Wednesday, 27 May 2015

INTERVIEW - David Bamber

FROM films like Back To The Future and Sliding Doors to books such as The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe and TV programmes like Dr Who, time travel has long held a fascination for many people.
This fascination and influence has extended to playwright Alan Ayckbourn who in 1994 wrote Communicating Doors, a comedy thriller in which three of the characters are each able to travel 20 years back in time.
A new production of the play, which won Ayckbourn the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best West End Play Award and the prestigious Molière Award in France has just opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
It boasts a star studded cast including award-winning actor David Bamber who plays the arch baddie of the piece, Julian Goodman.
It is a role that the married father of two admits has been a challenge, not least getting into the mindset of someone quite so evil.
In fact it's testament to his acting abilities that he's able to carry it off because during our conversation it's hard to see him as anything other than friendly and chatty.
"I've played nasty people before but not quite as bad as Julian so this is quite unusual," he laughs.
"However it was one of the things that interested me when I was offered the part and I was intrigued to see if I could do it.
"Julian is particularly ruthless - a terrible murderous henchman - and he has to come across as really scary and horrible so I was a bit nervous about that.
"It's not an enormous part in many ways - partly because it's more about the three women and how their lives interconnect - but when Lindsay Posner [the director] asked me to look at it I really wanted to do it.
"These sort of characters are fun to play, but this has got to work as Julian's got to be frightening and scary - there is no play if he doesn't come across like that.
"The premis is that he has killed his business partner's two wives over a 20 year period and we also find out he killed his mother and that he's about to kill another woman, Poopay.
"It's up to her and the two wives to stop him."
The murders he is alluding to are integral to the piece which is set initially in 2020.
Poopay, a hired dominatrix, arrives at the hotel room of businessman Reece Wells thinking it's just going to be a regular job. However, she finds him practically on his death bed and having a crisis of conscience about all the bad things he's done in his life.
To make amends he asks Poopay to become a signitory on a document he has written which confesses to his part in the murders of his two wives, which were committed by Julian.
However, things don't go according to plan as Julian discovers the document and decides that in order to stop Poopay from spilling the beans he will have to silence her for good, increasing his murder tally along the way.
In a further twist, when Poopay tries to escape by hiding in a cupboard she finds herself 20 years back in time and in the hotel room of Ruella Wells, Reece's second wife.
From there, once the two women have worked out what's going on and how, they resolve to stop Julian from killing them and Reece's first wife Jessica, which in turn alters history and their destiny.
David agrees it's a complicated plot but stresses it's down to Ayckbourn’s writing that makes it accessible and very funny.
"It's such a great play, incredibly well written and terribly clever the way it weaves together," he tells me.
"All the characters are great and very well crafted and there are some wonderful comic moments - particularly with the three women.
"I don't want to give too much away because there are a few twists and turns and a few surprise entrances but it's very theatrical, has plenty of dark humour and has a powerful, strong resolution."
He adds that it is also an homage to Hitchcock and Psycho of which there are a few references.
"It's quite scary which is unusual in theatre," he says. "There's far too much violence and scary stuff on TV, in fact I deplore it, but it's unusual to be scared at the theatre.
"In this there are clear references to Ayckbourn's influences including a nod to Psycho with a scene in which Julian tries to murder Poopay in the shower.
"But Ayckbourn does make a feature of time and location in many of his plays which is very clever and which is one of the things I love about his work."
And David says he too finds time travel intriguing.
"It would be wonderful and very interesting to go to the first night of Hamlet or the Marriage of Figaro and witness that moment," he muses.
"But equally you always want to re-do things in your own lives or maybe do something good for humanity like stopping Hitler.
"However, you don't know how it would trigger other things that may happen - there are always consequences.
"In this play it's all an accident that it happens - no one sets out to do it."
The play marks a welcome return to the Menier for David who last appeared there in Travels With My Aunt in 2013.
"It's a lovely theatre and a great place to work," he enthuses. "The team are great and put on fabulous stuff.
"They don't get any subsidy but continue to put on great productions. I love it here and very pleased to be here in this brilliant show with such a fantastic cast - what could be better?"
As for Julian, I wonder if he gets his just deserts.
David laughs and says: "The ending happens quite quickly. It's quite a shock and there are a couple of surprises where it could go either way. But you'll have to see it to find out."

Communicating Doors is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory until June 27. Tickets from £25. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

Improvathon weekend Lost Theatre

TINSELTOWN is coming to Wandsworth next week with a 50 hour non stop improvised comedy soap opera.
Taking its inspiration from the Hollywood movie studios, Improvathon will feature some of the very best improvisers from the UK and overseas playing a range of characters set in modern day Los Angeles.
They could include screen sirens, budding starlets, struggling writers, down at heel actors, out of work actors, the bar man, movie moghuls and big shot producers – but exactly who and what they are will not be known until the marathon event starts at the Lost Theatre in Wandsworth on 7pm on Friday, May 29.
A core group of about 20 actors and comedians will go without sleep to play the whole 50 hours which will be broken up into 25 episodes of one hour and 45 minutes with a 15 minute break between scenes, with guest performers dropping in from time to time.
This year the line up boasts the likes of improv maestro Mike McShane as well as Cariad Lloyd, Ruth Bratt, Mark Meer, Dan Starkey, Sarah-Louise Young and Sean McCann.
It will run until Sunday, May 31 at 9pm and people can buy tickets for the whole thing, or just for individual ‘episodes’.
It will be directed by Adam Meggido who tells me that anything can and will happen.
“This is the eighth year in a row we have been doing this event and are really pleased to be bringing it to the Lost Theatre,” he says.
“This year we’ve done an homage to Hollywood placing the action in the fictitious Sleepless Studios which is celebrating 100 years in the movie business.
“It’s a fabulous 50 hours in which the actors and comedians turn up with their costumes and an idea of who they are – for example the barman or a director – and an idea of their back story.
“But that’s as far as we plan it. I don't give them any ideas and in fact the less they get the easier it is for them.
“I will call the scene, those in it and where it takes place and that’s it. The actors come on and improvise the episode leading themselves and the audience on a wonderful journey.
“Anything can happen because it’s all made up on the spot. Other characters can come in and out which adds to the fun. Then I call another scene and we go on.”
The idea was originally created by award-winning Canadian group Die Nasty about 25 years ago and was brought to London in 2005.
Every year since it has featured a different setting and a different theme but what doesn’t change is the fact it’s all made up then and there on the stage by those taking part.
Each episode is self contained so the audience can either come and see just one episode or stay for the whole shebang.
The real genius of it though is when tiredness starts to kick in and that’s when things get interesting.
“After the first 24 hours everyone starts to get a bit tired but it’s when they hit 30 hours in that things start to happen,” chuckles Adam.
“After 30 hours the part of your brain that censors you can no longer function - so for improvisation it’s extraordinary and those on stage play with this incredible freedom and abandon,
“When the sun comes up your body kicks in and then you feel tried again. Those who stay awake enter what we call the Gates Of Hell as it becomes weird.
“Some people fall asleep on stage and walk their way through the scene and then don’t remember what happened, some have visual disturbances, hallucinations, get happy, forget what they were going to say and still be hilariously funny.
“Of course we get some of the most absurd, unpredictable and wonderful and hilarious comedy when this happens."
But it’s not just the performers who go through the Gates Of Hell. Anyone who stays up to watch for that length of time will also be affected.
And in a different way, Adam says it’s just as surreal for those who come along wide awake in the early hours and see everyone else fighting their tiredness.
“It’s definitely surreal for everyone,” he says.
“Things that are normally hilarious don’t receive a response because the audience is too tired to laugh. It’s fascinating to see it from all different sides.”
And if that wasn’t enough there is also a family friendly session on Sunday afternoon as part of the show which Adam says is extremely interactive.
But isn’t there a danger that after 40 hours with no sleep some naughty word slip ups may creep in?
Adam laughs and says not.
“It’s a wonderful thing because the cast gets so tired and what they really need is something to focus on, and there is nothing like having to do a family friendly episode to do that,” he says.
“It’s never happened that bad words have come in. In fact it’s always great fun and very interactive with the kids really part of it. It totally reinvigorates everyone for the final stretch. In fact it’s a bit like a love in!
“Whatever happens in the plot it has to be adapted to be child friendly,” he adds. “Even if there is a serial killer on the loose in the main story!
“It’s one of the most remarkable events. It’s what the ancient Greeks used to do, gather together, make up stories and entertain each other.
“It’s a really powerful human experience and for those who come and join in there’s a huge amount to get out of it.
"It’s a joyful way to spend a few hours and you definitely get a form of entertainment that you’d never get anywhere else. It’s brilliant.”

Improvathon takes place at the Lost Theatre, Wandsworth from 7pm Friday, May 29 until 9pm Sunday, May 30.

A 50-hour pass gives access to the entire event for £55.00. Episode passes cost £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7622 9208.

REVIEW, Merchant of Venice, Globe Theatre


SHAKESPEARE’S The Merchant Of Venice is quite a difficult play to watch. Issues of racism and anti Semitism are raised throughout and the treatment of the Jewish Merchant, Shylock, and his demise, nowadays seems degrading and awful.
A new production now on at the Globe tackles these issues head on. It is uncomfortable viewing with Shylock ridiculed, spat on and manhandled throughout and two Jews are roughed up within the opening scene.
The story of Shylock’s brutal and humiliating downfall starts with Bassanio who decides to woo the beautiful Portia. To do so he borrows money from his wealthy friend Antonio. However Antonio’s money is tied up in his ships which are at sea so Antonio in turn takes out a loan with Shylock.
Shylock demands a forfeit should Antonio not be able to repay his loan and they agree on a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Antonio agrees, so sure is he that his ships will come in.
But when Antonio hears his fleet is lost at sea and with it his fortune, Shylock demands his bond in full.
It is up to Portia, disguised as a lawyer to save the Antonio.
Jonathan Pryce puts in an incredible performance as Shylock. Indeed his famous speech of “hath not a Jew eyes” is forceful and strong but so emotionally charged that it is almost heartbreaking.
And watching his humiliation at the hands of Antonio and Bassanio and their friends is chilling, in particular Shylock’s enforced baptism when he is robbed of the one thing he holds above all else – his religion.
Despite the sadness and anger there are moments of laugh out loud humour and Jonathan Munby’s production makes the most of them.
Stand out scenes were Shylock’s servant Gobbo, played brilliantly by Stefan Adegbola who takes two groundlings out of the pit and ropes them into his own dilemma of whether or not to leave his master, and a hilarious performance by Globe regular, Christoper Logan as Aragon, one of Portia’s suitors.
Ultimately this is about one man though and Jonathan Pryce is outstanding.

The Merchant Of Venice is on at The Globe, Bankside, until June 7. Tickets from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.

REVIEW - Macbeth, Rose Theatre


THE magnificence and atmosphere of the Rose Theatre is used to full advantage in a new production from theatre company The Malachites, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Dark, brooding, eerie and dramatic, the Park Street theatre is the perfect place to stage this play with its themes of power, obsession and madness.
In a bold move the three witches are played by men and they open proceedings right at the back of the space beyond the water and as far away from the audience as it’s possible to get.
From there it romps along at a fair pace largely due to the pruning of the text that has been done to contain the action to a mere 90 minutes.
In many ways this is unsatisfactory because inevitably with such a cut, scenes and characters are trimmed or left out altogether.
It also means that the characters are not developed enough for us to either care about them or to really know what drives them to do what they do.
That said this production is still a pretty meaty affair thanks to the great cast, headed up by Benjamin Blyth as Macbeth and Orla Jackson as his wife Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth’s lack of ambition to be King is the polar opposite of that of his wife and here it is made extremely clear. She is steely and determined and while he roars on occasion it’s clear she’s in the driving seat when it comes to power and ambition.
Macbeth’s descent into a madness and despair at what he has done is also brilliantly conveyed and during the scene where he sees Banquo’s ghost he dives under the table a quivering wreck.
Overall this is an extremely effective production and made all the more so in its staging.

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

BFI Marilyn Monroe

ONE of Hollywood's most iconic actresses is to be celebrated next month with a season of her films.
Throughout June, BFI Southbank will show 15 of Marilyn Monroe's movies including Some Like It Hot, There's No Business Like Show Business and The Misfits, the latter of which will play on an extended run.
As part of the season there will be an opportunity to see some of her lesser known and rarely-screened early works including We’re Not Married and Clash By Night.
And if that wasn't enough fans will get a chance to take a look behind the legend of Marilyn Monroe, who has been described as sex symbol, Hollywood starlet and tragic heroine, with dedicated talks and study days.
The season, which begins on Monday, June 1 has been curated by BFI events programmer, Laura Adams who says she's excited about bringing Marilyn and her movies to the South Bank.
"I think it's about time we had a season dedicated to Marilyn," she tells me. "Her story has been pored over countless times but I wanted to show that far from being just a ditzy blond or the face to sell Coca Cola, that she was actually a very good comic actor.
"I think she was misunderstood as an actress. In fact I think her acting ability has been overlooked and underrated in the past and so this season will help to dispel some of these misconceptions."
Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortensen on June 1, 1926. She overcame a difficult childhood of growing up in various foster homes, to become one of the world's biggest stars and most enduring sex symbols.
She invented her own image of femininity and in the years since her untimely death in 1962 aged just 36, she has gone on to influence women across the world including performers such as Madonna and Rita Ora.
"What's great about the season is that we chart her career right from her first films," says Laura.
"These films include We're Not Married, Monkey Business and Clash By Night and they were quite dark.
"Others include Don't Bother To Knock, in which she plays a slightly damaged young woman who lost her fiancé in the war.
"These films show the studios weren't sure about her potential yet and were putting her in titles that used her beauty but not her comedy.
"You can see she hasn't quite created that Marilyn Monroe image we know from later films with the platinum blond hair and slightly arched eyebrows."
However, Laura says it was her role as a femme fatale in Niagara in 1953 that really began to propel her towards stardom and her performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the same year that launched her comedy career.
"She is the star in them and she's just fantastic," says Laura.
"You can see she's developed this luminescent star quality, warmth and humanity and she's also actually really secured her sexual confidence in these films."
As well as a chance to see how she developed her star status, Laura says the season will also give people a chance to find out more about Marilyn the person at a series of talks.
"Marilyn trained at the Actors Studio in New York which was amazing because they don't take just anyone," she says. "She was also very savvy about her career.
"She tried to break away from the studio system and tried to have some control over her career but quite a lot of time she didn't have the choice and instead had to find a way to play the system.
"She formed her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, which produced The Prince and the Showgirl, in which she starred alongside Laurence Olivier.
"She was also an incredible campaigner for civil rights and was very active particularly in the promotion of Ella Fitzgerald's career.
"Ella wasn't able to play in leading bars because of the ban on black singers. However, Marilyn insisted Ella be allowed to play in her favourite bar. She told the owner she would book out the front table every night which she did and invited the press down.
"It resulted in Ella's career going stratospheric.
"I think it will be really nice for people who are not necessarily familiar with her work to take a look and find out more about her and realise how smart she was as well as what a good actress she was.
"Some of her films weren't the best but you can say that about most actors so the idea that she was just a celebrity without talent is nonsense."
And Laura says it was a "work of seconds" to draw up the list of films for the season.
"It was really easy to choose them," she laughs. "It's a list of really great works telling a story from her early career to her last days on screen.
"My favourite is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - I think she's a comedy genius as you can't learn that timing.
"Inevitably she remains an icon because she's no longer with us and we now have this set in stone image.
"She's become ageless because she was lost earlier than expected. She's one of a kind, utterly transfixing and when you see her on screen with other actors it becomes clear.
"Had she not died so young I think she would have made many more films and I hope she would have found success with her plans with an independent studio."

The Marilyn Monroe season starts on Monday, June 1. Visit for full listings


IT would be difficult to find anyone more upbeat and cheerful than comedian Josie Long.
It might be something to do with the fact the Sidcup-born three-time Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee has been entertaining people on the stand up circuit since she was 14, bar a brief stint at university.
But whatever it is, during our chat she comes across as friendly, likeable and one of life’s optimists and it seems impossible to imagine the 33-year-old ever being grumpy or miserable.
But she tells me she isn’t always so happy, as was the case when she and her then boyfriend parted company in the summer of 2013.
However not one to let an opportunity pass her by, she decided to use the experience as the back drop for her latest show, Cara Josephine, which she is bringing to the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room next week.
It has resulted in a much more personal show, emphasised in the title which she tells me is inspired by her baby niece, and with whom she is clearly besotted.
“She’s my sister’s baby and in the show I talk about how cools she is,” Josie laughs.
“I really wanted to do something to celebrate her arrival in the world and thought this was something I could do to say I love her.
“She's the most amazing and incredible baby!” she adds. “And her arrival helped me move on from the break up.
“My sister really helped me too and I talk about her in the show as well. She is very different to me and doesn't take my nonsense. She's matter of fact and practical whereas I'm more sensitive.
“I realised we are at the start of a whole new generation and that we should look out for each other. It sounds so serious but the show is about appreciating what we do have.
“She's cool with me talking about her on stage.”
As well as her sister and her baby, Josie reflects on her own childhood, but the main starting point is about the breakup and it’s here that Josie momentarily becomes a bit more serious.
“Throughout the show I explain how I tried to move on from it,” she says. “It’s a serious subject but I make it silly with a lot of fun and theatrical touches to it.
“I hope I am able to reassure people if they are going through same sorts of things.”
She says the process of writing it was cathartic although she admits it has been an intense experience bearing all on stage and there have been moments when she has felt it was “dragging” her back to old emotions.
“It gave me perspective though which has been a good thing,” she says.
And while she’s not giving tips she explains through a series of anecdotes what she did.
This involved reading a lot of poetry, taking part in outdoor adventures and “getting in touch” with her emotions.
At which point she starts laughing again.
"It makes me sound pathetic and poncy but it wasn't like that," she chuckles. "But I really like reading poetry - stuff by Walt Whitman who wrote about nature and positive things which is just my style.
“I also weirdly got really into climbing which really surprised me.
“I went with these two guys. We had all had a relationship that had just ended and we talked about our feelings. It was like a support group but the really good thing was it toughened us up - we called it the Heartbreak Climbing Club!
“I also went camping on my own – in fact anything that got me outside and learning to be on my own a bit more. I wanted to enjoy being a whole person and not having to rely on someone else.
“I joined a group that camp under the stars. I had never done that before and was really frightened initially, dreaming the police would come but it was very empowering. You should do it!" she adds enthusiastically.
The show’s subject matter has been a departure for Josie who has traditionally focussed on politics in her act but she says she has loved the experience.
"I have never written an explicitly personal show before,” she says. “However, it was just what I wanted to talk about at the time and I didn't have anything new to say about politics.”
However, she admits it’s hard to let go of her political opinions and says the recent General Election is a case in point.
"It was thoroughly depressing for me," she says. “It's so hard not to be angry about being under a government I'm ideologically opposed to.
"Austerity has caused massive suffering in this country and people are either not aware of it or have decided not to care and that’s sad.”
But true to form, Josie doesn't feel down for long, advocating “doing something about it” rather than moping about.
“I believe we have got a massive social responsibility to look after each other especially those affected badly by austerity,” she says. “We can't waste time feeling sad or angry.
"I want to do as much as I can to help those who need it."
And this is shown in her work with Arts Emergency Service, a charity helping young people access further education which she set up with her friend Neil Griffiths in 2011.
It helps support and encourage people to study through a team of mentors which she describes as an “alternative old boys network”.
"It started with just the two of us mentoring young people,” she says. “We had 12 young people initially and now we have more than 500 mentors and loads of students.
“I love it and I’m really proud of it. It’s my most favourite thing I have ever done and I want more people to get involved.
“But it shows what can be done – anyone can come up with an idea and go for it. You will be amazed at the amount of people who want to help.”
Some of this will feed into her show at the Southbank Centre, a venue she admits she's never played before.
"I love the Southbank Centre," she enthuses. "I love the poetry library and going to see classical music there. I'm so excited to be there - it's going to be amazing."
I ask Josie whether the show has a happy ending.
"Yes, I guess it does," she says warmly. "It has been an amazing process and I discovered a whole load of things that I liked doing, things I probably wouldn't have done otherwise - so I'm very happy.”
And this includes having found love again.
"I'm moving to West Norwood with my boyfriend very soon so it's all good,” she adds.
"I lived in Peckham for a long time before moving to Hackney a few years ago. I always thought I'd be there forever but it's too expensive - I can't afford to buy anything unless Hollywood comes calling," she laughs.
"Besides I was born in South London and I guess it never leaves you so it will be nice to come back."

Josie Long is at the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre on June 3 and 4. Tickets cost £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

REVIEW - World Factory


GOING to see World Factory at the Young Vic is not like going to see a traditional piece of theatre. In fact it’s more like a game – a cross between a visit to the casino and playing monopoly.
It’s interactive too with the audience sitting at tables, each one representing a Chinese clothing factory.
To begin with we are given a short but powerful glimpse into the origins of the fast fashion industry starting with the Manchester cotton mills and including footage and interviews with those in real Chinese factories before we get hurled headlong into the game.
Each table is given a box in which there are among other things fake money and a file of 24 “employees”.
The cast, who act like croupiers at a casino, deal each table a card which sets out a scenario and invites us to choose one of two options.
Whichever one we choose – and it has to be a team decision – will inform which card and therefore which dilemma, we get next and so on.
It could be what to do about an underage employee or how much of a bonus to give the workers when they go off on their two-week spring break.
In between times the cast, our dealers, may come over and tell us and impart information or try to bribe us.
It’s fun, utterly fascinating and absorbing, very, very fast and sociable with decisions about imaginary workers being taken that will have implications for them, their co-workers and the fortunes of the factory itself.
At the end we get to see how our decisions have affected the factory and which team has been the most ruthless and therefore made the most money at the expense of their workers.
And while it’s not out to lecture people and say what we should and shouldn’t do, we do get a chance to see and hear at first hand the cost of fast fashion both to its consumers and more crucially the planet.

World Factory is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, until Saturday, June 6. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

REVIEW - Everyman, National Theatre


RUFUS Norris has played a blinder with Everyman, his first offering as artistic director of the National Theatre.
A 15th century morality tale, Everyman is the story of a man, or woman, who is visited by Death and told he must prepare to meet his maker.
But instead of going quietly, he tries, unsuccessfully to enlist the help of his friends and family to stop it happening.
This current production on the Olivier stage has been jazzed up for the 21st century by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
And with a fabulous cast headed up by the award winning and Oscar nominated actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, a fantastic set, brilliant music and direction, it is a real corker.
It begins with a char woman, looking bored out of her brains, laboriously sweeping the vast expanse of the Olivier stage.
It soon transpires she is actually God, though she gives the impression of a drudge throughout the piece. She calls on Death to visit Everyman and give him the bad news.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the title role brilliantly. We first see him fall slowly from the ceiling on wires – the reason for which becomes clear at the end – and descending into a pit in the middle of the stage.
Then the music starts blaring out and he comes up with his posse to celebrate his 40th birthday with a rave in a club. Drink, drugs and rock n roll are the order of the day - that is until Death comes a knocking.
Pitching up in a forensic white suit, Death follows Everyman around like a bad smell as he tries in vain to avoid his reckoning, begging for help from those he knows.
It is a stunning production, by turns both hilariously funny and poignant and boasts a stellar cast. Stand out performances are those by Chiwetel, Kate Duchene as God and Dermot Crowley as Death.
If this is the kind of fare we can expect from Rufus Norris's tenure we are in for a treat.

Everyman is on at the National Theatre until August 30. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 0207 452 3000. It will be broadcast as part of NT Live on July 16.  

INTERVIEW Reginald D Hunter

IF there’s one word that sums up Reginald D Hunter it would be uncompromising. Known for his deadpan humour, outspoken nature, brutal honesty and willingness to tackle serious and challenging subjects such as race and gender politics head on, he has been making us laugh and courting controversy while doing so for nearly two decades.
He initially came over here from his native Georgia in America to study drama at RADA. However, he didn’t get the work so he turned his attention to stand up and the rest as they say is history.
The 46-year-old award-winning comic and Have I Got News For You regular is currently in the midst of his first stand up tour since 2013 and is coming to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on June 11.
But while he is full of chat and jokes, delivered in that smooth, velvety and frankly seductive Southern drawl, he is somewhat tight lipped about the contents of the show, The Man Who Attempted To Do As Much As Such.
“You can expect a relentless, humorous intellectual show,” he says when I ask what it’s about and what the cryptic title means.
I press him further for more details but all he’ll say is: “There will be lots of laughing but generally more of the same sort of stuff I’ve done before but a bit different.
"I prefer that you come and see the show and then we can talk about it!”
We chat as he’s taking a break ahead of the Croydon gig and is “somewhere in the north of England” and it's clear he has plenty to say on all manner of subjects and says he's keen to share them with his Croydon audience.
At times he is thoughtful in his answers, at others he is so quick on the quips he renders me unable to speak from laughing so much.
“It’s going good,” he begins enthusiastically. “It’s a grey day but fortunately I’ve brought my own sunshine so it’s looking a lot brighter!”
Known for pushing the boundaries on stage Reginald’s previous tour had its fair share of controversy but far from being bothered about it he brushes it off with his trademark easy charm.
In fact he doesn’t seem to mind about any reaction to his shows, instead he prefers to think of people just “having a bad day” if they don’t get the jokes.
“I just do what I do and often I don’t think I do controversial stuff until people have thought about it and then it’s controversial,” he says.
“I don’t look for it – it comes and finds me!” he adds in mock indignation.
“If it was more than one or two people only watching 10 minutes before storming out of a show then it would be bad,” he adds a tad more seriously.
“But I think in this age people are more willing to be outraged and vent their dissatisfaction, particularly on Twitter or Facebook and it doesn’t matter if it’s valid or not.
“I think the woman who walked out of my show on the last tour, maybe she just had a bad day – it’s hard to care. It don’t bother me. I just do what I do.
“It’s true though that in 2013 I ran into more difficulties than I ever had but it was obviously just my time. This time around it’s been real quiet but we’ve only just started the tour so there’s plenty of time for vitriol!”
Since his last UK tour he has taken time out to film a BBC documentary Songs Of The South where he got to meet and interview blues legend Dr John and to travel around Eastern Europe.
“Moscow and East Europe – now that's a whole other thing,” he chuckles. “I just wanted to go, no other reason.
“I wanted to explore a strange new world, a new life and new comedy venues. I went with an interpreter and ended up in places like Moscow and Serbia.
“I like going away and I wanted an excuse to go to Russia and see for myself if they have got as big a problem as the US government makes out.
“However, a lot of them haven’t heard even about the Cold War.
“But I love being on the road and seeing new places. If you are going to be a social commentator and give your impressions about things then you have to travel and visit these places.”
Coming back to stand up after this period abroad and making his TV series, Reginald says he’s relishing the chance to appear on the British stage again and is looking forward to re-visiting Croydon.
“I came to Croydon on my last tour,” he says. “I decided to play here again because crucially they would have me.
“Plus I had a good time last time and it’s a nice building to withstand the destructive things I might be saying.
“I love stand up,” he adds warmly. “Every time something new works on stage it’s a real high and very satisfying.
“In fact I realised and was reminded the other day of how much I actually love it – although maybe you should ask me at the end of this tour,” he adds chuckling.
And he says after his recent trip away, it’s especially nice to be back on what he considers to be home turf.
“I came to the UK initially to do RADA but secretly in my mind I thought I’d stay a bit longer,” he chuckles.
“I didn’t know what would happen if I went back to America. I suppose I’d have to find a job, deal with the police, stay with the church and get a watermelon stomach.....” he tails off laughing.
“Not being able to find work after RADA made my mind up,” he says. “I wasn’t tall or short enough, I was too dark or too white, someone didn’t like my nose. So I looked for something else and found comedy.
“Stand up is a meritocracy – if you’re funny you will get work. It’s my first love and what I was meant to do and that’s why I’m here. I love you guys!"
So would he ever go back I ask?
“Britain is my real home and my comedy home," he says. "British audiences like to be surprised comedically while Americans just want you to get to the funny part.
“I’m also not a social outcast here because I use words of more than five letters.... it’s one of the things I love about you Brits – that and the way you always find something to do with your comedians – like put them on shows like Have I Got News For You.
“And why everyone asks me about my appraisal of the British sense of humour. I don’t know why y’all have such an obsession about it," he laughs. "Yours is so much better than the Americans’ – it’s so sophisticated, dry and fabulous!”

Reginald D Hunter is at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon on Thursday, June 11. Tickets cost £26.25. Visit or call the box office on 020 8688 9291.

REVIEW Communicating Doors, Menier Chocolate Factory


IMAGINE what it must be like to travel back in time. That’s the premis of Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors now on at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Call Girl Poopay arrives at the hotel suite of aging and seriously ill businessman Reece only to find that instead of sex he wants her to sign a confession in which he explains how his butler Julian murdered his ex wives at his behest.
However things don’t quite go according to plan because when Reece collapses, Julian finds the letter and Poopay finds herself Julian’s next target.
Trying to find a way to escape she opens the door to what she thinks is a cupboard and in which she can hide, only to find she’s stepped back into the same hotel suite but 20 years previously.
In that suite she finds Reece’s second wife Ruella who in turn once she has been appraised of the situation goes through the same door to find herself in the same suite but 20 years in the past with Reece and his first wife Jessica celebrating their wedding.
With such a plot it could easily have been called Complicated Doors but it’s actually very simple to follow.
And it is a very funny play with some really hilarious moments made even more so thanks to the brilliant cast and direction.
Rachel Tucker plays Poopay who unwittingly finds herself at the centre of the action and who manages to change the course of history in the process.
Imogen Stubbs is brilliant as second wife Ruella, David Bamber does evil to a T as Julian the butler and Lucy Briggs-Owen puts in a great performance as first wife Jessica.
It’s fast, funny and brilliantly put together – a real treat!

Communicating Doors is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory until June 27. Tickets from £25. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

REVIEW - Carrie The Musical


IF you are in any way squeamish or don’t like the sight of blood, I’d advise against a visit to see Carrie The Musical now on at the Southwark Playhouse.
There is plenty of it, particularly at the end, and those in the front row seats are liable to get a splatter or two.
However for everyone else I would heartily recommend this production as it packs a serious punch.
It is based on Stephen King’s iconic novel Carrie, which tells the story of young Carrie White and her coming of age.
Bullied at school by a group of hideous girls and abused at home by an ultra religious and somewhat deranged mother, Carrie is an outcast, a shy, lonely and timid creature.
However, when she gets her first period she realises she has telekinetic powers. Initially this freaks her out but in time she realises how she can use them to her advantage and with devastating consequences.
The special effects are clever and dramatic but director Gary Lloyd has not made them the main focus of the piece.
Instead he allows the characters and tragic story to take centre stage and it results in the audience being taken on an emotional rollercoaster.
The score is incredible and the acting and singing are superb from an incredibly strong, and top notch young cast. It is all the more impressive when you realise that six of them are still at drama school and are making their professional debuts.
Stand out performances come from Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie and Kim Criswell who plays Carrie’s mother Margaret. Their scenes together are electric and heartbreaking.
Touching, moving, poignant and dramatic, this is a fantastic and emotionally charged production which will have you laughing one minute to fighting back tears the next.

Carrie The Musical is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until May 30. Tickets cost £22. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

INTERVIEW - Morgan & West, Udderbelly Festival

THERE is still time to catch a couple of time-travelling magicians at the Udderbelly festival before they head off to another time and space.
Victorian magic duo Morgan & West will unload another boxful of bafflement and impossibility at their Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show - For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups!).
Shows will take place on Saturday, may 16 and May 23 and audiences will get to witness a mountain of mysterious magic, a hatful of hyper-reality, and of course a truck full of tricks and tea.
Mixing brain busting illusion and good old fashioned tom-foolery, Morgan & West present a show for all the family, where magic and silliness abound.
"It's a brand new show we've developed specifically for kids," says Rhys West. "They are a very intriguing audience - they always tell you what they think and aren't afraid to tell you how things should be done.
"Also everything has to be robust and has to work! But it's great fun and they are the best audience so we decided that we should do something specially for them so here it is."
However, what the show will actually feature Rhys wants to keep top secret - to add to the mystery and intrigue.
What he will say is that the characters of Morgan & West are from 1888 and thanks to their time machine they land in early 21st century.
"It's a bit like Dr Who," laughs Rhys. "We travel all over time and all over the world and have settled down in the present day.
"The premis is that Mr West hates kids but doesn't realise he's playing to a bunch of kids.
"There is a lot of visual magic and with lots of twists and turns in the tricks plus plenty of classic ones.
"It's very silly and very funny - although we don't tell jokes as we are not good at that. But we are good at magic and so we try and bring the humour in that way.
"Other than that it's a bit difficult to explain what's going to happen as I don't want to give away the punchline!
"Everyone will enjoy it though - even the grown ups!" he promises.
The pair met at university where they were both doing science degrees.
"I was doing Maths and Rob did Chemistry and we were both intent on being teachers," says Rhys.
"I was really into Derren Brown and Rob was into poker and after we met we did our first show in 2009 and that was that."
Since then they have been wowing audiences with their surreal blend of magic and wit and say they are excited about their forthcoming visits to the South Bank's purple cow.
"Now we are really excited to be bringing this show to the Udderbelly festival. It has a really great variety of performers so it's fantastic to be there amongst them," he adds.
"We've not done Udderbelly before but it's a great venue, very silly and so perfect for our show."

Morgan & West's Utterly Spiffing Spectacular Magic Show - For Kids (and Childish Grown-ups!) takes place on Saturday, May 16 and Saturday, May 23.
Visit for listings.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

INTERVIEW - Baluji Shrivastav - Alchemy Festival

ALCHEMY, the Southbank Centre’s showcase of the cultural connections between the UK and South Asia, has returned for a sixth year.
Between now and May 25 the festival presents an array of exciting collaborations and new work from a variety of artists from both continents, across dance, fashion, music, theatre, design, comedy and literature.
Throughout the 11-day festival there will also be a wide ranging programme of free workshops, exhibitions, talks and debates for all the family as well as an Eastern inspired food market.
Among this year’s highlights will be the workshopping and performance of the first ever Urdu oratorio.
Taking place on Monday, May 18, The Tragic Love of Sohini And Mahival has been written and composed by London-based blind musician and instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav.
To create it and tell the story, Baluji has collaborated with Italian Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli who has composed the music.
It will be a sung story in Urdu, which is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Nonetheless, some of the singers Baluji has recruited for the performance have had to learn to sing in Urdu for the first time.
As well as the music and song, dancing by Gauri Sharma Tripathi, puppetry by Jonny Dixon, and a company of accomplished musicians from different traditions, will help bring the story to life, especially to non-Urdu speakers.
Baluji describes the show as more like an open rehearsal and development session, giving the audience an insight into the creative process of making such a piece.
Their feedback will be part of the on going process to create the final version, which, in its full glory, will hopefully go on tour next year.
“I’ve never done anything like this before but I’m thrilled about it,” he tells me.
“It’s something that I’ve been researching and developing for a while now and to create the first Urdu oratorio and bring it to Alchemy is very exciting.
“A lot of participation is required too – it’s an immersive piece and I hope people will want to be involved and give their feedback on what we have done with the piece so far.
“It’s a new experience for me so I don’t know how it will go – but that makes it exciting.”
The story is inspired by a popular folktale from Sindh, Punjab, Pakistan and India, Sohini And Mahival.
Like Romeo and Juliet, it is a story of forced marriage, honour killings, forbidden love and passion.
In the tale, Sohini, a married Hindu girl, and Mahival, a Muslim boy, fall deeply in love, defying convention, and paying the ultimate price.
“It’s a fascinating story and comes from the 17th century but is as relevant now as it was then,” says Baluji.
“It’s got elements and themes comparable with what is happening in Asian communities now with female oppression, honour killings and forced marriage.
“In the story Sohini was married off before her birth. So before her parents knew there was a daughter on the way, they promised her to someone and she got married regardless of what she thought about it.
“These things are still going on so awareness of the issues is important.
“The younger generation is quite willing to change and change is happening – but the older generations keep imposing themselves and the younger generations fight against it.”
Although it will be sung in Urdu, Baluji says people will be able to follow the story with the images and puppetry even if they don’t understand the language.
“Urdu is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world so why shouldn’t we have an opera sung in that language?” he says.
“We have operas in many other languages and people don’t question it. Even so we have to make it obvious what it’s about.
“Historically Urdu is a mix of languages and has some English words. We wanted to add the visual aspects so people can understand - there will be no need for subtitles!
“I am visually impaired and I can feel music and feel the story and I think emotionally the audience will understand what’s going on.”
The music will be a mix of styles, something Baluji says was also a new experience, and features a variety of Indian and Western instruments including sitar and piano.
“I was looking for a composer who could collaborate with me and am so pleased that I was able to meet Dario as working with him has been wonderful and a new inspiration for me,” he says.
“It was lovely working with a new form of music because I normally only play Indian style music.
“Indian music is originally rich in melody and western music in harmony and the mix is fantastic. I want the audience to understand that music is music whether it’s Indian or Western or something else.”
It’s not the first time Baluji has performed at the Alchemy festival but he admits it’s very different from his previous shows.
“It’s been an incredibly interesting project and I hope people will come along, see what it’s all about and get involved.
“If it works then we would like to take it on tour. Let’s hope internationally!
“This is a wonderful project and what could be the nicest place to bring it to than the Southbank Centre, a place where people come from all over the world?
“Alchemy is an exciting festival and that’s why we want to perform here and luckily we have got a chance to do so – it’s very exciting.”

The Tragic Love of Sohini And Mahival takes place on Monday May 18 in the Blue Room, Spirit Level at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.
Tickets cost £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

PREVIEW - Circus Geeks, Udderbelly Festival

TAKE three jugglers, some chairs, a tea bag, graphs, statistics and even some fish and what do you have? Circus Geeks and their new show Beta Testing.
The threesome – Matt Pang, John Udry and Aaron Sparks – will be bringing the show to the Udderbelly stage later this month where they aim to wow audiences with their incredible tricks and share their obsession with throwing and catching.
Funny, geeky and smart, Beta Testing aims to lift the lid on life as a juggler and give an insight into how the tricks are learnt by mixing music, theatre, comedy with circus skills and a bit of maths thrown in for good measure.
“It’s a bit difficult to describe us and our act,” says Aaron cheerfully.
“We always mix elements of comedy and visuals to create our shows and this will be no different. So the audience can expect something unusual and hopefully it will be unlike anything they have ever seen before.
“We juggle a lot of different stuff – some of it everyday items including things like chairs, tea bags, mugs and there is even a scene involving fish – but don’t worry – you don’t need to get the animal welfare police!” he laughs.
Aaron admits it’s not an easy art to master – not least using chairs which are unwieldy – but he says making mistakes is part of the fun and especially so in Beta Testing.
“Juggling is risky and sometimes things do go wrong,” he says. “In this show we go through the probabilities of mistakes happening and how likely it is that we will perform the tricks successfully.
“It’s quite a geeky and nerdy show – as part of the act, we use a lot of graphs and stats to show how we are getting on – charting our successes and failures.
“One of the most exciting elements is when things go wrong – then it’s a question of how you deal with it. It makes it fun for the audience too.”
As well as all the fun and trickery, during the show the trio explore what it’s like to be a juggler with a bit of a history of how they got together.
“I was really into the yoyo craze when I was younger and that developed into juggling,” says Aaron. “Juggling is quite labour intensive – it takes hours of practice, between two and six hours every day, six days a week.
“But it’s great fun and when I met Matt and John we decided to get together as Circus Geeks.”
“We can’t wait to come to the Udderbelly Festival,” he adds. “It’s such a fantastic venue.
“I have been to see things there in previous years. What’s great about it is that it’s all sorts of different shows and performances so we’ll fit right in!”

Circus Geeks Beta Testing is on at the Udderbelly Festival between May 26 and June 21. Tickets cost £13.50. Visit or call the box office on 0844 545 8252.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

PREVIEW - Avenue Q, Greenwich Theatre

MEET Princeton, a bright-eyed college graduate who comes to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account.
Except Princeton isn't your average chap. In fact he's a puppet and is the star of Avenue Q, a witty, satirical coming of age parable which has been entertaining audiences since it first opened off Broadway in 2003.
Since then it has transferred to the West End and won a Tony Award 'triple crown' for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.
It is now on a six month tour of the UK with a stop at Greenwich Theatre, the home of its producers, Sell A Door.
But if you look at the puppets and are considering taking the kids to see the show, you may want to think again.
"It's a lovely show, very funny and with a story and message that is universal but the language used is a bit more fruity than you'd expect from perhaps a traditional puppet show," laughs director Cressida Carre.
"In fact some of the language is distinctly unchild friendly and definitely not suitable for young children so we've recommended it for those aged 14 and up."
The Charlton-based director says that aside the show is "fantastic" and has been a joy to be part of.
"We have a great cast who are really talented and we are incredibly excited to bring it to Greenwich," she says.
The story revolves around Princeton who discovers that the only New York neighbourhood in his price range is Avenue Q and he soon finds himself moving in with some truly quirky characters.
There’s Brian the out-of-work comedian and his therapist fiancée Christmas Eve, Nicky the good-hearted slacker and his closet gay Republican room-mate Rod, an internet ‘sexpert’ called Trekkie Monster and a very cute kindergarten teacher named Kate Monster."
"It's a story of a boy growing up, his hopes and dreams for the future and what he goes through to get there," says Cressida.
"Along the way he meets some pretty colourful characters who help him find purpose in life. It's a real feel good story, realising what we have to do in life, how we treat people and all the emotions that goes with that.
"It's an incredibly well written script and an amazing score and it takes you from laughing til your stomach hurts to near tears. It's brilliant."
Much like the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, who many have likened them to, they are operated by one or two actors who have been put through their paces by a puppet coach.
And it is the first time Cressida has worked with puppets and says although it's been a challenge she has "loved every second".
"Using puppets is very challenging," she says. "It's a real skill and the actors have to channel all the emotion and expressions through the puppets - they dance and sing too - it's quite special.
"Directing them has been amazing and what's fantastic is that after about five minutes you forget the actors are even on the stage as you concentrate on the puppets.
"It's been an incredible and fascinating experience and very clever and I know audiences are going to love it."

Avenue Q is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, from Tuesday, May 12 until Sunday, May 24. Tickets from £28.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 8858 7755.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

REVIEW - Ah Wilderness, Young Vic


EUGENE O'Neill's coming of age play, Ah, Wilderness is regarded as the American playwright's only real comedy.
It also feels a lot lighter than his other pieces - it is gentle in tone, almost soothing and dreamy in places, seems shorter and the characters don't feel so developed.
It is perhaps because of this that it is also rarely performed. Thank goodness then for a new production now on at the Young Vic directed by Natalie Abrahami which enables this to shine.
And shine it does thanks to a fabulous cast and an ingenious set made up predominantly of a mountain of sand.
Set in Connecticut on Independence Day in 1906 the story is about Richard Miller, a 16-year-old obsessed with poetry, challenging ideas and full of rampaging hormones and teenage angst.
He belongs to a fairly ordinary American family. His parents have high ambitions for their children, are kind and loving but his mother is suspicious of all the books Richard is reading and freequently makes her disapproval known.
Richard is a typical teenager, prone to outbursts, desperate to break free from his parents and conformity but unsure quite how to do so.
But after apparently being dumped by his girlfriend Muriel he sneaks out after the family's 4th of July meal and goes to the local den of iniquity where he tries alcohol for the first time and almost gets seduced.
Meanwhile his mother waits anxiously at the window, desperate for her son to come home, and his father assures her that all will be well.
The acting is superb. Janie Dee is delightful as Richard's mum, constantly worrying about him and trying to keep the family in order and Dominic Rowan is hilarious as the drunken Uncle Sid who can't settle down.
But it is George MacKay as Richard who is the show stealer. He perfectly conveys Richard's adolescence and his mix of romantic ideals, outbursts and vulnerability. It is a real gem of a performance in a great production.

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

The National Theatre's Clore Learning Centre

AS anyone who takes a stroll along the South Bank from time to time will no doubt have seen, the National Theatre is undergoing a bit of a makeover.
The first phase of the £80million refurbishment programme, NT Future, which includes a new riverside entrance to the main building, foyer and bookshop area, has seen the complete redevelopment of the former Cottesloe theatre, now known as the Dorfman.
It has been followed by the new production building, the Max Rayne Centre and the Sherling High-Level Walkway, linking the Dorfman foyer with the National’s production workshops, offering people a previously unseen view into what goes on behind the scenes.
It has also seen the creation of the Clore Learning Centre next to the Dorfman to give the National a permanent home for its education programme.
The Clore opened in the autumn and offers a variety of programmes, courses and events for schools, families, young people and adults to inspire people of all ages to get involved and find out more about theatre making.
A few weeks ago I took my 10-year-old daughter Lucy to check it out at a pirate puppet making workshop.
It was part of the Clore’s Family Days which take place once a month and includes a mix of drop-in activities and ticketed workshops designed for children aged between six and 12 and adults to enjoy together.
Other sessions include having a go at designing a costume, composing music and finding out how music is used in the productions, prop making and learning how actors perform realistic fight scenes on stage.
This particular workshop’s theme had been inspired by the National’s stunning production of Treasure Island which wowed audiences last winter.
The aim was to work with a puppeteer to create a pirate’s parrot, and learn how to operate it before acting out a scene from the show.
The session was hosted in the Clore's Cottesloe Room by Laura Cubbitt, an actress and puppeteer whose CV includes The National’s productions of War Horse and The Elephantom - and what she doesn’t know about puppets and how to operate them frankly isn’t worth knowing!
There were about 20 of us in the group and to begin Laura had devised a series of games to help us get to know each other – including talking about the characteristics of our favourite animals and then imitating them.
When we were all relaxed, warmed up and ready for action it was time to get down to business.
Laura showed us with the help of three different sized pieces of brown paper, a paper cup, coloured tissue paper, pipe cleaners, a pair of scissors and more sellotape than you can shake a stick at how to create our own parrot puppet.
Then it was our turn. In small groups we gathered our materials and set about trying to copy her.
It was trickier than it looked and Lucy and I needed several goes to make the wings of our bird before we managed to get it right but it was great fun.
Once we had assembled the basic body, head, wings and claws we were able to add embellishments such as strips of coloured tissue for extra plumage. We also drew eyes and some people even added feathers on the heads of their creations.
When everyone had finished we introduced our puppets to the rest of the group. Lucy and I named ours Sykes, because in Lucy’s words, he was a bit of a cheeky chappie, definitely rough around the edges and was a bit of a character.
Laura showed us how to hold the puppets in such a way as to make them fly, move their heads, perch on something and move about before having a go at acting out a scene with our bird.
It was brilliant, entertaining and loads of fun, a great way to spend a morning doing something together as a family, and at £5 for adults and £3 for children won't break the bank.
Lucy and I would highly recommend it.
After the session Lucy and I met up with Jo Carey, the Clore’s programme manager for primary and early years, who took us up to the Sherling High-Level Walkway to take a look at the professionals at work.
As well as information boards along the wall of the walkway, it allows visitors to see a glimpse of what goes on backstage that has up until now been hidden away from view.
We were able to see some of the rehearsal spaces, the workshop areas, and where the costumes and props are made.
We saw sets in the process of construction as well as the preparation of some fake food including Peacock Pie - it was incredibly lifelike and the attention to detail was astonishing.
It was amazing to look down from the walkway to see wigs being made and the fabrics being used to create the costumes and set furnishing and see those whose job it is to make these amazing creations, hard at work.
What’s even better is that it’s free and as long as there is no show on visitors can even go inside the Dorfman Theatre.
“It’s very much part of the NT Future programme that we wanted to be able to open up and show how theatre is made here,” says Jo.
“As well as the two rooms downstairs where we host our workshops, we have opened up the backstage area so people can see how the shows are put together, find out about the different roles people have and see what happens backstage.
“We make all our props, wigs, sets and costumes in house and this allows people to see that.”
As the Clore Learning Centre gets established Jo says more workshops will be added including for the very young.
“This has been so exciting,” she says. “It is already enabling us to connect with so many more people especially schools, young people and their families.
"Our plan is to continue to develop our programme of activities as we go forward and inspire even more people."

Visit for full listings of what's on and when. Tickets can be booked online or via the Box Office on 020 7452 3000.

REVIEW: Light Shining, National Theatre


CARYL Churchill's epic play, Light Shining In Buckinghamshire about political and social upheaval in the 1640s could not have been staged at a more relevant time.
As we enter the final days of this year's General Election campaign where the yawning gap between the rich and the poor has been one of the main issues, this play, now on at the National's Lyttelton stage shows that these concerns are not new.
It is a play about protest, campaigns, hope for the future and the fact that there is still a feeling of "them and us".
It features the Levellers, Ranters, Agitators and common people who tried and almost succeeded in changing the country during a period of political upheaval.
Es Devlin's set is just stunning. It is essentially a huge table laden with food around which the noblemen, the elite of society, sit and over which hangs a huge gold mirrored ceiling.
As these wealthy men of power tuck in the commoners begin to come on to the stage.
There follows a series of vignettes in which we follow the fortunes of the various groups who try to bring about political change to the country.
The longest of these is an imagining of the Putney debates in which questions were explored as to how much power should be given to the people.
Throughout the piece though we get a sense of frustration and despair that nothing changes. These noblemen continue to sit around the table reminding us that power is still held by a few, the rich are still rich, there are still people living in extreme poverty and despite elections and protests some feel they are ignored and forgotten by the political elite and feel their voices aren't heard.
The cast is excellent and as it is a story about the masses there is no one star - rather a collection of fine performances including Ashley McGuire as the poverty-stricken woman who is forced to give up her baby against her will, Nicholas Gleaves as the army's recruiter Star, Trystan Gravelle as the ultimately disillusioned Briggs and Steffan Rhodri as Sexby who makes impassioned speeches during the Putney debates.

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.  

Carrie - Southwark Playhouse

WHEN director Gary Lloyd was 12 he read Stephen King’s iconic novel Carrie. Now years later he is to direct a new musical version of the story. He tells Kate Gould all about it.

HORROR fans are in for a treat this month with a new musical version of Carrie, Stephen King’s blood infused story of the 17-year-old misfit Carrie White.
It is based on the book, which was published in 1974 and which spawned several adaptations including the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie and John Travolta as Billy.
In April 1988 a musical version opened on Broadway but closed weeks later after scathing reviews. But in 2012 its score and book were revised by original composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford and librettist Lawrence D Cohen.
The result is a newly reworked and fully re-imagined version which opens at the Southwark Playhouse tomorrow night.
It will be directed by self confessed horror fan Gary Lloyd and in a break from last minute rehearsals including some finishing touches to the essential special effects, he tells me he can’t wait to bring it to the stage.
I read the book when I was 12 and loved it," he says. "I'm a big horror fan and a huge Stephen King fan so it’s always been something I have been drawn to.
Carrie as a musical has had a bit of a chequered history. But this version has had a lot of work done to it and it’s amazing – the music is beautiful and the story is very strong – everything about it made me want to do it.
I’ve been sitting on this project for two years trying to work out what we do with it. It’s a cursed piece in many ways but I wanted to do it and do it right because I believed in it so much.
Luckily the Southwark Playhouse was as keen as I was – it’s a theatre with a reputation for taking risks and being bold. Really strong work is being done here and it became the obvious choice as a place to stage it and I’m so glad it’s finally here.”
For those who’ve not read the book it revolves around Carrie, a girl bullied at school by her peers and at home by her fanatical mother. However when a prank at her high school prom goes horribly wrong she wields her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on all those who have wronged her.
It’s essentially about bullying and the extent to which it can harm an individual,” says Gary. “Carrie is not only bullied by the kids at school, she is also abused by her mother so she gets it on both sides.
"Sadly these things do happen and the story explores it in great depth.
However, my mission was not to make it melodramatic but to make it real.”
That said he acknowledges it is a dramatic story, not least because of Carrie’s telekinetic powers and the amount of blood involved.
Indeed it is the special effects required to tell the story that have kept Gary on his toes in the last few weeks.
The book has been our go to point of reference and we have been very respectful of it and the story,” he says.
However, the script requires a certain amount of special effects. There is a lot of blood in the story – from the blood of Carrie’s first period that unleashes her powers to the bucket of blood that soaks her at the school prom.
There is a lot to get our teeth into but I was really keen to tell the story of these people rather than it be all about the effects.
Luckily I’ve got an incredible cast – they are really super intelligent actors who have been with me from the start and totally get it and play the characters subtly."
And he says the intimate nature of the Southwark Playhouse adds to the atmosphere making it the "perfect setting" to stage the show.
It makes for a very immersive experience," he says. It’s not just a case of sitting and watching what happens in the playing space in the centre of the room.
"We use the aisles and exits and within the audience is surround sound – including from under the seats - we've created a real experience!"
But Gary says it will be the themes and characters within the piece that he hopes will resonate most with audiences.
People relate to Carrie as a character,” he says. “She’s an outcast, a person who doesn’t fit in, someone who is called names and mocked and that’s a side of the story that people will identify with.
Then there is the element of revenge – and I think people love the fact there is a character who gets their own back on those kids.
But each of the kids who try and make things better for Carrie or create the terrible prank on have issues of their own and it's been interesting to explore that too.
It’s also set in the present day so there are lots of comments towards social media which adds to the gravity of the bullying.
Nowadays you can film someone being taunted, post it on social media networks and thousands of people see it, it’s dreadful.
Kids are cruel from a very early age and it’s parents and teachers that have to teach them and show them how to see things from someone else’s eyes.
"It's been so exciting to bring this story to the stage. It's harrowing and poignant - and a bit scary - and the audience will see that, but ultimately I think the message that comes through most strongly is what does it cost to be kind.”

Carrie is on at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday, May 30. Tickets cost £22. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.