Friday, 24 April 2015

INTERVIEW - Philip Bretherton, in Tony's Last Tape, Bridge House Theatre, Penge

WITH just a matter of weeks to go before the General Election a new play takes a look at one of Britain’s most respected, celebrated and controversial politicians.
Tony Benn, who was Labour MP for 47 years and served in the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, was a prolific diarist, recording everything that happened to and around him for more than 50 years.
He and his famous political diaries are the subject of a new play, Tony’s Last Tape, written by Andy Barrett.
After an acclaimed run at the Nottingham Playhouse it is to be staged at the Bridge House Theatre in Penge from Monday, April 27 until Sunday, May 17.
Taking on the role of Tony Benn is actor Philip Bretherton something which he tells me is both “exhilarating and nervewracking”.
“It's one man show which is something I’ve never done before,” he says. “It has been a bit daunting but it’s been a lovely challenge and to do this as the politicians battle it out in this year’s election is really exciting.”
The play is set in Tony’s office late one night when he comes downstairs to make one last recording. While doing so he muses about his long life in politics.
“The play has been set when he’s 87 so he’s an elderly man and he’s decided to prepare a script for a funeral and is looking for material for that,” says Philip.
“But in doing so it leads him to avenues where he remembers moments from his life such as his time during the war, how he gave up his peerage and almost up to the present day.
“It’s really an amalgam of bits taken from his diaries although we don’t quote from them direct. However we do use them as a focal point and as a starting point.”
Philip says that although he knew “bits and pieces” about him there were plenty of other things he didn’t.
“I did have to do some research and I admit I went in with some pre-conceived ideas but I’ve learned so much about him,” he says.
“Many people will know he gave up his peerage but he had a battle to do so and that was quite extraordinary and it needed a change in the law – which he achieved.
“Although he served in the RAF, he was also very anti war believing war was wrong as a means towards political ends.
“People say that politicians mellow, he didn't and he actually went to office and became more left wing.
“Most get the edges knocked off them but he never compromised. It’s refreshing that he stuck to his guns.
“He was also very funny and quite sentimental too about his family which surprised me. He was a politician of his time, a conviction politician, a real character with experience and he was certainly a splash of colour against the grey suits we see before us at the moment.
“I hope those who come to see him will see what an interesting guy he was, regardless of what you think of his politics.”
But Philip warns that anyone hoping for an impression of the great man will be disappointed.
“I can’t pretend to do an impression of him as I am not Alastair McGowan but there are certain things about the vocal eccentricities he had all his life that I’ve tried to incorporate,” he says.
“I don’t know what he would have thought of the show but he had a good sense of humour.
“People who knew him said they enjoyed his company – I’d love to have met him – it would be a shame if we didn’t see his kind again.”

Tony's Last Tape is on at the Bridge House Theatre, Penge between April 27 and May 17. Tickets from £12. Visit or call the box office on 020 8133 0311.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Interview - Simon Hickson, Strangeness In Space

ANYONE growing up in the 80s and 90s and who watched Saturday morning TV will no doubt remember Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson.
For more than a decade, Trev and Simon as they were known, were integral parts of BBC1's Going Live! and Live & Kicking shows with their mad, zany and unpredictable world of comedy, music, sketches and silly games.
Indeed their sketches, including The Singing Corner in which they involved unsuspecting special guests, were as legendary as they were hilarious.
Who can forget their encounters with the likes of French & Saunders, Kylie Minogue and Lisa Stansfield in which the celebrities were gently mocked?
Even Paul McCartney was not immune to their improvised skits and was a guest on the show - something that Simon says was "surreal".
"He brought his family with him and they asked us for our autographs - I still can't get over it!" he muses.
And as well as their inimitable brand of humour their popular catchphrase of "swing your pants" became firmly etched in the minds of a generation.
Since those heady days they have continued to work together as writers and performers and are now putting the finishing touches to their latest venture - a free audio podcast.
Strangeness In Space is a comedy sci fi adventure written for both adults and children and features a collection of brilliantly conceived characters including Trev, Simon, Sophie and their robot friend LEMON (Linguistically Enhanced Mobile Operations Network).
Chatting over a coffee in The Archie Parker, the Forest Hill cafe co-owned by his wife Zoe, Simon tells me it is “an indulgence of our comic ideas”.
In the story Trev and Simon play a 1980s styled synth pop duo called Pink Custard. Together with Sophie - "the sensible one" - and LEMON, they find themselves in a damaged rocket which has been knocked off course and is in a distant universe orbiting Planet Mirth.
Every so often they have to go to the planet to get "supplies" and it is while they are there that they have their “crazy” adventures and get into plenty of scrapes.
Along the way they will encounter various characters including the flocking Featherheads, the hairy scary Rhinocerbikers, the sinister Dr Scarfium or even a Space Ghost.
A year in the planning they are now attracting a host of stellar names to the cast list.
"We’ve just got Rufus Hound on board and I’m so excited,” says Simon grinning widely. “He was someone we really wanted to be involved so we are delighted that he said yes.
"He plays Atrocious Knocious who is very keen on motorbikes and likes to give off an image that he’s quite scary. But actually his real name is Steve and he’s quite scared."
As well as Rufus, Doon Mackichan has signed up and will be taking on the role of the narrator. More cast members will be announced in the coming weeks and Simon hopes the intrigue and excitement will encourage others to take part - including his dream guest William Shatner to whom Twitter requests have so far illicted no response.
Each episode will be a stand alone story but how many episodes they record is down to us.
For they are hoping to get the project off the ground and blast off into the hall of podcast fame with a crowdfunding campaign.
When I spoke to Simon, the team behind the project – Simon, Trev, producer Claire Eden and fellow actor Sophie Aldred – had £5,000 left of their £15,000 target to raise before April 26 to get Strangeness in Space off the ground.
But on Monday this week they had smashed that target and have now set their sights on raising another £7,000 to ensure a second episode.
And by the time this is published they may be well on their way to a third.
"The initial target is £15,000 which will pay for the first episode, all the production costs and some of the actors' fees," says Simon.
"Each £7,000 after that will pay for future episodes. We are so close now and we are desperately keen for this to happen so I've been on Twitter a lot to promote it. It's getting very exciting.
"What I really like about these crowdfunding initiatives is that it’s ordinary people who make it happen – so if they like us and it they will support it. If not, well, that’s it.”
As part of the campaign, those who back the project financially can win "perks" such as T shirts, badges and art work plus having a name check on the script or credits.
"We racked our brains to come up with perks to suit all budgets and so they range from pocket money items such as badges to bigger ones such as become a producer on the show," he says.
The idea for the project came about after a university reunion Simon went to last year.
"Trev and I met at Manchester University in the early 80s and last year there was a 30th anniversary reunion," he says. "Trev couldn't make it but Claire and I went along. While we were nursing hangovers at breakfast the following day we started talking about working together again.
“Trouble was we didn't know what! However, later Trev and I talked about it and as we'd done stuff with Sophie before we thought it would be a good idea to mix what she’s known for - Dr Who and sci fi - with what we were known for - silly sketches and characters - and the idea developed from that."
Simon credits Claire with turning their idea into reality.
"She had done an amazing job on another similarly funded series, Minister Of Chance, and without her this wouldn’t have got done,” he says.
“The actual nitty gritty and sorting out of all the Kickstarter stuff was all down to her.”
But why an audio show and not a visual one I ask.
"I would have been keen for a visual but if you do that you need a fortune to make it work – anything between £50,000 and £60,000 which isn’t easy to come by these days," he says.
"And if we took it anywhere else we'd be reliant on someone commissioning it which would take ages. This is actually a great way to get things done and it’s a lot quicker.
"Secondly I’m 52 now and it would look odd as a chap my age doing a comedy show for kids – we had to be realistic!
“Besides we've commissioned artist Lee Sullivan to do the promotional artwork for the project. As part of that he's created these zany animated Trev and Simon characters that look half our age and I have got my hair back!” he laughs.
“Also, I liked the idea of people using their imaginations while listening to it.
"It's nice being our own boss too - we can do what we want with it and be as mad or as silly as we want. Our only limitations are our imaginations."
Now they have the funding for at least the first episode they will get into the studio in the next few weeks and have the podcast available to download in September.
“It’s really exciting and I think as a comedy vehicle it is as endless as our imaginations,” says Simon.
“Down the line if it proved successful I would like to see an animation series. It would also be great to make it into a comic book – it’s got endless possibilities!”

Visit to back the project.

REVIEW - Man of Steal, Menier Chocolate Factory


ARE you a thief? That's the question posed by James Freedman, the self confessed Honest Pickpocket.
He suggests that most of us are - from nicking a few sweets as a kid to taking momentos from a hotel room to even claiming more in expenses than you should.
He also likes to distinguish a thief from a thug - someone who uses violence to steal.
He does all this in a brilliant 80 minute show, Man Of Steal, now on at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
And if you've got any sense, I would urge you to see it - it's quite astonishing.
For not only is it hugely entertaining and at times very funny, it is also incredibly insightful and most importantly education. In fact I would go as far as to suggest it's essential viewing.
It is for everyone - and not just those who've had the misfortune to have their pockets picked.
Through stories, demos, audience participation and chat, Mr Freedman, widely acknowledged as one of the world's greatest pickpocket entertainers, takes us through various scenarios.
He also shows how the minds of the thieves work - and how to be more vigilant to scams and be more aware of our personal safety to stop becoming a victim. He shows us how frighteningly easy it is to become a victim of theft.
Funny and fast fingered he exposes how the bad guys work, done through a life time spent studying thieves of all sorts, from street criminals to hustlers and to conmen.
It is no surprise that over the years he has been an invaluable support to the police and other security professionals.
I'm not going to give anything away - it really has to be seen to be believed - but safe to say the last 10 minutes of the show were more than just eye-opening.
I am sure there was not one person in the audience who did not sit up, take note and gasp at what he showed us.

Man Of Steal takes place at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until April 27. Tickets from £22.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

INTERVIEW - Trystan Gravelle

IT'S 1649. In the aftermath of a bloody and brutal civil war, England stands at a crossroads. A period of restless volatility amongst the masses, food shortages, economic instability and a corrupt political system threaten to plunge the country into darkness and despair.
Fast forward to 2015 and some might argue the country still faces very similar issues thanks to a rise in the number of foodbanks, on going economic jitters following the 2008 recession, and a political system many feel alienated or removed from.
And with the imminent General Election at the forefront of the news agenda it is perhaps timely that a play which looks at these issues should be staged.
Said play is Light Shining In Buckinghamshire written by playwright Caryl Churchill and which opens at the National Theatre on Thursday.
It tells the story of the men and women who went into battle for the soul of the country during the English Civil War of the 1640s.
It shows how the Parliament men fought against the tyranny of the King and argued for stability and compromise and how the country's people were hungry for change. It speaks of the revolution we never had and the legacy it left behind.
Among its stellar cast is Trystan Gravelle, last seen as Victor Colleano in ITV's Mr Selfridge.
The Welsh born, but Camberwell-based actor plays a farm labourer who joins up as a soldier in the war, but becomes an agitator, a leveller and finally a deserter.
In a chat towards the end of rehearsals Trystan tells me the issues of social unrest, political activism and ideas of political reform within the piece have plenty of parallels with what's going on today.
"In many ways the play deals with issues which still feel very contemporary," he tells me. "It is a play about ideas and how incredible those ideas were for the time and if we'd just held on to them we might be in a different society today.
"Essentially, it tells of the build up to the war, what happens during the war and the effects it had on the people of different social standings afterwards," he adds.
"My character is a farm labourer who joins up to fight with Cromwell who tells them they are on a mission from God. It was a big thing to be told you have got God on your side.
"Being a soldier means more pay than a farm labourer so he signs up. He thinks the war will be over soon - but it lasts eight years.
"His journey through the play is quite sad in many ways. But as well as that we see the immense suffering that happened at that time - people lost their families, there was a lot of starvation and five million people became very transient during the war - wandering from village to village. It was quite desperate."
Despite the poignancy Trystan believes it's a play people should see, not least because it gives an insight into a slice of history that is not often taught in schools.
"It's a fascinating piece and is hugely enjoyable to be part of," he says. "It was an incredibly radical time because people wanted more of a say - we even got rid of our class system for a while which was an incredible achievement.
"In the play the politicians get into power and say they understand the issues of the ordinary people but then don't listen to them.
"They end up fleecing the country and don't care what the ordinary people say. Then there is a Civil War, a revolution and new people come in to power but the same things happen again.
"In that respect it's also a very timely piece especially with the election coming up and is a story that I think will resonate.
"Even now it still feels as though a lot of politicians who are from the upper echelons of society seem aloof and don't listen or care about the people they are supposed to represent."
And he says he hopes those who come to see the play are inspired to vote in the upcoming election.
"If you don't vote a general sense of apathy creeps in and if you don't vote you can't moan," he says firmly. "For your voice to be heard you have to vote. The more people that do that the better.
"I am sure a lot of politicians do what they believe to be right and I don't think they are all dining on swans and chucking us grapes but it feels sometimes that they get away with things, and think that no one is watching.
"If they thought everyone was they may do things differently. So the only way to get politicians to sit up and take notice is to vote - they need to see we care."
Despite his passion he draws the line that voting should be compulsory.
"I would have a problem with that," he says. "It's about attitudes. We need to make people want to vote.
"Everyone wants a free country where there is freedom of will and choice. People - like many who are the subject of Light Shining - fought so we could have a say in what happens to our country but the choice to vote has to come from within.
"We can't blame the politicians just because they went to a posh school. I grew up in the valleys of South Wales. We mustn't begrudge them - we all have to crack on with life!"
Given his passion for the subject I ask if he had ever thought about going into politics himself.
"It's not something that ever appealed to me," he laughs. "I actually find it weird that anyone would want to become a career politician."
Instead, Trystan says it was always acting that he wanted to do and on leaving school he won a scholarship to RADA and has since built a successful career working on both stage and screen.
And he says he's "glad to be back at the National" and working with director Lindsey Turner who gave him his first job there.
"Caryl Churchill is an amazing playwright and this play is brilliantly written so it was a no brainer to take on the role," he says warmly.
"It's also at the National which is the epicentre for important theatre and Lindsey is incredible - the attention to detail and the clarity she brings out of the actors makes it a real joy, so I'd have been a fool to turn it down.
"It's been tough though and a lot to take in but it's fantastic!"

Light Shining In Buckinghamshire is on at the National Theatre until Monday, June 22. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

REVIEW - King Lear, Rose Playhouse, Bankside


KING Lear is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and also perhaps one of his most difficult given the themes. And to get it right it relies on a skilful actor to play the title role.
How fortunate then that The Malachites theatre company managed to get John McEnery to play him in their pared down version now on at the Rose Theatre.
In a further plus point, the Bankside theatre, which is a small wooden stage over the remains of what was the original playhouse is the perfect setting for the play.
It is cold, eerie, and atmospheric and the company makes good use of the space throughout.
The production opens with Lear dividing up his Kingdom amongst his three daughters on condition they tell him how much they love him.
Only Cordelia, the youngest and his favourite refuses to flatter him and for that she forfeits her share of the inheritance and is banished by Lear.
In dividing the kingdom among his three daughters Lear sets the stage for his own destruction, with Cordelia's two sisters, Goneril and Regan planning to get rid of their father.
And in a sub plot Gloucester's bastard son Edmund plots to get rid of his brother Edgar.
The production is a mere 100 minutes which despite the inevitable cuts manages to keep most of the plot intact.
However, there were moments when as a result of the cuts it felt a bit rushed - for example the scene where blind Gloucester and his son Edgar are on Dover cliffs. This is one of the most powerful in Shakespeare's canon but it seemed too brief and could have been more dramatic had it been staged at the back of the space by the water which cover the remains of this amazing theatre.
However, these niggles aside, it is a great production. Tight, dramatic and features a top notch cast led from the front by John McEnery as Lear.
He is full of contradiction - at once frail and showing signs of madness before switching totally to complete clarity of thought and action and raging against the elements and injustices as he sees them.
It is an utterly mesmerising performance in a fabulous production.

King Lear is on at the Rose Theatre, Park Street until April 30. Tickets cost £12. Visit or call the box office on 020 7261 9565.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

REVIEW - The Chair, Unicorn Theatre


FROM the moment the audience enters the Tiger Bay warehouse of barber Owain Sawyer, it's clear something mysterious is afoot.
Owain (Gary Lagden) is the teller of extraordinary tales in a new hour-long play, The Chair, written and directed by Lewis Gibson, now on at the Unicorn Theatre.
The audience enters through a small wooden door which leads into a dimly lit and cavernous room. It is full of smoke, with dust covered jars on the shelves containing Victorian objects, sails hanging from the ceiling, a leaky roof and chairs on three sides.
It is also a place which we quickly come to realise is full of strangers and tales of ghosts, fortunes found and lost, myths, rumours and plenty of rum to numb the pain.
As we file in, a man is sitting in "the chair" having a shave before Owain decides he also needs to remove his tooth. For not only is Owain a barber, he also patches up wounds, removes teeth and most importantly, tells stories to the sailors who come through his doors.
They are not just any stories though, they are mysterious, dark and sometimes scary but all from Owain's travels across the seas in countries far away.
And with these stories, which include music and songs, we are transported on a journey around the world visiting countries afar afield as America and India.
It is a fully immersive experience and interactive too at times with younger members of the audience invited to come up to sit in Owain's battered leather chair.
At times there is a distinct chill in the air and at times there are moments of dark humour. It is spine tingling stuff.
Gary Lagden switches seamlessly between the characters in Owain's stories and with the sound and special effects, music and clever lighting we really do feel as though we are in his Tiger Bay room.
The stories are great and very different from each other, the set is brilliant and with the music, performed by Christopher Preece, it makes for quite a spooky show - but never too scary to induce nightmares.

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.

Miann and Innocence - Southbank Centre

THE rugged and beautiful Scottish landscape and the works of poet William Blake have provided inspiration for two dance shows which will be performed at the Southbank Centre this week.
Miann - the Gaelic word for craving and desire - and Innocence have been choreographed by Scottish Dance Theatre artistic director Fleur Darkin.
And while there are similarities within the pieces on a basic level, Fleur tells me they are aimed at two very different audiences.
"Miann is very much for adults whereas Innocence has been choreographed especially for children," she says as we chat in a break from rehearsals.
"Innocence is essentially a playroom performance for little ones and features music, song and even some animal noises! It's very playful."
Fleur, who moved to Dundee from her native Peckham just over two years ago, says it was the poetry of William Blake and his vision of angels which inspired the piece.
"I'm from South London and it was an area where Blake lived and where he had his visions of angels," she says.
"I had been thinking about doing a show for children for a while and his poetry had a real resonance with me and the more I thought about it the more it appealed."
As well as choreographing the piece Fleur has included some of his poems which have been set to music by musician Paul Bradley who plays live during the show.
"There is a real variety of musical styles which makes the piece come alive," she says.
"Through the music, the dancers invite the children to explore Blake's poetry and imagination and enter a realm full of mystery, fun and adventure.
"The children share the stage with the performers and they lead a merry dance. It’s not like in the theatre where they have to sit still.
"It’s amazing to see the children take the piece in different ways," she adds. "They have no inhibitions and as soon as the music starts and the dancers start moving, so do the children.
"It's almost like watching grass grow - they just spring up as if they are heading to towards the sun. It's beautiful to watch."
And she says not only do the children get a lot out of the piece, so do their adult companions.
"It's as much for the parents as it is for their young charges," she says warmly. "What is lovely is that when we've performed it before, parents have come in a bit stressed but have let themselves go during the show - it's liberating to watch!"
In contrast Miann is sensual, tactile and intimate and Fleur's choreography creates an intimate ritual about grief and loss.
"It is about craving, longing, abandonment and a desire to almost be at one with nature," she explains. "It's also quite a dark show with 12 performers and a lot of blood, sweat and tears."
Like Innocence it features live music but this time by Glasgow band The One Ensemble.
"The music is incredible - it's part punk and part chamber music," she says.
"There’s no real story as such but it's about living and dying, opening up to the land in a most sensual way and connecting with it on a visceral level. It's very emotional too and the audiences go on a journey with it.
"I wanted it to be engulfing and to create something that conveyed the relationship we have with the land and the fact it is anyone's.
"It's almost like the opposite of Innocence.
"Miann is very much inspired by where I now live in Dundee where the rugged landscape, the sea and the environment are so beautiful," she adds.
"When I moved to Scotland two years ago to take on this job, it was a wrench to leave London but when I got here I was really struck by the landscape and the fact there was no noise - it is very inspiring.
"In London there is a brutality to the place with lots of energy, noise and people living so close together.
"But wherever you are, nature will stop you in your tracks and we should get lost in it. So this piece is about the way grass falls under your feet, how the rain falls and sound falls - there is even real mud on the stage!"
And she says she can't wait to bring it to the Southbank Centre.
"I was born and brought up in South London and had my kids here so it still feels like home in many ways," she says.
"The Southbank Centre is a brilliant space to perform in and does so many great things to bring people closer to the arts - it's wonderful and very much part of London culture so it's fantastic for us to be part of that.
"It's really exciting to come home and show it to a London audience," she says. "I can't wait!"

Miann is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, on Thursday, April 9. Tickets cost £15. Innocence is on at the Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday, April 8 and Friday, April 10. Tickets cost £12 for adults and £6 for children. Visit or call the box office on 0844 875 0073.

Fashion On The Ration - Imperial War Museum

A BRIDESMAID’S dress made from parachute material, a bracelet made from aircraft components, and a bra and knickers set made from RAF silk maps for Countess Mountbatten.
These are just a few of the 300 items on show in a major new exhibition exploring how fashion survived and even flourished during the Second World War.
Fashion On The Ration at the Imperial War Museum looks at how people found new ways to dress as austerity measures and rationing of clothes took hold during the Second World War.
It shows the amazing adaptability and ingenuity people had in adopting more casual styles and by renovating, recycling and creating their own clothes – and how the “make do and mend” mantra was born.
The Lambeth Road museum has brought together clothing, accessories, photographs and film, official documents and publications, artworks, wartime letters, interviews and ephemera, some of which have never been on display before.
The exhibition has been divided into six sections and focuses on what people wore, their sense of identity and how they coped with the demands and deprivations of wartime restrictions and shortages.
Among them is Functional Fashion. This explores how the demands of wartime life changed the way people dressed at work and at home, inspiring retailers to sell innovative and stylish products, such as gas-mask handbags, blackout buttons and siren suits, all of which will be on display.
Rationing And Make do and Mend looks at why clothes rationing was introduced in 1941, how the scheme worked and how it changed people's shopping habits.
With limited options for buying new clothes, people were encouraged to be creative and make them last longer by mending, altering, knitting and creating new clothes out of old material.
Beauty As Duty examines the lengths to which many women went to maintain their personal appearance – and the pressure they felt to do so.
On display will be adverts promoting war themed make-up such as Tangee’s lipstick for ‘lips in uniform’. Cosmetics and clothing often had a patriotic edge to them as shown in a colourful display of scarves by Mayfair fashion house Jacqmar, with wartime slogans such as Switch That Light Off. By wearing these items women were able to overtly demonstrate they were doing their bit for the war effort.

Fashion On The Ration is on at the Imperial War Museum until August. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children aged 15 and under. Visit or call the box office on 020 7416.

Rules For Living - review


EVER wondered how people cope with life and all it throws at them? A new play by Sam Holcroft gives us a chance to find out.
Rules For Living, brilliantly directed by Marianne Elliott and now on at the National Theatre's Dorfman stage gives the audience a glimpse of the coping mechanisms adopted by what increasingly becomes clear is a dysfunctional family.
The come together for Christmas - a ritual which has to be adhered to and which comes with a set of rules that you just know will make things fall apart and ensure there are tears before bedtime.
These rules have been established by the head of the family, Edith (Deborah Findlay) who organises the event with military precision - nothing is left to chance.
Into the fray come her two sons - Adam (Stephen Mangan) who really wanted to play cricket professionally but because he "choked" in a game is now a second rate lawyer and Matthew (Miles Jupp) a high flying solicitor who really wanted to be on the stage.
With them come their partners - the neurotic Sheena (Claudie Blakley) who is likes a drink and Carrie, (Maggie Service) an actress who tells cringingly bad jokes.
Through the increasingly fraught situation in which they find themselves they subconsciously reach for their own coping mechanisms which are flashed up as rules on an overhead scoreboard situated at either end of the stage, and given points.
As the tensions within the group are ramped up the rules get more extreme and the comedy more excruciatingly awful.
By the time we get to the second half it is obvious that the cork keeping the pressure at bay is going to pop in spectacular fashion.
It does so with the appearance of Adam and Matthew's father Francis (John Rogan) who is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a post-op stroke. With a twinkle in his eye it becomes clear he's had a fruity life and is the cause of most if not all of the trouble.
In predictable style it descends into farce and chaos with the most fantastic food fight.
With a fabulously witty script, terrific acting, staging and direction, there is much to recommend.

Rules For Living is on at the Dorfman, National Theatre until July 8. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000  

Alice's Adventures Underground

IT is one of the most enduring and magical stories, Alice and her adventures with the White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter.
Now in the 150th anniversary year of Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed tale Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, fans will be able to quite literally follow Alice down the rabbit hole and go deep underground to become part of her Wonderland adventure thanks to two shows - Alice’s Adventures Underground and Adventures In Wonderland.
Three years in the planning, the two - an adult and a child version - promise to bring this fabulous story to life on a grand scale, blending storytelling, live music, circus, installations and spectacle along with a collection of fantastical puppets in imersive promenade performances.
With a cast of more than 30 both will feature 33 rooms, a tea table of gigantic proportions, an original soundtrack, a rabbit hole, a hazy Caterpillar lair, Cheshire cats, a mysteriously absent Alice, plenty of tea and of course a truly terrifying Queen of Hearts.
And that’s not all, to complement the shows, there will be a series of Wonderland Sessions to celebrate the long-lasting legacy of the story which will include readings, discussions and live music.
This enormous undertaking has been created by critically acclaimed theatre company Les Enfants Terribles.
They have enlisted what director James Seager calls a “crack team” of writers, performers, musicians and puppeteers to bring Alice’s fans right to the heart of Wonderland.
It is being staged in the vast, cavernous and labyrinthine tunnels under Waterloo Station known as the Vaults which James says has been totally transformed.
Tickets have been selling like hot tarts, so much so that both shows have now been extended from their original six week run to the end of August, and James is delighted.
“It’s quite incredible,” he laughs. “I am bowled over and really excited though it’s also completely terrifying because it’s such an epic undertaking.
“There are so many people involved. It’s certainly the biggest thing we have ever done. It’s hugely technical and the level of complexity is incredible and has been very challenging but it’s been an amazing privilege to do it."
For James it was the continuing appeal of the story that inspired him to create the shows.
“It’s a milestone in British literature, an amazing piece of work, and there is a huge and enduring love and fascination for the story," he says.
"It has some fantastic characters and it is set in a magical, crazy and totally nonsensical world which is both dangerous and exciting but a place we all want to go to.
“Of course it is also wonderfully written and it gives the reader a chance to use their imagination.
"Over the years it has been interpreted in various different ways,” he adds. "I wanted to do something a bit different to celebrate the 150th anniversary, but remain faithful to the essence of the story - I'm not sure anyone has done anything like this or on this scale before!
"I liked the idea of setting it underground as it fits the story so when the Vaults came up it was the obvious choice.
“These tunnels are amazing and they really take your breath away," he adds. "The entire space is about the size of two football pitches and we have taken over all of it.
"I love the fact that from the outside you'd never know it was there - the full splendour of it is revealed as you go through the doors."
To bring Wonderland to life the team has built areas and rooms within the tunnels through which the audience will travel as they see the story unfold in front of and around them.
They will be divided into groups and go in different directions and every 15 minutes a new group will begin their adventure.
“I don't want to give too much away but will be quite disorientating experience,” says James. “We have created lots of different rooms that people will visit as the story is told to them by the actors.
"It will be a question of ‘where am I?’ as they go through all the different rooms and tunnels. Each space will be different to the last and visually will look amazing - for example in one of the rooms every wall is a door.
"It's very complicated and challenging because the audience gets split up and they go off in different directions and the actors need to be in certain places at specific times. But it makes it exciting.”
At the end of the show they will find themselves in the Queen's Gardens and will be encouraged to stay on, have a drink in the bar or enjoy the live music that will play after the evening shows.
It has been a real labour of love for the team knitting all the elements together and James admits when he first came up with the idea he had no idea it would turn into such an undertaking.
"We've been planning this for so long but as we began creating it we realised the potential and opportunity for developing it in different ways," he says.
"That's why we have a show for those over the age of about 12 and one for younger audiences. The younger ones are the next generation of theatre-goers and we felt it was important to make something for them too.
"There are also the add ons of live music, food and drink in the maze, flamingo croquet and sessions where people can come along and explore the story further.
"It's definitely made our lives harder but in its 150th year we thought we should do something special and exciting - so I hope audiences will enjoy being immersed in this amazing Wonderland."

Alice’s Adventures Underground and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will take place at The Vaults, Leake Street until August 31.
Visit or call the box office on 0871 230 1557 for full listings.

INTERVIEW - Bubbleman

DID you know that there was such a person as a Bubbleologist? Well there is, and his name is Louis Pearl.
The American, a former toy inventor and seller, has been delighting family audiences around the world with his unique bubble shows for 30 years.
And South Londoners will get a chance to see him when he brings his entertaining mix of bubbles, tricks, comedy and science to the Udderbelly Festival this month.
"I can't wait," he enthuses as we chat ahead of the show. "What could be more fun for a kid than seeing bubbles being made in the belly of an inflatable purple cow?
"It's absolutely the best place to do this show and my favourite venue in the UK. There are 400 seats so I can see everyone and they can see me. It's also has the best atmosphere."
It turns out atmosphere is all important if the bubbles are to be their best.
"It's impossible to do a show and create bubbles if there is air conditioning on," says Louis. "The Udderbelly venue is perfect as the air temperature is just right and there is no breeze.
"One of the most important ingredients is humidity as bubbles work best if there is humidity."
So how do you get the perfect bubble?
"The solution is key,” he says. “I prefer to use Fairy Liquid – about 16 parts water to one part Fairy.
"To make the bubbles stay moist and to stop them drying out, I also recommend adding some glycerine.
“But to get the super big bubbles and to get the solution to stretch, you need to add gums such as guar or zanthan gum. Polymers are the secret ingredient.
“It’s all about experimenting though and when I first started out that was what I was doing. In fact my kitchen still looks like a chemistry lab as I still experiment.
“But it’s a lot of fun," he adds chuckling. “I have the best job! I get to go all around the world, play with bubbles and make people laugh. What could be better?”
The show will explore the breath-taking dynamics of bubbles, combine comedy and artistry with audience participation and enough spellbinding bubble tricks to keep everyone mesmerised.
It will also feature live music performed and created by his wife which changes from show to show, depending on how the bubbles change shape and evolve.
It is also completely improvised and not at all scripted so Louis says he never knows what might happen. What he does promise though is that it will be lots of fun.
"As you might expect it’s very playful so I get kids out of the audience to help me," he says.
"We mix the solution, add colour and do all sorts of cool things such as adding stage fog which I love because you can do some amazing tricks and effects with it.
"I also love using helium and lasers to create lots of different effects.
"Some of the bubbles have amazing colours within them, some are huge - the biggest I’ve done is about 70ft in diameter - and some you can put people or other things in.
“I do spinning bubbles, flying saucers and bubbles within bubbles, it's fantastic and fascinating – to see the look of wonder on the audiences’ faces is the best bit though.”
As well as the demonstration Louis also describes what he’s doing and how he’s creating the effects.
“It is a bit like a science lesson,” he admits. “But it’s one of the best science lessons you will ever sit through.
“I do talk a bit. Sometimes I tell the audience how I started, but mainly I let the bubbles do the talking.
“It’s more about the spectacle and creating one amazing bubble after another – it’s brilliant!”

Louis Pearl's The Amazing Bubbleman is on at the Udderbelly Festival between April 15 and 19. Visit for tickets and show times.

Interview - Natalie Abrahami, director of Ah Wilderness! at the Young Vic

IT has been quite a year for Natalie Abrahami. Not only has she directed award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson in the critically acclaimed and sell-out production Happy Days at the Young Vic, she has also been awarded the Waterloo-based theatre's Genesis Fellowship.
The two year grant is part of the Young Vic’s commitment to nurture and support new talent by giving them opportunities to learn their trade on the job.
Set up in 2010 it enables the recipient to work closely with artistic director David Lan and contribute to the company's directors programme as well as direct their own show at the theatre.
Natalie is the third recipient of the award, following in the footsteps of Jo Hill-Gibbins and Carrie Cracknell.
We chat as she is putting the finishing touches to her production of Ah, Wilderness! by American playwright, Eugene O’Neill which opens tonight for a six week run.
A rarely performed piece, it was given its debut in 1933 and is seen as a prelude to O'Neill's A Long Day’s Journey into Night.
It is a warm-hearted account of family life in Connecticut in 1906 and is set over an Independence Day weekend where teenager Richard Miller navigates his way through love and life.
Throughout, it touches on family, memory, trust, love and the painful process of growing up, themes that Natalie says will resonate with those who come and see it.
It’s a real coming of age story where Richard tries to gain independence from his family,” she enthuses.
What makes it such a great play is that the themes within it such as love and growing up are as relevant now as they were when O’Neill wrote it - it still feels very contemporary.
It’s an extraordinary play, funny, poignant and beautifully written and one that David Lan had wanted to do for a while so I’m thrilled to be directing it.”
It takes its title from Quatrain XII of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam one of Richard's favourite poems.
In many ways the poem is the backbone of the piece,” says Natalie. “I think it is encouraging us to enjoy life and live for the moment, something Richard is trying to do.
He tries to find his own voice as a poet and playwright and is absorbing writing, books and authors that were contraband at the time.
It is the influence of these new works that concern his family particularly his mother who thinks they will corrupt him.
We spent a lot of time talking about this in rehearsals, how we have to bring up children and educate them to find their moral values but give them an opportunity to stand on their own two feet,” she adds.
So much of our growing up is based on impression and mimicry and about copying other people’s behaviour. We can’t keep our children inside and totally away from all the influences but we can give them barometers.
Given the times we are living in with the explosion of the internet and the things today’s young people are exposed to, it has been very interesting to explore how parents try to do their best for their children – and that is as much the same now as it was when the play was written.
Basically, all of us, like Richard, are trying to find our way in society and in the world and trying to do our best.”
And Natalie says she is very excited to be bringing the play to the theatre which has been so supportive of her work.
I feel really blessed and lucky to have had this opportunity and to be awarded the Genesis Fellowship,” she says.
It’s an incredible privilege and I have to pinch myself sometimes – especially working with people like Juliet Stevenson – it’s something I never imagined I would ever have the chance to do,” she says.
Growing up I had never done any acting or directing but had a real interest in photography and live imagery. I did some work experience and realised I wanted to work with live theatre and film.”
University followed where she read English and began to do some directing before she got a graduate traineeship at the Royal Court.
She continued her training at the National Theatre Studio before working at organisations including the Royal Court, Royal Opera House, Battersea Arts Centre and now the Young Vic.
And after her stint in Waterloo she is off to direct Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne at the RSC in the autumn but says she hopes to be back soon at the theatre which has given her so much support.
I’ve learned so much from David and the team here – I love the Young Vic and would happily stay here forever!” she says.
I never thought I’d ever have these kinds of opportunities so I feel very lucky and much like Richard – we try and find our way, live for the moment and keep on learning as best we can.”

Ah, Wilderness! is on at the Young Vic until May 23. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.