
"At the time it was hugely expensive for them to do that so they kept in storage which is great because it means we can use him again - although he won't be exactly the same as last time."
So will there be a thrill and a fright factor for the younger members of the audience I wonder.
"There is a build up to the giant making his appearance and the kids do get scared a bit but it's how you do it that's important," says Andrew.
"We are always careful though so when the audience does meet him they realise that he isn't shouty or roary.
"Having said being scared like that, watching monsters on TV behind your fingers, it's all part of growing up. Kids want that and if you take it away it waters it all down.
"It's also empowering for the audience to boo the giant and they need to see Jack defeat him."
As well as a familiar giant, Andrew says some of the cast are returnees from past productions as are the musicians and backstage crew.
However there is sadly one notable absence this year. Paul Critoph, who has played opposite Andrew's Dame for the past eight years in various guises was unavailable this time because of commitments elsewhere.
"We have a small but great cast, but Paul is in the West End doing 39 Steps for a year which is great for him but we were both gutted," says Andrew.
"However, I don't want to give too much away but he will make his presence felt...!"
He also promises gags a plenty and says he has "upped the ante" with the Dame's costumes.
"I have got some cracking costumes this year," he laughs. "Each year she gets more ridiculous and outrageous in both her appearance and her character and this will be no exception.
"As soon as I get in the costume and put on the make up the excitement starts!
"We've also got some great jokes and fantastic musical numbers - including a revival of Bohemian Rhapsody that we did last year and which worked so well."
Despite the excitement he admits to a few nerves.
"I get more nervous every year," he says. "It's part of peoples' Christmases with many coming back every year. There is pressure to be fresh and original while at the same time being respectful of the traditions and making sure people have a great time.
"When you revisit a show there is also an expectation to be as good as before if not better.
"However, I don't know many places that work as hard as we do," he adds.
"What's great is that everyone pulls out all the stops to make these shows the best they can be.
"It's a great feeling. Some of the cast and crew have been with us since the beginning so it feels like one big family and I think people relate to that.
"It's all done with great heart and that's what I love about it."
And he says he's already thinking about next year and has a couple of ideas up his sleeve.
"Greenwich is where I've spent Christmas for the past nine years and I love it. It's the best place to be so I'll definitely be back!"

Jack And The Beanstalk is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill from Thursday, November 20 until Sunday, January 11. Tickets cost £27 for adults and £13.50 for children. Visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 8858 7755.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Who Do You Think You Are - Southwark Playhouse

ONE hundred years of personal stories has formed the basis of a new show which has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse.
Who Do We Think We Are? has been devised, conceived and written by Sonja Linden.
It is based on the family histories, photographs and memories of the 10-strong international cast, and is a very personal take on the last 100 years from 1914 to the present day.
It draws on the real life experiences from the actors involved including life in a Siberian prison camp during the Russian revolution, childhood experiences in India under the Raj, an escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, surviving the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and London in the swinging sixties.
The idea came about nearly two years ago when Sonja created her theatre company Visible which is made up of older actors and theatre professionals.
"We are all living longer and I realised there was a greater need for older people to be represented on stage," says Sonja.
"Visible is founded on the belief that tapping into the energy and talent of older theatre performers can reap rich artistic rewards and serve as an inspiration for audiences.
"It's also been my dream as a writer to be part of an international ensemble and to work collaboratively from day one in creating a piece of theatre.
"When I set up Visible with director Sue Lefton we invited people to come talk to us about their experiences and share their stories and ideas so we could create a show.
"Two of those we talked to happened to say that the First World War still affected them. One because his father, who had him very late in life, was in Russian Revolution.
“The other actor said his grandfather in Canada came back a broken man from the trenches.
“It was all powerful stuff and the idea for the piece came from there.”
Over a period of 18 months Sonja got in touch with a variety of actors from across the world and gathered their stories and memories. They then created the show which as well as the narrative features live music and movement with the actors telling their stories in a series of short scenes.
"The span of the piece is quite ambitious and it was quite a challenge to get it all together and to make sure that what comes across is truthful, sensitively done and respectful," says Sonja.
“It was the synchronicity of finding so many stories that have a big historical background that's been fascinating and we have all really enjoyed the process.
“For some of the cast it’s been a real journey of discovery. One woman plays her mother which was quite an amazing experience for her and another tells of her escape from the Warsaw Ghetto.
“But it’s an opportunity for them to share these memories and experiences. As a result the audience gets to hear and see some incredibly moving, funny and powerful stories.
"By the end of it you get a sense of where they have come from. But it's also a chance for us all to think about who we are and where we come from."

Who Do You Think You Are? is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, November 15. Tickets cost £18. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Interview with John Waters

MENTION the name John Waters and most people will think of his trademark pencil thin moustache and the film Hairspray.
But there is more to the 68-year-old American than that - much more.
Since he rose to fame in the early 1970s he has been entertaining us, shocking us and making us cringe in equal measure thanks to his work as director, photographer, screenwriter, actor, stand-up comedian, visual artist and journalist.
Once dubbed the Pope of Trash, a label he says he's not unhappy about, his early career was dominated by his transgressive cult films which featured a regular troupe of actors known as the Dreamlanders - among them Divine.
Since then he's consistently been pushing the boundaries bringing us such films as Female Trouble, Serial Mom, Pink Famingos and Hairspray, built up an impressive art and book collection and has garnered a cult following.
Unsurprisingly he's also opinionated - in a good way - and has got plenty to say on just about anything. And fans of his will be able to hear his latest take on life when he brings his latest show to the Royal Festival Hall on November 11.
Carsick: This Filthy World Volume Two Live Comedy Monologue will be a chance to hear more from this icon who is still one of the coolest men on the planet and has plenty to say about life.
Speaking to me from his home in New York, John says the show will feature stories about his amazing and eclectic 40-year career.
We chat on the day his new book, Carsick, was published in the UK, something he is very proud about.
"It's been out in the US a while but it's great it's now out in the UK," he says cheerfully. "I'm very excited about it."
The book charts his adventure two years ago in which he hitched from his front door in Baltimore to his flat in San Francisco. The trip took him nine weeks and although he says he was glad when it was over he recommends everyone try it.
"Have you been hitch-hiking?" he asks me. "I think you should. I think you should take a trip outside the city. You need a good sign though.
"It's a bit scary for sure but it's a bit sexy too. But you should definitely do it - it's fun," he adds warmly.
He did it partly because he "got an advance on the book so I knew I had to do it", but also he wanted to do something different and to prove to himself that it's "more scary to stay at home". For John, life clearly is very much for living.
"Before I did it I had these ideas about how brilliant it could be or how horrible it would be," he says.
"In my fantasy I thought the best that could happen was that it would be a bit of a freak show and the worst that I would be murdered by an axe wielding maniac serial killer.
"Then I did it for real and the reality was that it was neither of those things!" he chuckles.
"It was actually quite exhilarating and mostly the people I met where lovely. I got picked up by everyone from frackers to truckers, cops to families and preachers and all sorts.
"Some people thought I was homeless and some gave me money but most went out of their way and were incredibly helpful."
But wasn't it a bit scary I ask.
"It wasn't always fun," he admits. "It was fun when it was over but it was an adventure because I'd wake every morning in a godforsaken motel room and it was too late to back out." he laughs.
"Where you get dropped off could be scary - so it has to be a good place - and there were weird people but they were the ones who didn't pick me up and just drove straight on by.
"It reinforced my opinion that I'm more scared of staying home than going out and living though - you gotta live."
What concerned him most was the reaction of his friends who he says were "horrified" at the idea.
"It was their concern not mine," he says. "I live in New York and I could walk out of my door, get in a cab and be involved in an accident.
"Everything is dangerous but staying home is the biggest risk. Life is for living and not staying indoors. How boring is that? I hate it and don't understand it when people say they are bored - how can they be bored? Why don't they just step outside and see the world.
"What could be better than walking around looking at people - it's fascinating."
So although he will tell stories about his hitch-hiking adventure, don't expect the show to be just about that. In fact it will form only a tiny part of the show in which he promises his thoughts on such subjects as religion, fashion, crime, art, drugs and Divine.
"I will talk about the trip but I'm not going to give the same material as in the book," he says. "People pay to see me perform but they don't want to hear about just that - especially if they've read it by the time the show is on so I will talk about a whole lot of things," he says.
"It's a whole written monologue which I'm still tinkering with," he chuckles. "It's constantly being re-written. Afterwards the audience can ask questions and then I'll do a book signing.
"It's the only one I'm doing in London so I'll stay until they've all been signed," he laughs.
"I love London," he adds. "It's the only place I take a vacation outside the US. I spend a week here each year, visiting the art galleries, spending time looking at real people in the streets, going to book stores and shopping. I love it."
And of course he will talk about his extensive career.
"I do pinch myself when I think about it," he admits. "I have had a great career and people have been interested in me which is lovely.
"People come to my movies and my audience has been great although to begin with of course I wasn't a favourite with the critics.
"All the stuff happening now is just gravy though. My dreams happened years ago. I just had a retrospective at the Lincoln Center - it was like being at my own funeral," he laughs. "It is always great to hear the nice things people say about you when you are alive.
"I never thought Hairspray would be so big," he adds. "I didn't set out to write a commercial movie but I loved teenage dance shows of the 1960s and it grew from there. I wanted it to be devious.
"It's been done at every college since, is still touring around the world which I'm hugely pleased about of course and no one questions the politics of two men singing a love song at each other - it was the best magic trick I ever did!
"It bought me an apartment in San Francisco so I can't complain!"

John Waters performs Carsick: This Filthy World Volume Two Live Comedy Monologue at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre on November 11. Tickets cost from £22.50. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.