Friday, 27 November 2015

INTERVIEW - Liz Stevenson, director of Barbarians at the Young Vic

THE lives of three young men in 1970s Lewisham are featured in a new production of Barrie Keeffe's play Barbarians.
The show, which has just opened at the Young Vic is made up of Keeffe's trilogy, Killing Time, Abide With Me and In the City and follows Jan, Paul and Louis as they navigate their way through a society riven with unemployment, racism and rejection.
Over the course of three consecutive summers we see how after leaving school the lads want to earn some money and belong to something that makes their “blood bubble”, something like football.
Instead petty crime provides an outlet for their frustration and as they search for a way to belong, their close bond is threatened and their lives take very different turns.
It is being directed by rising star Liz Stevenson who is the winner of this year's JMK Award, a prize awarded annually by the Waterloo-based theatre to nurture young talent.
It is made by the JMK Trust which was founded in memory of up and coming director James Menzies-Kitchin to give practical learning opportunities to young theatre directors of similar ability and vision.
The JMK Award allows one such director a year to stage their own production of a classic text on the Young Vic stage.
"As part of the process for the JMK award we were all asked to choose a play and I chose Barbarians as I tend to go for plays that have working class voices," Liz tells me during a break in rehearsals.
“There is a real grit and humour and an edge to those sorts of plays with characters that feel accessible and this particular one really appealed to me.
“I was really drawn to the quality of the writing, the story these young men go through and their characterisation as well as the energy you feel when you read and see it.
“I am so excited about it because it’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to direct such a great play on a stage like the Young Vic. I’m very lucky because it’s difficult to break into this industry and put on a professional show.
“This award gives you a chance to work with a team, have proper rehearsal space and support. It’s a brilliant opportunity.”
The play may have been written 40 years ago but Liz says it’s still as relevant today with its themes of inequality in society, gender, race and class.
"It could easily have been set today,” she says. “It’s about three young men – two aged 16 and one aged 18 – growing up at a time of high unemployment, when racism was expected and when there were few opportunities.
“They are best friends and leave school at the height of the unemployment crisis. Like many of their age they mess about, having a banter, and get up to no good - looking for cars to nick, that kind of thing.
“The audience gets taken on a journey not just around Lewisham but we also see where their lives take them over three consecutive summers.
"It’s full of energy with references to punk rock and the Sex Pistols so it’s fun too. What's really clever about the writing is that the darkness creeps up on you as you see their struggle to fit in to society.
“They are all desperate to belong to something and there is nothing there for them.
“It’s tragic really because these are people with so much to give but yet they get swept away down dangerous and unhealthy avenues.
"It does make me sad because you can see that some things haven’t changed - there is still high youth unemployment, especially in Lewisham and for some life is a real struggle.
“I’m from Lancashire and while I see that London is an exciting city I’m struck by how close together the rich and poor are. On one corner there are incredible town houses and then next door there are run down estates.
“It’s a bit of an us and them situation and that is what these young lads are faced with.
“However, although it sounds so contemporary with the language used, when I did some research on the play I realised a lot has changed for the better. The concept of racism in the 1970s was widely accepted as OK but since then there has since been a massive shift for the better although there is still a way to go."
And Liz says that despite the darkness within the play there is a lot of humour too and hopes audiences will be entertained as well as informed.
"I love that theatre informs us and we can question what we see," she says. "But I also think that theatre is there to entertain. It should be enjoyable, an experience that people should be excited by and want to come back to.
"Theatre is something that most explores what it means to be a human being. We present one element of humanity that people will go away and talk about. We have always told each other stories and theatre is a way that puts it right there which is why I love doing it.
"I want people to come and see the play and think how relevant it is to today and the world right now, that it speaks to our situation right now.
"We have three fantastic characters at its heart and we want to follow them on their journey and find out what happens to them."
So are they Barbarians? You will have to come and see the play to find out.

Liz Stevenson won the JMK Award 2015 and directs Barbarians by Barrie Keeffe at the Young Vic in The Cut between November 27 and December 19. Tickets cost from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922 for full listings.

REVIEW - Evening At The Talk House, National Theatre

Three Stars

Scene from Evening At The Talk House, credit Catherine Ashmore

RUFUS Norris' tenure at the National Theatre certainly started with a bang earlier this year with a series of frankly stunning shows.
So it comes as a bit of a shock to the system that new play Evening At The Talk House at the Dorfman doesn't appear to be quite in that league. In fact it appears a bit of a blip has occurred – though how it did I'm not sure.
It's a shame because the play has all the hallmarks of a promising piece. It is penned by American actor and playwright Wallace Shawn and it has a stellar cast - including Shawn himself who plays a washed up has bean of an actor who has been roughed up by his "friends" and is now seeking sanctuary in the Talk House.
However, it is all a bit weird. It seems unfinished, not at all polished and in fact I couldn't exactly tell you what it was really about but I had a pretty bleak view of humanity by the end of it.
But that's not to say it wasn't fascinating or absorbing. It was in a strange way. I just didn't understand it and I know from the faces of those around me at the end of the performance that I wasn't the only one.
It appeared to revolve around a group of actors, writers and producers who had in their heyday frequented The Talk House, a private members club.
They gathered again one night after a period of 10 years in which we glean that their lives have gone in very different directions – some have become much more successful while others have fared less well.
As they chat over copious glasses of alcohol and an abundance of food - for which the club appears to have been known - many subjects looked as though they were going to be tackled. These include the terror threat, declining cultural standards, a debate on TV versus theatre and how children were being taught to murder fellow citizens. But none of them were knitted together or explored fully.
The set had echoes of an Agatha Christie story and given that there were ramblings about how some of the characters now had jobs "sticking" random people (murdering them) in places like Nigeria I fully expected someone to get bumped off.
They didn't, although one character spent a good five minutes towards the end wailing about how she wanted to die.
The end, when it came was a bit of a damp squib too. While some may find the themes interesting for me they weren't explored enough.

Evening At The Talk House is on at the National Theatre until March 30. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

INTERVIEW - Steven Webb - I Want My Hat Back, National Theatre's Temporary Theatre

Steven Webb as Rabbit in I Want My Hat Back. Credit Richard Davenport

FROM the age of about four Steven Webb knew he wanted to be on stage.
And he was true to his dream, taking the lead role in Oliver! At the London Palladium when he was 10. Since then he’s appeared on stage in a variety of roles including The History Boys, and has appeared in the BBC series The Magician’s House and in ITV’s Bad Girls.
His latest role however is a bit unusual, for he plays a rabbit in an adaptation of Jon Klassen's classic children's book I Want My Hat Back.
The show is being staged at the Temporary Theatre - formerly the Shed - the National's red box structure on its forecourt.
It has been adapted by Steven’s friends Joel Horwood with music by Arthur Darvill and he says he’s loving every moment.
“When I first read it I realised how funny it was,” he says. “The original book is only about eight or nine pages long so it’s quite short but it’s such a lovely story.
“When Joel mentioned he wanted to do an adaptation and for me to be in it I had no hesitation in saying yes."
The story is about a bear who loves his red hat but one morning he wakes up and realises the hat has gone missing.
So he goes on a journey into the forest to find it and visits lots of the animals along the way to ask if they've seen it.
“The animals he meets give him different responses but it's when he gets to the rabbit that it gets interesting, because the rabbit is actually wearing the hat," says Steven.
“I tell him that I don’t know where the hat is, even though I know full well it’s on my head. What happens next and how the bear reacts, well you will have to come and see the show!
“We’ve had to stretch it a bit and we’ve added music and songs but we’ve tried to remain true to the story - although there is a better ending for the rabbit!” he adds warmly.
The show is designed for those aged three and up and was devised by the company over a period of a few months, something Steven says was “a wonderful experience”.
“It’s been such a fun and lovely time doing rehearsals and actually getting the show together,” he says. “It was very much like a workshop every day as we all went in and helped create ideas for the show so it feels like an ensemble effort."
And he says he’s enjoying being a rabbit, something he’s not done before.
“I’ve done a lot of panto in the past so used to doing shows for younger audiences but never played a rabbit before,” he laughs. “However it is really good fun.
“The costume and set designers have come up with some brilliant ways to show the animals. For example the fox has a lovely moustache and I’ve got some fantastic ears - as well as developed a hop.
“We’ve also used various items you’d find in any home to create props – pot plants have become the forest – it’s been a lot of fun.
“So far the reaction from our mostly young audience has been great so we are having a fantastic time."
So does the bear get his hat back I ask?
"You'll have to come and find out," says Steven.

I Want My Hat Back is on at the National's Temporary Theatre until January 2. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

INTERVIEW - Andrew Pollard

It’s panto season and this year Andrew Pollard marks his 10th appearance as Dame at Greenwich Theatre’s annual festive show with something slightly different. Kate Gould finds out more.

THE story of Little Red Riding Hood and her encounter with the big bad wolf in the wood has provided Andrew Pollard with the inspiration for his latest festive extravaganza at Greenwich Theatre.
The writer, actor and for the past nine years, the Croom Hill theatre’s resident panto dame, was determined to pull out all the stops for this year’s show with a story that was slightly off the beaten track.
“As this is the 11th show I’ve written for Greenwich and the 10th I’ve been in as Dame, I didn’t want to do a repeat of a story we’d done before,” he explains.
“I was thinking about what was a nice, classic story, that was not too complicated and what might make a good role for me and this one seemed to fit the bill.
“In fact I have been wanting to do it for a while and as a story it is strong. It’s also nice to be able to go down a slightly different route and do something not so obvious.”
Given Andrew’s previous festive successes at the theatre, its boss, artistic director James Haddrell, was happy to give Red Riding Hood the thumbs up.
“Audiences like the Greenwich panto and trust us to do a good job," says Andrew. "It’s fantastic as it means we can take a punt on a story that is not done very often.
“It’s good to do the staples now and again because they are classics and they stay for a reason but Greenwich audiences like the fact that we do something a bit different.
"Also, going to a panto marks the start of Christmas for many people so there's that too and it does mean the pressure is always on to do at least as well as if not better than previous years," he adds chuckling.
“That’s the thing that worries me the most - hoping it’s funny enough and that we come up with the goods.
"The pressure keeps me going though!”
We speak as Andrew is “polishing bits and pieces” of the show which opens tonight and which, if previous ones are anything to go by, promises to be a high octane, all singing, dancing and laugh out loud affair.
Indeed ticket sales are doing very well and were even selling back in January before the title was revealed, something that Andrew says is "a great endorsement".
In it, Andrew plays the Granny which he says despite the fact he is supposed to get eaten for dinner by the wolf is a “good part”.
“You can’t be too gruesome but there is a clever way of me being eaten and then brought back up again,” he laughs.
“It is one of the classic fairy tales and comes with scary elements – something which is true of most pantomimes so I think you water things down at your peril.
“Besides we all like to be scared now and again, it’s all part of growing up, hiding behind the sofa at things like Dr Who.
“The beauty of panto is that it is married with such a lot of slapstick and humour and of course the wolf gets his comeuppance in the end but in a comic way.
“Besides I can’t stay eaten as I have to be back for the finale and I have a great costume for that!”
Andrew has set the action in a wood in Switzerland rather than Greenwich but there are, as always, plenty of local and topical references.
Indeed, this year’s theme is the theatre itself something that Andrew feels passionately about.
"As the Granny I run a theatre in the woods which is under threat, so a nod to Greenwich," he says.
"I didn’t want to get too political but panto in its essence was always political.
“While we were tinkering about with the story early on we found an article about Red Riding Hood that was done in the mid 1800s in Manchester. There was a riot and the council had to close the show.
"I don’t want that to happen here but we do allude to the situation in Greenwich.
"This theatre could still be lost quite easily and I want to acknowledge that because once something is gone it doesn’t come back.
“It’s also nice to acknowledge this theatre and the important part it plays in the community here in Greenwich. I want to salute it because it’s been a fantastic home for me and a springboard to my career and I love it.
“What’s amazing is that it was built so long ago and has been entertaining audiences for all those years with gags that are still funny today so it would be a crying shame if it were to close.”
And if Andrew's past stories have had you weeping with laughter, this year is likely to be no exception as he promises a cracking script, fantastic and utterly outrageous costumes, plenty of silly gags, music, merriment and lots of audience participation plus the finale to bring the house down.
To tell the story, Andrew will be aided and abetted by a dedicated team of actors, musicians, set designers, costume designers and other backstage crew who he says are “like family”.
“There is a real loyalty with the Greenwich show not just with the audiences who come and see us year after year but with those who take part in it,” he says.
“What’s brilliant is that we get a lot of people asking if they can be part of it which is a lovely position to be in."
And regulars will notice a few familiar faces in this year's cast although there are one or two notable absences.
Paul Crittoph, the long-time side kick and foil to Andrew’s Dame is otherwise engaged, but fortunately back to entertain again are Antony Spargo, Alim Jayda and Martin Johnston.
“It’s good to change it up a bit but we do miss Paul,” says Andrew. “However, Antony is brilliant and he will steal the show and we have Martin and Alim back which is great.
"We have such a great team both front and back of house who all pull together to make it the best show it can be so I'm very lucky.
"So now we are all raring to go - we can't wait!"

Red Riding Hood is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill until Sunday, January 10. Visit or call the box office on 020 8858 7755 for full listings.

REVIEW - Husbands & Sons, National Theatre


HUSBANDS & Sons is not one story but three which have been interweaved to create one brilliant piece of drama.
The three stories are those of DH Lawrence, written between 1911 and 1913 and set on the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the shadow of the Brinsley coal pit.
They tell the stories of three families whose lives revolve around the pit. The characters from each family sometimes meet each other in the rain soaked streets of the village but otherwise stay in the confines of their homes.
The play is as much about the husbands and their sons as it is about the women in their lives – the wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers and how they are treated.
Some of it is difficult to watch – Lizzie Holroyd in particular. Here is a woman with a young son who has to put up with her abusive and alcoholic husband who when he’s not down the pit is drinking away his earnings with a couple of loose women for company.
As if that wasn’t enough, she is drawn to a kind neighbour who helps about the house and eventually asks her to run away with him.
Across the road are the Lamberts. Mrs Lambert also has to put up with an abusive and uneducated husband while becoming ever more jealous of her son’s burgeoning romance. Her son is the apple of her eye and as she becomes more proud of him she begins to despise her husband more.
Then there are the Gascoignes. Newlywed Minnie is desperate to have a life of order, dinner at six, a neat and clean house and a husband who will let go of his mother’s suffocating apron strings. Yet this is so far from what she gets that she temporarily leaves home.
There are some very strong performances including Anne-Marie Duff who plays Lizzie Holroyd, Louise Brealey as Minnie and Joe Armstrong as Gascoigne.
As well as a superb cast, directed by the brilliant Marianne Elliott, the set is outstanding. It is played in the round with each home outlined on the stage floor with the family’s surname etched on it to delineate whose house is whose.
In between the homes are walkways to show the street they live on, the road to the pit and the coal seam itself. It is really quite brilliant.
It is by turns dark, funny, forbidding, terribly emotional and intense and is utterly absorbing. It is a triumph.

Husbands & Sons is on at the National Theatre until Wednesday, February 10. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

REVIEW - Waste, National Theatre


SEX sells. That is as true today as it was 100 years or more ago when actor and playwright Harley Granville-Barker wrote his play Waste.
Famously censored when it was first written for being too risque in its content it has been given a stylish, period dressed revival at the National Theatre, directed by Roger Michel.
It concerns one Henry Trebell, an independent MP who is co-opted by the Conservatives to prepare and then push through a controversial Disestablishment bill through the House of Commons.
This is a man who is "in love with the job" rather than any woman and pursues his work with zeal, dedication and commitment. That's not to say he doesn't like to flirt with the opposite sex but he does so sporadically and without much in the way of feeling.
However, during a weekend party at socialite's Lady Julia Farrant's house, he meets Amy O'Connell, trapped in a sexless and unhappy marriage, and embarks on a brief affair with her - and it is this that is his downfall.
For unfortunately she falls pregnant with his child and despite his pleas for her to keep it she goes to a backstreet abortionist - and then dies of complications from the proceedure.
That might be tragedy enough but in the second half the fall out and public scandal from the affair threatens to destroy Trebell's political career and all the hard work he has done on the bill.
His fellow MPs close ranks to seal his fate and unwittingly bring about a tragic ending.
It is a stylish and absorbing production, with minimal furniture on the National's expansive Lyttelton stage, and with a strong cast led by Charles Edwards as Trebell and Olivia Williams as Amy.
They are ably supported by Sylvestra Le Touzel as Frances Trebell, Lucy Robinson as Lady Julia and William Chubb as Farrant.
And although the basic story is essentially nothing new, it provides a fascinating look at the political wranglings that go on behind closed doors in Westminster and shows clearly how things have not changed - we all still seem to be hungry for any politician or celebrity who is caught in flagrante.
But the waste also refers to the personal tragedy - not just of Trebell who faces political ruin not to mention losing both his baby and his pet project, but of Amy too - the waste of a life, a career and a love affair.

Waste is on at the National Theatre until March 19. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

INTERVIEW - Noel Fielding

NOEL Fielding is perhaps best known to most people as his eccentric zoo-keeper alter ego Vince Noir from The Mighty Boosh. But as Kate Gould discovers, there is more to him than that.
pic credit: Dave Brown

I’D got a list of questions about a mile long for Noel Fielding - because let's face it, this is a man who has done so much in his career already - he's an award winning comedian, as well as an artist, musician, actor, DJ, performer, TV panellist.... the list goes on.
He's also a chatterbox and during our conversation regaled me with stories about growing up in and around South London, his encounters with giant spiders in Australia and how he hopes to make a film version of The Mighty Boosh.
The 42-year-old is charming and erudite and has a surreal wit. Chuckling at his own thoughts he also skips from one subject to another fairly rapidly and without warning, words tumbling out of his mouth, and has a stream of consciousness that is at times childlike.
In fact so at ease does he make me that half an hour in his company and I feel as though we have really bonded.
Over the past 15 years or so he has become a firm fixture and favourite on our TV screens and on stage appearing in shows such as Buzzcocks and The IT Crowd as well as his hugely successful The Mighty Boosh with Julian Barratt. This was initially done as a stand up routine at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival before becoming a radio show and then an acclaimed three-season TV series.
His credits also include co-presenting Comic Relief Does Top Of The Pops, the film Sweet, Bunny The Bull and Horrid Henry: The Movie, shows at the Edinburgh Festival and exhibitions of his art work.
As well as his comedy he is equally well known for his vibrant personality, his make up and clothes. But he admits it wasn’t always like this.
“Growing up I was a bit of a nerd playing football with white trainers in Croydon,” he chuckles. “I was also a bit shy and loved drawing.
“I used to drink at the Ship in Croydon and go to the Whitgift Centre and hang out there. It was weird as there wasn’t much to do. I went to the cinema a lot and the ice rink in Streatham.
“I remember the pub fondly though – I got beaten up there because I had make up on. A lot of my mates still live down there. I was quite an oik when I was growing up but then I went to art school and turned my back on that way of life.”
He will get the chance to revisit the town where he spent his formative years when he comes to the Fairfield Halls on Friday November 20.
He will be performing his show, An Evening With Noel Fielding, which is part of a month long tour and which includes stops at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre on November 18 and New Wimbledon Theatre on November 19.
It is the second leg of the UK tour after having taking it to Australia and New Zealand and he says he’s really looking forward to it.
“It’s basically an extra month of dates we didn’t get to do last time around,” he says by way of explanation. “A lot of people couldn’t get tickets and so we thought we’d do some more gigs.
“I took the show to Australia and New Zealand this year and have changed it a bit. We have been writing it for eight months, tidying it up, adding bits, taking bits out – it’s never finished!
“In Australia I did this joke about spiders and how huge they are and how much I hate them. In England if you see one inside the house you put a cup over it and put it out but in Australia you have to have a mixing bowl as they are so big.
"I put it out and it went down the sidewalk and hailed a cab. Next thing I know it picks me up from the airport….” He dissolves laughing.
“I always have another spin on a joke and keep adding to them – they are like Jenga jokes – it’s like a disease and you can’t stop,” he laughs before switching back to what’s in the UK show.
“It’s quite long,” he says. “There is stand up for about 40 minutes with a bit of live animation, music and some of the TV characters I’ve done. Then my brother Mike and mate Tom Meeten will come on before we have a break and then I play a New York cop who interrogates the audience.
“I get to see the audience up close which is good. My brother films it so everyone can see it. We get a volunteer from the audience so there is a lot that could go wrong,” he chuckles.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Fairfield Halls though. I saw a lot to see comedians like Rob Newman and David Baddiel there so I’ve got happy memories of Fairfield Halls. We went there with the first Boosh tour. There is quite a lot of wood panelling – it’s quite a grand room as I recall.
“For this show I got the main ideas down before I started writing and then worked with the director and Tom and we hammered it out. Some of it worked really well and some didn’t so we kept at it. The audience creates the show in the end as what they respond to ends up being kept and what they don’t gets removed.
“Their reaction is important – but they don’t get paid though. That would get messy in the end.”
What doesn’t get messy these days are the after show activities. In fact Noel says you are more likely to find him painting, meditating or playing tennis rather than partying all night. Indeed he says he started painting because he thought it would help him relax.
As a bonus he found he enjoyed it and recently staged an exhibition of his watercolours at the Royal Albert Hall.
“I had done a couple of exhibitions and wanted to do something different so started messing around with watercolours,” he says.
“It was the complete opposite to how I usually paint. It’s like the less you put on the more interesting it becomes. I sold quite a lot actually so I might do some more.
“I started painting to help me relax and then I started meditating as I thought it might calm me down. It really does help and gets rid of a layer of stress.
“I thought meditating would make me lose all my ideas but instead I have more. Ideas come from anything inside my head, from what I read or see on the TV and when I least expect it. I try not to watch rubbish and try and read interesting stuff that will allow my head to be full of great stuff. I listen to a lot of music too.
“My party days are over now though,” he adds laughing again.
“I’m in my 40s and can’t deal with the hangovers these days – you can’t get away with it and afterwards you never feel fine. It takes two days to get over one. I do go out but I can’t when I’m doing gigs. I play tennis and eat healthily.”
During our chat we spend a lot of time meandering around the subject of Cecil the Lion, who at the time of our conversation had not long since passed away having strayed into the path of an American dentist’s bullet.
It is something that Noel felt keenly and was still aggrieved about coming back to the subject several times during tour chat.
“Who would do that to a lion?” he asks. "If you kill a lion like Cecil that’s really bad. NASA should send that man to space on a one-way ticket – I think he must have lost a lot of clients over that.
“I think I will make all my shows a tribute to Cecil and we will have a minute’s silence,” he adds.
“I did a stand up once about a ghost lion who would try and calm me down. It was a bit of an Aslan thing. He used to give me a hug. That was weird.
“It split the crowd. But that’s the thing about stand up. The stuff I used to do years ago, I never wrote anything down properly. We’d just jot a few things down and go out and do it and then party afterwards.”
So what of the Boosh and will they ever come back I ask?
“Never say never,” says Noel. “Thing is, Julian and I were so bored of it at the end. It becomes difficult as you are stretched in every possible way.
"The only thing we didn’t ever do was a film so I would be up for it if we both had the time to do it. I think it would be great. I hate to think it would be the end of it as we were a great double act.
“But like unicorns these opportunities come round infrequently so we will have to see. Maybe now we’ve had a break from each other there is a slim chance.
“Maybe we could do a film about Cecil,” he muses. “Or maybe I’ll just have a pint in the Ship and then like a pirate, sail around the Fairfield Halls with Cecil and meditate. He will be the ghost of the show. It’s going to be great.”

An Evening With Noel Fielding is on at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre on November 18, New Wimbledon Theatre on November 19 and Fairfield Halls, Croydon on Friday November 20. Visit for full listings.

REVIEW - As You Like It, National Theatre


THE sight that greets the audience at the start of the National Theatre’s production of As You Like It is more high tech office than forest.
The Olivier stage sees Duke Frederick’s court full of desks and chairs with a token bonsai tree on each desk. But once Rosalind, Celia and Orlando leave the Duke’s court having been banished, it transforms in the most spectacular way.
In fact Lizzie Clachen’s set is the star of the show. The office furniture suddenly transforms itself into the trees of the Forest of Arden and hang over the stage – it’s total genius.
The forest is thus dark and gloomy save for a few shards of light that come through the desks. It also features the sounds of wild animals and birds thanks to a choir who are positioned in and around the trees making it a much more eerie and strange place.
But as the people go further into it and love begins to blossom, so too does the light begin to shine more brightly and more colour is introduced. It’s quite brilliant.
Director Polly Findlay has done a lovely job with the play too – often described as Shakespeare’s weirdest comedy. Indeed there is much to love and admire in her spirited production.
It’s punchy, full of little tricks that add to the colour of the piece – one of the best moments was when some of the cast came in on all fours dressed in Arran sweaters and baa-ing as sheep. One even eats one of Orlando’s discarded and badly written love notes.
The cast is top notch too. Rosalie Craig is a marvellous Rosalind and Patsy Ferran is delightful as her cousin Celia, in fact the bond between them is really strong.
There is also good support from Joe Bannister as Orlando and Mark Benton as Touchstone who help make this a really magical production.

As You Like It is on at the National Theatre, South Bank until Saturday, March 5. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

REVIEW - Dinner With Friends, Park Theatre

Four Stars

RELATIONSHIPS in general and friendships and marriage in particular are put under the microscope in Donald Margulies’ play Dinner With Friends.
The Pulitzer winning piece is currently being staged at the Park Theatre and has as one of its four stars, Brockley actor Shaun Dooley.

Shaun Dooley as Gabe and Sara Stewart as Karen

Set in America, it features two couples – the seemingly impossibly perfect Karen and Gabe and their best friends, Beth and Tom, who they introduced shortly after they were married.
It begins during a dinner party in which Karen and Gabe, both successful food writers, are boring the pants off Beth about their recent gastronomic trip to Italy.
But all is not as it seems for Beth is about ready to drop a bombshell – that Tom has done the dirty on her by having an affair and walking out on her and their kids.
It hits Beth hard but seems as though it hits her friends even harder. Both Karen and Gabe are left reeling – why had they not seen this coming? How could Tom do this? What will happen to their friendship with this couple who are now no longer a couple? Could this happen to them? Their perfect world now looks a bit precarious.

Hari Dhillon as Tom

When Tom finds out Beth has already told their friends he comes over later that night to put his side of the story across – worried that Karen and Gabe have already taken sides against him.
Sadly for him Karen has already cut him off her Christmas card list.
However, the fall out results in both Karen and Gabe looking at their own relationship and wondering if everything is as perfect as it should be or as they think it is.
Gabe in particular goes from being confident and assured in his marriage to become angry at Tom for breaking up his perfect world and anxious about whether the same thing could happen to him and Karen.
All four actors put in fine performances in what is a well staged, poignant and funny production.
Finty Williams as Beth tugs at the heartstrings with her vulnerability but is then giddy with excitement – like a teenager – once she’d moved on and found new love.

Finty Williams as Beth

Hari Dhillon is perfectly awful as the smug, swaggering cheater Tom who stuns best friend Gabe with the ease in which he has left Beth and moved on to find love elsewhere.
Shaun Dooley is particularly good as Gabe. His initial lack of tact, awareness and comments at inappropriate moments were hilarious but he too showed a vulnerable side when he talked of “clinging” to his wife and the fear he felt about his own relationship.
And Sara Stewart as the smug Karen who is forced to reassess her relationship with Gabe was a delight.
It is a beautifully written and finely observed piece – showing the precarious nature of relationships and that most couples don’t listen to each other half the time and then wonder why things go wrong. And for any of us who have been or are in relationships there were moments in the dialogue that were probably uncomfortably familiar.

Dinner With Friends is on at the Park Theatre until November 28. Visit for full listings.

INTERVIEW - Krissi Bohn, The Bogus Woman

SHE famously made her name as Lloyd Mullaney’s long lost daughter Jenn Kamara on the cobbles of Corrie but actress Krissi Bohn is now about to star in a one woman stage show at the Clapham Omnibus.
Written by Kay Adshead, The Bogus Woman is both a shocking and hard hitting story about one unnamed young woman’s struggle as a refugee.
It tells her story as she flees from a war torn African country where she was abused and gang raped and where her child, parents, husband and sister are murdered.
She arrives in Britain to seek asylum and a new life but there are plenty of difficulties and obstacles that lie in her path - she is detained, then interrogated, humiliated and racially abused.
Now more than 10 years after it was written it remains a powerful story of asylum in modern Britain. And with the migrant crisis debate still at the centre of British politics and in our newspapers and on the TV news almost daily, it is as relevant as ever.
“It’s an incredible piece,” says Krissi. “It is a fantastic story – beautifully written and is both heartbreakingly sad and very funny in the way it charts this woman’s fight for survival.
“I did a production of it seven years ago and it is still very topical and relevant – so it’s very exciting that I am getting a chance to play it again.”
In the space of the 80 minute production, Krissi transforms herself into soldiers, immigration officials, detention centre staff, fellow asylum seekers, do-gooders, lawyers and many others whom the young woman meets as her life spirals down into tragedy.
In total there are 51 different characters to portray, something she says is both terrifying and exhilarating.
“It’s definitely the most challenging piece of work I’ve ever done,” she says. “I’m completely on my own on stage and don’t really have any props or costume changes, so it’s all done vocally and physically to show the various people in the play.
“I do different accents and mannerisms – the characters come from all over Britain and abroad and they are men as well as women so I have to change the pitch of my voice too.
“Some of them say one or two lines but some appear throughout the play. What’s harder is that some of the characters are just horrifically racist or just horrible, awful people so trying to get into their heads is quite difficult.
“My favourite though is Mr Pennington the solicitor. He appears quite early on and he’s in it throughout. I have a soft spot for him because he’s a good guy and really tries to help this woman.
“It’s also nice to know that in what is a bleak story with some hideous people, there are those who are good and who try and help. He’s a nice and well rounded character.”
Despite the subject matter Krissi is relishing the chance to revisit the role and says she is looking forward to coming to Clapham as part of the nationwide tour.
“It’s completely different to anything I have done before and I get to flex my acting muscles which is great – I would never normally get asked to play a 70-year-old Irish man!” she laughs.
“I was really nervous initially and it was massively daunting especially being alone on stage, but it’s incredibly rewarding too.
“I still get nervous as I feel a real responsibility in telling her story because it’s putting a real face to all these things we hear about and see on the news.
“It’s also a really intense 80 minutes in which it gathers momentum from the off and doesn’t stop til the end.
“Clapham is a small venue but it’s the ideal size to tell the story,” she adds. “The audience will be so close to the action which will add to the atmosphere.
“But it also makes it very emotional for them because they get to put a face to all those stories they see and hear about.
“What is great about it is that everyone who comes to see it gets a greater understanding about what it is to be a refugee and the difficulties they face.
“It has opened my eyes a lot more to what is going on. But what’s heartening is that people have really wanted to do something to help.
“I hope as many people come and see it as possible – and have their perceptions and values challenged.”

The Bogus Woman is on at the Clapham Ombibus from Wednesday, November 11 until Sunday, November 15. Tickets cost £15 for adults and £12 for children. Visit for full listings.