Wednesday, 30 December 2015

REVIEW - Bull, at the Young Vic


Max Bennett as Tony and Marc Wootton as Thomas in Bull 
at the Young Vic. Credit Manuel Harlan

THE corporate world and the bullying that goes on within it is under the spotlight in a revival of Mike Bartlett's fantastic play Bull.
The production, put on at the Young Vic earlier in 2015 is now back there on the Waterloo theatre's Maria stage and is 55 minutes of often painful viewing.
It is played out in a boxing ring alongside which the audience stands and within which three office workers await their fate from their boss Carter who is looking to get rid of one of them.
It is glaringly obvious from the minute he comes on stage that it is Thomas who is the target for being made redundant and he is mercilessly pursued by his colleagues Tony and Isobel.
Verbal punches thrown with precision, they are like exocet missiles in their relentless destruction of what remains of Thomas's self esteem, self confidence, ability and character.
It is distressing to watch but at the same time not something you can easily take your eyes off.
Eventually after prowling around the stage and disorientating their prey, the lions that they are have ripped him to shreds and he lies utterly broken in a pool of water.
Despite the cruelty which his co-workers inflict on Thomas, this razor-sharp piece is full of dark humour and is a thrilling and gripping production.
Brilliantly written it is also superbly acted by Max Bennett and Susannah Fielding as Tony and Isobel who make life hell for Thomas and Nigel Lindsay as Carter.
But the evening belongs to Marc Wootton as Thomas who desperately tries and ultimately fails to cling on to his job and his self esteem.
Thought provoking and hard hitting, this is a superb production.

Bull is on at the Young Vic until January 16. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

REVIEW - The Lorax, Old Vic


"I AM the Lorax! I speak for the trees". That is the proclamation of the Lorax, a beaver like animal with a fabulous moustache and extra long arms and who is the environmental campaigner in Dr Seuss's book of the same name.
His story, written in 1971, has provided the inspiration for a musical interpretation adapted by David Greig and brought to the Old Vic stage by director Max Webster.
And they have done a great job. For they have taken this classic tale, which takes about 10 to 15 minutes to read, and spun it into one which has been embellished with both extra text and music to make a show of about two hours.
The Lorax is a somewhat cantankerous chap who is on a mission to save and protect the earth from greedy people like the Once-ler and his family.
He lives in a forest full of Truffula trees which bears a fruit which the Once-ler has discovered can be used to make thneeds - oddly shaped things that have a variety of uses.
Unfortunately for the Lorax and his animal chums, the market for these thneeds increases and so does the chopping of trees until there is nothing left except a factory, pollution and crucially, nowhere for the animals to live and breathe.
The show is just glorious. Full of invention, colour and plenty of razzle dazzle it blends puppetry, songs and theatrical wizardry with all the eccentricity and humour from the book to make it fit for all the family.
Puppeteers Simon Lipkin, Ben Thompson and Laura Cubitt bring the orange coloured Lorax wonderfully to life where even the subtlest gestures are beautifully executed.
Elsewhere puppeteers are responsible for a trio of hilarious open mouthed dancing fish, yellow-coloured flying swans and the vibrantly coloured trees.
There are also three dark red bears who show off their acrobatic skills, a donkey and swan ballerinas.
Clad in green, Simon Paisley-Day is a jovial Once-ler whose conscience is caught between the environmental aims of the Lorax and the greed of his family.
Ultimately greed wins but at the detriment to the forest and its inhabitants who slope off stage with heads bowed.
It is a cautionary tale, which despite the hilarity, fun and frolics of the piece, is kept very much at the front of what is a wonderful production.

The Lorax is at the Old Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until Saturday, January 16. Tickets from £12. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7628.

REVIEW - Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

FOUR stars

ANYONE who hasn’t been to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse really should. The smaller sibling to the Globe is a thing of beauty, and even more so when illuminated by candles.
It is currently hosting a season of Shakespeare's late plays and with which Dominic Dromgoole has chosen to end his 10-year tenure as artistic director of the Bankside theatre.
The second in the season is Cymbeline and for anyone not familiar with the piece, there is a lot going on!
There are lost children, a cross dressing heroine, a decapitated man, lies, deception, travel, banishment, war, trust issues and a lot more besides.
In a nutshell, Innogen, daughter of King Cymbeline, has secretly married Posthumous, something which angers her father and wicked stepmother as they had planned to marry her off to her step brother Cloten.
Postumous is exiled to Italy and there he boasts about his wife’s virtue and her beauty. The villainous Iachimo decides this is too good to leave alone and lays a wager on her fidelity.
And it seems he will stop at nothing to prove that Innogen has been unfaithful, even stealing into her bedroom in a trunk and ravishing her with his eyes, something that in this production is utterly creepy.
When Innogen finds out Posthumous thinks she has betrayed him with Iachimo, she fleas to the woods, dresses up as a boy and takes refuge in a cave. Unbeknownst to her it is inhabited by her two brothers who had been lost 20 years previously.
In typical Shakespeare fashion, there follows plenty of too-ing and fro-ing between characters - not least the scene in which Innogen, disguised as a boy, wakes up to find herself lying next to a headless corpse who she mistakenly believes to be her husband - before order is restored.
It is a somewhat complex play but this production directed by Sam Yates is a gem with the humour brought out to great effect.
Globe regular Christopher Logan as the physician Cornelius is a delight and really plays to the gallery.
Eugene O’Hare is suitably creepy as the villain Iachimo and Jonjo O’Neill and Emily Barber are great as Posthumous and Innogen.

Cymbeline is at the Sam Wanamker Playhouse, Bankside until April 21. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.

REVIEW - Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory


IT hasn't been staged in London for almost 50 years but now the Menier Chocolate Factory has revived musical Funny Girl and it's an absolute cracker.
Directed by Michael Mayer and starring Sheridan Smith it tells the story of 1920s Jewish girl Fanny Brice who while she may not have the model looks, she is determined to be a success on the Broadway stage.
Through guts, hard knocks and a not inconsiderable amount of chutzpah she rose from the Lower East Side of New York to achieve her goal of becoming the star of the Ziegfeld Follies and along the way catches the eye of conman Nicky Arnstein.
They fall in love and get married but in the end their love is doomed because of his gambling and her trying to bail him out all the time.
Although the story is a bit flimsy and lacks depth, it is one full of humour and poignancy and this is a classy production.
It has a great set with two almost constantly moving travelators, opulent costumes and packs in what could be seen as a large cast onto the small Menier stage.
The score too, by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, features an aray of memorable numbers not least People, Don't Rain On My Parade and You Are Woman, I Am Man.
The entire cast is superb. Sheridan Smith is utterly fabulous as Fanny and really makes the part her own. Indeed she brings her character alive with a glorious combination of comic timing, vulnerability and a beautiful singing voice - not to mention her "36 facial expressions".
Her renditions of People and Don't Rain On My Parade were wonderfully done and the whole piece was performed with incredible energy and enthusiasm.
She also lays to rest the spectre of Barbara Streisand whose performance as Fanny Brice in the 1960s propelled her to fame.
Smith is ably supported by Darius Campbell as the flawed Nicky and Joel Montague as her childhood friend Eddie Ryan.
Other highlights are the three card-playing ladies - Gay Soper, Valda Aviks and Marilyn Cutts as Fanny's mum - who are hilarious and full of joie de vivre.

Funny Girl is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until March 5 and then at teh Savoy Theatre from April 8. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713 for full listings.

REVIEW - Slava's Snowshow


MAGICAL is the only word to describe Slava's Snowshow. This amazing spectacle, which is back at the Southbank Centre for a fifth year, is beautiful, colourful and imersive. It is also funny, poignant, engaging and oodles of fun.
The show, which has been wowing audiences around the world for the past 20 years, was conceived by Slava Polunin.
It features about seven clowns all but one of whom are dressed in long grey overcoats with hats to match, extra long shoes and bright red noses.
The other one, who is on stage most of the time, is dressed in what looks like a yellow baby gro. He doesn't wear a hat but sports red fluffy shoes and a red nose.
But what the show is exactly is a tricky one to answer because it doesn't fit any particular genre. It's not panto, although there are elements of panto, it's not dance, although there are certainly elements there too and it's not a circus show, although it is performed by clowns who create mischief and mayhem and make us laugh out loud.
By and large they do not utter a sound although it is all set to a musical score that is both hauntingly beautiful and varied - ranging from pop to classical.
It is also not a magic show despite there being some fantastic magical moments. It is perhaps a combination of all of them and it makes for a superb theatrical experience.
There are various scenes which all connect with one another and show a childlike voyage of discovery which is utterly charming.
One of the best scenes was when the yellow-dressed clown had a conversation with himself via two big, fluffy telephones. Another was when he had an emotional relationship with a coat on a hat stand.
Gestures are subtle and even the raising of an eyebrow had the audience laughing one minute and gasping the next.
Other highlights include the audience being sprayed with water as the clowns roam amongst us, being shrouded in a giant cobweb, playing with some enormous coloured balloons and being caught in a blizzard.
Beautifully choreographed and crafted it is a fabulous show and a treat from start to finish.

Slava's Snowshow is on at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre until January 3. Tickets cost from £20. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

INTERVIEW - Rosalie Craig, playing Rosalind in As You Like It at the National Theatre

OF all the female roles in Shakespeare’s canon there is none like Rosalind. The lead in As You Like It, she is a fascinating and brilliant combination of mercurial wit and independence.
Full of energy, she manages to run rings round every other character in the play and is barely off stage.
Banished by her uncle the Duke she leaves her life in court and with her cousin Celia journeys into the Forest of Arden.
Disguised as a boy she embraces a different way of living and falls spectacularly in love with Orlando, also banished from the court and also in the forest.
Once there she discovers Orlando's love for her thanks to a series of love letters he has written and then stuck on the trees.
It spurs her into action and she sets about trying to teach him how to woo Rosalind before revealing her true identity.
The play is currently being performed at the National Theatre, directed by Polly Findlay. It hasn’t been staged there for 36 years so the combination of that and the role’s status could have been a terrifying prospect for any actress.
No wonder then that when Rosalie Craig was offered the part by the National’s artistic director Rufus Norris she thought it was a joke.
“I was rehearsing another play at the time and he took me to one side and said how about playing Rosalind instead,” she recalls.
“I couldn’t believe it – I thought he was taking the piss actually,” she laughs. “But he was serious and as soon as I realised that, I knew it was a no brainer.
“I mean, all the great actresses have played Rosalind and she’s a fantastic character so I didn’t hesitate.”
The play she turned down in favour of As You Like It is the much anticipated, the Alice in Wonderland inspired musical written by Blur frontman Damian Albarn and which has just opened on the National’s Olivier stage.
Was it a difficult decision then?
“I was really enjoying being part of that but Rosalind trumped it,” she says warmly. “I didn’t want to be too ecstatic because I was leaving Rufus’s production to go to another but it was his idea.
“It was so lovely to have had that moment though and to be thought of to play this role. That’s very special and a lovely position to find yourself in.”
However, once the excitement subsided, Rosalie, who lives in Crystal Palace, admits to having a fair few nerves. Despite her pedigree in musical theatre, most notably having wowed audiences with her incredible performance in Marianne Eliot’s production of The Light Princess at the National two years ago, this she says is by far her biggest role in “straight” theatre.
“The part comes with a lot of history and a lot of baggage,” she says. “I’m most known for the work I’ve done in musical theatre and haven’t done much straight theatre.
“I’ve also never really tackled such a meaty Shakespeare role – Rosalind has a lot to say and is on stage a lot so there was also that to think about.
"However I went into it treating it as a new play. In the end you just try and make the part your own and forget about all those who've gone before
“Besides, the role is also insane,” she adds laughing. “She’s funny, witty and she’s the biggest female role he wrote and during rehearsals it was sometimes tricky to find her."
And Rosalie admits that Rosalind was a harder character to find than she had first thought, not least because of all the different layers to her character.
“She turns on a dime and has a mosaic quality,” she says. “There are so many different sides to her and she turns into one at any given moment.
“She’s also desperately insecure and feeling a bit out of her depth at not being able to control or teach Orlando how to be in love with her.
“It’s her survival coping mechanism to falling in love though and it seems a huge and terrifying thing for her. I didn’t know that side of her at all.
“But trying to do what she did by dressing up as a boy, that’s completely insane – when would anyone ever do that in real life?” she laughs heartily.
The production has been well received and Rosalie says she is loving the audience reaction which she says changes with each performance.
And she is very happy to be back at the National and in her first role there since Light Princess two years ago. In that production she sang and acted whilst being hoisted and manhandled up and down the full width and height of the Lyttelton stage to appear as though she were floating.
She admits it’s a bitter sweet moment being back as there is a certain amount of unfinished business associated with the musical which was written by Samuel Adamson and singer songwriter Tori Amos.
It was a labour of love in that the production took the best part of five years to get to the stage and was postponed for a year before it finally opened.
“Light Princess meant so much to me and when it didn’t set the world alight it was very painful,” says Rosalie.
“You always think it’s going to be the best ever and I wanted it to go on.
“I know Tori [Amos] wanted to go to Broadway with it. I wish I knew why it didn’t. Most people really loved it.
“It was an incredible role though – much like Rosalind in many ways – and initially I thought I’d be really scared but because we’d worked on it for so long, five years in the end, I was just so eager to do it!
“It definitely has a special place in my heart.”
Despite her obvious love of the Light Princess, Rosalind is very much her focus now. That and playing a sheep for the first time.
“Ah yes,” she laughs. “I can’t say I’ve ever done that before. I did think it was a bit bonkers to bring sheep into the production but actually it’s genius.
“The set too just blew us away and when we did the first dress rehearsal and saw the set change for the first time it was amazing, a moment that will stay with me forever.
“That’s what I love about this place – and why it’s so incredible – the attention to detail and the creativity. It’s brilliant and so clever.
“I’m really proud of this production and it’s going really well. It has been a real voyage of discovery and I love being back here. It really is the best place to work and I’m at my most happy when I’m here.”
And when she does have a bit of free time?
“I love wandering round Crystal Palace which is where I live,” she says. “My husband and I have been here for about five years and it’s fantastic and I really hope we can stay here forever.
“We love walking in the Triangle and being part of this amazing community with all its lovely shops. The atmosphere is great and it’s so green.
“It feels like home.”

As You Like It is on at the National Theatre, South Bank until March 5. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on X. It will be broadcast in cinemas via NT Live on February 25.

REVIEW at the National Theatre


IT is a brave man who takes on the task of updating a classic of English literature and turning it into a modern day musical.
But that is what Blur frontman Damon Albarn has done with Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.
Collaborating with director Rufus Norris and Moira Buffini who wrote the words, is surreal and bonkers - but in a good way.
It tells the story of teenager Aly. Her parents have split up, she’s had to move to a new part of town and a new school where she is bullied relentlessly. To find an escape, her rabbit hole, she turns to the internet and gaming where she can truly be herself.
She finds herself playing, creating an avatar, Alice, that deliberately looks nothing like her.
This Alice is white, blonde, blue eyed and with vertiginous heals. Along the way she meets the White Rabbit, a gloriously colourful balloon shaped caterpillar, the mock turtle, the dodo and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.
To begin with all seems to go well but then Aly’s teacher Miss Manxome, confiscates her mobile phone and the trouble begins.
Miss Manxome, whose name is also Alice, takes on Aly’s avatar and turns her into something much nastier which threatens to destroy the game. She seems to morph into a cross between Cruella De Vil and the Queen of Hearts.
Elsewhere Aly’s father, who has a touch of Max Wall about him, becomes the Mad Hatter figure and the Cheshire Cat is an enormous hologram.
It was very clever with all the main characters - who were brightly coloured and vibrant - recognisable in Aly’s virtual world, the real version of which was distinctly grey and non descript.
Visually it was stunning with graphics, moving props, holograms and plenty to dazzle your eyes.
The tunes may not be musical theatre gems and won't necessarily have you humming on the way home but there is a mix of styles.
Ultimately this may prove to be a marmite show - personally I loved it. is on at the National Theatre until Saturday, April 30. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

REVIEW - Cinderella, Fairfield Halls, Croydon


PANTO season is in full swing and this year Croydon’s Fairfield Halls has pulled out all the stops to create an amazing show.
Their offering this year is the classic Cinderella and it is a real winner.
It tells the familiar tale of Cinders and her dreams of meeting and then marrying a Prince while being bullied by her two step sisters – in this show they are called Beatrice and Eugenie.
To help keep her spirits up she has Buttons by her side and a Jamaican Fairy Godmother.
Between them they manage to get Cinders to the ball in time and it’s there that she dances the night away with the Prince.
So far so trad but it’s the staging that really makes this show. Full of sparkly costumes, new takes on familiar tunes and more than a sprinkling of magic from Stephen Mulhurn’s Buttons it was a real treat.
There are also some very clever effects – none more so than right at the end of Act One when Cinderella comes face to face with her carriage – pulled by a winged horse – it was a jaw dropping moment that had the audience gasp as one and go “wow!”
The second half was even better than the first as the writers had really ramped up the comedy. Gags came thick and fast and had us all crying with laughter. There were plenty of scene stealers - not least the one with Buttons and Dandini and a skit with a barrow of board games.
The acting was spot on too. Joanna Sawyer as Cinderella had more than a touch of Taylor Swift about her and her scenes with Benjamin Brook’s Prince Charming were very sweet - just the right side of cheesy!
Lisa Davina Phillip was superb as the Fairy Godmother and the two ugly sisters – Matt Daines and Stewart Wright – were suitably ugly and horrid and had everyone booing in unison.
But the stand out was Buttons – together with Steve Wickenden as Dandini, he really got the audience going and had everyone in stitches with his silly jokes.
A real Christmas cracker!

Cinderella is on at Fairfield Halls, Croydon until Sunday, January 3. Tickets from £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 8688 9291 for full listings.

Monday, 14 December 2015

REVIEW - Macbeth, Young Vic

THREE stars

MACBETH, one of Shakespeare’s finest and most well loved plays is the latest offering from the Young Vic.
It is directed by Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin and combines dance and often pulsating music with strobe lighting.
Judicioulsy clipped to two hours straight through this is not a production for the faint hearted and I’m not sure it will appeal to Shakespeare purists but it was an interesting interpretation nonetheless.
It is set in what looks like a vortex, a claustrophobic tunnel that presumably represents Macbeth’s mind.
Indeed there is no hint of the vast expanse of the rugged Scottish landscape here.
The opening scene immediately grabs your attention and is extremely disturbing. The jarring music pulsates, lights flicker and we see acts of tortue - a man captured has his head thrust in a plastic bag before he is executed. Grim stuff.
And because it’s set very much in the here and now, there is more than a nod to places like Abu Graib.
John Hefferman is fabulous as Macbeth, a nice bloke who is seduced by his power hungry wife to murder his way to the top.
But the reasons why he suddenly changes from nice to murderous at the drop of a hat are not fully explored and you never get a real sense of why he does what he does.
Anna Maxwell Martin as Lady M was something of a disappointment. She was ice cool but too quiet and sometimes rushed her lines so much that I could barely make out what she said.
The witches, dressed head to toe in skin coloured body stockings, were a constant feature of the production begging the question of whether or not they were a figment in Macbeth’s mind, part of his psyche?
If they were supposed to be a vision of Macbeth's decaying mental state, their constant dancing of juddering and jolting around the stage didn't quite work for me.
However, despite this there are some thrilling moments and the staging was exciting, clever and daring.

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

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

REVIEW - A Christmas Carol.... More Or Less


LAST year new kid on the theatrical block, the Bridge House Theatre in Penge, brought us a gem of a production in It's A Wonderful Life.
This year they've looked to Charles Dickens for inspiration for their festive offering and have chosen his A Christmas Carol, one of the classics of English Literature.
Set at Christmas it tells the story of Scrooge and how he becomes a better man. It is a moral tale and a hugely uplifting one.
It is this story that forms the basis of A Christmas Carol…. More Or Less, essentially a play within a play and one that grips you from the off.
It starts off with young director and owner of the fictitious theatre Sarah Armitage welcoming us, her audience, to the venue, one she has owned and run with her husband Charlie for three years. She tells us it’s been a struggle but she’s grateful for all the local support.
We are waiting for the show to start but unfortunately there has been a bit of an incident. Charlie comes back to tell Sarah that the entire cast has been involved in an accident at a dry slope skiing centre in Chatham, thus not able to come and do the show.
But that’s not all. For not only is the future of the show now in doubt, it also seems that the theatre is too. For Charlie is about to call time on his marriage and skip town and head off to LA, minus Sarah and their son, to pursue his dream of writing scipts for some trashy reality TV shows.
However, the feisty Sarah is not one to give up easily and instead she convinces him that in the best traditions of theatre the show must go on and that he should help her do the show – just the two of them.
And so that is what they do, hurtling through the story of how Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future and how he begins to see the error of his ways.
As he does so Charlie also begins to change and has a Scrooge-like epiphany. But will he go to LA or will he decide to stay with Sarah and his son and the theatre?
Nichole Bird and Ben Woods excel as Sarah and Charlie in this fast paced show which is laced with poignancy and humour. Beautifully directed by Guy Retallack it really packs a punch and is a real gem of a production.

A Christmas Carol... More Or Less is on at the Bridge House Theatre, Penge until Tuesday, December 22. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 8133 0311.

REVIEW - Red Riding Hood, Greenwich Theatre


THE tale of little Red Riding Hood may not be traditional panto fare but that hasn’t stopped writer, actor and director Andrew Pollard from transforming it into a rip roaring story for Greenwich Theatre.
The show is Andrew’s 10th as writer and Dame at the Crooms Hill theatre and it doesn’t disappoint - in fact it's one of his best.
In fact it is an absolute belter, full of silly gags, farcical goings on, slapstick, glitter, toe tapping songs and musical numbers not to mention a cracking story that had everyone on their feet, clapping, cheering, booing and hissing throughout.
It is set in Switzerland where Granny Fanny (Andrew Pollard) lives in the woods trying to keep her theatre from closing. The locals in the village don’t realise how much they value it until it is threatened with closure by the dastardly Count Fracula, played with delicious evilness by Anthony Spargo.
Clad in a black rubber-effect all in one suit complete with cape and hat, he cuts a villainous figure from the off, though there is more than a hint of Mick Jagger in there which comes to the fore in hilarious fashion at one point during the show.
Count Fracula wants to buy the theatre and the wood in which it sits so that he can put his evil plan into action, that of fracking to make pots of money.
It is up to the determined and thoroughly modern granddaughter Little Red, played by Kirsty Marie Ayers, aided and abetted by the three little pigs, led by Piggy Smalls, Prince Arden who is in disguise and Herr Brush to save the day for Granny Fanny.
It is a truly hilarious show – a brilliant mix of jokes for all the family and some fantastic characters - Alim Jayda's Piggy Smalls was one of the many highlights.
And with a selection of top tunes which will keep you humming well into the New Year, this show is full on family entertainment at its very best.
So funny was it that there were plenty of moments where I couldn't see because I was crying with laughter and in fact my ribs ached for hours after the show had finished.
This is Andrew Pollard at his absolute best so if you only go and see one panto this Christmas, make it this one.

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 - Night Before Christmas, Gary's Warehouse, Bermondsey


WHAT would you do if you came into your office late one Christmas Eve and found an elf breaking in?
That is the situation Gary faces in Night Before Christmas, a racy, naughty and hilariously funny play now on at Gary’s Bottle Shop in Druid Street, Bermondsey.
The audience is seated on benches on a mezzanine level in the warehouse and acts as fly on the wall to what happens when the hapless Gary, brilliantly played by Tim O’Hara comes across the elf.
But is the elf who he says he is - a worker in the "international gift distribution industry", having fallen off Santa’s sleigh or merely a chancer who gets caught breaking in to the warehouse, a place Gary hides his knock off goods?
To find out Gary calls his best friend Chris who is not best pleased at being called in the middle of the night. He arrives clad in a blue onesie and immediately believes Gary to be taken for a ride, taking him to task for ruining his night.
However, with the elf, played by Glenn Hanning, legs bound by packing tape, hands tied by fairy lights and seated on a chair, protesting his innocence, the boys have a tough time.
Things are complicated further with the arrival of Cherry, a woman Gary has been sleeping with in exchange for some of his hooky gear arrives demanding he gives her the Star Wars light sabre for her son's Christmas present that he has promised.
It all makes for some entertaining banter and a fascinating set of arguments about whether the elf is real or not. In fact, the writer, Anthony Neilson keeps the audience guessing right up to the end.
It is a fast paced, brilliantly put together show full of slapstick, farce and jokes to make your hair curl and will make you laugh til you cry. And if you are after an antidote to traditional pantos, you won’t do better than spend an hour in Gary’s warehouse seeing this. A winner.

The Night Before Christmas is on at Gary's Warehouse, The Bottle Shop, Druid Street, Bermondsey until December 19. Tickets from £15. Visit for tickets and full listings.

REVIEW - Barbarians, Young Vic


THREE lads growing up in Lewisham in the 1970s. They leave school and have little in the way of prospects or ambition and not much to do except steal cars. Bored and restless they swagger about London looking for something to do.
Directed by Liz Stevenson and currently being staged at the Young Vic, Barbarians is a blistering take on the lives of these three young men over the course of three consecutive summers. And given its themes it seems to be as relevant now as it was when it was written 40 years ago.
The production is housed in the Waterloo theatre's Maria stage which given its small size, adds to the feelings of claustrophobia and tension that the three lads, Jan, Paul and Louis feel as they try and navigate their way through life.
They are faced with the misery of unemployment, rejection, racism, being left on the scrapheap and feel trapped not just in Lewisham but in life in general.
Dressed in Doc Martins, jeans, T shirts and with shaved heads, the three pace almost menacingly around the space which includes walkways behind the two back rows of the audience who sit either side of the main stage.
Indeed as you walk in you can feel the tension in the air as they creep around, full of anger and resentment, desperate for a sense of belonging and purpose in life.
Throughout the piece we see how their lives change and how they react to that change and each other.
Superbly directed by Stevenson, it is a highly charged production with terrific performances by Fisayo Akinade as Louis, the expert in refrigeration, Alex Austin as the quieter Jan and Brian Vernel as the more volatile Paul - who is constantly simmering with anger and resentment and someone who looks as though he's about to boil over. When he does it is with devastating consequences.
Together they bring out the dark humour and wonderfully poignant moments of the piece which should serve as a warning that we abandon young people at our peril.

Barbarians is at the Young Vic, The Cut until December 19. Visit or call the box office on 0207 922 2922 for full listings.  

INTERVIEW - Jimmy Osmond

IT hardly seems possible that it's more than 40 years since Jimmy Osmond had his number one single Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.
The Utah-based singer was nine at the time and he is still in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the youngest ever act to have a UK number one.
Together with his siblings Jimmy was huge in the 1970s. Indeed the Osmonds were the One Direction of their day and have sold 102 million records worldwide over the intervening years and are still going strong.
They began their career singing backing vocals on Andy Williams' hits so it's appropriate that they are starring in the Andy Williams Christmas Spectacular, a celebration of the legendary singer songwriter that comes to the UK for the first time.
"I am absolutely thrilled to be doing this show in the UK," Jimmy tells me. "I love being in the UK – I spend so much time here, I feel very British actually."
We speak as Jimmy is stuck in traffic in Manchester but despite this inconvenience he is full of the joys, is utterly charming and genuinely enthusiastic about the show which comes to the Indig02 next week as part of a UK tour.
It's a venue he knows well and has played there "many times before" so he is looking forward to coming back - and to sampling the delights of Nandos within the 02 complex.
"I'm a regular customer there," he jokes. "I really like their chicken! It's right next to the venue and I love it.
“The Indig02 is such a cool place and I love performing there. It’s going to be so great and I can’t wait."
He says the show will be exactly what it says on the tin, a spectacular, with a big band, dancers and packed with Christmas carols and lots of laughs, which will leave the audience uplifted and in Christmas spirit.
As well as the Osmonds, it features special guest Jimmy Cricket, with his trademark jovial hilarity, and the Moon River Singers and dancers.
There will also be nostalgic footage of the Osmonds back in the day and of the legendary Andy Williams from Christmases past.
But the main draw will be the songs which will include Silent Night, Last Christmas and Merry Christmas Everybody.
And fans of Jimmy and his siblings will be delighted to hear that they will also be performing their huge canon of hits made famous during more than five decades of entertaining around the world – numbers such as Love Me for a Reason, Crazy Horses and Down By The Lazy River.
"The show grew out of having performed with Andy over many years,” Jimmy explains.
"I first appeared on Andy William’s stage when I was only three years old. My brothers had been singing back-up on Andy’s biggest hits and had been regulars on his hit television series for several years.
“I remember back then Andy was just a man next door. He was so cool. He wore jump suits which is where we got the idea from!
“He asked me to keep his legacy alive and I was blown away by that because if it hadn’t been for him we wouldn’t have worked with Elvis or Sinatra.
“I was a bit worried about taking on this show but he wanted me to do it because he was family to us.
“Since then so many long time Andy Williams fans have come up to say thank you for keeping his music alive which is wonderful - it's become an American tradition, so many people come and see it.”
And Jimmy promises fun filled family entertainment for those who come and see it.
“It has all the spectacle you would expect from an Osmond show with a fantastic atmosphere,” he says. “There’s singing and dancing and all the footage of us growing up.
“It’s a show for everyone whether you are a young kid or a grandparent, it’s very inclusive and everyone gets up on their feet and sings along which is great."
As well as the Indig02 the tour takes in Croydon’s Fairfield Halls tomorrow and a few other dates in the run up to Christmas. Then it will be back to Utah for a family Christmas which Jimmy says he’s looking forward to.
“I haven’t been home for Christmas in five years because I’ve been doing panto over here,” he laughs. “Panto is really vaudeville in America and I grew up doing that so I took to panto like a duck to water and love it.
“I would bring the family over each time so it will be great to be going home.
“I’m a traditional guy and like to keep the traditions alive so all the decorations will be up when I get back."
And he admits to adopting a few British traditions, not least crackers.
“I love them,” he laughs. “Everyone says that Americans go all out for Christmas but having been in the UK for so many years I can tell you that you guys really know how to celebrate!
“No one in America has crackers but we have them every year. In fact it’s not a proper Christmas without them!"
After the Christmas festivities it will be back to work for Jimmy, with upwards of 500 events a year to produce not to mention being a dad to his four kids.
"I look back at my life and although I wouldn’t give up my memories I want my kids to have a normal life like going to ball games and proms," he says.
"I had to give up school to do what we did. Our lives were so fast in the 70s and 80s.
"The other day my boy said ‘stop and savour the moment – savour and appreciate what we have’. We don’t know what tomorrow brings so we should savour the moment.
"We learn so much from kids – they are the greatest."

The Andy Williams Christmas Spectacular is on at Fairfield Halls Croydon tomorrow. Visit or call the box office on 020 8688 9291. It is on at London Indigo2 on Wednesday, December 16. Visit or or call 08448 244824 for full listings.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Elf and safety gone mad at the Bermondsey Christmas show - interview with Tim O'Hara

IF you go down to Bermondsey this Christmas you may come across an elf in a warehouse under the railway arches.
But who he may be and what exactly he's up to is something of a mystery. However all is set to be revealed in local theatre company Different Breed's Christmas production, The Night Before Christmas.
Written originally by Anthony Neilson, it is being staged by the four-strong cast and will take place at Gary's Warehouse in Druid Street, seven minutes walk from Bermondsey station.
It promises to be an antidote to traditional festive shows as it involves the elf trying to talk his way out of a hostage situation.
"It's going to be very funny, quite rude, very in your face and definitely not for kids," laughs Tim O'Hara.
“Staging the show under the arches will also make it very atmospheric which will add to the fun.”
The Bermondsey-based businessman, actor and company co-founder came up with the idea for doing the site specific show and has roped in some actor, writer and musician friends to help him out as well as some of the local traders.
“It’s going to be and feel like a real community show,” he says. “Bermondsey is really cool and I love living here.
"There is a strong cultural heritage but there is also a real mix of people from those who have lived here for a long time to those who are just moving in to the areas that are being regenerated.
“I liked the idea of doing something that might bring these groups together and mix things up a bit.
“I also wanted to do a show that was affordable for those who came to see it and involved some of the businesses in the area. So there will be food on offer from local market traders and beer from local breweries.
“My wife, who is a writer, and I didn’t have anything planned for December so we got to work to make it happen.
“The play is about a guy who sells knock off goods from a warehouse, but one night he finds an elf has broken in to the warehouse. He interrogates him because he doesn’t know if the elf has really fallen off Santa’s sleigh or if he’s a bit of a chancer. And it’s only at the end that everyone finds out the truth.
“It’s quite dark but wicked and essentially an anti panto so it will be something different and unlike the theatre you might otherwise go and see at this time of the year.
“It’s been a lot of fun to put together, the space is great, we've got secret Santa gifts, rude Christmas cards, an elf - what more could you want!”
As well as the hour long show those who come to see it will be encouraged to linger and mingle before and afterwards to have a drink and something to eat.
On certain nights the play will be followed by comedy from the likes of circuit favourites Marcel Lucont and Tina Turner Tea Lady and on other nights there will be a pub quiz.
"We have tried to keep the ticket price as low as possible because for us as long as everyone has a good time and it brings the community together a bit, that's the main thing," says Tim.
"Any profits will be ploughed back into next year's show which is exciting."

The Night Before Christmas is on at Gary's Warehouse,The Bottle Shop, Druid Street, Bermondsey from December 5 until December 19. Tickets from £15. Visit for tickets and full listings.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

INTERVIEW Marcus Brigstocke who plays Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the New Wimbledon Theatre

Marcus Brigstocke and Verne Troyer in Peter Pan. Credit Craig Sugden.

THINK Captain Hook is bad? Marcus Brigstocke certainly thinks so and is on a mission to make his version the baddest, meanest man around.
The actor, panellist, satirist, avid snowboarder and award-winning comedian is bringing his take on Hook to the New Wimbledon Theatre's production of Peter Pan.
The show, which opens tonight, will be Marcus's panto debut and far from having any nerves about it the 42-year-old says he can't wait to bring this arch villain to life.
"I'm so excited," he says cheerfully. "I genuinely can't wait. I think Hook is one of the great baddies of all time and I want to show him in all his nasty, horrible glory."
But given his pedigree as a stand up and entertainer for the past 20 years, what was it that persuaded Marcus to do panto in the first place? It seems a combination of the story, which he describes as one of his favourites, and the role itself were the draws.
"My agent called and asked if I'd ever do a panto," he says. "The first one I was offered wasn’t right so I said would only do one if I could play Captain Hook.
"When she found out that Wimbledon was doing Peter Pan I said yes.
"The lure of the part was the main thing for me. I have done a lot of TV and radio and stand up is amazing, but playing a proper baddie who poisons a child, stabs him, bombs him and generally tries to kill him, and is just unapologetically bad, that’s pretty wild.
"I would like all the children watching it to be just on the edge of being frightened of me. Not proper terrified but just on the edge."
And I can confirm that during our chat, when he does the voice he really does sound scary so watch out kids - this could be the scariest Captain Hook you’ll ever see!
"You can't have a show without baddies though," he adds. "How do you fall in love with Peter Pan without someone who's horrible to him?
"I poison him and attack him and do whatever I can to kill him but I still lose. That's the great thing.
"There's a great bit which I adore where we are in the middle of a fight and I ask him 'who are you?' and he says 'I'm youth and joy!' and then he defeats me - that's brilliant."
And in true panto style Hook does eventually get his comeuppance.
"It's going to be quite painful," admits Marcus. "Lowering myself into the croc's mouth is quite difficult. I'll be fully consumed. But when I'm eaten by the croc I really want the kids to be so relieved and elated that this terrible man has been dealt with and Peter has won. It'll be great theatre."
Marcus will be joined on stage by American actor Verne Troyer, fellow comedian and Wimbledon panto returnee Jarred Christmas and dance group Flawless.
And he promises the usual heady mix of dancing, singing, gags-a-plenty and an amazing array of costumes all hanging on "a cracking story".
"This show will have everything," says Marcus warmly. "We’ve got such an amazing cast – there’s Verne Troyer and Jarred Christmas who are very funny and Flawless who are just jaw droppingly good - it's got it all going on.
"But it’s a brilliant story and one I love. I remember going to see panto as a kid. It was a real family event with me, my sister, parents and grandparents and I remember this being one of my favourites.
"Funnily enough I'm not sure whether Peter Pan is a panto in the traditional sense as it hasn't got a Dame but it has got all the best elements of it including where good triumphs over evil, so for that reason it's my favourite."
And he says although he gets to do a bit of dancing and singing, he's glad the pressure is off to be funny - and is leaving that to his friend Jarred who will play Hook's sidekick Smee.
"Jarred's got the most pressure as he has to be funny and make everyone in the audience laugh, but I just get to be mean and nasty," he laughs. "I just have to swing my sword a bit.
"But I'm actually really excited. I have a worrying thing that nothing makes me nervous.
"The first couple of shows will be seat of your pants stuff and there will be a lot of adrenaline flying about but after that it gets more and more fun."
Marcus promises his Hook will not only sound and be nasty he will look the part too.
"I've got the full King Charles II curled hair, skulls on the costume, a big sword and a huge hat - proper traditional and scary looking," he chuckles.
"I have also grown a big and rather impressive curly ended moustache – it’s creepy and mean to suit the part.
"It's going to be brilliant!"

Peter Pan is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until January 10. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

INTERVIEW - Guy Retallack, The Bridge House Theatre - A Christmas Carol

OF all the classic stories that are synonymous with Christmas perhaps the most famous is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
And it is this famous tale that the Bridge House Theatre is using as inspiration for its festive show this year.
A Christmas Carol.... More Or Less was devised by Saturday Night Live writers Stefano LoVerso and Mary Ivey.
It is a play within a play and set in a local theatre, something that director and Bridge House Theatre founder Guy Retallack acknowledges has similarities with his own.
"Essentially it's about a couple in their late 20s or early 30s, Charlie and Sarah, who run a small theatre, much like the Bridge House," he says.
"Charlie is an actor, producer and director, who is finding running his theatre tough. There's not much money and he and Sarah are on the brink of splitting up.
"He suddenly finds himself with a chance to go to LA and write for a reality TV show and perhaps make it as a film script writer.
"However he and Sarah were lined up to put on a Christmas show but unfortunately the cast of six has gone off skiing at the dry ski slope and they have an accident there.
"It's left to Charlie to come back and tell Sarah what happened. They then have to decide whether to put the show on and do it themselves or cancel it. Charlie also has to make a decision on whether or not to move to LA.
"It is a fantastic story - it's so entertaining, really imaginative, magical, full of emotion, very poignant and farcical and all done at break neck speed so it's very, very funny!"
Fortunately despite the similarities Guy says there is no chance of him skipping off to LA.
But he acknowledges that running a small theatre is not easy. He and his wife, actress Rachel Tucker, and friend producer Rob Harris established the Bridge House last year and are in for the long haul.
"This is an amazing theatre and we have invested so much in it," he says. "But we are determined because we believe in it. We had such a fantastic time doing It's A Wonderful Life last year and we are so excited about this year's show and next year we have plans to be even more ambitious with our programming.
"It's tough running a theatre but the support we've had from the local community has been fantastic.
"Now we want to reach out a bit further - there is a real potential for building an audience beyond Sydenham and Penge.
"It takes time to get it established but we love it."
So what will Charlie and Sarah? Will they do the show themselves and if they do, make it through to the final curtain call?
"You will have to come and find out," smiles Guy.

A Christmas Carol... More Or Less is on at the Bridge House Theatre, Penge until Tuesday, December 22. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 8133 0311.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Cinderella and the Beanstalk, Theatre503

SOMETIMES it's difficult to choose which Christmas show to go and see, such is the choice in South London.
But help is at hand because award-winning trio Sleeping Trees is returning to Theatre503 in Battersea with it's brilliantly conceived show Cinderella and the Beanstalk.
Essentially it is a glorious mash up of all the fairy tales, stories and pantomimes all rolled into one.
Directed by Tom Attenborough, this three-man pantomime with a twist combines the classic elements of a well-loved panto with an astonishing range of fast paced, physical and bare-knuckled comedy.
The premis is simple. After writing the script, booking the venue, building a set and hiring a musician, the boys - James Dunnell-Smith, Joshua George Smith and John Woodburn - realise they've forgotten one vital component - a cast.
They have no option but to perform the entire pantomime themselves, with only their dear friend Mark Newnham doing the music for company.
The audience will get to follow Cinderella on a perilous adventure as the scheming Rumple Stiltskin blackmails the would-be princess into retrieving the coveted golden eggs from the top of the beanstalk.
Cinderella must complete her quest in order to recover her glass slipper, but with Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother and Jack’s pregnant cow all doing their best to get in the way, these delicious, oversized eggs may not be so easily sought out…
"It's mad and bonkers but it's great fun and we are delighted to be back at Theatre503 this year," says John.
"We have been refining the show since last year and added a bit for this year's run but essentially the narrative is the same.
"We always like working with fairy tales and stories and wanted to create a panto that combined nearly every story and panto that we knew of. Finding the balance was tricky but once we started it flowed really well!
"It also had to appeal to all the family which we think it does. It's slapstick, physical comedy and quite exhausting. But it's great fun."
With more than 40 characters to cram in some get longer on stage than others.
"Some are only on for 10 seconds but some get two minutes!" laughs John. "We have multiple costume changes but it's a story the audience can follow and they know which character we are at any time.
"It's fast and mad but that's just the way we like it!"

Cinderella and the Beanstalk is on at Theatre503 until January 2. Visit or call the box office on 020 7978 7040 for full listings.

INTERVIEW - Darius Campbell, in Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory

Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice and Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein

DARIUS Campbell first sprung to fame on talent show Pop Idol in 2002. Although he didn't win the competition, it did lead to a successful music career.
His first single, Colourblind, went to number one in the singles chart and his debut album Dive In went platinum in 2004.
Since then he has continued to write and perform but has also branched out into musical theatre performing in the West End and on tour with roles in Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Carmen, Gone With The Wind and From Here to Eternity.
Not only that he's also a film producer working alongside actors such as Daniel Radcliffe.
The 35-year-old is now taking on what he describes as an “actor’s dream role”, that of Nick Arnstein in director Michael Mayer's production of Funny Girl.
It is based on the real life story of Fanny Brice who, during the early part of the 20th century, rose from the Lower East Side of New York as a Brooklyn saloon singer, to become one of Broadway's biggest stars under producer Florenz Ziegfeld.
However, while she was cheered onstage as a great comedienne, offstage she faced a doomed relationship with the man she loved - Nick Arnstein.
Arnstein, played by Darius, was the love of her life but was far from a good boy.
“He was a gambler,” laughs Darius. “He came from the wrong side of the tracks and worked hard to create an identity with which people were charmed by.
"But he was a conman and an irredeemable one at that. He played cards, bet on the horses and eventually got involved in a Wall Street bond scams and got sent to prison.
"However, Fanny stayed true to him and this piece is about their incredible love story."
We chat as Darius gears up for the show which opened this week at the Menier Chocolate Factory and features a score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill which includes now-classic songs such as People, You Are Woman, I Am Man and Don't Rain on My Parade.
Even before it opened at the Menier it was lined up for a West End transfer, something that Darius is understandably delighted about.
“It’s fantastic and I'm delighted to be part of it,” he enthuses. “It’s such a great musical with a story that's still relevant and that everyone can identify with.
“As well as being beautifully written it's got wonderful music and fantastic songs – the characterisation is superb – and I get to work with Sheridan Smith so what’s not to love.
"Also Nick is a role I’ve always had on my wish list. So when I heard that it might be happening I really wanted to do it.
“He’s dashing, I get to wear top hat and tails and I sing some fabulous numbers.
"But he's also a complex character – there are a lot of layers to him so he’s a great role – it’s much more interesting to play those kinds of characters.
"Irrespective of the things he did wrong this was the woman he would have done anything for. I couldn't turn it down.”
And he says it’s more than living up to expectations although he admits to a certain amount of nerves not least because the Broadway version skyrocketed Barbara Streisand to stardom and the film adaptation earned her an Oscar. Not only that comparisons with Omar Sharif who played Nick in the film will be inevitable.
"It hasn't been done in London since its premiere in 1966 so there is a bit of pressure and a lot of responsibility," he says.
"I suppose the reason it's not been done for such a long time is that people don't want to be compared to Streisand or Sharif.
"However it's been a brilliant experience. I’ve learned so much from Sheridan and it’s amazing to work with her and I'm sure audiences will fall in love with her and her portrayal.
“The film that was done was iconic and so that adds to the pressure but we are all really excited and bringing it to a new audience will be fantastic - that's the joy of it.
"There is a wonderful innocence, wit and knowingness about it and it’s a story that’s as much Shakespeare as Kardashian."
That Darius has ended up in the entertainment industry was no surprise as he says it was something he always wanted to do but he credits his father with his work ethic.
"I remember aged four singing and acting in the school play and knew it was something I wanted to do," he says. "Since then it's been about finding a way to do it.
"The guiding principle was laid down by my father who said to always give my best, work with the best people in the business, to learn from them and ask them to teach and direct me. That's been my guide for everything I've done.
"It means everything I've done I've enjoyed - it's all been a highlight - whether it's the first single being number one or working with Steve Lillywhite or directors such as Trevor Nunn and Tim Rice - in fact they inspired me to get into this way of storytelling."
So what next I ask? There is mention of a new album and another film to be produced but Darius says his main focus is Funny Girl.
"I concentrate on the now - being Nick Arnstein and being the best leading man for Sheridan Smith I can be," he says.

Funny Girl is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street, until March 5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713 for full listings.