Friday, 27 March 2015

REVIEW - Wink, Theatre503, Battersea


IF you have ever wondered how powerful a tool the internet is I suggest you see WINK, a new play by Phoebe Eclair-Powell.
It is a cautionary tale about what can happen when you go online, surf the net, create a social media profile and then press the send button.
Set in South London with lots of local references, it is a two-hander about John, a good looking 27-year-old French teacher who has a penchant for porn, affairs and a drink or two and who also has a live-in girlfriend called Claire.
One of his students, Mark, is 16, with two siblings, a mum still grieving for her late husband, and a similarly unhealthy addiction to porn.
Thinking John has it all, Mark wants to be like him. So one night when he can't sleep he logs on to Facebook and discovers John's profile.
He does a bit more digging and finds out all about John's life - including that he has a glamorous girlfriend in Claire who works for Lloyds Bank.
In a moment of madness Mark creates a fictitious profile of Tim Walker, who also works for Lloyds Bank. He presses the send button for Friend Request and waits.
Meanwhile, in his Crystal Palace flat John logs onto Claire's Facebook account, sees Tim's friend request and panics.
Has his girlfriend been playing away? Who is Tim? And more importantly, what is he going to do about it?
For a debut play it's brilliant - a tight script, great characterisation and an entirely believable story.
Witty, dramatic, punchy and absorbing it is well staged and Leon Williams as John and Sam Clemmett as Mark put in great performances.

WINK is on at Theatre503, The Latchmere, Battersea Park Road until Saturday, April 4. Tickets cost £15 or pay what you can on Sundays. Visit or call the box office on 020 7978 7040.


IF Ilan Goodman hadn't followed in his father Henry's footsteps and become and actor he says he would probably be "making science documentaries".
But science's loss is theatre's gain although Ilan admits he still has a hankering to turn his hand to the making such documentaries at some point in the future.
However, it seems acting was always very much in the blood for the 33-year-old from East Dulwich.
He was always in his school plays and despite a slight deviation to read for a psychology and philosophy degree, going to drama school afterwards sealed the deal.
He is currently making sparks fly in more ways than one in the play Bad Jews.
Written by Joshua Harmon, it has just opened at the Arts Theatre for a 10-week season after enjoying a sell out run at the St James' Theatre.
It features a family which comes together after the death of their beloved grandfather but who begin to bicker and quarrel when they find out a treasured family heirloom is up for grabs.
Each of the four characters believes they are the most deserving of it and within the confines of a cramped Manhattan apartment there follows a bitter but hilarious quarrel in which they argue over who should get the prize.
"It's an amazing piece of writing and fabulous to be in," says Ilan warmly. "Essentially it's a family feud and set the day after our grandfather's funeral.
"My character Liam has been away skiing with his non Jewish girlfriend and he doesn't get back in time for the funeral - which with Jewish people tends to happen quite soon after death.
"He arrives back at the flat and his brother and cousin are there and we all start fighting over a Chai necklace which belonged to the grandfather.
"The grandfather was a holocaust survivor and managed to keep hold of it the whole time he was in the concentration camp and then used it to propose to his wife so it's got a huge amount of religious and personal significance."
The feud that follows centres on Jewish heritage, religion and culture and although it concentrates on one particular religion Ilan says the themes are those which anyone can relate to.
"It looks at what duty we owe to heritage and our ancestor's history and where they may have had values that we may no longer share.
"It questions cultural and ideological change and how you respect your ancestors and relatives but be an individual and be true to your own values.
"Liam is Jewish but is a sceptical aethiest, doing a PhD in Japanese culture studies. He's a more liberal humanist. His cousin Daphna is much more religious and interested in Jewish heritage and culture and maintaining and cherishing the legacy and suffering of previous generations."
As a result of their differences all hell lets loose and they clash with devastatingly awful but hilarious results.
"They both behave appallingly but have very strong arguments," says Ilan. "They are very smart and insightful but are quite complex characters. At times they are both very reasonable and audiences will have some sympathy with them.
"However, they also annoy the heck out of each other and have done since they were small and there is a lot of comedy from the way they wind each other up.
"But it's the way they fight and drive each other to a kind of feral rage where they have these outrageous outbursts which is extraordinary.
"I think when the play really works it's when audiences veer between both both points of view because both characters have very compelling and emotive arguments. It's so cleverly written - I can see both sides."
Despite their bad behaviour - or perhaps because of it - Ilan says he's enjoying playing Liam.
"He's a great character," he says. "What attracted me to the role was the sheer delight of it - it's fast paced and I get the most enormous tirade - it's like an aria!
"Liam is provoked to the point of a complete outburst of appalling rage which I love. It builds like an aria until he says the most outrageous things where he almost shocks himself.
"It's moment to moment stuff and a lot of fun to do. I like parts like that, where they are tense and exciting."
Despite his obvious enthusiasm for the play and its popularity amongst audiences, it has not been without its controversy.
The name caused a certain amount of eyebrow raising. But the main issue was an advertising poster depicting an image of the play in which the four characters appear in the midst of a fight on the floor.
Complaints were raised with Transport for London which ran the posters on the tube network and they were subsequently taken down, something Ilan is disappointed about.
"This play and the poster are absolutely not anti semitic," he says. "That said if you see the poster I can see that people may question it but once they know the context it's clear what it's about.
"It does seem a bit crazy though because it was up on the tube network during the run at St James's Theatre but perhaps it's a sad reflection of the times.
"The recent events in France and the now large numbers of Jews leaving for Israel feeds into this climate of being sensitive. It's very sad."
Despite the absence of the poster, people have flocked to see the show and Ilan says he's "delighted" at the transfer to the Arts Theatre.
"I love doing contemporary plays like this one," he says. "I prefer the stage in general and I love the experience of telling a complete story in front of people, hearing their reactions and being in touch with their responses."
And he says he hopes to one day act alongside his father, Henry Goodman.
"We have talked about it and hopefully we will find the right project to do," he says. "It's tricky as he's in a senior place in his career and has won more awards than I can remember.
"He's exceptional so it has to be the right project and not something we are shoe-horned into.
"One day though, for sure."

Bad Jews is on at the Arts Theatre for a limited run until May 30. Tickets from £20. Visit or call the box office on 020 7836 8463.

REVIEW = The Cutting Of The Cloth - Southwark Playhouse

Kate Gould


WHAT happens when machines take over previously specialist crafts is the subject of the play Cutting Of The Cloth, now on at the Southwark Playhouse.
Written by Michael Hastings, who brought us Tom and Viv, the play is set in the 1950s and concerns two men who work for a Saville Row bespoke tailor but who have very different ideas about how to work.
Eric (Paul Rider) represents the modern way of working. He uses machines to sew his suits and with the money he earns can indulge in his passion for opera.
Polish-born Spijak (A brilliant Andy De La Tour) on the other hand represents the old guard of mastser craftsman and prefers to tailor each suit by hand, working all hours to do so. And because it takes him twice as long to finish a suit compared to Eric he earns significantly less.
Throughout, the pair bicker with each other and their women skivvies, known as kippers, and argue passionately about who's way of working is the best.
Into this heady mix comes teenage apprentice Maurice who is assigned to work with Spijak. He is encouraged to sew until his fingers bleed and to learn to respect the traditional tailoring trade.
Although the acting is top notch, it is the set which is the real star of the show.
The attention to detail is astonishing. Not only are the tables strewn with needles, thread, bobbins, tape measures, scissors and material, the actors actually spent time learning how to sew for the piece.
You get a real sense of the smells, the claustrophobic atmosphere in the almost windowless basement room and the harsh conditions in which they are working as well as the feel of the cloth when bastes - packets of material - are hurled downstairs waiting to be stitched together.
It is fascinating to see the process and to see the relationships between the five characters.
Ultimately it is a sad tale for Spijak - although there are moments of laugh out loud humour - but one of hope for the future, where dedication and a respect for the tradition of working hard to achieve results pay dividends.

Cutting Of The Cloth is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until April 4. Tickets cost £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

INTERVIEW - The Chair, Unicorn Theatre

ANYONE who’s ever visited a barber or hairdresser will know they have a penchant for talking and telling entertaining, inventive and sometimes extraordinary stories.
And it was a visit to his own barber and watching him hold forth with his customers that provided writer Lewis Gibson with the inspiration for his latest play.
The Chair, on at the Unicorn Theatre, is set in Victorian Tiger Bay in Cardiff. It is a place full of strange sailors, lost myths, rumours and rum.
It features one Owain Sawyer, played by Gary Lagden, a barber who shaves, cuts hair and trims beards whilst telling a collection of extraordinary and intoxicating ghost stories to his rapt customers.
Combining dialogue, live music with mystery, magic and plenty of strange goings on, it is, says Lewis, guaranteed to put the shivers up you – but in a good way.
“We’re not out to terrify our young audience,” he says. “They need to be a bit scared because we are telling some quite creepy tales but it’s done with an element of fun and dark humour.”
The stories Owain regales are inspired by a series of Victorian novellas that Gary was given by his father.
“I was going to do a Christmas show and there isn’t anything more Christmassy than Dickens and Victorian London,” says Lewis.
“Gary was given some penny dreadfuls and I read them and began to get some ideas together.
“However, I was never really a fan of ghost stories so they sat in my head for a couple of years, tickling along but then I started reading some folk and Gothic novels and they began to take shape.
“They are more about the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people – candles going out and chairs moving, that kind of thing, and how your imagination can run wild.
“All the stories Owain tells are connected to him, whether they are objects in his warehouse or things he has witnessed, but the focus is the chair.”
The show itself may be based in Wales but Lewis says the stories Owain tells will transport the audience around the world.
"He will take you on a trip to Egypt, New Orleans, to India and beyond and they will be expressed through words, sounds and the imaginations of the audience - who we like to think are sailors who have come ashore in an hour’s leave to get their hair cut or have their wounds stitched up whilst listening to his tales," he says.
"Like lots of archetypal kids stories it’s about who you believe, who you trust. There is always an element of fear and it would be very easy to terrify people but we don’t do that.
"Besides kids love being a bit scared so we want them to feel like they are on a roller coaster – where there is a certain thrill and excitement tinged with fear but where you also feel safe because you are strapped in.”
It will be that same strapped in sensation that the audience can expect, especially for those brave enough to take up the challenge of sitting in the chair during the performance.
“Yes, we do ask for volunteers,” laughs Lewis. “Owain tells three stories and he chooses a different person to sit in his chair each time .... so it will be the first one who puts their hand up.
“I originally wanted him to put shaving foam on the sitter and give them a ‘cut throat’ but we were told it might be a bit problematic – mainly from allergies rather than de bearding an eight year old,” he chuckles.
“But whoever gets to sit in the chair gets the story told to them so they are quite involved.”
It is this feeling of involvement that Lewis says is prevalent in most barber shops, not least the one he visits himself.
“My barber is just brilliant at chatting, talking about politics, the weather and all sorts of things,” says Lewis
“He knows everyone in town and in a way he was the inspiration for Owain. Once you are in his chair you are trapped and can’t get out.
“You also become complicit in the story and get sucked in and we hope that’s what happens to the audience – that they become so engrossed in what Owain says that they too become sucked in and see the places unfold in their imaginations.”
The show follows on from the success of Lewis’s last piece for the Unicorn, The Pardoner’s Tale which he adapted from Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tale and has the same dark undertone as The Chair.
“Both shows are aimed at those aged seven and over,” he says. “They have a bonkers imagination at this age which I love and they have a level of comprehension which sometimes I feel we underestimate.
"What’s great about working at the Unicorn is that they are so open to these kinds of shows. It’s such a joy because it does great stuff for kids.
“It’s a fantastic environment with lots going on and it’s brilliant to be part of something that pushes the boundaries and allows experimentation.”
For his next offering Lewis is working on a piece with the Albany in Deptford called Under. It is another dark Victorian tale though this time focuses on sewer workers called toshers, who scavenged and sifted through the filth to collect treasures that went down the toilet.
“These people had a really hard life – they were trying to find coins and rings and other treasures in dreadful conditions,” he says.
“Some died, some got lost, there were methane issues and all sorts of other horrors but we are making it a very funny play. We’ve been messing around with the idea of chocolate all over our hands and then shaking the hands of the audience.
“And needless to say there will be lots of toilet jokes. I’m developing a whole library of alternative words for farting and belching already,” he laughs.

The Chair is on at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street until Sunday, April 12. Tickets cost £16 for adults and £10 for children. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Telegraph Hill Festival

A CAST of more than 270 people aged between four and 70 will be the stars of a production of Guys and Dolls.
The show will be part of this year's Telegraph Hill Festival and will feature amongst its local cast, youngsters from Edmund Waller Primary School and Haberdashers' Aske's Academy.
It is also the biggest production in the festival's 21-year history and will be performed in St Catherine's Church.
The show is based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon and features music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.
It is set in the city that never sleeps, New York, in the 1930s and has a love story bridging the diverse worlds of high-rolling hoodlums and high minded Mission folk.
“The musical is always one of the highlights of the festival and this year is no exception,” says Sanjit Chudha, one of the festival’s organisers.
“This is the biggest production we’ve ever done – and even bigger than some West End shows – and the cast and crew have worked so hard on it.
"What's so fantastic about it is that it involves so many local people - it's a proper community production.
“This year we chose Guys And Dolls - it's got a great story, a fantastic score and is guaranteed to get your feet tapping and put a smile on your face. We are all very excited about it.”
The show is one of the main highlights of the festival, which kicks off tomorrow.
For 16 days until Sunday, March 29 more than 120 events will take place across multiple venues - not bad for a small South London neighbourhood.
There is plenty of entertainment to choose from - interactive exhibits, classes, workshops, concerts, guided walks, mystery dining experiences, comedy gigs, talks, cabaret shows, mass musical jam sessions, yoga taster sessions, quiz nights and the ever popular open studios featuring a selection of local artists.
It has been organised and will be staged by a team of volunteers and performers who have donated their time and skills for free.
And this year people will be able to see and take part in more free events and activities.
"From a couple of stalls and a picnic in the local park 21 years ago, the festival now embraces more than 100 diverse events across the area," says Sanjit.
“The main theme this year is ‘participation’. There are a lot more events and activities that are participatory, a lot more opportunity for people to get stuck in which is great.”
As part of this year’s theme there will be a cake competition, a children’s art competition and a photographic exhibition.
“We want people to be involved so we have devised events that we feel people will want to take part in,” says Sanjit.
“With the popularity of Great British Bake Off we have a cake competition which I’m sure will be very popular. We are also very excited about the children’s art competition. We felt that art is getting sidelined in the curriculum and the creative element within children’s education is being downgraded.
"So we wanted to create an outlet for the next generation of future festival makers to create a piece of art. That’s going to be very exciting to see what they come up with.
“The photography exhibition is something I’m looking forward to. It’s a chance for everyone to take pictures of the area and then peg the photos on a washing line where people can see them.
"It will be interesting to see how people view the area.”
Although it’s a family festival there are some events for adults including the Cabaret Bites, a secret dining experience which combines good food and cabaret entertainment and the ever popular Quiz Night takes place at the Telegraph Hill Centre.
Comedy will also feature strongly with several Comedy Nights at the Telegraph Hill Centre where the star turns include Phil Nice and Lindsay Sharman and there will also be Festival Open Mic sessions throughout the festival.
For music lovers there is the Sonic Imperfections at St Catherine’s Church which consists of an evening of cutting edge experimental music which moves classical music into another dimension. It is normally performed at the Montague Arms but is coming up to the festival for a one-off session.
And for anyone who loves a shed, towards the end of the festival is Shedonism, an opportunity to go on a two-hour grand tour of the neighbourhood’s back garden bolt holes.
Children won’t feel left out either. The Secret Adventurers Club at the Telegraph Hill Playclub will see children making stick men to take on Festival missions and for pre-schoolers is a nature inspired Nature Bug event.
One of the most important aspects of the festival is that most of the events are free.
“We felt in this post recession time we wanted to make it as accessible as possible and open to as many as possible,” says Sanjit.
“So, at least half of the events and activities are free which is terrific. Even those which are ticketed are reasonably priced and represent great value for money.
“What’s really great is that you can learn to dance, have a go at a comedy open mic, take part in a tea dance, try your hand at life drawing or do some yoga,” says Sanjit.
“This really is a festival which has such a broad focus and we think there is something for everyone."

Visit for full listings.

REVIEW - Man and Superman


IT may be an epic and bladder-busting three hour 40 minutes but don't let that put you off seeing Man And Superman at the National.
The show, by Bernard Shaw and now on at the theatre's Lyttelton's stage is quite simply an absolute cracker of a production.
A romantic and provocative comedy, it features at its heart a fiery philosophical debate in which fundamental questions are asked about how we live.
John Tanner - an astonishing performance by Ralph Fiennes - is a celebrated radical thinker, revolutionary and rich bachelor.
However, he has been made guardian to the alluring heiress, Ann, played with delicious feistiness by Indira Varma.
Ann is in love with John but has to bat away the affections of poet Octavius Robinson (Ferdinand Kingsley) who has fallen in love with her and wants John to put in a good word for him.
John is scared stiff of commitment and being married off and so Ann sets about her challenge to tame him and coerce, bully and seduce him into marrying her.
Appalled at the thought, and tipped off by his chauffeur, John flees to Spain, where he is captured by a group of bandits led by Mendoza.
What follows next is an extraordinary dream-debate, heaven versus hell, in which John becomes Don Juan and Mendoza becomes the Devil and the philosophical debate is played out.
Back out of the dream John knows the game is up when he realises he's been followed by the resourceful and forceful Ann who, refusing to be put off and not giving up on her man, has followed in hot pursuit.
It is a masterclass by Ralph Fiennes who puts in a most electrifying performance as John complete with an air of the late Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby about him in the way he shows John's nervousness and anxiety.
He is supported by a stellar cast of which Tim McMullan's portrayals of Mendoza and the Devil were utterly brilliant, incredibly funny and a real stand out.

Man And Superman is on at the National Theatre until Sunday, May 17. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.
Man and Superman will be broadcast live in cinemas as part of National Theatre Live on May 14 at 7pm.

INTERVIEW Jodie Prenger

WHEN Jodie Prenger won the hearts of the judges and the British public on the BBC TV reality talent show I’d Do Anything in 2008, her dreams of appearing on the West End stage were finally realised.
The Blackpool-born singer and actress, who admits she had almost given up on her ambitions after having spent many years going to "countless" auditions, won the competition. She went on to find fame as Nancy in the subsequent Cameron Mackintosh production Oliver! and her star status was assured.
Since then she’s not looked back and has a CV bursting with leading roles both on stage and screen.
She is now back doing what she loves best – performing on stage and is in the middle of a lengthy nationwide tour of Calamity Jane in which she plays the lead.
Although the tour started in June last year, and despite the incredibly physical nature of the show, it’s clear she’s having a whale of a time.
"It was only supposed to be a six months run but was so successful and so well received that they extended it,” she tells me.
“It’s going so well and we are all really enjoying it. Everyone in the cast is stupidly brilliant and the reaction from the audience, well, I’ve never seen anything like it! You get everyone dancing and singing – it’s amazing!”
The show is arriving at the New Wimbledon Theatre tonight for a week-long run and Jodie couldn’t be happier.
“I'm really chuffed we are going to Wimbledon because I love that theatre,” she says cheerfully. “We opened Spamalot there so it holds special memories for me.
"The audiences there are always fantastic and really get into the swing of things so I can’t wait to get back there.
"I'm really short though - only 5 ft 3 and the shortest in the cast. Everyone thinks I'm really tall - probably because normally I wear six inch heels. So anyone coming along will need to bring glasses to see me!" she adds chuckling.
Calamity Jane tells the story of gun toting, sharp shooting Jane who can outrun and outshoot any man in Deadwood.
Hard, boastful and desperate to impress, she travels to Chicago to recruit a star, Adelaide Adams for the Deadwood Stage.
But things don’t go too smoothly for Calamity, as everyone in town favours the new girl and she struggles to keep her jealousy and pride in check.
It takes her long-standing enemy Wild Bill Hickok to make her see sense.
As Calamity, Jodie steps into the cowboy boots made famous by Doris Day who made the role her own in the 1953 film. And she admits there is a certain amount of pressure, not least because when she was growing up she idolised Doris Day.
“I was nervous about it initially because it was a role written for her, but I hope I’ve done her proud," she says.
“I love the film and have seen it so many times. It’s just got everything – a cracking story, brilliant music and plenty of action - basically the way I see it, you are born, you see Calamity Jane and then you die – that’s all there is too it!
"The songs are sensational. In fact there are a few which didn't make it in to the film but we've got them in the show which is brilliant."
She says her favourites change every day because "they are like kids - you can't pick between them" - but adds that she loves Secret Love, Windy City and Black Hills particularly.
It's not just the musical numbers that attracted her to the production. The character of Calamity herself was a major draw.
“She’s brilliant and I’m absolutely loving playing her,” Jodie says warmly. "She's a real strong woman. In fact, bar her being an alcoholic, a smoker and, some allege, a prostitute, I've got every trait she had!
"She's defiant and always thinks she's right of course, like me, but she goes on a journey. In the end we get to see her vulnerable side as well as her strong side.
"I love playing women who are gutsy, brave and feisty and who have a real depth to them."
As well as showing off her incredible voice, the role has enabled Jodie to add to her skills including learning how to lassoo which she says was "great fun" and playing musical instruments.
"I do a bit of tinkling on the ivories, a few chords on the ukulele and I'm a dab hand at the spoons - they are my speciality," she jokes.
"And I get to wear all the buck skins - I have honestly never been so comfortable on stage.
"What I love is that every night people come to see us and they've dressed up as well - we've had kids in cowboy outfits and one woman last night came as Wild Bill which was hilarious!
"It's so full on though that most days I go home to bed. Mind you there's nothing like a bath and a cheese sandwich at the end of the night," she laughs loudly.
"Most days I'm in bed with a cup of tea! It's not very rock n roll is it?"
With such strong feelings for the show Jodie admits she will be sad to hang up her boots and the costume at the end of the run this summer.
However, when she does, she has plans to emulate her idol once more and open an animal sanctuary.
"I found out Doris Day opened an animal sanctuary which is what I've always wanted to do as I love animals," she says. "In fact if it wasn't for I'd Do Anything, I'd have opened one by now," she says.
"I'd have a sheep with alopecia and a three legged goat. It's definitely going to happen one day."
But before that there is also the small matter of a charity bike ride immediately after the Wimbledon run in which some of the cast and crew will cycle to the Palace Theatre in Manchester to raise money for Hope For Justice.
"It's an anti trafficking and slavery charity and we're cycling the 250 miles in 24 hours to raise lots of money for them," she says.
"I'm no cyclist but some of the stories coming out of this charity are the most horrendous you'd ever hear.
"The challenge is going to be exciting though - I hope I don't get saddle sore - the audience will be asking why I'm walking like John Wayne otherwise!"

Calamity Jane is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway until Saturday, March 21. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Visit to sponsor the team on the cycle challenge.

INTERVIEW - Katie Brayben

FIVE years ago singer songwriter Katie Brayben was appearing on stage at Lewisham Peoples’ Day. Now she is taking the West End by storm starring in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Not bad she says for a girl from Sydenham.
We chat as she takes a break between shows in which her performance as Carole King has been lauded by the critics and even the great lady herself.
And just a week after our chat it was announced that Katie's performance has netted her an Olivier Award nomination for best actress in a musical.
“It’s very exciting,” she says warmly. “It’s going so well and people really like it.
“It’s just a joy to play such a wonderful and amazing woman and one who I have idolised since I was very young.
“It is incredibly exciting as it’s such a great role – especially for a woman. They don’t come along that often so to play someone who’s an artist and a genius and tell her story – it’s fantastic.”
And although she was excited about the challenge of playing “a living legend” Katie admits to being somewhat nervous when she got the call – not least because she was told that Carole felt Katie had “the essence” of her.
“She was sent the tapes from the audition,” she says. “It was really extraordinary but was great to hear her support and endorsement.
“I met her for the first time when she came to opening night. I told everyone I didn’t want to know when she was in the audience - I’m not sure how they all managed to keep it a secret though!
“When she came on it was a bit overwhelming but she was sweet and kind and every bit as lovely as I had imagined.”
The show itself is a jukebox musical about Carole King, one of the most successful solo acts in music history.
It charts her journey from school girl to superstar, her relationship with her husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin as well as her friendship and playful rivalry with fellow song-writing duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
“It looks at her life from when she was about 16 through to when she was 29," says Katie. "It’s a very specific period in her life.
“She and Gerry had a wonderful partnership but she was a real mix of things – she was ambitious, very talented and confident in those talents and felt strongly that she understood music.
“However, in her personal life she’s less confident. She has dreams and expectations to be married and a mother – the traditional things she wanted.
“It’s interesting to see her journey and what happened to her.”
Katie, who is herself a singer songwriter, says everyone can relate to the story given its themes.
“It’s about love, relationships, creativity and heartbreak – all those human emotions everyone relates to," she says. "I think everyone who comes to see it, whether they know about Carole or not, will take something from it."
And even those who don’t know much about the woman will probably recognise many of the songs she wrote.
“When I got offered the role in August last year, I started doing some research and realised there was a lot I didn’t know about her,” says Katie.
“I knew Tapestry which is the one album most people will recognise, and that she won so many Grammy awards, and deservedly so, but she also wrote an incredible number of hits before that album.
“I never realised she and Gerry had written so much. They have an incredible back catalogue, absolute classics that people come to the show and fall in love with.
“The lyrics are quite dark but the melodies are uplifting which is the real genius and you see all that in the musical.
“During the show, as I sing each one I think of how good they all are - it's joyful."
With so many "beautiful" songs Katie admits it’s difficult to have a favourite.
“It changes every time because every night is different,” she says. “I enjoy all of them, something I’ve never felt before.
"At the moment Natural Woman is up there but You’ve Got A Friend really sums her up – someone who is generous, loving and very giving.
“I do have to pinch myself all the time though as I can’t believe I’m here,” she adds laughing.
But although she might not quite believe her success, Katie knew from a very young age she wanted to be an actress, and had her first starring role as Annie in the Riverdale Centre in Lewisham.
“I was really young and we only did three shows but I didn’t want it to end,” she laughs. “In fact I remember being so upset when it finished.
“The love of theatre had gripped me by then – I knew it was a special place where people create magical stuff and I was desperate to do it.”
So after going to Sydenham School, Katie went to Rose Bruford, then based in Greenwich, and since then has combined her love of acting with being a singer songwriter.
“My parents are both musicians and I grew up listening to a lot of music – in fact Tapestry was on repeat for much of my young life," she says.
“I wrote my first song at 12 but it took me till I was 18 to think about it seriously. But since then singing and composing songs have been part of what I do.”
And that includes Lewisham Peoples’ Day which she has fond memories of.
“I remember it well,” she says laughing. “It was a lot of fun but just before I came on stage it chucked it down but people stayed which was great.
“It’s a great community festival though with an amazing vibe and it was fantastic to play on home turf.
“South London is very much my home and I’ve always been drawn back to it,” she adds. “I grew up here – mostly around Sydenham and Forest Hill – and now I’m on the road a lot it’s nice to have it as base, somewhere I know and love where my family and friends are.”
So what of the future I ask.
“At the moment I am focused on the show but I’m always open to whatever life throws at me," she says.
“I love new writing and I am sure there are loads of brilliant roles out there for me that I don’t know about yet because they don’t yet exist. Like this – I never thought I would be playing Carole King. That just goes to show anything can happen."

Katie Brayben is in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, Aldwych. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 0845 200 7981.

REVIEW - Clarence Darrow, Old Vic


KEVIN Spacey bows out as artistic director of the Old Vic in what can only be described as a masterclass of a performance in Clarence Darrow.
This one man play is done in the round with Spacey as Darrow regaling the audience on all sides with a jukebox show of his greatest courtroom hits.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Clarence Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
He may not be that well known over here but his achievements were many and remarkable - including helping to establish the eight-hour working day in America.
He was perhaps best known for defending teenage killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks in 1924 and the Scopes "Monkey" Trial in 1925.
David W Rintels’s compelling play was written in 1974 and is a first-person monologue about Darrow's career but also showcases Darrow's wit and his reputation as a courtroom giant and civil rights hero.
Spacey plays him as a somewhat hunched, at times world weary chap but who even when things look bleak, won't let himself be beat.
He just gets up, dusts himself down and carries on, all the time addressing the audience.
At some points Spacey even came into the audience - sitting with us, shaking us by the hand, gesturing to us, and taking us all in.
Sometimes it felt as though we were a jury in one of his famous courtroom battles. But most of the time though I felt he was talking just to me. It was a real tour de force.
It was utterly exhilarating - dramatic, funny, emotional, intense and flawless, and left me hoping that this is not the last time we will see Spacey on stage in South London.

Clarence Darrow is on at the Old Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until April 11. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7628.

Monday, 9 March 2015

REVIEW - Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant, Unicorn Theatre


THINK of a famous recruiting sergeant and most people will think of the posters of Lord Kitchener and his clarion cry Join Your Country's Army.
However for the Unicorn Theatre it means Vesta Tilley, a woman whose father was a performer on the stage and whose footsteps she wanted to follow.
And that she did, first treading the boards aged six. She stayed in the music halls for most of her life and was one of the country’s most famous cross dressing artists.
Her life is charted in a new musical play Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant, by Joy Wilkinson.
We follow Tilley from her first steps on the iconic music hall stage with her father, to her honing and perfecting her own act before going it alone as the cross-dressing Vesta Tilley, Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant.
Throughout her career she was a shining star of the music halls whose act as a male impersonator made her famous and loved the world over.
She was clearly a good businesswoman, determined and inventive too – at the height of her fame she was earning £1,000 a week and supporting her family – and constantly thinking of new ways to keep her act fresh and engaging.
However things begin to falter when war breaks out and Vesta uses her act to recruit soldiers to fight for King and country.
Eventually it forces her to think about her act and whether she is using her power and influence for good or propaganda.
The piece is more of a biography than anything else more deep and meaningful, and with not much of an explanation as to what made Vesta and her act so popular which is a shame.
However the play is engaging and enjoyable.
The cast of four - Mia Soteriou as the older Vesta, Tom Espiner as her father and husband, Caleb Frederick as the solider who falls for her and Emily Wachter as Vesta - are fabulous and Lee Lyford’s direction is simple and effective.
It is a great production, aimed at those aged eight and over, of a fascinating story.

Britain’s Best Recruiting Sergeant is on at the Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street until March 15. Tickets cost from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560.

INTERVIEW - Milton Jones

SHARING the same surname as fictional film hero Indiana Jones has given comic Milton Jones the inspiration for his latest tour.
The 50-year-old, famed for his attention-grabbing shirts, wild hair and one-liners has become a household name and a regular on TV, most notably with the BBC panel show Mock The Week and on Radio 4 with several of his own series.
But in a career that has spanned more than 20 years it's fitting that he's back doing what he loves best - stand up.
His latest offering is The Temple of Daft, a semi homage to a certain Indiana Jones.
As part of the nationwide tour he is coming to the Broadway Theatre in Catford on Wednesday March 11 and the Fairfield Halls in Croydon the following night.
But if his fans are expecting an evening purely of his hilarious and often surreal quips they may be disappointed.
This show, which he describes as a mix of “panto, music, imagery and comedy” will be different as he will introduce an element of storytelling in which the audience follows the madcap exploits of a less than successful archaeologist.
It is uncharted territory for Milton but one which he says he has enjoyed exploring.
"Basically, my previous shows have just been lots of jokes in various different forms," he says. "This is a bit like one of my radio shows in that it has a story to it. I've never done it for a tour before!
"It loosely – and I stress loosely – follows a kind of archaeological adventure in which I search for treasure. It started off with me realising that I had the same surname as Indiana Jones, and I began constructing the show from there."
It will also be a chance for the father of three to show off his acting skills - a career he left before he stumbled into stand up.
"There are plenty of characters who re-occur throughout the show and I play them all so it’s more physical and I run about the stage more than I normally do," he says.
"I started as an actor so it's not completely abhorrent but the physicality of not having a mic between me and the audience is weird."
But if the style of the show is slightly different his fans can rest assured there will be some familiar elements to it including music, his use of overhead projectors, his bright shirts and of course the hilarious gags.
“I do dress up - I wear a hat like Indiana Jones – and I wear the shirts although the sleeves are torn off,” he chuckles. “I have them round my shins like garters which is a fashion statement in itself.
"I've had to buy back up costumes though - in Liverpool one man tried to walk off with my hat.... I got it back though.”
Milton admits the different approach meant it was a "harder" show to write but says he's pleased with the result.
"I had to get a director in to help me who took me out of my comfort zone," he says.
"This is the third tour I’ve done in five years and it’s been pretty labour intensive. It was also harder to write and I’ve been looking down the back of the sofas in my brain for jokes.
“It also took me a little longer to settle in to it but it's a better show - it's got more of a satisfying feel with a beginning, middle and end, rather than a scatter gun approach.
"But I think it's good to be pushed to do something different. It keeps things fresh and interesting.
"Besides, just doing one liners you would see blood coming out of peoples’ eyes after 20 minutes ....” he chuckles.
“I’m really pleased with the result though and so far so good."
With as many as 250 jokes to remember in a show Milton admits that sometimes some slip his mind and some get waylaid by heckles.
“It’s not nasty when I get heckled – which does happen – and more often than not it’s just someone who’s a bit drunk and hasn’t quite judged the situation or realised they are speaking out loud,” he says.
“I actually quite like the interaction and try and get them to undermine themselves – even saying ‘pardon’ can undermine them,” he chuckles.
“Even if things go wrong – such as sound cues going off in the wrong place - I try and make a joke out of it and incorporate it into the show as it makes it more fun.
“I don’t have a crib sheet so I have to learn everything and there have been moments when I’ve left bits out by mistake. As long as they aren’t the plot bits it’s OK!”
What he doesn’t do is swear, something that sets him apart from his some of his peers.
“To begin with it was harder to get a style that didn’t involve swearing,” he adds. “I’m a Christian and didn’t want to blaspheme but I also didn’t want my show to be one you couldn’t bring the kids to.
“It was hard to begin with but it has widened my audience base. So when I'm in Croydon and Catford I'll look out and see everyone from a 10 year old boy to his grandmother – which is great!”

Milton Jones and the Temple of Daft is at the Broadway Theatre, Catford on Wednesday, March 11 and at Fairfield Halls, Croydon on Thursday, March 12. Visit or for tickets.

REVIEW - Lippy, Young Vic


EXPERIMENTAL theatre is the name of the game with the Young Vic’s staging of Lippy.
Created by Bush Moukarzel and theatre company Dead Centre the 70 minute show looks at how those people feel who are excluded from society.
It begins with the audience finding themselves at a post show Q&A in which the cheesy and self conscious Interviewer (Bush Moukarzel) interviews actor and Lip Reader (David Heap) who has, through his acting roles, also mastered the art of lip reading.
He runs through a few techniques, answers some questions and tells us that he once helped the police in an investigation into the deaths of four women in Ireland.
Images from film sequences are projected on to the screen behind them which allow him to show off his lip reading skills.
He also shows how difficult it is to be accurate – sometimes with hilarious consequences, but sometimes how potentially dangerous and damaging it can be.
It is all quite jolly and humorous until this point and then suddenly the curtain behind them comes down and we see a litter strewn room with four forensic scientists combing the room.
It is at this point that the whole tone and mood of the piece changes and becomes a lot darker and more intense.
The Lip Reader enters the room and the four scientists take off their uniforms and reveal themselves to be the dead Irish women.
It then slows right down – almost to a slo mo of what happened to the women and how they starved themselves to death.
The Lip Reader remains in the room trying to make sense of it all – as do some members of the audience.
It was a somewhat surreal experience but it was also thought provoking and the acting was subtle, powerful and effective.

Lippy is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until Saturday, March 14. Tickets cost £X. Visit ww, or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Review - Othello - Globe Theatre


DISTILLING Shakespeare’s Othello into 100 minutes successfully is no mean feat especially doing so for a young audience.
However a production now on at Shakespeare’s Globe has managed to do just that and be both entertaining and exciting.
It is being staged as part of the Bankside theatre’s education department’s Playing Shakespeare programme.
It remains faithful to the original text and shows the themes of ambition, lust, power, jealousy, racsim and treachery.
It is an utterly absorbing and dramatic production, exciting and full of energy and the cast make full use of the Globe’s main stage.
There are also zip wires for characters to zoom down from the top gallery to one of two podiums in the groundlings' area which all add to the action.
It is set in the First World War and gets down to business setting the scene for Othello’s downfall as soon as the curtain goes up.
Othello's nemesis, Iago, is played brilliantly by Jamie Beamish who steals the show with his incredible portrayal of the man whose actions trigger the course of events that take place.
He is a man full of anger with a lust for power and revenge. He is treacherous and poisonous, a psychotic schemer, constantly chipping away at Othello’s insecurities and jealous nature.
Othello is a weak man, desperately in love with his wife Desdemona but willing to believe Iago’s lies about her and about his newly promoted lieutenant Cassio.
The whole cast is superb, some of whom take on multiple roles, and the tell the story simply and powerfully.

Othello is on at Shakespeare's Globe, Bankside until March 21. Visit for listings and tickets.

Rove - Albany Theatre, Deptford

HAVE you ever been told or heard a story about your family and wondered if it was true or if it had been embellished over the years?
It is this conundrum that has provided poet and performer Fergus Evans with the inspiration for his latest show, Rove.
The piece, which is being staged at the Albany in Deptford from tonight until March 20, sees Fergus reflect on the truths and untruths of second hand stories and familial legends as he remembers a song passed through the generations of his own family history.
With live folk music performed by Rhiannon Armstrong, Fergus uses poetry to re-spin a yarn told many times over, unravelling and exploring old family stories and shows how they change over time.
It is he tells me, a show for anyone who has ever tried to untangle a family anecdote, or wished they knew more about where they came from.
“I think lots of people will relate to the themes of this show because stories are fundamental to our lives,” he says.
"Everyone loves them and every family has some to tell about their ancestors - some will be fascinating, some mundane and some embellished or altered over the years.
"We use stories to remember and create relationships with loved ones especially those who aren't there anymore. It's a way of remembering and learning about our own history and where we come from."
The idea for the show came from remembering a song from his childhood.
“When I was about 11 I was in the school choir and one day I was practising a song," he says.
"My mother told me she had sung it to me when I was a baby, and it was a song that had come from Ireland and been passed down through the generations.
“However when I was in my late 20s I found out it was not a traditional Irish song afterall but something from the 50s.
“So, did my mother just remember it incorrectly? She was born in 1954 so maybe she heard it on the TV when she was very young and associated it with an Irish folk band. Or maybe she just told me something to link back to my grandparents.
"I became fascinated by how stories change over time and how they are passed down by generations as fact."
Whatever the truth, it was this that got Fergus thinking about the other tales that had been told him over the years and as he explored the idea he realised he had the makings of a show.
"I come from a working class background in the United States and my mother's side were Irish Americans," he says.
"They were great storytellers so it's a bit of a family trait and I grew up listening to tales from my family's past.
“One story I love is that my great grandmother was courted by the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. However a few years ago my aunt told me it wasn't true!"
Sadly Fergus has no one to tell him either way as both his parents and grandparents have passed away.
"Although I'll never know now if they are true or not, what I can do is make those stories my own and enjoy them," he says.
"I probably won't have children - I’m a 35-year-old gay man - and this was also a real motivator for me to do the show - what happens to these stories when there is no one to pass them down to?
"I hope that those who come to see the show will take them on and tell them to someone else."
Fergus says the process has been a positive one though he admits it was difficult at times and says he's looking forward to bringing the show to the Albany where he has been associate artist for the last 18 months.
"It's been an emotional journey but has also been absolutely fascinating and I'm hugely excited about coming to Deptford," he says.
"To complement the show we are going to create listening posts for people to hear the stories and interviews I did with people about this which will be fun too.
"The Albany is also the perfect space for the show. It's an organisation that is interested in the community, identity and creating the space for real and meaningful conversations.
"I can't wait!"

Fergus Evans will be at the Albany in Douglas Way, Deptford from tonight until Friday, March 20. Tickets cost £12 (£10 concessions). Visit or call the box office on 020 8692 4446.