Thursday, 29 January 2015

INTERVIEW - Ferdy Roberts in Macbeth at the Vaults Festival

FANS of Macbeth will know that not only is it considered one of Shakespeare's four major tragedies, it is also one of his meatiest and longest.
However a new and innovative adaptation of the Bard's seminal work has pared it down from its original three hours to a mere 75 minutes.
It will be performed in the extraordinary setting of one of the spaces in the tunnels underneath the railway tracks that go in and out of Waterloo Station as part of this year's Vault Festival.
In a 10-day run from February 4 to 15, it will be brought to life by Filter Theatre, a company of actors and musicians who promise a radical and exciting reinterpretation of the text.
"Shakespeare and his actors collaborated together to bring his plays to the stage and that's what we are doing," says actor Ferdy Roberts as he takes a break from rehearsals.
"We have approached this as though we have never seen it before, that it's a new play and we create it as we go along.
"It's great because doing it this way allows us to be as creative with it as we want. In fact it's arguably closer to the way Shakespeare would have worked with his actors so it's actually quite a traditional way of working as well as being exciting."
The Brixton-based actor, who will be taking on the title role, is no stranger to this approach. Indeed Filter Theatre, of which he has been part since its inception more than 10 years ago, is renowned for its unconventional and contemporary approaches to its productions.
Its previous and critically acclaimed versions of Shakespeare classics Twelfth Night and Midsummer Night's Dream were similarly stripped back affairs that merged performance and spoken word with integrated live music and sound.
"We never consciously decided to work this way, it's just the way it evolved over the years," he says.
"But it means we have come to this production in the same way as the others. There are no pre-conceived themes, concepts or designs - we take elements of the text and go from there.
"However, we are not being irreverent and we are not ripping it apart. We strive to hold on to the integrity of the play and Shakespeare's narrative - we are obsessed with telling the story clearly so although we have edited it down and some of the characters are missing it's still recognisable.
"We don't want to send the audience away bamboozled but we do like to challenge them."
He adds the idea for tackling Macbeth was a deliberate one.
"We saw the success we had with Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream which are traditional comedies and we wanted to see if we could explore the same way we worked with those to one of his heavier, meatier plays.
"We chose Macbeth because it's one of Shakespeare's best plays, a fantastic story which one could argue should never run at three and a half hours!
"In fact it propels through very quickly and is relentless."
He describes the production - which he admits is still being tinkered with - as funny, playful, kaleidoscopic, energetic and horrific.
"Macbeth is a corrosive, psychological thriller, full of ambition, power and witchcraft with constant references to sound and Macbeth's mind," he says.
"We are looking at it from a psychological point of view and less from the battle weary, broadsword hero of the play."
As with their other productions the use of live music and sound to help tell the story is just as important as the spoken word elements of it.
"It brings out the different layers of the piece," he says. "Combining it all together I hope the audience will be plunged into the meat and gristle and psychological horror of the play."
And he says the space at the Vaults is perhaps the "perfect" place to stage it.
"The Vaults are like the dark recesses of the brain - dark, atmospheric, somewhat confined - rather like Macbeth's mind in many ways so it's the perfect place," he says. "People will feel they have been plunged into the psyche of the man.
"It's going to be an amazing experience, especially with the noise of the trains going overhead.
"It's also incredibly intimate and the audience will be right there within touching distance which also makes it all the more exciting - not just for them but for us too."
But what of those Shakespeare purists for whom this is certainly not what you would describe as a traditional interpretation.
"We wouldn't want to upset them but Shakespeare can be all things to all people and I think his work can take it," insists Ferdy.
"They are not modern texts but they still mean something to us even now - the themes explored in his plays still have relevance and we can relate to those characters.
"They were written for the people, the groundlings who went to the theatre as a way of getting their news reports.
"Everyone who sees it will have a different reaction so hopefully it will encourage debate afterwards.
"I'm not sure what Shakespeare would have made of it," he adds. "I hope he would have admired our audacity and courage in taking his play down this road.
"Ultimately I hope he would like the idea, come and see it, have fun and enjoy it!"

Macbeth is on at The Vaults, Leake Street from February 4 until February 15. Tickets cost £16.50. Visit or or call the box office on 020 7401 9603

Imagine Festival at the Southbank Centre

FOR the third year running, children will play a major role in the organising and running of a South London arts festival.
Now in its 14th year, the Imagine Children's Festival will take over the Southbank Centre for two weeks next month.
It will be transformed by children for children and will feature some of the top names in children's literature, dance, theatre and art.
Among those taking part will be Russell Brand, Helen Skelton, Philip Ardagh, Cerrie Burnell, Sir Simon Rattle, Judith Kerr, Charlie and Lola, Lauren Child, Anthony Horowitz and Axel Scheffler.
This year more than half the programme will be free of charge, offering all families and schools access to literature, music, theatre, poetry, dance, interactive installations, workshops and everything in between.
Children are at the heart of Imagine’s programming with the Festival Ideas Cloud, a panel of children from South London schools who help the organisers decide the key issues to be discussed and fun activities to be featured.
For the first time this year, Festival Ideas Cloud will be asking the political question ‘What Would I do as Prime Minister for the Day’ by hosting their own Question Time.
They have also created a magazine, exploring the same topic, which will be available for free around the Southbank Centre site.
Among this year's other highlights is a presentation by Russell Brand and Chris Riddell, about their children’s book The Pied Piper of Hamelin. the London premiere of a brand new production of Brundibár the renowned children's opera by Hans Krása, originally performed by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, performed by Mahogany Opera Group and afree family concert, with the Young Orchestra for London, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle
on The Clore Ballroom.
The Kids Takeover will take place during the week beginning February 16. Children will once again be in charge of several site operations including managing the day-to-day running of the festival, selling programmes, assisting light technicians, making intercom announcements and ensuring shows start on time.
There will also be two days when kids are invited to dress up, as animals for Animal Parade Day (16 February) and as characters from Alice in Wonderland for Down The Rabbit Hole Day (20 February).
Southbank Centre's artistic director Jude Kelly said: "Southbank Centre's Imagine Festival 2015 inspires authors, theatre companies and artists to ensure that children and young people are regarded as the most important audiences and cultural thinkers.
"We believe that by giving young people the chance to shape the culture they grow up with and share their ideas with their friends, schools and families their creativity will be given a platform that can influence all of us."

Southbank Centre's Imagine Festival 2015 takes place between Monday, February 9 and Sunday, February 22. Visit for full listings and call the box office 0844 847 9910 for tickets.

Fat Man - at the Vault Festival

THERE have been many stories told about Orpheus, the legendary musician, poet and prophet in Ancient Greek legend. However none perhaps as inventive as Fat Man.
The brainchild of actor Martin Bonger, Fat Man is a show that combines theatre, stand up and music to tell a contemporary and bittersweet story of the man who tired to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld.
It begins a short run at the Waterloo-based Vault Festival on Thursday and Martin says he's looking forward to bringing his creation to the stage.
"It's about Orpheus doing stand up for the gods who are represented by the audience," says Martin. "We see him being trapped between the underworld and the celestial in some kind of limbo as he wrestles with his emotions.
"In simple terms he looks back at what went wrong and how he lost his wife and takes to eating to help him.
"In my telling of the story, which is done as an autobiographical stand up routine with music, to begin with he's saying how great he was but what he comes to find out is that he's mortal - that's the journey of the show."
Martin has spent the last few months creating the piece and performed a series of previews at Ovalhouse last year.
"I have been wanting to do Fat Man for a while as it's a fascinating story," he says. "It's been brewing in my mind for a couple of years!
"I am mostly an actor but stand up is something I've always been drawn to so I was interested in creating from that point of view.
"The relationship a stand up has with his audience is like the one Orpheus has with the gods. The audience can be tough but if the stand up works the crowd in the right way they can be incredibly powerful.
"In many ways the world of stand up is therefore is a great fit for the story. Comics often put their grief out there to be laughed at while searching for some kind of catharsis and Orpheus is that man. I also look pretty disheveled and tell his story through a series of often painful jokes and anecdotes."
But why make him fat?
"The story is about love, loss and eating your way out of grief," Martin explains. "The Orpheus I've created in Fat man is fat with shame and conceit, trying to cling on to the belief that because of his music he's as powerful as a god.
"He's dealing with a huge range of emotions - not least about the fact he's lost his wife and is trying to get her back.
"He starts at this place of godly confidence but ends up back down on earth humbled by failure.
"Some people do eat when they are depressed and Orpheus is certainly stuck in a rut of despair so he takes to eating to help him - it's immediate sustenance in more ways than one."
As the show progresses Fat Man's girth increases so he resembles a 17 stone man.
"I do get bigger and bigger during the show," laughs Martin. "I eat donuts Homer Simpson style but it's a way of showing the despair he feels done in a comic way.
"He goes on a big journey in more ways than one!"

Fat Man is on at the Vault Festival, Leake Street, Waterloo from January 28 until February 15. Tickets cost £13.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9603.

INTERVIEW - Ian Gelder, star of Gods and Monsters

JAMES Whale may not be a familiar name to everyone but the British born director and actor was responsible for some of the biggest classic horror films that came out of Hollywood in the 1930s.
He is perhaps best known for directing the 1930s films Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein as well as what is widely considered to be the definitive film version of Showboat.
He is also known for being openly gay, something which at the time was almost unheard of.
Now a play which explores the somewhat fictionalised latter part of his life – he died in 1957 after a series of strokes - is being staged at the Southwark Playhouse.
Gods And Monsters by Russell Labey is based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram and stars Tooting-based actor Ian Gelder as James and Will Austin as gardener Clayton Boone who becomes the object of Whale’s obsession.
“The play explores the man and his life,” says Ian as we chat during a break from rehearsals. “It’s the most fantastic role though it’s fairly terrifying as I have lots of lines!”
Mixing fact and fiction it sees James, long forgotten by the studios and in reclusive Hollywood retirement, develop a relationship with handsome new gardener Clayton Boone who comes into his life and becomes an unlikely friend.
"After a successful career directing a range of films, not just the horror ones, James fell out of love with Hollywood, and they him," says Ian.
"The play starts towards the end of his life after his strokes, where he's beginning to fail and we learn about his demons and what's going on in his head.
"He forms a relationship with the gardener which becomes interesting. He sort of turns him into his own monster and almost moulds him like Frankenstein moulds his monster into the character he wants him to be."
It's a part Ian says he's "relishing" not least because he says his character is someone he admires and can in part relate to.
"It's fascinating because he's such an interesting guy," he enthuses. "I've loved researching and finding out more about him.
"He was an amazing man and I would love to have met him," he adds. "The films Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein are what he is best known for, which among horror aficionados is the horror movie of horror movies – indeed with Bride Of Frankenstein he’s considered to have made the ultimate horror movie.
"But he was also an openly gay man in a society when no one was openly gay. He had gone through the First World War so everything else seemed to be trivial and therefore to hide your sexuality seemed irrelevant to someone who had gone through that experience.
"He was also his own worst enemy in many ways as he wouldn't put up with the nonsense of the studios - they messed about with his films and he ended up a bit pissed off with them. He didn't want to be dictated to by them but do the work he wanted to make.
"So he was fearless but he was also funny and quite naughty too. He was a real flirt and liked making people feel uncomfortable by teasing them. He was good fun and great company and that's reflected in the play.
"When I read the script there was a lot about him as a man that I identified with - the frustrations of the business and his outlook on life - so I'm really enjoying it."
Although being gay didn't seem to be an issue for James during his career, Ian admits there is still prejudice within the industry.
"Things have certainly changed in my lifetime and that's obviously a good thing but I can cite examples where people don't get cast because of their sexuality.
"The actors that do come out tend to be older though. For younger actors it's still not that easy and unfortunately some people still have a very archaic attitude - though slowly but surely that's dying out."
Thankfully that view doesn't seem to have extended to Ian who is in a civil partnership with fellow actor Ben Daniels - both having enjoyed considerable success in their professions.
For Ian his CV has been dominated by theatre work, including stints at the Royal Court, the Donmar and the Globe, which he says is "just the way my career has gone" but he has also starred in hit TV series such as Mr Selfridge and Psychoville and more recently Game Of Thrones.
"I don't think we ever knew when we were starting out that it would be such a hit but it always felt right," he says.
"It has been very special working on it and the public has just grabbed it - so much so we are now in our fifth series!
"I come and go so am a semi regular but luckily I've not been killed off... yet!" he chuckles.
"The guys who created it are amazing and as an actor whenever you come across that energy and passion you know something good is going to come out of it.
"That's what is so special about Gods And Monsters - it's a brilliantly written piece of theatre and the team we have got has so much passion and energy that to work on something like this is really special."

Gods And Monsters is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway from Thursday, February 5 until Saturday, March 7. Tickets cost £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

REVIEW - Grimm Tales, Bargehouse


TAKE one old warehouse with dimly lit stairwells, a rabbit warren of rooms and a selection of artefacts displayed on and hung from the walls and ceilings and you have the perfect place for an evening of story telling.
And that is precisely what a visit to the Bargehouse is. Tucked away behind the Oxo Tower it’s a building you might just walk past. But it is currently home to an imersive production of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales.
Its derelict labyrinthine chambers plus three staircases and an attic, have been transformed into an inspired world of overgrown forests, slaughterhouse kitchens, crumbling industrial castles and dilapidated attic ballrooms.
Once inside the audience is split into groups and are then led into one of the rooms to sit and listen to and watch a selection of the tales adapted by Philip Pullman from the Brothers’ Grimm.
Among the stories are 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.
Props are simple and inventive with a bath tub for a well and cotton reels with red thread for strawberries and green plastic gloves filled with water for toads.
The Three Little Men are wooden puppets and two more can be found in Faithful Johannes as the twin boys.
The stories are brought to life by group of 16 actors and musicians who act out the scenes with charm and enthusiasm in sometimes very cramped conditions.
Indeed some of the spaces are so small the audience squashes onto wooden benches or have to stand at the back. Once done, the audience is told to “follow me” and off we go again, led through a maze of corridors and stairs to another room for another story.
It is utterly brilliant – slightly disorientating at times as you never are quite sure exactly where in the building you might be – but it’s exciting and thrilling and a real treat to be part of something that’s a bit mysterious and inventive.

Grimm Tales is on at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street until Saturday, April 11. Tickets cost from £20s. Visit for tickets.

Interview - Brendan Cole

FRESH from the glitter and glamour of the hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing, Brendan Cole will be shimmying down to the New Wimbledon Theatre with his new show.

IT may have been six weeks since the 12th series of hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing finished but Brendan Cole hasn’t put away his dancing shoes.
Far from it. In fact even before the series ended just before Christmas the 38-year-old New Zealander was busy preparing for his new live stage show A Night To Remember.
The production which he began touring this week, follows on from his previous two hugely successful shows, Live and Unjudged and Licence To Thrill which dazzled audiences across the country.
A Night To Remember features a six-strong cast of dancers and a 14-strong orchestra and as part of the nationwide tour will include a night at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Sunday, February 8.
We chat just as the last series of Strictly was finishing and if he was knackered after the gruelling schedule of rehearsals, he wasn't letting on.
Indeed, he was incredibly chirpy.
"Let's just say life is ridiculously mental at the moment," he says cheerfully. "The rehearsal for the tour is going very well and we've just done Strictly which was amazing. We had a fantastic competition this year with a great cast. Trying to juggle it all is tricky but life is good."
And so it appears. For not only has he got the tour and enjoying all the opportunities he has had since he found fame with his Strictly appearances, he is happily settled with a wife and two year old daughter.
But he is keen to talk about A Night To Remember which will showcase Brendan's not inconsiderable talent in an odyssey of music and dance, blending his expert choreography with his own unique charisma. It promises to be a sensational show with Brendan very much at the helm.
“I like being in control,” he says simply. “With Strictly we work from August to Christmas often 14 hour days. It is very controlled in that we have about 40 seconds for each dance to wow the audience and judges and show what we can do.
"With this I'm in charge and I get to do what I want."
Given that he is a Ballroom and Latin specialist, it is no surprise that these disciplines will features strongly. However, he promises there will be a real mix and with his "super talented professional dancers" who will be on stage with him, expect Waltzes and Foxtrots, Quicksteps and Tangos.
As well as choreographing the whole production he has control over every last detail including the costumes and music and says there will be "plenty of banter with the audience" to keep them entertained as well as a Q&A.
"The show is not just put on by a production company," He says. "I do the whole thing. It's hard work but I really enjoy it and get a real kick out of it.
"I love doing it - particularly the choreography aspect as I get to be as creative as I want which is very liberating - and I'm very proud of it."
And it’s clear from our chat that he means every word.
"It’s a very fulfilling feeling," he says. "We have got a 14 piece band behind us at the back of the stage who are very involved and I work closely with the dancers, who are phenomenally talented. I want them to be happy and do stuff they feel comfortable with.
"My over-riding feeling though is that when I go to watch theatre I don't want to have a snooze so we chop and change things throughout.
"We'll have the passion of the Argentine Tango before a soft beautiful Rumba, a sexy Samba and then change to Ballroom.
"There will be something for everyone - it’s a fast flowing, full on show and there's never a dull moment - and I hope the crowd will get to see the real me."
So who is the real Brendan Cole I ask.
“I’m cheeky and naughty, a performer and an entertainer,” he chuckles. "I like to think I'm myself. I'm on stage for at least 80 per cent of the time which I love - it's where I'm most at home - but I do have a banter with everyone.
"I love seeing the audience smiling back and enjoying themselves - there's nothing better. It's a great feeling."
But what of the future I ask. Will he get a well-earned rest at the end of the three month tour?
"Yes, I'm hoping to take some time off," he laughs. "Strictly is the hard bit because it's six days a week over four months so it’s tricky for family life.
"Then I go straight out on tour although as it's my show I say how it’s done.
"I have five days on and two days off. Your body crumbles otherwise and it's important to have a bit of recovery time for your body so I get to spend two days with my family which is fantastic."
Despite this it's clear he loves working and says he hopes to be back on the Strictly ballroom this autumn.
"Each series is different and I've had a great time doing all of them so I hope we are back again this year," he says.
He laughs when I ask if it's possible for anyone to be taught how to dance.
"Some people are beyond help,” he says. "Every person is different but you make sure you play to their strengths and give them a good time in the show.
"Scott Mills was painfully terrible but did entertaining stuff. The chemistry with your partner is incredibly important."
But for now his attention is focused on the tour.
"I'm really excited about it," he says. "The Wimbledon Theatre is a great venue and just the right size for the show. I went down there for the first time two months ago and it's a beautiful stage. There is a nice piano bar too so I’m looking forward to it!"

Brendan Cole’s A Night To Remember is on at The New Wimbledon Theatre on Sunday, February 8. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for tickets.

Blind skier bids for Paralympics in 2018

Anyone who reads this blog will know most of the posts are about arts and entertainment. However, this story was one I thought I should share.
It concerns John Dickinson-Lilley - a member of the British Disabled Ski Team who is currently the UK's number one blind male ski racer.
The 36-year old from Forest Hill and who is registered blind only took up skiing five years ago.
He said: "I started losing my sight when I was 13. I never went skiing as a youngster and it was only when I was on holiday with some friends five years ago that I had a go.
"I really enjoyed it - it's an amazing feeling to be skiing at speeds of between 30 and 60mph in the fresh air - there's nothing like it.
"I was told I was quite good so began training and got a guide who skis with me and for the past three years I have been competing in competitions around the world.
"My guide, Jack Davey, and I communicate via blue tooth head sets and I trust him completely."
Mr Dickinson-Lilley who is head of public affairs at Solicitors Regulation Authority said he has been using savings and donations from friends and family but is running out of cash and is now desperate for sponsorship.
He said: "We get £1,000 from a sports charity and Finches Ski Shop in Forest Hill has been fantastic in its support including helping out with the cost of repairing the skis.
"However, the rest is self funded and to continue to compete on a part time basis I need about £30,000 a year as I have to pay for all Jack's equipment, travel and accommodation costs as well as my own.
"The kit alone is very expensive. For example a set of skis costs more than £1,000 each and I need eight pairs.
"I have enough saved to last me the next six weeks but unless I get some sponsorship I'm not sure what will happen."
Mr Dickinson-Lilley said he hopes the recent success of the British Ski Team will encourage businesses or individuals to help financially.
He said: "We've had a good season so far securing three golds and a bronze in international competitions. I hope this inspires people to support us."

PREVIEW - Mini Vault Festival, Waterloo

WITH the six week Vault Festival now in full swing in the underground tunnels at Waterloo station, attention can now turn to its younger sibling.
Designed specifically for under 11s the Mini Vault will comprise a heady mix of music, circus, comedy and crafts spread over three weekends - February 7 and 8, February 21 and 22 and March 7 and 8.
The programme has been designed to encourage audiences to play, dance, make and run wild in the secret tunnels off Leake Street.
It includes circus, theatre, music, comedy, crafts and even a family friendly rave. It has been put together by the festival's co-producers Rose Alexander and Lara Taylor and they admit they've had great fun doing so.
"The Vault Festival is huge and brilliant and already established as an exciting event so we thought it would be an exciting opportunity to do something for kids too," says Rose.
"This is the first time we've done something like this here for kids and we are really excited about it.
"We had great fun putting it all together - it's been a real joy - but it was tricky because we had to make sure it would work for this age group.
"It's also such a magical space though that we thought families really should be able to get a chance to see it - it will be a great opportunity for children to run and explore though the large tunnels."
She promises "something for everyone" with both free and ticketed events.
Among the events on offer are curated performance installations, a street art tunnel take-over, wall-running classes, masterclasses, workshops, IdeasTap Spas, a permanent gallery space and a partnership with homeless charity The Passage.
"There are lots of highlights," says Rose. "One of my favourites will be the Big Fish Little Fish rave on March 8. It takes place in one of the cavernous spaces between 10am and 2pm and will be feature world class DJs, dance zones and interactive lights. It's brilliant."
Elsewhere recommendations include a child friendly version of Pirates Of The Carabina, a free circus show by the renowned group who wowed audiences at the London Wonderground last year.
There are also star turns from a selection of internationally acclaimed comedians as part of the Comedy Club For Kids and Figs In Wigs who are bringing their glitzy and bizarre variety show to the space.
"We really hope families stay and play once they have been to see a show," says Rosie. "We have lots of activities in the cafe area including face painting and arts and crafts workshops.
"What's great about the festival is that people can stay a while and dip in and out. Each day has a different programme so there will be lots of reasons to come back!"

Mini VAULT takes place over the weekends February 7 and 8, February 21 and 22 and March 7. Visit for full listings.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

PREVIEW Circus Ronaldo at London International Mime Festival

JUGGLING banjos or fruit of various sizes, singing mini operas, puppetry, music, merriment and dancing are just a few of the elements of a Circus Ronaldo show.
And the nine-strong group will be bringing this and more to the Southbank Centre for three nights from tonight, when they perform Amortale as part of this year's London International Mime Festival (LIMF).
The Belgian-based group has been a regular visitor to the festival since giving its first ever performances outside Flanders at LIMF in 1998.
Since then they have toured their irresistible hand-crafted brand of commedia-circus far and wide and with the current show promise a night at the circus like no other.
In fact the group has been entertaining audiences around the world since the mid 1850s.
In something of fairytale beginning it all started when Adolf Peter Vandenberghe, who was born in Ghent in 1827, ran away from home at the age of 15 to join the circus.
Starting off as a groom he was soon working his way up and became an acrobat. While he was with his circus troupe he met the daughter of some actors who were travelling around in caravans.
Their union created not just a family of their own but also paved the way for the creation of Circus Ronaldo, combining circus, variety and theatre.
Six generations later this family business is still going strong and its heritage of the days of the travelling fairground theatre, a warm-hearted Felliniesque world of uncomplicated popular entertainment, is very much in evidence within the shows.
"It is quite a romantic story!" says Danny Ronaldo. "My great grandfather's grandfather ran away to join the circus and married an actress who was with a pantomime and marionette company.
"Over the years since then our old style theatre and circus skills have been evolving but we have stayed true to the old fashioned variety and vaudeville performances."
And he says this is very much in evidence with Amortale which he describes as "bubbly, alive and kicking".
"It's a real mix of everything to do with circus and theatre," he explains. "There's slapstick, tragedy and traditional clowning, we juggle, play music, tell stories, sing and do acrobatics and other tricks - even arson.
"We have taken real life and human folly as our inspiration. We also looked to the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, the work of Fillini and our own improvisation to create the show.
"It is about Adam and Eve's love story and is very funny - in fact humour is the engine of the show. So, people get in the way of the story which makes it funny.
"The big and the small things in life are constantly mixed up together, and the most trivial of life’s burdens are dramatically magnified to the scale of a major tragedy.
"On the other hand, the great drama of life shrinks to ludicrously recognisable proportions.
"In these times of always higher expectations and all stress that comes with that, I think audiences get a warm feeling to see how the clown fails in everything and to see before your eyes that this failure is actually his big success!
"We try and show that the ugly is beautiful and the weakling strong. That gives courage."
Wearing costumes that take their inspiration from clothes worn about 100 years ago the group uses props that are of the same vintage to create the show which is performed on Ronaldo's antique and distinctly wobbly stage.
"Some of the marionettes, paintings, set and other props are very old," says Danny.
"They were created by my great grandfather so we are proud to have them in the show. The techniques used are also quite old but in these times of digital effects the old theatre skills give a wonderful emotion - it makes it more real for the audience and certainly creates a different atmosphere."
And despite being part of a mime festival the performers are anything but silent.
"Some of the characters are silent but some are very verbal," says Danny. "The music is also very important. We have a mix of old famous opera tunes and popular music from the beginning of the 20th century. It is all played live by us and includes a big wooden pipe organ.
"I hope audiences enjoy it because we are very excited to be bringing the show to the Mime Festival," he adds.
"We love London and its audiences and it's a great festival to be part of.
"It's our third time at the Southbank Centre. Even so, it's hard not to get lost in the many metres of corridors and backstage areas but it's got a warm feeling and great audiences!
"I like the way it feels alive with a real feeling of culture so we are really excited to be back."

Circus Ronaldo’s Amortale is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall from Friday, January 16 until Sunday, January 18. Tickets cost from £17.50. Visit or or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Preview - Bull at the Young Vic starring Neil Stuke

ACTOR, panellist, restaurant reviewer, ambassador for charity Prostate Cancer UK, farm shop owner, campaigner and champion of the high street, Neil Stuke is a man of many parts.
The 47-year-old is perhaps best known for his acting and seems to have been rarely out of work since he started out more than 20 years ago.
He's been a regular on stage appearing in plays such as Rookery Nook at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Season's Greetings at the National, Boeing-Boeing at the Comedy Theatre and has just finished Frankie & Johnny In The Clare De Lune at the Chichester Festival Theatre.
He's a familiar face on screen too, most recently as Billy Lamb, the senior clerk of the Shoe Lane barristers' chambers in the BBC TV legal drama Silk, as well as in Reggie Perrin, New Tricks and in the film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Although acting may be his bread and butter he is also a partner in Franklins Farm Shop in Lordship Lane, Dulwich, a venture he's been part of for the past five years.
He is also a vocal and vociferous campaigner - indeed anyone who follows him on social media site Twitter will know about his passion and support for the protection and preservation of the country's pubs and high streets, not to mention his dislike of the supermarkets, one in particular.
However, his current focus is his role in Bull, a play he describes as a "brutal and viscous comedy" of cruel one-upmanship which is due to open at the Young Vic next week.
Written by Mike Bartlett, it's about three desperate office workers who are vying for two jobs in the cut throat world in which they operate.
The 55-minute piece comes to the Waterloo theatre after it was premièred in Sheffield last year where it won the UK Theatre Award for Best New Play.
The production then transferred to 59E59, New York, where it was performed as part of the Brits Off-Broadway season starring the London company.
It marks a welcome return to the Young Vic for Neil who was last here in American Buffalo in 1996.
"It's an absolutely brilliant play and the writing is fantastic," enthuses Neil as we chat while he takes a brief break from rehearsals.
"It's about bullying within an office environment and is based on a bull fight - it's a pugilistic metaphor - it's gritty, fast, furious and very, very funny."
Neil plays Carter, the boss who think he's "right all the time".
"The characters are really horrible and mine is no exception," he says. "He's not got many redeeming features but he's funny and gets a lot of laughs but that's the beauty of the writing.
"These people are bullies though and give up everything for their work. They have a kind of killer mentality. It's all about money and power for them.
"All the characters are slightly heightened, slightly larger than life. They are probably working in high level banking or another similar business where people are working in difficult and highly pressurised conditions.
"If one person is deemed as not performing as well as another or is seen as weaker than another they get rid of them.
"It's unpleasant in that sense but it's an incredibly interesting piece - it's high octane, the text is very funny and audiences find themselves laughing at the most inopportune moments - at things that are so awful - it's brilliant."
The piece will be performed by the four actors in a square boxing ring which the audience can either stand next to, to boo or cheer on the characters and be closer to the action, or can sit surrounding it.
I ask Neil if having the audience so close is a bit unnerving.
"It will be interesting!" he says cheerfully. "But I'm one of those actors that thinks scary is quite good. Being scared is a good thing otherwise you get fat and lazy.
"When I took over from Mark Rylance in Boeing-Boeing, that was scary - they had to shove me on stage with a broomstick! It was terrifying!"
Despite this, he clearly loves his work and the variety of it. He had a particular fondness for the TV drama Silk, and admits he was disappointed when writer Peter Moffat decided to call time on the series.
"I was sad when it ended," he says. "Millions of people were sad about it. It was a very well written and successful programme and I think it could have gone on - they could have done more so it was a shame it finished."
However, Neil's fans will be able to see him back on the box in the forthcoming drama series The Interceptors, and he will return to the West End in Frankie & Johnny in the spring.
In the meantime he will continue his other great passion - campaigning against a certain supermarket.
"It's important to concentrate on just one," he says. "I hate supermarkets in general but out of all of them there is one which is the most despicable and loathsome - particularly in the nasty way it gobbles up the high streets and buys up pubs which are then turned into yet another of its stores. It's hideous."
But he says it's not just about being anti supermarket.
"My focus is really about supporting local shops and high streets," he says. "Why would Britain want to be like an American mid western town where people get into their cars that burn fossil fuels and go to an aircraft hanger of doom to do their shopping?
"Why do we want to become like that? We have such lovely towns, villages and pubs and we are ruining them - why have we done this to our country?
"People love supermarkets but their produce is appalling and most of the packaging is unrecyclable. That's why it's hideous and depressing.
"Lordship Lane where we have Franklins is great though. It is a lovely and unique area but it's hard and a constant battle.
"People complain but they don't do anything about it - that's why we need to take a stand."

Bull is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo from Thursday, January 8 until Saturday, February 7. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

PREVIEW - Upper Cut at the Southwark Playhouse

IN 1987 the first four black MPs were elected to the House of Commons. The achievement came at a time when Thatcherism was dominant, the Labour Party was in turmoil and there was political unrest amongst some groups wanting to get their voices heard.
Now, a provocative and exciting new play about the battle for black representation in Parliament is to make its debut at the Southwark Playhouse.
Written by journalist and playwright Juliet Gilkes Romero, and inspired by true political events, Upper Cut explores one woman's fight for diversity and representation in contemporary British politics.
It also dissects one of the most controversial issues concerning our parliamentary process today - that of all-black shortlists.
It focuses on Karen, a promising Labour politician, who risks her career and reputation on the eve of a general election in a contentious fight over whether to allow all-black parliamentary shortlists.
Deselected by her party, and betrayed by two men she loves, she embarks on a road to power and political redemption, taking the audience on a journey through today’s coalition politics, the hope and rebirth of New Labour and the heart of a troubled party under the might of Thatcher’s Tory revolution.
"It was only 28 years ago that the first black MPs were elected to Parliament," Juliet tells me. "It was at a time when things were very fraught in the country - the Labour Party had been consigned to the political wilderness and was battling to be re-elected and we had a movement of activists who wanted a voice for their communities.
"Karen's journey reflects all that."
She describes Karen as a composite character inspired by the political journeys of some of the candidates at that time.
"She's not necessarily based on any one individual," says Juliet. "Rather, she reflects the battle to get the votes heard of the people who are under represented and she does this through a movement called Labour Black Network."
The story is told backwards in time showing how ambition and the nature of politics can change peoples' ideals and dreams.
"It becomes very clear just what a brutal and bitter fight it can be to survive as a politician," says Juliet. "All the characters have crossed the line, are flawed and challenged and do things they never imagined they would have to do to survive.
"To begin with they have hope and ideals but we see them change when they have to face the reality of politics."
It sounds dramatic and serious but Juliet insists there is also plenty of humour within the piece.
"I would say there are elements of satire in it," she says. "It's very important when you are reliving history and dramatising such events to keep a sense of humour and to be able to laugh and cry.
"That said, politics is not for the fainthearted. It's a very bitter and rather tough experience and I don't think people are really aware of how brutal it can be.
"It's important to keep an audience on their toes but keep them smiling as well."
It was partly her experiences as a journalist and seeing at first hand the cut throat world of politics that initially inspired Juliet to put pen to paper.
But it was also she says a product of her growing up in the 1980s which she says was a fascinating time politically.
"I drew on events such as the Brixton riots, the rise of groups like CND, pop music, the 1987 election and other things that were going on at the time when writing the play," she says.
"The Brixton riots brought home the fact black people were here to stay and didn't want to be treated like second class citizens. They wanted to get representation in Parliament.
"I also grew up in the 1980s which was a fascinating and challenging period in all respects. I remember the 1987 election and the arrival of the four black MPs. I am hoping the play unearths how challenging the times were.
"When I started as a journalist I covered local and then national politics including general elections in Northern Ireland so I got to understand what was at stake."
The production is being staged just months after the Labour Black Network relaunched a campaign for all-black shortlists, which made headlines after it was announced at the party’s annual conference in September.
And with this year's general election just around the corner, Juliet is excited to be bringing it to audiences at such an important time.
"I can see Britain going through a profound political revolution and this next election will be interesting with a new generation stepping forward with different questions," she says.
"Political parties will be aware they can't take anyone’s vote for granted with this election," she adds. "They need to think about the people they claim they are representing and make sure they are heard.
"I think it will be an exciting election and I'm thrilled Upper Cut will be staged at the beginning of this election year."
But what of all black shortlists I ask.
"Shortlists are seen by some as social engineering and there is a view that people should become candidates on merit," Juliet says.
"But given the socio politics during the 80s this was desperately needed for people to have these voices. We don't seem to have come far and the fight isn't over.
"Change won't come if you wait," she adds. "That's the message of the play. People wonder if we will see a black Prime Minister. They are questions we still are asking and we are still waiting."
The play is not the first Juliet has written - her World War One drama At the Gates of Gaza won Best Play Award at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain in 2009 - and she promises it won't be the last.
"I am a journalist and journalism is so immediate but I love theatre and writing," she says. "You get people into a live environment and put them in a world they might never have imagined before.
"I hope they are set alight by this theatre experience."

Upper Cut is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway from Wednesday, January 14 until Saturday, February 7. Tickets cost £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

REVIEW - Golem at the Young Vic


IMAGINE a world in which machines and technology take control of humans and their lives.
Well in Golem, now on at the Young Vic, that is what happens. Created by theatre company 1927 the piece has been written and directed by Suzanne Andrade and combines film, animation, live music and acting.
It is performed by five actors, two of whom play the instruments, in front of a massive screen which has rolling cartoon style imagery throughout.
The piece concerns Robert, a geeky chap who we are told smells of unwashed hair and mathematics, and who lives with his sister and grandmother, but who one day buys Golem.
Golem is a huge clay man - cleverly projected on to the screen - who starts by helping Robert out both at work and at home.
He does Robert's job faster causing a certain amount of disgruntlement amongst his colleagues, and he reorganises Robert's home life too - causing concern there too.
But Robert is pleased with the results and forms a bond with his clay friend.
But then of course just as things are ticking along nicely, with Robert getting a promotion and a girlfriend, Golem starts to turn the tables.
Firstly another Golem comes along, a newer version that can do things better and bigger, and then more Golems come along.
Before he knows it Robert and his family are but shadows of their former selves and utterly subservient to the Golems.
Brilliantly conceived and staged, the story is simple and effective and with a witty script this is fantastic 90-minute show.

Golem is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until January 31. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Interview with Mat Ricardo about the London International Mime Festival

WITH all the frenzy of Christmas and New Year out of the way what better way to relax and ease into 2015 than to see some shows that form part of the London International Mime Festival.
Now in its 38th year the event is the longest-established annual theatre season of its kind and this year boasts innovative acts from around the world – including artists from America, Belgium, France, Japan and New Zealand.
Over the course of 24 days, 18 companies will entertain audiences in venues across the capital, from Sadler's Wells to Soho Theatre as well as the Southbank Centre.
Amongst those taking part will be comedian, juggler and all round entertainer extraordinaire Mat Ricardo.
The award winning "gentleman's juggler" will be taking to the Purcell Room stage at the Southbank Centre with The Showman.
It's not the first time the 45-year-old from Honor Oak Park has performed at the festival but this time he has some new and awe inspiring tricks up his sleeve.
"I've been a fan of this event for years and to be invited to take part is an honour so I couldn't turn it down," he tells me.
"I've been touring the show for 18 months all over the world and it's the best one I've ever done so I'm really excited to be taking it to the Southbank Centre."
It will be a welcome return to the venue not least because at the beginning of his career, Mat used to do street performances outside it.
"I started out as a street entertainer and back in the 1990s I did street shows on the South Bank a few minutes walk from the Southbank Centre. I used to go inside to count my money!"
But what is a juggler and entertainer, who spends a lot of his routines chatting to the audience, doing at a "mime" festival I wonder.
"Ah yes, it's a bit curious isn't it," Mat laughs cheerfully. "The Mime Festival has always been really good at incorporating not just mime but a variety of circus and other stuff which is great, especially for me.
"So I can categorically say there will be lots of talking in my show as I don't shut up! In fact there are only about six minutes during the whole thing when I don't say anything.
"It's very high energy, sit on the edge of your seat stuff and also funny.
"It has to be funny otherwise it's just showing off," he adds.
He promises the show will be packed with awesome skills, object manipulation and fascinating tricks some new and some old favourites - and it will be suitable for all the family.
"It's perfect family entertainment - it's really important and something you learn as a street performer that you are able to entertain and engage all ages and every background.
"I still do the table cloth trick but I've added to it by bringing in another table and moving things from one to the other."
As well as that expect juggling of balls, plates, bricks and glasses as well as balancing tricks, and those involving other objects such as umbrellas and bowling balls and electric saws.
It is all performed by Mat in his trademark natty suit with his witty banter. And although he makes it look easy he says sometimes mistakes do happen - but that's all part of the fun.
"I've been doing this for 30 years but some of the tricks are more complicated than others - it's not dead easy," he says.
"It’s weird as I don’t get nervous of things going wrong. It’s the only art form where if you get something wrong you can try it again and the audience appreciate it all the more.
"If you tried that as a comedian you are dead. However, with this kind of entertainment, people like seeing someone try again and succeed - as long as you succeed in the end.
"Sometimes I will be waiting in the wings and I will be a bit nervous but really I can’t wait to get on stage. For me it’s the safe, comfortable place and where I feel at home. I am much more nervous at parties. On stage it’s my house."
And he says there will be moments where he wants the audience to be sitting on the edge of their seats, as they watch a potentially dangerous stunt.
"There are a couple of moments of mild panic with dangerous stuff - and there are two moments in the show where bad things could happen but I don’t die which is good!" he chuckles.
"There is also a trick I do where I start by telling a story about it - it was done by a vaudeville performer called Paula Deluca who performed it on stage in a vaudeville theatre on Broadway in 1936.
"It involves juggling three 16lb bowling balls. She misjudged the trick and died on stage.
"In terms of the chainsaw juggling, it’s real cliché but it’s a con and not as dangerous as perhaps a performer would make out.
"I talk about it and do a stunt involving three carving knives which are going at 2,000 blade strokes per minute.
"They are like blurs but luckily I have still got my fingers!"
Instantly I wince and Mat laughs.
"I am a showman and an old circus guy and so when I describe it, your reaction is what I like - where the audience are in that heightened state wondering what I am going to do followed by the palpable relief when I do it and show I can do it and make it work without injury.
"I love that and to be able to make an audience feel all those different ways is great. I love making them laugh and to making them think about it."
As well as being part of the festival, Mat says he is excited to see the other acts who will be performing.
"It’s such a respected festival with a well deserved reputation that I know it will be good whatever I see," he says.
"I trust they will book the best stuff in the world so I can be confident of seeing some great visual treats.
"I'd encourage anyone who loves variety, vaudeville, old style cabaret, circus and old school jugglers as well as contemporary performers to go and see some of the amazing shows on offer. You will love it and will be amazed. Tell them I sent you!"

Mat Ricardo will be appearing at the Southbank Centre between January 19 and 21 as part of the London International Mime Festival (January 8 to 31). Tickets cost £18. Visit or for tickets or call the box office on