Thursday, 29 October 2015

INTERVIEW - David Hasselhoff

IT'S quite an experience speaking to David Hasselhoff. Warm, friendly and chatty, he deviates from one subject to the next at random but with an enthusiasm and an energy which is infectious. Even so it's hard to keep up with him at times.
Better known these days as The Hoff, the 63 year old is starring in a touring production of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life and speaking to him about the show, it's clear he is totally pumped up about it.
David shot to fame in the early 1980s as Michael Knight in the cult crime-fighting car TV series Knight Rider, before securing his fame and status as a sex symbol by showing off his six pack as chief lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, in the long running American TV series Baywatch.
Since then he's been around the block a few times. Divorced twice, with two kids, he has been variously a pop star, done stints on Broadway and in the West End, been on hit TV shows including Hoff The Record, worked as a judge on America's Got Talent and has had a well-documented battle with the booze.
And now he's back treading the boards again, leaner, fitter and healthier, in fact so full of life you'd be forgiven for thinking he was 20 years younger.
Which is lucky because he describes the show he's currently in as one big full on party - crammed full of hit songs from the 80s and 90s and a rigorous tour schedule which includes a stop at Croydon's Fairfield Halls on November 12.
"It's a riot," he tells me. "It's got some great tunes - real party songs from that era which I love - and a great story.
"It's about how Ibiza became the party island of the world, how dance music took over, the raves and the influences of the nightclubs, the stuff that went on and the kids going there to party."
David plays the role of a DJ and club owner who likes to live life to the max, until that is his teenage daughter pitches up.
She announces she's staying for the summer and he has to face up to his fatherly responsibilities and cope being a single parent.
It's a role that could have been made for him. Although he insists he's no playboy, David does admit he has "lived it up" a bit during his career and now with two grown up daughters of his own, is well aware of the similarities.
"I can relate to him totally of course," he says. "He is a DJ and night club owner with a responsibility to the club where the most important thing to do is party.
"He's against drugs even though he's on this amazing party island of Ibiza but he does like to show off - a bit like me.
"His daughter comes back to visit him and he then has to cope with it - suddenly his motto is 'do as I say, not as I did!'."
"I relate to the challenge of being a father. I have two daughters and when you are a father you want to protect them from what's out there.
"I see a lot of stuff in the newspapers and on the street and I get nervous when they go out.
"It's a dangerous world we live in and although you can't stop them from doing stuff and you can't keep them locked up forever, you can give them advice and be there to guide them and try and protect them from the bad stuff.
"I think it's very dangerous - in the UK you see people really take it to the limit. I think I see it more here than in America because here it's such a compact area where everything is so crammed in.
"You go out somewhere like Croydon and it's full of bars, whereas America isn't like that. It also has to do with the weather I think - there is no sunshine here!
"In the 80s people were into all kinds of fun stuff and we all knew it was bad. I don't drink any more because it ages you - you just have to be honest with kids," he muses.
"It's about protecting them in the best way and telling them what the consequences will be."
Underscoring this coming of age tale of love, laughter and friendship are a string of hits from the era including renditions of Everything I Do I Do it For You, MC Hammer’s Can't Touch This, Ride on Time, The Only Way Is Up and the Spice Girls' Spice Up Your Life.
"It's such a feel good story and the soundtrack is superb," he says. "The audience reaction has been great and they really get into it. We always have people dancing and singing in the aisles - it's fantastic.
"It's like everyone is remembering their childhood, their youth and the good happy days. It was such a fantastic era because we had people like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Rick Astley, Katrina And The Waves, just great, great songs that have lasted 30 years.
"I want the audience involved so they don't just watch the show - they are part of it.
"And we get so many kids coming with their parents - they don't know the era but they do know the music.
"It's so great - we have a blast."

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is on at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, on Thursday November 12 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost from £30.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 8688 9291.

REVIEW - The Comedy Of Errors, National Theatre


SHAKESPEARE'S The Comedy of Errors is one of his funniest plays - full of farce, slapstick and laugh out loud humour, thus making it ideal for kids.
A pared down version is now on at the National's Temporary Theatre and it is a real joy.
It has been adapted by Ben Power who has worked his magic to create an hour-long show perfect for those aged between eight and 12.
The basic story is of two sets of identical twins who are separated from each other as youngsters during a storm.
Years later Antipholus of Syracuse and his manservant Dromio arrive in Ephesus and are immediately confused with their brothers - Antipholus of Ephesus and his manserant also called Dromio.
Not only are both sets of twins mistaken for the other by those in Ephesus, they also confuse each other - with the two Dromios coming off a bit worse for wear from their masters and Antipholus of Ephesus's wife Adriana.
Set on what looks like a tropical paradise island, it is a pacey contemporary production with the comedy ramped up to the max for the young audience.
It begins with Aegeon, father of the Antipholus brothers outlining to the audience what has happened to the families of both sets of boys.
From there it goes headlong into the story with Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio arriving in Ephesus and immediately confusing both each other and everyone else.
There is plenty of running about as the twins try to work out what is going on, narrowly avoiding bumping into each other.
Hilariously funny, it is brilliantly put together and certainly held the attention of my 11 year old who thought it was "fantastic".

The Comedy of Errors is on at the National's Temporary Theatre, South Bank until November 6. Tickets from £8. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

INTERVIEW Craig Revel Horwood

pic credit Paul Coltas

I must admit it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I pick up the phone to interview Craig Revel Horwood.
The 50-year-old dancer, choreographer and theatre director is probably best known for his withering put downs as judge on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing. Meting out often cutting and caustic criticism he has earned a bit of a reputation as Mr Nasty on the show.
However, I can promise you he is nothing like his Strictly persona - indeed, he is warm, friendly and full of the joys when we chat and eager to talk about his role as Miss Hannigan in the touring production of Annie.
The run includes a stop at the New Wimbledon Theatre for a week from Tuesday, November 10.
The show is set in 1930s New York during The Great Depression, where brave young Annie is forced to live a life of misery and torment at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage.
Determined to find her real parents, her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks.
However the spiteful Miss Hannigan, who has a pathological hatred of children, and her brother, have other ideas and between them they hatch a plan to spoil Annie’s search.
With its award-winning book and score, this new production includes the unforgettable songs It’s the Hard Knock Life, Easy Street, I Don’t Need Anything But You and Tomorrow.
For Craig, it is a chance to get back to his acting roots, something he admits he hasn't done for "about 20 years". And he says he's relishing the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and show audiences there's more to him than Strictly and dance choreography.
"It's great to be able to do proper acting again," he says warmly. "I started out as an actor but then chose to go down the directorial and choreographic route so it's nice to be back on stage with a dressing room and visiting all these amazing theatres across the country.
"We are going to some lovely places during the run - I've directed shows in plenty of them but never trodden the boards there so I'm loving it.
"I've seen loads of shows at Wimbledon over the years - it's a lovely theatre so I'm really excited to be playing here.
"I will be staying in Wimbledon during the run which will give me the chance to get to know the area a bit too.
"It's a bit of escapism living as an actor and out of a suitcase - in fact it's quite exciting as I've not done it for so long," he adds.
"You become part of a family when you are on tour and I really like that.
"If I'd been doing it for 20 years I would be so over it though," he laughs. "But every week is a new fresh place to go to and experience."
Despite his enthusiasm he admits he was initially a bit reticent about taking on the role of Miss Hannigan. And he insists he is playing her straight and not as Craig Revel Horwood in drag.
"I'd not done proper acting for about 20 years so was a bit unsure but she's a great character and that's what attracted me and persuaded me to take on the role," he says.
"It's great fun and a real challenge because she's a proper gin soaked lush and so when I'm on stage I'm either drunk or hunger. My first scene is at 4am and I'm in lingerie completely slaughtered!
"She's an alcoholic, desperate, hates children and is a man hungry woman. She's in a desperate state which is why she and her brother go about pretending to be Annie's parents before killing her."
Despite this Craig says she has a heart though concedes that getting over the potential child killer label is not easy.
"She has a back story like most people and she's lonely," he says. "She's looking for love just like Annie and is a desperate lonely soul.
"She wants to find answers in the bottom of a bottle and because she is a terrible alcoholic and desperate for money she gets led by her brother into this awful situation.
"She's a complex character and it's my job to bring out the complex layers of this person. It does take some convincing though," he laughs.
"I do like playing a villain though - for me it's a far more interesting role."
With his astonishing workload of his Strictly commitments and the tour doesn't it all get a bit much I wonder? Not a bit of it.
"I thrive on the pressure and am always busy and on the go," he says warmly. "There are long hours - especially at the moment with Strictly - but I love it and I'm having a ball playing Miss Hannigan.
"It's rather exhausting but Lesley Joseph takes over on Saturdays while I do Strictly which is great. I'm 6ft 4in and in heels so I tower over the kids. Some of the children tower over Lesley though as she's tiny," he roars with laughter.
So what of Strictly this year and does Craig have any predictions for who might end up with the Glitter ball trophy?
"Anton and Katie could win the competition," he says. "The trouble is Anton's not used to having someone who can dance but their Viennese Waltz a couple of weeks ago was a gorgeous dance and he packed it full of steps which he didn't do the week before.
"It's a lot more difficult if they can't dance though - you have to use your creativity but he's brilliant at that.
"If Jake can control his nerves he has got an opportunity and Peter Andre of course is a favourite with people and that can help you win. Helen George is a very good dancer and Georgia too. Jeremy is amusing to a lot of people as they like his story and his journey."
So would he ever be a contestant on the show I ask?
"No darling!" he roars with laughter. "They couldn't pay me nearly enough to be on it!
"No I love my acting at the moment. I'm in panto after Strictly and then the Strictly tour next year - it's all go!"

Annie is on at New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, from Tuesday, November 10 until Saturday, November 14. Tickets from £12.50. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

REVIEW - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, New Wimbledon Theatre


THE weather may have lost its summer sparkle so if you are looking for a pick me up I suggest a trip to the New Wimbledon Theatre.
The theatre is staging a production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and it is a joy from start to finish.
The story is set in the French Riviera in fictional town, Beaumont Sur Mer. It is here that high class conman Lawrence Jameson fleeces wealthy women who holiday there.
However things get complicated when a rival con man, the American Freddy Benson, arrives in the Riviera and decides he wants a piece of the action too.
Initially Lawrence wants to send him packing but intrigue and curiosity gets the better of him and they begin to compete with one another.
The stakes are raised further when a millionaire heiress comes to town and the pair make a bet to see who can swindle her first.
But things are not as they seem and hilarity ensues.
It is a stunning production with a top notch cast who look as though they are having a ball.
Michael Praed is perfectly cast as the ultra smooth and suave Lawrence and Noel Sullivan as the chancer Freddy Benson - the scenes in which he pretends to be confined to a wheelchair are hilarious.
Elsewhere Carley Stenson is fabulous as Christine Colgate, the woman they try and deceive and Gary Wilmot has a real twinkle in his eye as the corrupt chief of police, Andre Thibault.
With stunning sets and sumptuous costumes this is a production to savour - catch it while you can.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, until Saturday, October 10. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

REVIEW - Encounter, Above The Stag, Vauxhall


IN the early 1940s Noel Coward wrote Brief Encounter for the big screen. The characters meet and contemplate an affair in a suburban world where it would mean disgrace and ruin.
Many believe the film reflected his Coward’s own frustrations at a time when being gay was illegal and it was impossible for one man to openly love another.
Now in an homage to Coward, writer and director Phil Willmott has taken the story and reimagined it as a gay romance that Coward and his contemporaries were not allowed to write or stage.
Now on at the Above The Stag theatre in Vauxhall, Encounter features two men who meet by chance in a railway station in 1947. One is a doctor, the other is the station manager whose lungs were damaged thanks to working down the coal mine during the war.
To begin with they seem unsure and shy and not sure how to respond to one another. Both have wives though while the doctor says he still loves his wife and son, the station manager has fallen out of love with his wife as their child’s death 10 years previously has driven a wedge between them.
But as they grow comfortable in each other’s company they become less inhibited and eventually decide to give in to their desires.
The chemistry between Adam Lilley’s doctor and Alexander Huetson’s stationmaster is what holds the play together and they do it well.
It is tender, sweet, poignant and heartbreaking with just the right amount of humour to stop it from being a complete weepy.
It also brings home how far gay rights have come in the last 70 years. But thanks to the main story being sandwiched by a short scene at the start and end of the play by a contemporary romance, it shows that there is still some work to be done to make gay relationships truly legitimate.

Encounter is at Above The Stag, Miles Street, Vauxhall until November 15. Tickets cost £19.50. Visit for listings.

REVIEW - Measure for Measure, Young Vic


Romola Garai as Isabella, credit Keith Pattison

I’D wager that it’s not often that you go to the theatre and see in the opening scene a stage full of inflatable dolls.
Well, head on down to the Young Vic and that’s precisely what greats you in a new and highly charged production of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure.
Director Joe Hill-Gibbins has set it very firmly in the 21st century and amplifies the excesses of Vienna from which the Duke wants to absent himself.
It is dark, seedy, anarchic, with unscrupulous characters, full of plotting and conniving, lechery and debauchery. No wonder Zubin Varla’s Duke wanted to escape – it is a cesspit of vulgarity and corruption.
Once the cast have extricated themselves from beneath the sea of dolls, the Duke bids farewell and entrusts his leadership to his deputy, the fiercely puritanical Angelo (Paul Ready) who interprets the law to the absolute letter. His first decision is to condemn one Claudio (Ivanno Jeremiah) to death for getting his girlfriend pregnant.
It falls to Lucio, played as a somewhat dour Scotsman by John Mackay to entreat Claudio’s sister Isabella (Romola Garai), a novice nun, to plead for his life.
The action takes place inside a rectangular box with a door at the back which leads to a space that looks like a rehearsal area. 

The company, credit Keith Pattison

It is here, behind the closed door that the blow up dolls have been thrown and where the worst of excesses happen – and we only get to see it when viewed on a screen on the back wall thanks to a video camera which follows the action in the back room.
The production is just under two hours straight through thanks to a prune of the original text and it is largely successful. However, I wasn’t keen on the use of the video camera and some of the humour that comes from Lucio was a bit lost, but that aside the actors were superb particularly Romola Garai who lit up the stage.

Measure for Measure is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, until November 14. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

REVIEW - Volpone, Brockley Jack


PEOPLE it seems have always been greedy and nowhere is this point proved more than in Ben Jonson's play Volpone.
Set in Venice it tells the tale of Volpone and his servant Mosca who pretend to all and sundry that Volpone is dying in order that he will get gifts and favours in return for being bequeathed his fortune.
A new production of this 17th century play is now on at the lovely Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley staged by Scena Mundi.
Director Cecilia Dorland has set it in the 1920s and has given it a judicious pruning.
What we are left with is a piece which is tight and funny and which shows Volpone's friends, the greedy birds of prey, Voltore, Corbaccio, Corvino and Lady Would-Be vie for his attention.
They visit him daily with expensive presents while delighting in the fact he appears to be dying.
However, things get a bit complicated when the old fox Volpone decides he wants to bed Corvino's virtuous wife Celia.
Things get further complicated when he is found with Celia and then hauled off to court. It is only the quick wit of Mosca which gets him out of the hole he's in.
It is an interesting production. Steve Hope-Wynne's Volpone doesn't strike me as particularly devious, rather just plain greedy - with wide bulging eyes and a leer when he thinks he's got one over on his friends.
They in turn are a rum bunch, each having their quirks. The funniest is Ava Amande as Lady Would-Be who talks nonsense most of the time, so much so that Volpone has to put his hands over his ears. He almost gives the impression he's a bit weary of his friends full stop and would just rather they all left him alone.
But the star of the piece is without doubt Pip Brignall as Mosca. With a fixed smile on his face he is both cunning and clever with a very sinister edge.

Volpone is on at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley Road until October 17. Tickets cost £14. Visit or call the box office on 0333 666 3366

INTERVIEW - Helen Lederer

“I was just enjoying myself at my party and then it happened!”
Helen Lederer is recounting an incident two weeks ago in which she fell over and ended up in hospital.
In fact, the first thing she does when we speak is apologise if she sounds woozy during our conversation.
She explains she had been hosting a party at her Dulwich home for her birthday the night before our interview had been due to take place and had taken a tumble which resulted in her getting carted off to Kings and a set of stitches in her head for her trouble.
“You do feel as though you are invincible but vodka and fizz – it’s lethal,” she adds laughing heartily.
“The thing is that I don’t drink loads but I’m going to have to make a joke about it - how I got carried off to Kings! I like to find the humour in any given situation….”
Despite her obvious discomfort as we chat a few days later though now thankfully on the mend, she’s on good form, warm, friendly and very funny.
Known for her self-deprecating humour Helen needs no introduction. She is an actress, comedian, writer and now novelist, having this year published her debut comic novel Losing It.
Hilariously funny it is about Millie a middle aged divorced woman, an agony aunt for a magazine, who is in debt, over weight and so desperate to change her life that she agrees to be the front woman for a new diet pill.
Describing it as “mid lit”, Helen insists it is not autobiographical but acknowledges the similarities between herself and her heroine.
“I don’t know many women who haven’t had to face the things she has to,” she says. “Intelligent women who have that whole mother daughter relationship, or losing weight or ambitions to change her body somehow, or divorce – women can relate to that.
“I’m not the kind of person to write an autobiography but Millie is modelled on me as I’ve done everything including trying to lose weight.
“I suppose my concern is to find humour in these situations just as I would find in real life when I get myself into odd situations.
“Of course it shouldn’t matter what you look like but it does.”
Does that depress her I ask?
“Yes of course but it’s the way it is I suppose.
“It’s written to make people laugh,” she adds. “A few people have said they laughed out loud when they read it which is great.
“In fact, people have been very kind about the book – I think it’s because they can relate to her and her journey.”
Helen will be discussing the book at this weekend’s Dulwich Literary Festival, organised by Dulwich Books’ Sheila O’Reilly, and says she’s looking forward to having a chat with her audience.
“The book shop is a really good one and so when they said they were organising the festival and asked if I’d like to be on the list I said yes,” she says warmly.
“They do lots of talks and interesting, exciting events and activities and the line-up is quite special.
“Also it’s in Dulwich and as I live here it’s quite handy.”
For audiences who come and see her it will also be a chance to listen to Helen talk about her long career which has included stints in hit comedy TV series Ab Fab and Bottom, as well as performing as one of the country’s top comedians.
“I will go with the flow and talk about the 80s and 90s and my route into comedy which isn’t conventional and then do a Q&A which can be very amusing,” she says.
“I have got a section with a series of photos of jobs I have done over the years which looks like a duvet cover – it looks rather good and is quite fun. So we can always talk about one of the photos on it.
“Sometimes people want to know about the process of writing or just about what has happened recently in the world I have been inhabiting. It doesn’t matter, it will just be agreeable banter.
“I will of course be talking about the book and will be interested to see if they’ve read it and what they thought."
Given that she has been making people laugh for more than 30 years in a career that has been on both stage and screen not to mention the many scripts she has penned, how did it take so long to write this novel?
“Life,” she says simply. “Life has a habit of getting in the way. I have wanted to write this book for about seven years but things just happen, whether it’s a job or something else.”
And she is genuinely surprised and delighted Losing It has been nominated for not one but two literary prizes.
“It’s delightful but a total shock,” she says. “I can’t quite believe it but just to be nominated is amazing because you don’t go into this expecting it and I’ve never been nominated for anything in my life.”
So what’s next for Helen I ask? Her second novel is being penned as we speak, the first draft of which she hopes to have finished by Christmas, and she is filming Ab Fab in which she has a “small role”, before going up to Scotland to do a “scary thing” of teaching about comedy novel writing.
“I will be open about only having done one,” she laughs. “I will enjoy that experience although it’s well out of my comfort zone.”
And then of course now that she is a fully fledged novelist there are all the literary festival to do.
“It sounds exhausting,” she admits. “But I love it all and don’t like not having anything to do. I like to be busy although a lot of it is about me making things happen.”
And then adds, “so please come and see me in Dulwich at the festival – it’s going to be fun!"

Visit or or call 020 8670 1920 for full listings.

INTERVIEW - Gary Wilmot

WHEN Gary Wilmot was growing up in Lambeth he had no ambitions to become a performer. Indeed he recalls being more interested in playing football and competed in the Sunday Sportsman League for a time.
But his general good humour, twinkly smile and ability to make people laugh eventually persuaded him to make a career in the entertainment world.
And what a career it has been. He rose to fame as a contestant on New Faces in the 1970s which led to numerous television appearances on shows such as Copycats, Knees Ups, Cue Gary!, and The Keith Harris Show before being chosen to host Showstoppers in 1994.
Since then he has graced both stage and screen, more recently making a name for himself as a musical theatre man.
Indeed this year has seen him in Oklahoma! and West End show The Pajama Game and is this week back treading the boards in what he describes as a "brilliant" play, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Currently on tour it is spending this week at the New Wimbledon Theatre and in a chat between shows he says he's having a ball.
“It’s a fabulous story and such a lot of fun,” he enthuses. “It’s brilliantly written, is cheeky, very funny and mischievous and the songs are terrific.”
Gary plays Andre, the chief of police in the French Riviera who takes backhanders from high class con man Lawrence Jameson as he tries to fleece the rich women who holiday there.
However, things get complicated when a rival con man, the American Freddy Benson, known as The Jackal, arrives in the Riviera and sensing it to be rich pickings, he decides to stick around and swindle money out of all the well off ladies.
The pair begin to compete with each other to hoodwink a millionaire heiress but discover there is only room for one of them.
“My character Andre tells Lawrence when rich women come to town,” explains Gary. “He’s a handsome man of course, charming and gorgeous and gets roped up in all the mischief.
“There’s also a love interest for him – it’s a great role!
“Freddy is a small time conman who gets something on Lawrence so Lawrence teaches him the way of the con and things get interesting.”
Andre is a role Gary is familiar with having played the character before in the West End run in 2014 and when the producers asked if he would like to come back for part of the tour, he said it was a no brainer.
“It’s such a great show, a real hoot, and it moves forward all the time sucking the audience in, it’s just terrific,” he says.
“I haven’t been in a show as fun as this since Me And My Girl, so I was really keen to do it again.
“I love the New Wimbledon Theatre as well. It’s such a great theatre and it was in danger of closing a few years ago so I am pleased they managed to keep it open.
“I was last there doing Half A Sixpence and the audiences were great so I’m looking forward to coming back.”
And while these days he may have made his home north of the river he says he has fond memories of living south and is also looking forward to catching up with family and friends while he’s in the area.
“I live in Bletchley now, the home of the codebreakers but I grew up in Lambeth,” he says. “I was born off Kennington Lane and when I was three we moved to the Lansdowne Green Estate.
“I learned everything there, played a lot of football and rugby and realised it was a great breeding ground for comedy. It was brilliant and I had lots of fun,” he remembers.
“My friends and I were always laughing and taking the mick out of each other. I certainly remember the Canton Arms and the Priory Arms.
“And it’s a long time since I heard of the South London Press, though our football teams were always in your paper,” he adds warmly.
“I never really wanted to be an entertainer but my friends pushed me and said I had a flair for it even though we were just mucking around and making jokes.
“However when I left school the facilities weren’t around and anyway in those days they wanted you to be a plumber or an electrician. I didn’t last long at that!”
His big break came with New Faces and he hasn’t looked back since. And although he says he's achieved most things he's wanted to do, he says a stint at the National Theatre would be nice.
"My career has been one long highlight but I'd love to work at the National or at Chichester one day," he says.
"Jobs at the Old Vic and the Menier were great - when you do those places you work with the best people around which is brilliant.
“I always felt comfortable in front of a mic,” he adds. “I’ve had down times as well as good times and it’s tough to keep going but it’s the best job and I love it - life’s too short to do stuff that you aren’t happy with.
“I’ve been doing it for 40 years – which is amazing considering I’m only 32!”

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, until Saturday, October 10. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

REVIEW - Jane Eyre, National Theatre


JANE Eyre is one of the classics of English Literature. Written almost 170 years ago, Charlotte Bronte’s story of Jane’s struggle to find happiness, love, freedom and fulfilment on her own terms is as inspiring as ever.
Her story has been re-imagined by director Sally Cookson who has brought it to the National Theatre after a successful run at the Bristol Old Vic last year.
It is the most fascinating, beautiful and fabulous production that charts Jane’s beginnings as a baby who soon becomes a destitute orphan before facing her life’s not inconsiderable obstacles head on with an obstinacy, feistiness and determination that was way ahead of her time.
Indeed her story feels fresh and very much current thanks to this brilliant production which is staged on wooden structure made up of a series of ladders, platforms and walkways.
Jane survives poverty, beatings, injustice and a lack of love as well as losing her best friend Helen Burns to TB – indeed the scene in which Helen dies was heartbreakingly sad and I am sure I wasn’t the only one fighting back tears.
Madeleine Worrall is astonishing as Jane. It is such a tour de force and an exhilarating performance that takes the audience on such an incredible journey you hardly notice that it's actually three and a half hours long.
She is joined by a small but fabulous cast who take on multiple roles. Laura Elphinstone takes on five of them including Jane’s best friend Helen, Felix Hayes’s Rochester, is suitably gruff and there is a hilarious turn by Craig Edwards as Rochester's dog Pilot.
The portrayal of Rochester's mad wife Bertha is given to Melanie Marshall who sings the part.
This is an inventive, intelligent, poignant and often funny production which, despite a significant pruning, does the original story justice.

Jane Eyre is on at the National Theatre, South Bank until January 10. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

REVIEW - Dinner With Saddam, Menier Chocolate Factory


IN a bid to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, the late dictator Saddam Hussein used to drop in unannounced at the homes of people living in Baghdad for dinner.
It was a way of not only visiting his people but it was also a way of evading the Americans and their attempts to assassinate him.
And it is this idea that has formed the basis of a blisteringly funny play, Dinner With Saddam now on at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Written by Anthony Horrowitz it stars Steven Berkoff as Saddam with Sanjeev Baskhar and Shobu Kapoor as his host and hostess.
Saddam pitches up at the most inconvenient time for them. The toilet is blocked, the plumber can't find the problem quick enough to deal with it, the host is having problems controlling his articulate and intelligent daughter, not to mention the man to whom she has been betrothed from birth.
So to have their dear leader in their midst is all a bit much.
The comedy is ramped to the max with dead bodies, rat poison and a bag of turds in the fridge - yes really.
And while it is a fine line to tread between sending up the situation and revealing the true horrors of both the war and the help Saddam got from the Americans and us Brits in his war with Iran, it manages just about to do so.
It is at times hilarious and at times shocking in the facts it imparts. The cast is just terrific especially Sanjeev Baskhar whose comedic timing is spot on.

Dinner With Saddam is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory until November 14. Tickets from £35. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

Dance Umbrella festival

TAKING dance off the stage and into different environments including the great outdoors is the focus of a festival that celebrates dance in a variety of forms.
Dance Umbrella is a collection of 10 shows in 13 boroughs across the capital which is being staged in 19 different venues in a two week season this month.
Among the highlights are a show especially for babies aged from birth to 18 months at the Albany in Deptford, Walking Stories in four London parks including Greenwich and Brockwell Park, classes at Rambert on the South Bank and workshops at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street.
International artists will mingle with home grown talent to provide a cross section of inspiration, content and styles.
It’s the 37th year the festival has run and for its artistic director Emma Gladstone it’s a chance to bring dance to people who might not otherwise have access to it or even think it’s for them.
“I’m really excited,” she says. “We are offering a range of work, a real mix, which I think is really important because we want as many people as possible to come along and see what’s out there.
“Part of what we do is to look at where else we can make dance work that is not in theatres. Sadlers Wells is hugely successful and lovely but it’s liberating to see where else we can take it.
“So we are presenting work in venues of all shapes and sizes, both big theatres and in smaller arts centres such as the Albany and also in local parks where the audience becomes the choreographer.
“I really feel part of my job is to be showing people that it’s inclusive and invite them to come and see something different. It’s not taught widely in schools so that makes my job more important.
“Not everyone will like everything we are putting on but there should be something for everyone.”
To prove the point the festival kicks off with folk dance on the roof of a car park followed by a range of performances, workshops and events including a DJ set and culminates in an audio stroll that takes the audience away from the every day chaos of life with an mp3 player and a set of headphones.
It will also be contemporary in nature, so rather than ballet or other classical forms, expect hip hop, Indian dance and an African and European mix amongst the genres on offer.
“I’m more interested in exploration rather than confirmation so it’s much more of a contemporary festival,” explains Emma.
“I’m asking audiences to come and explore what artists do. Our audiences tend to be quite exploratory and are pretty open minded whereas classical audiences know what they are going to see.
“I like the idea of flexibility and dance commentating on this modern world. For example we have a series of audio walking tours which take place in parks where the audience will become their own choreographer as they go off and explore the park.
“Although there will be about 20 people in each group, it’s also going to be a private experience because everyone will be wearing their own headphones.
“It's an hour long piece and everyone says it changes how they look at the place they are in and that it’s very reflective.
"You get a chance to look again at what are familiar surroundings and see something different. It shifts your mind which I think is a lovely thing.”
Elsewhere there is a weekend of classes, short performances and talks at the Unicorn Theatre. Over the two days DU: Unplugged will be led by Lisbeth Gruwez and Depak Kurki Shivaswamy. Before each performance there will be a choice of workshops to take part in followed each afternoon by international companies sharing selected elements of their work and talking about why and how they create their choreography.
One of Emma’s highlights will be the 16 Singers London Orbital Tour at the Albany. It is a show aimed at babies up to the age of 18 months and their carers and will feature singing, dancing, sculpture and improvised sound.
“I have been programming for children and young people for 10 years,” says Emma. “I always wanted to include them in our festivals as they are fascinating.
“This show could be very strong and deep and seeing young children move when they hear music is pretty special.
“What’s great is that parents might not go to the big dance houses but might go to see something at a friendly local venue that they know. I also love the idea that the kids might take their parents to something and introduce them to dance that way.
“It’s a very exciting and vibrant time in dance,” she adds. “There’s so much going on and the quality is consistently brilliant.
“So I hope people, whether they have seen a dance performance before or not, will take a look at the programme and come and see something and be wowed.”

Dance Umbrella takes place at venues across London. Visit or call the box office on 020 7257 9384 for full listings.

REVIEW - La Musica, Young Vic

FOUR stars

RELATIONSHIPS are fragile things and a play by Marguerite Duras now on at the Young Vic shows this beautifully.
La Musica features Michel and Anne-Marie, who meet four years after they split up to finalise their divorce.
They meet in a hotel in a French town where they used to live and the tension is all too palpable.
We first see the pair high above the audience, sitting next to each other on a bench, backs to the audience looking out of a window.
We see their faces on huge screens and listen to them as they talk about their relationship, from how they met through to how and when they parted company. Half way through their reminiscences, they come down and sit on chairs around which the audience sit or stand.
It gets more intense and not just because we are so close to them. As they move about within and amongst us, we hear about their hopes and dreams when they were in the relationship, how they couldn’t live together and seemingly can’t live apart either.
We find out about their affairs, how Michel wanted to kill Anne-Marie and how she has since met someone else. As the truth comes out, old wounds are re-opened, grievances once thought forgotten resurface and old feelings re-awaken.
They flirt, fight and spar verbally and dance around the subject of love. Were they ever in love or was it a destructive relationship, or one of convenience.
It is heartbreaking, claustrophobic, emotional, powerful, raw and ultimately very sad.
Sam Troughton and Emily Barclay are incredible as the former lovers in what is a fabulous piece.

La Musica is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, until October 17. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Monday, 5 October 2015

INTERVIEW - Mister Maker

THERE can’t be many children – or their parents – who haven’t heard of Mister Maker, the educational and fun arts and crafts TV show that is aired on BBC TV channel CBeebies.
The title character is played by Phil Gallagher whose job it is to encourage and inspire pre-schoolers to explore their creative sides – and with his trademark exuberance and enthusiasm he sprinkles his magic by painting, drawing, sticking, moulding and loads more besides to create art work from everyday items.
Since its first transmission in 2007, Mister Maker has become a worldwide hit and is shown in more than 100 countries around the globe.
Now, after six hugely successful TV series, with the next one due to air next year, the BAFTA-nominated show is heading out of the TV studio and on to the road for the first time.
The nationwide tour, in which Mister Maker will be joined by the Shapes and a whole host of other colourful characters, will take a pit stop at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls on Saturday, October 17.
Speaking to Phil ahead of the visit it’s clear he’s as pleased as punch to be on the road and as keen as mustard to impart his arty ideas to his young audiences.
“I’m really excited about the tour because it’s the first one we’ve done in the UK so it’s going to be fantastic,” he says warmly.
“It will be exciting to be doing the makes live on stage and get an instant reaction - I can't wait.
“And I’m looking forward to Croydon – it’s really good for me as it’s quite close to family so there will be a lot of Gallaghers in the house,” he laughs.
The show will be based on the TV version with all the makes we’ve come to expect but with a few surprises.
“It’s going to be a bit full on,” he laughs. “We’ve got so much in it it’s absolutely packed.
“I wanted it to have the heart of the TV show so there will be lots that children and their parents will recognise, such as the makes but I’ve brought in new things too that perhaps the audience won’t expect.
"It will be presented in a different and theatrical way with lots of singing and dancing and of course the Shapes will be there – when they run out on the stage it’s brilliant.
"They will be doing their traditional dance but there will be new songs for them and you get to see more of their comic side.
“I wanted to give them more of a voice and thought it would be fun if they could speak and have conversations with Mister Maker.
“I love them all but I relate to Rectangle most,” he admits when I ask which one is his favourite.
“He’s a funny character, loves to dance and is constantly bouncing around - just like me. He’s also quite tall, like me – I’m 6ft which sometimes children are surprised about when they see me.”
The core of the show will be the ‘makes’ although ensuring everyone in the audience can see them has been one of the challenges of bringing it to the stage.
“Applying what we do in the TV show to a live show has been a challenge and something I really had to think about,” he says.
“With the small scale makes we have a camera on me so people can see it all on the screen.
“I’m also doing a make against the clock while singing a song – it’ll be quite scary doing that one because I’ve written it so there’s even more time pressure to get it done and so it’s more challenging than the one I do on the TV.
“And I want to make sure that everyone feels part of the show so there will also be opportunities for mini makers to come up and help me with something and I’m doing a big make that everyone contributes to no matter how young or old they are.
“So it’s going to be busy, full of arty adventures and loads of fun!"

Throughout our chat it’s clear Phil is as enthusiastic about getting kids of all ages interested in art as his alter ego. And he says it’s ever been thus.
“I love it,” he says warmly. “As a child making and creating things was one of my favourite things to do. My parents’ house is full of things I made as a kid.
“My favourite is a googlie eyed bug that I did with my grandfather when I was very young. I still do a version on the show – it’s a real classic.”
And he says that he always knew he wanted to be a TV presenter when he grew up.
“When I was very young I used to go behind the sofa and put on puppet shows for family and friends,” he says.
“I used to do lots of impressions and had a real love of performing even then. Making things and performing was a big part of my life so to do it as a job now is a real privilege and I feel really honoured and so fortunate.
“I’m so lucky because I have the best job in the world and that’s why I put everything into it – I’ll write the script and then lock myself away and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse so I get it absolutely right.”
But in an age where technology plays an increasingly prominent part in our lives with the lure of smart phones, tablets and computers to entertain kids, what does the future hold for using paper, pens and paint?
“The Mister Maker TV show is at its heart a traditional arts and crafts show but it’s done in a modern, zany way,” he says.
“We launched a Mister Maker app recently which was a new venture for us but we try to inspire whoever is using it to go and do something real.
“I feel that doing it for real is something that’s important and lovely for children – and for them to do with their parents and grandparents.
“One of my all time favourite makes was one we did in the early days which was dipping a tennis ball in a gloopy mixture and then throwing it against a canvas. It was such a lot of fun, really messy but kids love getting messy.”
So will there be “messy fun” in Croydon I ask.
“You will have to wait and see,” he chuckles. “It will be fun – audience reactions so far have been amazing – but definitely expect the unexpected.”

Mister Maker comes to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on Saturday, October 17. Tickets cost from £11.50. Visit or or call 020 8688 9291 for tickets.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Interview - Jason Donovan

"IT'S a great marriage, this show and me," muses Jason Donovan. The 47-year-old singer, actor and former Strictly Come Dancing finalist is referring to Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, the heart-warming, uplifting adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus in Australia searching for love and friendship and end up finding more than they could have ever dreamed of.
Jason has been part of the show since its original incarnation and hugely successful run in the West End and subsequent touring productions in 2013.

He is now back on board the bus and reprising his role of Tick in a new version of the show which comes to the New Wimbledon Theatre this week as part of a nationwide tour.
As well as what Jason describes as a "fantastic story" it features a dazzling array of outrageous costumes and dancefloor favourites such as It’s Raining Men, Say a Little Prayer, Go West, Hot Stuff and Always on My Mind.
We chat as Jason gears himself up for the gruelling eight shows a week regime he has let himself in for once more and says he's excited to be back in the thick of it.
"It's going good and last night the audiences were great - so it's lovely to be back," he tells me.
I’m looking forward to coming back to Wimbledon. We were here for the last tour, they are a great crowd and it’s close to home so it’ll be fun.
"I have done other bits and pieces since the last Priscilla tour but I keep coming back as it's just a real audience winner and Tick is such a great character. I have a ball playing him.”
The other bits and pieces include performances in The King's Speech and Annie Get Your Gun, both of which he says he enjoyed.
"I loved doing The King's Speech," he says. "It was a real challenge but it was great to do straight, serious acting again - I'd love to do more of that in the future, especially film or TV although that's a tough nut to crack."
But the lure of getting dressed up in the glittery costumes and make up and strutting his stuff to those fabulous tunes has proved quite a draw for Jason though he admits the costume changes are "relentless".
"It's a big production and the bus looks the best it's ever been so there are a lot of reasons to come back to it and want to step back into these costumes," he says warmly.
"It's a tough show to do though, two hours of singing, dancing and acting, and it's relentless in terms of its costume changes.
"But it's a great story, a unique and modern tale about these three guys who go on a journey where they travel through the Australian desert to get to Alice Springs.
It's also peppered with such wonderful songs, a real juke box musical but it works - I see at first hand how much people love it. There are very few shows you get to do that have that sort of impact.
"I think audiences want something that has substance and this is it."
For those who’ve not seen it, it tells the tale of Tick, a drag queen and his two friends who travel through the Australian desert in their lavender bus Priscilla, to get to Alice Springs to do a drag show.
Along the way they encounter a number of strange characters as well as incidents of homophobia.
"I think I'd describe Tick as confused," says Jason. "He’s a gay man with a wife and child and I think he’s just on a journey of discovery.
The other two accept him for who he is but they are all really misfits and have been rejected by society because they are a bit different.
"It’s about diversity and the barriers these guys face and about triumph over adversity, which is really the moral of the story. I think it’s one we can all relate to in some way.”
And he says fortunately those barriers are coming down as people become more accepting.
"I think they are breaking down a bit especially with the gay marriage legislation,” he says. “People are more accepting and enlightened – we're living in a global village and people are more informed these days which is good."
And since he waltzed his way into the final of Strictly four years ago he says his confidence on the dance floor has grown.
The fear of choreographers has gone now,” he laughs. “I am more at ease and in tune with it and it doesn’t stress me out although the dancing in the show has changed a bit with this tour which threw me a bit initially.
It was a surprise to get to the final of Strictly though. It was quite an intense experience and I don’t want to do it again!
It’s a great show though and my four year old daughter loves it – it’s like a panto leading up to the panto season!
But it's all about working hard and that’s what I always try and do."
This work ethic has been at the centre of his working life and something that he's now keen to pass on to his three children.
"I tell my kids that if you work hard anything can happen," he says. "It worked for me. I've never really been naturally gifted at anything - I've had to work hard. But when you do get results it is quite satisfying."
And to prove the point, after his latest three month stint in Priscilla he will be going back on the road with his Ten Good Reasons tour.
"I haven't been on the road with it for about six years and it felt like it was overdue," he says.
"I think there is an appetite for 80s songs so it'll be fun to sing all the songs I did back then.
"They are all favourites but Too Many Broken Hearts is a great song."
And when I ask if there will be any special guest appearances he laughs.
"There may be but I've not dived into that area just yet," he says. "But you never know. There are a couple of people that could help me out!"

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, between Monday, October 5 and Saturday, October 10. Tickets from £14. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.