Thursday, 15 December 2016


IF there ever comes a time when Matt Goss decides to give up the music business, he will surely find success as a motivational speaker.
The singer songwriter, who was born in Lewisham Hospital 48 years ago and grew up in and around Peckham and Camberwell, has plenty of wisdom to impart - particularly when it comes to the industry in which he has worked hard in to not only survive but thrive in for the past 30 years.
These days he’s based in America but this month Matt is back on home soil for a small UK tour which includes a date at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Monday of next week. 
And despite having a schedule that looks and sounds exhausting, he managed to take time out to visit Lewisham on Friday of last week to speak to creative and performing arts students at Lewisham Southwark College.
The hour-long session was a chance for the 50 or so students to quiz him about his life and career as well as get some top tips for navigating and making it in what is undoubtedly a tough and unforgiving industry.
And he is a good person to ask having plenty of relevant experience. Together with his twin brother Luke and friend Craig Logan, Matt formed Bros in 1986 when he was just 17 - the age many of the students were who came to hear him speak.
The group’s achievements were astonishing, notching up 11 top 40 singles including the seminal song When Will I Be Famous, and three top 20 albums both here in the UK and Europe. Not only that, to date Bros is still the youngest group in history to headline at Wembley.
In 1995, after the band split and went their separate ways Matt began his solo career and headed out across the pond where he was the headline act at the famous Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for more than seven years.
And over the years he has released two singles with the world renowned DJ Paul Oakenfold, his album Push went seven times platinum, he’s performed at the White House and for the Queen, won an Icon Award for his residency at Caesars Palace and has a contacts book that is positively bulging at the seams.
Not only that, he has recently sung with the NHS Choir, who he describes as “angels” and the concerts he and his brother Luke will play at Wembley next August when they reunite as Bros, sold out in a record seven seconds.
Yet despite his fame and fortune Matt is as down to earth as they come, thoughtful, warm, generous with his time and still has his South London accent very much intact.
He’s also full of good humour and clearly inspired the 50-strong gathering at the college in Lewisham Way.
I grabbed a few minutes of this time after the session, in which he spoke about growing up in South London, how important his roots are and telling the students to think big, be focused, single minded and never give up on their dreams.
And although he was only supposed to be there an hour, it ended up much longer as afterwards he hung around chatting to the students, taking selfies with them, signing autographs and encouraging them to keep in touch.
Softly spoken but with an obvious passion he tells me it had been a humbling experience.
“It was fun and I really enjoyed it,” he says warmly. “They were a little reticent to begin with but once they lost their nerves and inhibitions they asked some great questions. 
“It was inspiring for me so I hope I was able to offer them a little wisdom and inspiration and helped them in some way.”
Matt clearly enjoyed his time with the students and he was also delighted to be back on home turf.
“South London has changed a lot of course since I was growing up here,” he smiles. “But the spirit is still here. I look out of this window with a sense of wonderment - it’s beautiful and life is amazing and it’s so nice to be back here.
“It’s where I was born and grew up - it will always be home.”
He admits it was an inauspicious place from which to launch such an incredibly successful career but he maintains it’s down to a combination of luck and being single minded, focused and hard working, something he was keen to stress to the young people who came to listen to him.
“It’s important to tell them the truth,” he says. “Yes, we were lucky and I feel truly blessed for the career I have, but I knew what I wanted and I worked hard to get there. 
“I left school early to be in the band because that’s what I wanted. We played some real dives before we got signed - you learn a lot more from playing the shit gigs - and there were some really hard times but when we hit the big time, playing Hammersmith Odeon which was my dream, and then Wembley, it was all worth it.
“I’m still working and get so much pleasure out of it but I’ve never forgotten my roots here in South London. It all started from humble beginnings. It wasn’t an easy place to grow up in but I hope I inspired these guys to know that it doesn’t matter where you grow up, as long as you have the drive and determination you can succeed and do anything. Your imagination is limitless and so should your vision be.
“I’m very aware how remarkable my life is and so for me to be here is humbling. I told them it’s a journey, that they have have a good sense of who they are, home in what they are passionate about and good at, and then to persevere and be persistent. They should never give up, always aim high, think big and always when writing songs, write the truth.
“To begin with you go on stage and no one knows who you are but you have to be relentless,” he adds. “Two years after I left school we were on the front cover of Smash Hits and not long after that we were playing four nights at Hammersmith Odeon and then 11 nights at Wembley. When you have the drive you can do anything.
“Equally though you need to have fun,” he adds grinning and eyes twinkling. “You’ve got to be able to dance along the way!
“And it’s important to be inclusive and help people, especially if they help you. Compassion is important so always be there to lift someone up.”
As well as his success in the UK, Matt was able to talk about his achievements state-side - something he does with obvious and understandable pride - and encourage the students to surround themselves with people who would encourage and support them.
“I’m proud to be British, I love being in the UK it was where I was born and grew up and I love so much about it,” he says.
“But we never celebrate success here in the way we should. America is so much more encouraging and success is a good word.
“When I went to America no one knew who I was but I worked hard, aspired to do great things and I made it happen. People over there are very encouraging of ambition and success. It’s a good thing to have ambition and want a better life.
“The people who want you to do well should be the only people you should be around, the family and friends who will encourage and inspire you, not those who say they can’t do something.”
Growing up it was Matt’s beloved mother who provided that encouragement and he admits since she passed away two years ago he initially found it hard to continue working.
“She was my best friend,” he says simply. “She was my motivation and always there encouraging me, believing in me and making me believe I could do anything. 
“The loss of my mum was so profound, and devastating, but I asked myself what she would want me to do and that is to keep going. I want to continue to make her proud of me.”
And that is exactly what he’s doing with his UK solo tour this month and the Bros reunion gigs next year at Wembley.
But before he gets back on his tour bus to criss cross the country, he has a few more selfies to take, autographs to sign and fans to say hello to.
“Life is full of wonderment,” he smiles. “I’m in a good place at the moment and really looking forward to the tour and visiting places like Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. 
“To come back and play these gigs, have a laugh, see the fans go mental and having fun, play Wembley again as Bros, it’s fantastic. 
“The Bros shows will be insane - I want everyone will wear their bomber jackets and DMs and be part of the Bros massive!
“My journey continues and I love it.”

Matt Goss is playing the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Monday, December 12. Visit for full listings.

PREVIEW - Muted at the Bunker, Southwark Street

The story of what happens to an exceptional teenage singer whose world comes crashing down after the sudden death of his mother is the subject of the latest production to be staged at The Bunker.
Muted was written by Bermondsey based Sarah Henley with music by Tim Prottey-Jones and Tori Allen-Martin.
It is a story of grief, guilt, self discovery and forgiveness not to mention the thing we can’t do without - love.
It tells the story of Michael Brookman, a young man and singer in a band which is about to hit the big time. But the death of his mother in a hit and run accident has a profound effect on Michael - so much so that he quits the band and stops speaking entirely.
In fact he doesn’t utter a word for three years and none of his friends or family know what to do. Michael’s former band mate Jake is trying to hold everything together as the band’s shot at the big time comes along. But to get there, the record label wants Michael back as the band’s frontman. 
Lauren, Michael’s ex-girlfriend who is now in a relationship with Jake, tries to bring Michael back from the edge. In doing so, long-forgotten feelings are unearthed and uncomfortable truths force their way in.
In a chat ahead of the show’s opening at London Bridge’s newest theatre, Sarah tells me that four years after coming up with the idea, and its initial staging at the Courtyard Theatre, she’s excited to be bringing Muted to new audiences.
“It been an interesting journey because it’s a story that has changed so much since its inception,” she says.
“I run Interval Productions with Tori and about four years ago we met Tim who came to us with an album of music and the idea of this character who doesn’t speak. 
“As well as writing, acting and directing I also work as a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach dealing with trauma in young people and that inspired me to think more about this character. The co-dependent relationship Michael has with his mother mirrors the stories I have seen in my work.
“And because it deals with mental health issues we knew we wanted it to be quite raw, powerful, real and full of energy rather than a glitzy and glamorous musical.
“I got to work on it and the initial draft was written quite quickly. Tori then booked the theatre space so I had to about three weeks to write it properly!
“However, it sold out and got quite a few accolades which was nice.”
These accolades included one following one of the workshops they did for it from writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry who said it was “stunning”, something Sarah admits was both a surprise and “amazing”.
“Yes, it was lovely of him to say that and we were really stunned,” she says. “But it’s changed a lot since then - and the feedback we had from the workshops we did has been incredibly useful in shaping how it is now. 
“Some of the songs were cut and some the lyrics were replaced with new ones. Tim has also composed new songs that suit it a bit more, some characters have a better arc and we changed the ending for Act 1, so it’s actually quite different,” she laughs.
“But it’s still very much the physiological drama that was the original with six characters and with Michael at the centre of it.
“As the story progresses, we get to see the fall out from the unexpected death of his mother and how his ex girlfriend comes back into his life.
“There is a big twist plus all the secrets and lies that spill out during the course of the story - making it really dramatic.”
Given Michael’s story and the themes and issues it raises Sarah hopes that after having seen it, audiences will leave with a better understanding of some of the mental health issues tackled in the piece.
“There will be some aspects of Michael’s character or the situations the people in the play find themselves in which those who come to see it will identify with and recognise,” she says.
“I hope that not only does it make people think but also that they can be entertained by it too, get into the incredible music and be touched and moved by it.”
And she is excited to be bringing it to the Bunker, a venue she says lends itself to the intimate nature of the piece.
“It’s an incredible space and I think what the two guys, Joshua McTaggart and Joel Fisher, have done to set this up is amazing and should be applauded and supported,” she enthuses.
“They are young, enthusiastic and I love what they’ve done here. Their programming is really brave and they are not afraid to take risks on the stuff they believe in. It’s very exciting to be part of that.
“I love it because we have the same ideas about how to make our shows feel like a great night out - so at the Bunker the bar opens before and after the show and audiences will be able to mingle and chat with the cast and crew about what they have seen.
“It’s a great place and we can’t wait to be there.”

Muted is at The Bunker, Southwark Street, until January 7, 2017. Tickets cost £22.50. Visit or call the box office on 0207 234 0486. 

FIVE STAR REVIEW - LOVE at the National Theatre


THIS Christmas while most of us are happily sitting down to a sumptuous lunch with family and friends spare a thought for the 120,000 children and their families who are homeless.
The stats are stark enough but when you see a snapshot of what life is like being homeless and the not knowing when or where you are going to be housed, is something else.
And that is what you see in LOVE, an incredible piece of theatre which has just opened at the National.
The small cast and director Alexander Zeldin used testimonies from people they met over the course of about a year to devise the piece.
It focusses on four different sets of people - a middle aged man and his incontinent elderly mother, a family of four with another on the way, a woman from Sudan and a man from Syria.
All are in the hostel or B&B for different reasons - such as eviction by landlords who double their rent overnight, a delayed payment in benefits, or a lack of appropriate housing for those with complex or special needs - and have been there for longer than the six weeks set down by law.
But all of them are trying to cope and get by despite their circumstances. And these circumstances are often horrific. Living in cramped and often squalid conditions, a family sharing one room, sharing a bathroom and kitchen with people who don’t clean up after themselves, trying to get hold of their housing case officers to beg them to re-house them in permanent accommodation and the stress and strain of having children who are constantly hungry and don’t have anywhere to do their homework or practice for their school nativity play.
Watching it unfold over 90 minutes was often difficult. One of the most poignant and shocking was when Colin washed his mum’s hair with Fairy liquid in the kitchen sink and then dried it with a dirty tea towel. Another was when his mother decided to leave the building without her walking stick. Seeing her stagger through the audience and reaching out to people for a helping hand was gut wrenching - the fourth wall very much non existent.
The cast was excellent - Nick Holder as Colin trying to look after his elderly mother, Barbara, played by Anna Calder- Marshall and Luke Clarke as Dean who was trying to keep his family fed and upbeat despite having lost his job and nowhere near the top of the housing list.
Despite the sadness and horror that we were baring witness to there was much humour to be had and to see the characters try and hold it all together while inside they were no doubt in despair about their situation was humbling.
We only saw 90 minutes - the people in this type of accommodation face weeks and more often months here and it is something we should all be angry about and want to do something to change it.

LOVE plays in the National’s Dorfman Theatre until January 10, 2017 and is produced in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre where it will appear between January 26 and February 11, 2017. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

PREVIEW of A Christmas Carol at the Vaults

WITH a plethora of Christmas shows and pantos being staged in theatres across the capital the clever chaps at the Fitzrovia Radio Hour have something a bit different up their collective sleeves to tempt audiences this festive season.
For a strictly limited four-week run, the team will bring a unique take on Charles Dickens’ timeless tale A Christmas Carol which they have reimagined as a 1940s style radio drama, broadcasting live with a studio audience across the mighty British Empire. 
Fighting off visitations from more ghosts than they bargained for, can the multi-tasking cast keep the spiffing sounds and varied inhabitants of Victorian London alive for the duration of the broadcast? 
Spectacular sound effects are created live, cut-glass accents, sharp suits and of course a good helping of spooky ghosts combine to create a unique alternative festive entertainment.
It will be staged in the intimate surroundings of The Vaults under Waterloo station, which has been specially adapted to include the option of cabaret seating for fearless audience members, and a festive welcome treat for everyone to get the traditional Christmas spirit flowing straight away. 
The show has been created by the company’s Tom Mallaburn who tells me that audiences are in for a treat.
“Our company specialises in presenting 1940s inspired radio shows within a theatre setting,” he tells me.
“The audience gets to see all the inner workings of the show such as the sound effects which the actors perform themselves and the incorporation of some adverts to make it as authentic as possible.
“It’s very silly but it’s also a very visual experience partly because the five actors have to do their own sound effects. It makes it much more interesting to get them to do it rather than a specialist.
“As a result it all looks a bit chaotic because the actors are running around and across the stage to get to their spot or to do their sound effect on time - and over the years we have found the more difficult we made it for them the funnier it was.
“As well as it being brilliant for us to be part of, there is a real joy for the audience to see if the actor is going to be able to get to his or her spot on time and burst the balloon or smash a melon to get that sound effect. 
“The idea is that the fictional listeners back home hear an almost perfect production but live in the theatre we can see a lot of the struggles going on and going wrong - something the listeners don’t have a clue about. It’s a lot of fun!”
Tom says this year’s choice of show was inspired by not just the time of year in which it was being staged but by a desire by the company to adapt famous stories.
“We’ve been doing these types of shows for a few years now and we usually we do three to four original stories a year. But recently we’ve tried adaptations of stories that everyone knows so that we can explore a significant sub plot within it.
“We wanted to show some kind of rivalry between the actors and it’s easier to introduce this if you have a recognisable story.
“We did Dracula last year and it went down really well so this year we decided to do Dickens.
“In this particular show there is quite a significant sub plot in which the chap who was going to play Scrooge has been severely incapacitated by a rival actor. The play was going to take place at the Old Vic but as the actor concerned was injured when someone opened the trap door, the venue is now a crime scene. So they hastily re-assemble the show at the Vaults as a temporary measure. However, the rival isn’t quite out of the way though and so chaos and hilarity are never far away.
“You will definitely get the A Christmas Carol story but a lot more as well!”
Tom says the company has got more adventurous with the sound effects over the years and admits that sometimes they do get a bit carried away.
“When we started out it was pretty simple,” he says. “We just read the radio script but audiences loved us doing sound effects with the objects we found to create them so it went from there.
“There is something satisfying about punching a cabbage til it dies or using melons or eggs - although we have to be careful. Sometimes we’ve had to give audiences ponchos as there can often be sprays of something.
“In one show we did one character had a horrible brain injury and had to have emergency brain surgery. To get the right sound of pressure being released and the brain coming out we used an egg being smashed and it went into the audience so we ended up having to re-choreograph the direction in which the egg was used!”
And while he can’t promise there won’t be any stray flying eggs Tom does say there will be plenty of crazy stuff to keep audiences entertained with this show. And he says they are looking forward to bringing the production to the Vaults, a space he says which lends itself perfectly to the atmosphere they are trying to create.
“We are really excited about being here and bringing this story here,” he says. “We have wanted to do it for a while and this is a fun and atmospheric venue. I’ve seen shows here before and it’s the right space for what we do.
“It’s all very silly of course and this is a show it would be difficult not to enjoy. We can’t wait!”

A Christmas Carol is suitable for those aged 12 and up and is on at the Vaults, Launcelot Street, Waterloo until January 31.  Tickets cost from £20. Visit or cal the box office on 020 7183 5942 for full listings.

INTERVIEW - William Belchambers in Love's Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, Theatre Royal Haymarket

TWO years ago William Belchambers was working at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon where he grew up. He was playing both Lord Longaville and Conrade in the RSC’s two productions, Love’s Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing respectively.
Now more than 24 months later following successful runs at Stratford and latterly in Manchester and Chichester, he and the cast and crew are bringing the shows to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, just over the river from where he now lives in New Cross Gate.
It has, William tells me, been a journey in more ways than one but one that he is clearly enjoying.
And despite having to learn lines for not one but two plays, the 35-year-old says it was a no brainer to be part of the team, not least because it was a chance for him to work again with its director Christopher Luscombe.
“I’ve worked with Christopher for a number of years now and have a great working relationship with him,” he says.
“It’s always fun to be part of his projects so when he asked if I’d like to be part of these two shows I jumped at the chance. 
“I also love the RSC and to get to play not one but two great roles is fantastic.
“The characters I play are both very different - Longaville is one of three friends to the King of Navarre. He’s a good guy, studious, geeky and wants the best for his friends. He is also loyal and faithful to his friends, has a strong moral compass and wants to do the right thing.
“Conrade by comparison is the polar opposite and very much the bad guy! He’s come back from fighting in the war and has clearly had some really bad experiences. He’s a slightly embittered and twisted man and doesn’t have much happiness in his life - he’s not a nice guy at all. 
“To play two such contrasting characters has been a lot of fun and a fantastic challenge for me,” he adds warmly. “I love playing Longaville. He’s a lovely guy and Love’s Labours Lost is a great story - it is fast paced, a lot of fun and a bit of a juggernaut in that it’s a laugh a minute and once you get going with it it doesn’t stop.
“However, being Conrade has been a challenge in that it has really stretched me because he’s so far removed from who I am - but it’s always great fun playing a baddie!” he adds chuckling.
The other draw for William was that not only was it an RSC production, starting out in his home town of Stratford, but Christopher set it in Charlecote, just outside Stratford, an area William also knows very well.
“I loved the idea that Chris set it in Charlecote,” says William. “It was a conscious decision because he wanted it to be set in a recognisable stately home so those who saw it when it was first on in Stratford would know it.
“He’s also set the plays either side of the First World War which cleverly ties them both together and in so doing makes the ending of Love’s Labours Lost less ambiguous. 
“If you get the chance to see both you see how well they work being staged together, back to back, and how in many ways the story in Much Ado follows on from that of Love’s Labours Lost.”
Much Ado, one of Shakespeare’s best known and much loved plays, features the bickering couple, Beatrice and Benedick who are weary of love and resistant to each other. However, they are pushed together by their friends Hero and Claudio who in turn fall for one another - although the course of their love is equally rocky.
Love’s Labours Lost concerns the King of Navarre and his three friends who abstain from having fun or taking part in any guilty pleasures for three years. Things seem to be going well until the Princess of France turns up with her three friends. They all fall in love and much hilarity ensues.
Of course it wouldn’t be Shakespeare without a comic sub plot, in this case it involves a crazy Spaniard, Don Adriano de Armado who’s in love with country wench, Jaquenetta. 
William admits Love’s Labours Lost is perhaps the least well known of the two, not to mention one of the most frustrating given its ending with the lovers all parting company - perhaps a reason for it being less frequently performed.
However he maintains it’s a “fantastic and funny” play and audiences should give it a go.
“When you look at Love’s Labours Lost you realise Shakespeare is exploring all the different facets as a writer with a bit of prose, sonnets, humour, wit and sorrow - he’s ticking all the boxes and showing off in a ‘look what I can do’ way.
“But the ending is ambiguous. Four men and four women going their separate ways but promising to come back to one another - it is a poignant and touching ending but doesn’t really make sense.
“That’s why I think what Chris has done by setting it just before the war is genius - most of those who went away to fight thought they would be home for Christmas, so promising to come back was normal.
“However that of course didn’t happen - it was a brutal four years of conflict and when those who did survive came back, they were war weary and shell shocked. The idyllic world they left behind was also gone.
“And you see this very much in Much Ado - the men coming back from fighting, absolutely shattered.”
William’s obvious enthusiasm and passion for Shakespeare is clear and says he believes the great man would have liked the versions they are staging.
“He was so forward looking and such a radical that I think he would definitely approve of what we have done,” he says.
“He was incredible really when you think about it - he wrote 36 plays and they are all really clever with some of the best speeches ever written. It’s a joy to be speaking his words.”
In fact William began his career with Shakespeare. Whilst at Warwick School he joined a local drama group and before long was offered a role in the RSC’s The Beggar’s Opera at the Swan Theatre in Stratford.
He then took on the role of Prince Edward in Richard III and by the time he was 13 he had done three shows for the RSC. So he says it was no surprise that he pursued the idea of being an actor as a career.
“By the time I was 16 that train was already running much to my parents’ annoyance!” he laughs. “I left school, went to drama school and have been acting ever since.
“I have done a lot of theatre and would love to do more film work - I have a huge passion for European film and would love to do more of that - but I love the variety of the job and fortunately it’s a career that has treated me kindly.”
And for now he tells me that he couldn’t be happier to be back in London and bringing the productions to the Haymarket for the four-month run.
“I’m so flattered that we’ve had the success we have had with these two plays,” he says warmly. “We’ve all had a lovely time so to be able to bring it to London and keep the journey going is fantastic.
“I live in New Cross Gate, an area I love so it’s also great for me to be back home. Since moving to London I’ve always been south of the river. I trained at Rose Bruford in Deptford and have lived in and around the Peckham, Deptford and New Cross area ever since. 
“It’s such a great place, I love Telegraph Hill, the Brockley Market, the cafes and the green open spaces. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else so I daren’t leave!”
That said, he does admit to having an adventurous streak and a yearning to do some travelling - and tells me a road trip to Portugal could be in the offing once the run at the Haymarket has finished.
“I’ve never been but have always fancied going to Lisbon,” he laughs. “So my idea is to go on a motorbike to Portugal via as many other European countries as possible and find my way back to London - and then maybe make a documentary about it. 
“That would really be fun!”

Love’s Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing are on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until Mach 18. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7930 8800 for full listings.

REVIEW - A Christmas Carol, Vaults Theatre


Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol has been given a bit of a theatrical makeover thanks to a new adaptation of the story by the Fitzrovia Radio Hour.
Set in the 1940s and staged deep underneath Waterloo Station at the Vaults, the five strong cast enact the story as a live radio broadcast with us as their studio audience. The actors even do their own sound effects and intersperse radio ads for gin into the mix. 
But it’s not quite as straightforward as that. For there is a nasty undercurrent as one of the cast has done the dirty on his rival and caused an accident that has resulted in said rival being taken to hospital - we are told he might not make it. Cue gasps!
We are also told as a result of the accident the stage at the Old Vic, where the broadcast was due to take place, is now a crime scene, hence the underground bunker of the Vaults.
It is all very silly and it really adds to the acting out of the proper story they are there to stage for us. 
The injured actor, Stanley De Pfeffel, had been due to play Scrooge for the 18th year. Instead he is replaced by Ernest Andrew, looking for all the world like Laurence Olivier, and sneeringly delighted he’s finally got a chance to ditch Tiny Tim and be Scrooge.
Ernest wastes no time in ingratiating himself with his fellow cast members who are all devastated at the news of Stanley’s accident - none more so than Stanley’s lover Gretchen Haggard.
They start the show and it all seems to go swimmingly until they get to the bit where Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge. And then all manner of spooky things happen - from lights flickering to voices echoing and lights collapsing from the ceiling.
In the end of course, Stanley emerges from his hospital bed to take back the role he was meant to do, to the horror of Ernest and the delight of the rest of the cast. Much merriment ensues as the two rivals battle it out on air.
It is brilliantly done, with some clever touches, very funny and silly and the cast are spot on with their cut glass accents and dexterity at the sound effects table, not to mention the pushing and shoving that goes on between the two rivals.
And what’s more at about 80 minutes straight through, it’s a show that is entirely suitable for children aged from about 12 and up.

A Christmas Carol is on at the Vaults, Launcelot Street, Waterloo until Saturday, December 31. Tickets cost from £20. Visit or call the box office on 020 7183 5942 for full listings.

INTERVIEW Nick Holder, Love at the National Theatre

Nick Holder as Colin in LOVE. Credit Sarah Lee

THIS Christmas more than 50,000 families in London will be spending the festive season in temporary accommodation. In the UK as a whole, 120,000 children will be waking up homeless this Christmas Day.
These stark figures, released by housing and homelessness charity Shelter in November from official government data, also reveal that the number of families living in emergency B&B and hostel rooms has risen by 18 per cent in just a year, as local councils battle to find homeless families anywhere else that is stable or affordable to go. 
Not only that, many families are being forced to live in one room and share bathrooms and toilets with other residents in the building. 
Officially people classed as homeless should only be in temporary accommodation for a maximum of six weeks. However as playwright and theatre maker Alexander Zeldin found out, this can often last much longer.
It prompted him to write a play exploring and showing the issues faced by those forced into temporary and emergency housing. Now, a year after he began the process, LOVE has just opened on the National Theatre’s Dorfman stage.
The play was written through a devising process with the cast and focusses on three families who find themselves without a home - a middle aged man with his elderly mum, a young family with a baby on the way and a newly arrived woman from Sudan.
They are all strangers but they are forced together in a building in which they have no personal space and no privacy.
Among the cast is Nick Holder, who has appeared regularly on stage at the National Theatre over the past 26 years.
The Honor Oak-based actor says that far from being a work of fiction, this is very much the reality for thousands of people across the country.
And he is unapologetic when it comes to being angry about the situation which he describes as a “scandal”.
“We are living in a first world country in the 21st century and yet here we are with thousands of people living in temporary, shared and squalid conditions,” he says.
“And not only that, most of these people are there through no fault of their own and at the mercy of greedy landlords forced into living in one room, sharing a bathroom and paying over the odds for it. 
“It’s a national disgrace.”
I speak to Nick in a break from rehearsals in which he tells me they are still working on the play, tinkering with it and refining it for its month long run at the National before it goes to Birmingham.
He tells me it took a year to write and has been a “long haul” to get to the stage, not least because the subject matter is harrowing, and emotionally and physically tough to act out, but also because they wanted it to be true to the testimonies of people they spoke to and met during the research period.
“Initially we were given a document from Shelter which contained first person statements about the lives of those in temporary shared accommodation,” he says.
“It made for shocking reading. People are made homeless for all manner or reasons - whether it’s the delay in a benefits payment, being made redundant, being kicked out of your home by your parents or other reasons.
“By law, people are only supposed to be put into temporary accommodation due to homelessness for six weeks but we found many were there for up to two years and left waiting for something more permanent.
“That started our investigation into who these people are and how far away are we from being those people ourselves. In many cases it’s just one month’s salary.”
It was from this starting point that the cast alongside Alexander got together and began to write and devise the work through rehearsals. They also went out across the country meeting and speaking to as many people as they could who had been forced into temporary accommodation and seeing first hand the conditions in which they were living and recorded hundreds of hours of video tape testimonies. 
It was, says Nick, a “complete eye-opener” and one that was far more harrowing and shocking than he had ever imagined.
“I come from a working class background and I was appalled by what I’d seen,” he says. “You do think there is a welfare state that at some point would provide a soft landing but there is nothing there for some people. It’s terrifying and Kafka-esque.
“Thank goodness for Shelter who are trying to address these issues.”
In the piece, Nick, who was last seen at the National earlier this year playing Mr Peachum in The Threepenny Opera, plays Colin who is 51 and lives in one room with his 80-year-old mother. And it’s a situation Nick says is more common than people may think.
“On our travels we met one family which comprised an 80-year-old woman living in one room with two grown up sons,” he says. 
“One had severe special needs and the other had addictions. They had been chucked out of their home by the council and put into temporary accommodation while the council tried to find something more suitable for them. What they were left with was two mattresses on the floor and a sofa.
“And this is not an isolated case. Elsewhere we found a family living in one room and sharing a bathroom with other people, some of whom were drunk or drug addicts and where the mum had to get up at 5am to clean the bathroom so her children could use it. 
“What’s more people end up languishing in these places for months and sometimes years on end. It’s shattering.
“The cramped, dirty and dreadful conditions these people find themselves in are utterly Dickensian and yet here we are in 2016. This year is also the 50th anniversary of Ken Loach’s brilliant and seminal film Cathy Come Home. You would think that things have got better since then but actually what we have seen is that austerity is worse now than it was then, people are poorer and there is less work - it’s terrifying.
“It’s dehumanising, utterly appalling and it’s happening now.”
Throughout our chat Nick speaks with passion about the issues and it’s clear it’s been a project he’s not only proud to be involved with but that he’s proud of the National for staging it.
“I’ve worked here for 26 years and I’ve never felt the building be more alive,” he says. “It is all as a result of the programming by [artistic director] Rufus Norris.
“They are making work that reflects society - it’s the nation’s theatre and they are being more diverse and inclusive and representing the society in which we live. It’s not elitist, it’s hugely diverse and exciting and staging this play proves it.”
Indeed he says LOVE aims to hit audiences, showing them the reality of what is going on in the country around them - in the next street, the next borough and the next town. And he says that while it doesn’t pull any punches it does aim to see if it’s possible to maintain a connection or love or humanity when someone feels out of control and in this kind of situation.
“It’s going to be quite electric,” he says. “We have a government pushing through all these austerity measures and blaming people for being poor. It’s a conscious cruelty being inflicted on those who don’t have a voice by those who have the ability to stop it.
“Everyone can read the stats. What we are really trying to do is show the effects of that brutality on human beings. How do they react and respond to it and how do we in turn respond.
“During our research we met so many people who aren’t able to help themselves due to their circumstances - whether it’s being born into poverty, having mental health issues or an accident of birth.
“Some do manage to maintain their dignity and we try and show some of that but most find themselves stuck in these places not knowing how to access people with a voice to help them. They either die in these places or end up on the streets.
“So, yes it will be hard hitting and hyper naturalistic and a lot of it is in real time so we want people to come and bear witness to things we hear about on the news. And as there is no interval, once you are in there is no escape!” he chuckles.
“There is also some humour in it - it’s not all misery porn! People find humour in situations and being pushed together it creates really interesting scenarios.”
I ask what he’d like audiences to take away from the play and his answer is genuine and heartfelt.
“I would like people to be really really angry and realise that talking about it on Twitter won’t do anything,” he says.
“People are dying in these rooms, poor, cold and hungry. What’s important is action, giving a few quid to Shelter or going in and helping these people.
“I wouldn’t get involved in something that’s tokenistic. But the fact is people are dying every day and all we need to do is build houses and give them jobs.
“Ideally we would like to take audiences into the temporary accommodation shelters we have been to so they can see it first hand as these people will tell their story better than we can but it’s not possible so we are doing it here.
“It’s not been an easy process getting it to the stage. It’s been emotionally draining and we are on our knees with it, but it’s a story that is worth telling - and tell it we must.”

LOVE plays in the National’s Dorfman Theatre until January 10, 2017 and is produced in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre where it will appear between January 26 and February 11, 2017. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

FIVE STAR REVIEW - She Loves Me at the Menier Chocolate Factory


Lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s declaration of praise for Matthew White’s production of She Loves Me must have been music to the ears of the cast and crew.
Indeed the 92-year-old, when invited to the stage on press night, said the production, at the Menier Chocolate Factory was “maybe the best I’ve ever seen”.
And although I’ve not seen another version, I must admit, this one is pretty special. Indeed it is colourful and vibrant, full of wit and humour, fizzing with energy and with a strong cast who deliver all the songs and the story beautifully.
Set in the 1930s, was written in the 1960s and concerns the staff of a Budapest parfumerie with a love story that has echoes of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Cyrano De Bergerc and the film, You’ve Got Mail.
It is owned by Mr Maraczek, a lovely performance from Les Dennis, whose manager Georg has been writing love letters to an anonymous woman for a number of weeks after contacting her through a lonely hearts column. 
Into his life comes Amalia Balash, recently let go by a rival parfumerie who wows Mr Maraczek with her selling technique of a music box and gains herself a job - much to the disgust of Georg.
She too has been corresponding with an unknown man - and it doesn’t take much to work out who it is. However, face to face, the two get off on the wrong foot and spar verbally with each other.
However, things take a turn when they agree to finally meet each other’s letter writer at a local cafe - and things don’t go according to plan not least thanks to Georg being let go by Mr Maraczek who mistakenly believes him to be carrying on with his wife.
And here lies the first of two subplots - Mr Maraczek seeing his wife seduced by another man and the other being that of Ilona, the beautiful but unlucky in love sales assistant who has fallen for colleague Kodaly - a cad and a bounder if ever there was one. But she is made of strong stuff and in a fit of pique and after being spurned once too often she decides to go to the library and amongst the books finds herself a better man.
It is a delightful show and full of wonderful and very funny moments including a glorious scene with Cory English as the waiter who insists his cafe has a “romantic atmosphere”. Katherine Kingsley is hilarious as Ilona with her sideways glances and one liners and Dominic Tighe as Kodaly is suitably roguish.
But the night belongs really to Scarlett Strallen as Amalia and Mark Umbers as Georg who shine and sparkle like lights on a Christmas tree - and their falling in love despite themselves is a joy to watch.

She Loves Me is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until March 4, 2017. Tickets cost from £45. Visit or call the box office on 020 7378 1713 for full listings.

Monday, 5 December 2016

FIVE STAR REVIEW - The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales


The last 10 days or so have seen some of the coldest nights this year prompting concerns about those who sleep rough.
And their plight is brought home with the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Matchgirl. It is this tale of the young girl who sells matches to make a few pennies but ultimately succumbs to the severe winter weather that has inspired the Globe’s artistic director Emma Rice in her first production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is a show for our times. Set in the warm and cosy confines of this glorious theatre it has been adapted by Joel Horwood and features a group of Vaudeville actors from Ole Shuteye’s troupe who enact stories for the little girl.
With a strike of a match, these stories - Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess And The Pea - are played out using puppetry, verse, music and song and enchant and delight both the girl, herself a puppet, and the audience.
Some of the stories are sad and melancholy of course, with the Princess rejecting the Prince for testing her rather than believing her royal pedigree and seeing well fed and warm people sing Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody around a Christmas tree while the match girl watches from outside in the cold is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
But it’s not all misery - indeed there is plenty of cheeky humour especially when the Emperor struts out in next to nothing and the Shuteye troupe sing and dance.
It is a beautiful production, wonderfully staged and acted by a top notch cast including Paul Hunter as Ole Shuteye and puppeteer Edie Edmundson who manipulates the match girl puppet. 
And there are some nice touches including Ole’s sly aside that “candles are much more atmospheric than boring old electricity”, a nod to the recent controversy over Emma Rice’s use of modern lighting in the main house.
But it’s when we leave the auditorium and step out into the chill winter air that the folk and fairy stories we’ve been watching become so relevant to our times - child poverty and homelessness - they are all around us.

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Bankside, until Sunday, January 22. Tickets from £15. Visit for full listings.