Monday, 29 February 2016

FOUR STAR review The Master Builder, at the Old Vic

THERE are many reasons to recommend The Master Builder now on at the Old Vic. The acting is superb – not least from Ralph Fiennes who puts in an extraordinary central performance as Halvard Solness, the master builder – but the set is too, particularly right at the end.
Henrik Ibsen’s late play is almost a reflection on his own life with its themes of obsession, infatuation and guilt.
It focuses on Halvard, an architect or rather a “master builder”, unhappily married and still mourning the loss of his children who died in infancy. He appears to have the weight of the world on his hunched shoulders, and has a brooding brusque demeanour.
Despite this he seems to attract the attention of the opposite sex like no one’s business.
He presides over an architecture firm in which the chap he is mentoring, Ragnar Brovik (Martin Hutson), wants to get married and move his career on. Halvard, jealous and fearful of his talent, does everything in his power to thwart his career progression.
Meanwhile, Ragnar's intended, Kaja (a delightful Charlie Cameron) who also works within the practice, is so infatuated with Halvard that is desperately trying to delay the wedding so she can stay working with.
Then one day a young woman, Hilde Wangel (Sarah Snook), appears. She strides into his office with practically nothing but the clothes she is in and demands the kingdom he promised her 10 years previously when she was a 13-year-old girl.
She reminds him they met at a topping out ceremony for the last church he built and on the top of which, despite hideous vertigo, he climbed to put a wreath.
To begin with he can’t remember this promise but she is a persuasive and determined woman and crucially, interesting, engaging and feisty. In short she is a breath of fresh air in his stagnant and unhappy world.
Her persistence pays off and we see a remarkable transformation in Halvard – his shoulders lift, he smiles, he looks energised and it’s clear he has fallen for this woman.
So infatuated with her is he that he takes on the rather rash decision to climb the tower in the town which has inevitable devastating consequences.
It a superb production and with a towering performance by Fiennes it is one not to be missed.

The Master Builder is on at the Old Vic, Waterloo until March 19. Tickets from £12. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7628.

FOUR STAR REVIEW - The Railway Children. The film of the stage version

Photo credit Anthony Robling

EDITH Nesbit's story of three children who help save a steam train from derailing and causing death and serious injury is as magical, charming and popular as it was when it was first written more than 100 years ago.
Since then the book has been adapted for film and TV most notably the 1970 film version which starred Jenny Agutter.
Now it has been adapted for the silver screen again, this time a film of the award winning stage version and which is due to be shown in cinemas on Easter Monday.
The lives of siblings Phillys, Peter and Bobbie Waterbury change dramatically one day when some mysterious men visit their father and then take him away.
Together with their mother, they are forced to pack up and leave London and head to a cottage in rural Yorkshire and it is here that their adventures begin.
Adapted by Mike Kenny, the play was first produced in 2008 by York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum in York.
It enjoyed two sell-out seasons before transferring to London, first at Waterloo Station and latterly at King's Cross.
However, it was at the Railway Museum that it was filmed and it is this production that will grace cinema screens across the country.
The staging is genius with a train track and seating incorporated into the museum. The track, which runs through the audience, provides for a moving set as well as a chance for the star of the show, the original locomotive from the much-loved original 1970 film, to make its appearance.
There is a bridge at one end and there are plenty of smoke and sound effects throughout.
The acting is superb particularly from the three children - Beth Lilly as Phillys, Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey as Bobbie and Izaak Cainer as Peter - and Martin Barrass as Mr Perks.
But ultimately it is the staging and the train which steams into the stage that are the real stars.
And seeing it brought to life for the big screen is a real treat, and perfect fare for all the family this Easter.

The film is playing on 400 screens nationally on Easter Monday including ODEON Streatham, ODEON Surrey Quays, Clapham Picturehouse, East Dulwich Picturehouse, Picturehouse Greenwich and ODEON Greenwich. Visit for full listings.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

INTERVIEW - Nick Heyward

FANS of the 80s pop music scene will no doubt be beating a path to the Indigo2 next month with the arrival of The 80s Invasion Tour.
Midge Ure, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Big Country and Nick Heyward of Haircut 100 fame will take to the stage on Saturday, March 5 in an 80s jukebox reunion gig in which they will take turns to perform a selection of their greatest hits.
For Nick it represents a chance to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and relive that golden year of 1982 when his band's album Pelican West became such a hit.
"You only need one album and for us that was it," he tells me in a chat ahead of the gig.
"It was such a great time back then, full of possibilities, excitement and fun. Pelican West was our Pet Sounds and I can stand back now and see it for what it was - the soundtrack for that summer.
"Although it was successful, it was an odd album in many ways - someone called it genuine lift music," he adds laughing.
"It had an oddness but that was true of a lot of the bands coming out at that time - bands such as Heaven 17 and ABC. We were riding on this huge cultural wave of Brit Funk which was just coming in and was really exciting.
"We weren't in it to conform but to be different and we were all doing interesting things though we didn't realise it at the time."
Nick, who was born in Beckenham and grew up in and around South London, formed Haircut 100 with school friends Graham Jones and Les Nemes signing to Arista Records in 1981.
Despite the success of Pelican West and the fame and adulation the group began to get, they split up while writing the second album. Nick went on to pursue a solo career which has lasted more than 30 years and has produced several albums and some poetry but has seemed to prefer to stay out of the limelight.
But while they may only have had one album, Haircut 100 released some of the 80s most memorable singles including Fantastic Day, Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl), Love Plus One and Nobody's Fool, all of which Nick hopes to play at the gig.
"It will be really nice to play them again," he says. "Fortunately I know them all! Those songs were written for a purpose - that of listening to them and dancing in a club so the Indigo2 is exactly the right place.
"I don't sing them the same as I did back then though. How could a 20-year-old sound like a 50-year-old? It's not possible to sound like that.
"But what I do plug into is the excitement of the time and sing with the same kind of joy.
"I remember writing Fantastic Day sitting in front of a wall so I could learn how to play the guitar and sing at the same time.
"It was many lifetimes ago...!" he adds laughing.
But while this may be the case Nick says he looks back at his time in the band with a "real fondness" although he admits that it was a "bonkers" time.
And this extends to his growing up in South London and throughout our chat he regales me with funny stories of his escapades - not least his brushes with the law.
"I remember spending a night in a police station when we lived near Penge," he recalls. "I was picked up by the cops for just walking home. My parents had a pub called The Goat House which was up towards Crystal Palace.
"My parents lived there but one night had planned to be away and I was to stay with my mate in Beckenham.
"However late that night I decided to go home but when I was walking I realised there would be no one in. So I was just walking and thinking about what to do when the police pulled up and asked me what I was doing before driving me to the nick!
"I got to the station and had to turn out my pockets - there was nothing there. I think they thought I was on drugs or something but I can't do drugs. I tried when I was younger but just can't do it. I'm just naturally happy!"
And that he is, not to mention friendly, down to earth, full of humour and constantly cracking jokes and genuinely pleased to be still making and recording music.
"What's great now is that I get asked to play gigs and get to record the music I want," he says. "The music business has changed and is changing all the time - social media has made it very easy to record stuff and then release it immediately.
"Doing this tour will pay for the new songs that I'm writing at the moment which I hope will be part of an album to be released later this year.
"In the meantime, it will be great to be back at the Indigo2. I played there a few years ago and it was lovely."
It won't be the first time he's played with the rest of those on the line up but he says it is the first time they've been on the same bill.
"It's quite a line up," he chuckles. "I've checked it out and it's pretty good. I know everyone and have played with them individually over the years.
"I have known Midge [Ure] a long time. He's like the leader and is like pop's ambassador. He's the guy you go to on tour, like a manager!"
So will this be a return to the limelight I ask?
"I'm enjoying the appreciation more these days and I seem to be comfortable with it," he muses. "When I was younger I couldn't take the appreciation and was really embarrassed and uncomfortable with it.
"Now I can go on stage and there's no pressure. I'm not trying to be successful but if I am then I'm OK with it. I just put it in perspective - and that comes with the maturity of age.
"It's like coffee - it's OK as long as you don't have too much of it!"

The 80s Invasion Tour is on at the Indigo2 in Greenwich on Saturday, March 5. Tickets cost from £26.40. Visit or call the box office on 08448 244824.

Monday, 22 February 2016

THREE star review of Jeff Wayne's The War of The Worlds

THE opening bars of The War Of The Worlds still has the power to send shivers down my spine and give me goosebumps.
Nearly 40 years after Jeff Wayne wrote the music for what was to become a blockbuster of a double album, it still holds its own.
Dramatic, instantly recognisable and with the ability to become locked in your brain it sounds as fresh now as it did when it was first released.
The album spawned a stage show which has been performed around the world for many years and over that time Wayne has tweaked it every now and again.
It was last in the capital at the 02 in Greenwich about 18 months ago and has now arrived back in London for a stint at the Dominon Theatre and it is quite an experience.
Loud, bonkers and totally OTT it is part prog rock concert and part musical. It is based on the science fiction book of the same name by HG Wells which was written in 1897 and was considered ahead of its time because of its content.
Wayne’s musical version tells the story of the Martian invasion of England from the Journalist's perspective.
We see how the Martians invade and wreak havoc with their killing machines, ray guns and red weeds and how the people try and fail to stem the tide of death and destruction before – spoiler alert – the Martians die of bacterial infections.
Wayne uses an orchestra of strings combined with a rock band which play live on the stage conducted by the great man himself.
What’s odd about the show is that given the amount of time that has elapsed since he wrote it he hasn’t found a way for the actors to be given something to do when there is no singing, just music.
Instead there is much running across the stage or staring out into the middle distance and it looks a bit awkward.
However there is much to recommend the show. It’s gloriously cheesy – at times the cheese factor is approaching Christmas stilton – with pyrotechnics, sound effects, zip wires, people dressed as red weeds who writhe around the stage, moving podiums on which the musicians play and even a towering tripod with smoke and huge green bug eyes which comes lumbering in and across the stage at various points.
There are also projections, film footage and a hologram of Liam Neeson who plays the Journalist. He appears on a screen which comes down from the top of the stage and then goes back up before distractingly coming down again 30 seconds later. This bobbing up and down continues for the entire show.
There are some good performances from the likes of David Essex, Michael Praed, Jimmy Nail and Madalena Alberto but their characters aren’t developed fully which is a shame and as a result they only really have one song each.
But of course the star of the show is the music and it’s still as striking, catchy, brilliant and amazing as it was when it was first written.
In fact it is like an earworm stubbornly refusing to leave my brain. For those who love the music this production will be a sure fire winner.

War Of The Worlds is on at the Dominion Theatre until Saturday, April 30. Tickets from £29. Visit or call the box office on 0845 200 7982.

FOUR STAR review for The Winter's Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

THE season of Shakespeare’s late plays continues at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with a glorious production of The Winter’s Tale.
It is not an easy play – there is plenty going on with lots of twists and turns within the story, a whole range of emotions and there are also an array of themes including rage, love, jealousy, child death, forgiveness and abandonment.
It is also a play of two halves – the first being full of sadness and terrible things happening to the characters and the second much more lighthearted and romantic.
But bathed in the rich glow of the many candles that light this small and intimate Bankside theatre the play comes alive beautifully.
Being so close to the stage and the action you can really feel the claustrophobic and toxic atmosphere of the court of Leontes, King of Sicilia during the first half.
The rage and indignation of the King who convinces himself his pregnant wife Hermione has been having an affair with Polixenes, King of Bohemia is plain to see.
One of the most frightening scenes was that of the famous scene when Antigonus exits “pursued by a bear”. The theatre suddenly goes dark and you hear even if you can’t see.
But in the second half the stage comes alive with the happiness and fun which surrounds the young Perdita and her love Florizel.
The ending is of course more about forgiveness and love – with Leontes seeking forgiveness from his wronged wife and the union of Florizel and Perdita.
The cast is superb with a great performance from John Light as Leontes who we can just about forgive for being so irrational and deranged in his belief that his wife has been unfaithful.
Elsewhere Rachael Stirling is stunning as Hermione and Niamh Cusack as Paulina is refreshingly fiery and determined.
But for me the night belonged to James Garnon as the opportunist pickpocket and bounder Autolycus. With numerous comic asides to the audience and jumping over the seats to join us at various intervals his performance was light, bright and a joy to watch.

The Winter’s Tale is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until April 22. Tickets from £10. Visit for full listings.  

FOUR star review for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at the National theatre

WITH the diversity row raging within the entertainment industry the National Theatre has played a blinder with a revival of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Set in a recording studio in Chicago in 1927 it centres around the formidable Ma Rainey, Mother of the Blues, a diva with a considerable amount of attitude who has deigned to come with her musicians to the studio to lay a few tracks, one being Black Bottom.
Her entourage consists of her much younger girlfriend and her nephew who has the most unfortunate stammer rendering him at times speechless.
She is determined to record the song that bears her name her way and despite her nephew's impediment and to his considerable embarrassment, she demands he record the introduction to a song – to the despair of her manager and the studio owner.
The four musicians - Slow Drag, Levee, Toledo and Cutler - arrive early and are ushered into an underground rehearsal space to practice before Ma Rainey arrives.
It is here we see how their talents and lives are exploited through the conversations they have with each other.
Indeed the banter between the four of them is the highlight of the show. Genial, agreeable, hostile, jokey and honest, they chat about their lives, their aims, ambitions and plans for the future. They rib Levee about his new white shoes and Toledo for his intellect.
It is in these cramped surroundings that the ambitious and hot headed Levee has a spat with the elder statesman of the group, Toledo about wanting to sell his music to the studio boss and about which version of the song they should play.
Inevitably tensions boil over – not just downstairs but upstairs too – and the second half is a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions with laughter mixed with tears.
It is beautifully put together and with a stunning set it is also blessed with a stellar cast. Sharon D Clarke is extraordinary as Ma Rainey and she is ably supported by Stuart McQuarrie as the studio owner and Finbar Lynch as her manager.
However it is the ensemble of Clint Dyer, Giles Terera, OT Fagbenle and Lucian Msamati as her backing band who steal the show.
It is a wonderful revival but one that reminds us of the divisions that existed then and those that still do now.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is on at the National Theatre until Wednesday, May 18. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

London Sinfonietta heads to the Coronet for two nights

WHEN the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall closed last year for refurbishment it meant its resident orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, had to find new places to play in.
It has proved to be an opportunity to look further afield from the more traditional concert hall venues.
Earlier this month they performed at the Southwark Playhouse and now they are gearing up for a couple of nights at the Coronet in Elephant & Castle in which they will stage the first of two landmark UK premieres.
The iconic, cavernous and multi-purpose venue has been the beating heart of Southwark’s cultural scene since 1872 and for the Sinfonietta's chief executive Andrew Burke it offers the perfect setting for some exciting new work.
"Contemporary music is so varied and requires so many different ways of presenting it," says Andrew.
"We wanted to find spaces that resonated with the pieces we are putting on and the Coronet, which has been a theatre, cinema and more recently a nightclub and live music venue, fitted the bill perfectly.
"It's hugely exciting for us to be here. We will be using all parts of the stage and indeed the venue, playing in different areas so it will be an incredible experience."
The first piece is a thought-provoking performance of The Book Of Disquiet. Composer Michel van der Aa’s score transforms Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa's collection of dream vignettes that combines spoken word, performed by actor Samuel West, with music, electronics and video.
In March the Coronet will host the UK premiere of Speicher by innovative composer Enno Poppe which was developed over five years, and will be conducted by leading Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki.
"We are very excited to be working with Samuel who is a great actor," says Andrew. "Van der Aa's music is unusual but very accessible and wonderful to listen to.
"It's an extraordinary sound and the concert will be played in front of three large cicular screens which have video projected on them. It's going to be very exciting."
Andrew hopes these excursions will be the start of more visits to other venues although he says he's looking forward to going back to the Southbank Centre when it's re-opened in 2018.
"Our main work will remain in the Southbank Centre as there will always be some music that needs to be played in a concert hall," he says.
"However there is a real excitement that comes when we find a connection with the music we are performing and the spaces we are performing in. I'm sure these two years of exploring different spaces will inspire us to keep doing that.
"The 21st century is only 15 years old and there is tonnes being written so it's an exciting time for us to explore new ways of working, how we make music, what art forms we can collaborate with and where we play.
"We already have a diverse audience who come and see our performances but we hope we can show new audiences that contemporary classical music is for everyone."

The Book Of Disquiet is on at the Coronet Theatre, New Kent Road on Wednesday February 24 and Thursday February 25. Tickets are £20. Visit or call the box office on 0844 847 9940.

Interview - Sam Bailey

THREE years ago Sam Bailey was a prison officer. Then at the end of 2013 her life changed when she won the 10th series of ITV's hit TV show The X Factor.
Following her win and signed to Simon Cowell's company Syco Music, she released her debut single Skyscraper which reached the coveted Christmas number one spot that year. It was followed in 2014 with her debut album, The Power of Love, reaching number one in the album charts.
Although she is no longer managed by Syco Music she hasn't let the grass grow under her feet.
Far from it. In fact she's added a new string to her bow by making her debut in musical theatre in the role of Mama Morton in a touring production of the hit show Chicago, which is at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week.
The Chicago story is based on real life events back in the roaring 1920s. Nightclub singer Roxie Hart shoots her lover and along with cell block rival, double-murderess Velma Kelly, they fight to avoid death row with the help of smooth talking lawyer, Billy Flynn.
Created by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Chicago has won six Tony, two Olivier, two BAFTA and six Academy Awards.
For Sam, who was born in Bexley and grew up in Sidcup to be in the current revival of the show is a dream come true.
"I've always loved musical theatre and I've seen Les Miserables about 18 times!" she tells me. "Musicals draw you in, they can make you laugh and cry and come out afterwards going 'wow, what an amazing experience'. It's very special and I love the extravagance of it.
"So to be in Chicago, which doesn't tour regularly, and for this to be my debut in musical theatre is a dream and I'm loving it."
Despite this she admits to feeling a certain amount of pressure attached to the role and to do Mama Morton justice.
"It's a new challenge for me as I've never done this before - it's totally out of my comfort zone but when it was offered I couldn't say no," she says warmly.
"However, it's such an iconic show and a brilliant role with some absolutely fantastic numbers - there is definitely pressure!
"It's not just about singing but about getting the accent right and acting the part. When the curtain goes up I want the audience to see Mama Morton and not Sam Bailey. They have to believe it's her so I have got to really immerse myself in the character and make sure I do a good job and don't screw up!"
Warm, friendly and down to earth Sam says she's loving the challenge and even admits to having a sneaking admiration for her character.
"Mama Morton may be a game player and in it for the money, but she's a great businesswoman," she says. "She's also strong, sexy, sassy and very clever and keeps everyone in check - which I love.
"And she's got one of the best songs - When You're Good To Mama - which is fantastic. I come out to that song and I'm literally laying it all out on the table.
"Playing this role has taught me a few things - that you have to work hard to get rewards," she adds. Mama Morton works hard, she's forever playing the game, but you can tell she has a heart.
"Although I never had any training, and would love to take a year out and go to drama school, I have always worked hard.
"Being on X Factor was amazing but I never went into it to be the next Beyonce! I just wanted to sing and get an extension on my house," she laughs.
"A lot of people go into the competition and spend all their money and have no career to show for it. I wanted longevity and I'm in for the long haul. I know there is a shelf life in the music business so I want to make sure I do as much as I can.
"I've got a single coming out in the summer and an album later in the year and I've been booked for panto at Christmas which is great. I like to be busy."
To help her on her way she says she's lucky to have the support of her family and friends, not least her husband and 10-year-old daughter.
"Being on the road a lot is tough and I couldn't do this without them," she says. "My daughter comes out with me when she's not at school which is fantastic and she loves it.
"In fact she's my biggest critic and gives me a list of all the things she thinks I should and shouldn't do in my performance!" she laughs.
"She comes backstage and asks all the guys behind the scenes loads of questions - about what qualifications she needs to do these jobs - she's such a creative kid and I love it when she's here with me.
"My husband is a one in a million too. My diary is planned with military precision so we manage to make it work and I see them all as much as I can."
And with the tour this week in Wimbledon Sam says it will be a chance to catch up with family and friends, and take advantage of what the town has to offer.
"I love the theatre," she say. "It's a beautiful place and I've seen a few shows there over the years so I'm really excited to be performing on its stage.
"There are also a lot of great shops in Wimbledon so I expect I'll get to use my credit card a lot! And there's a lovely Wetherspoons for me to have some fish and chips. I can't wait!"

Chicago is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, the Broadway, Wimbledon until Saturday, February 27. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

INTERVIEW Wet Wet Wet, ahead of their 02 gig on Sunday, March 6

IT’S nearly 30 years since Wet Wet Wet burst onto the music scene. With their catchy pop tunes and good looks the four lads from Glasgow - Graeme Clark, Tommy Cunningham, Neil Mitchell, and Marti Pellow - were an instant hit and went on to be one of the successful bands in British pop history.
In the three decades since they established themselves firmly within the British pop scene, they have sold an incredible 15 million singles and albums and have a more than impressive back catalogue of songs including three UK number ones – With A Little Help From My Friends, Goodnight Girl and of course Love Is All Around which spent an astonishing 15 weeks at the top of the charts.
Despite their success, the guys had their ups and downs and split in 2001, each going their separate ways with lead singer Marti Pellow finding a new lease of life in musical theatre.
However, much to their fans’ delight, they reformed in 2004 and released a greatest hits album in 2013.
They are currently wowing their legions of fans again with a 17-date tour – The Big Picture – which includes a night at the O2 in Greenwich on Sunday, March 6.
For band member Neil Mitchell it marks a welcome return to London and a venue they have – somewhat surprisingly – only played once before.
“We always used to play Wembley so I’m looking forward to the O2,” he tells me. “It’s such a beautiful venue, the atmosphere is amazing and it’s great that it’s still there.
“I hear that you can walk across the top of the Dome which sounds quite scary but might be something good to do while we are there.
“But I’m just so pleased that we are still selling tickets. We’ve been around for a while so it’s great that people still want to come and see us – there is a lot of competition out there these days!” he adds chuckling.
The tour coincides with the 20th anniversary of their huge number one album Picture This which included the hits Julia Says, Don’t Want to Forgive Me Now, Somewhere Somehow, She’s All On My Mind, Morning and of course Love Is All Around.
It is Picture This that has provided the inspiration for the latest tour and a digitally remastered version of the album is being released as part of it.
And at the 02 Neil promises a set list full of the songs that made their name plus a smattering of new material.
“It feels exciting to be doing these 17 dates,” says Neil. “We have always enjoyed playing live and we are really looking forward to coming to the O2.
“We have got more than 30 years of good songs under our belts so we’ll be playing most of them.
“I don’t really have a favourite – they are all meaningful and I like them all and in different ways - Angel Eyes, Wishing I Was Lucky, Love Is All Around, people like to hear those songs.
“There will be some new songs too – we need to keep doing new things otherwise we can get a bit stale. I understand the audience will want to hear the old stuff though - I would do the same if I was going!” he says warmly.
“It’s not really where we play though but who’s there,” he adds. “The reaction we get from the audience, that’s the best feeling.”
Wet Wet Wet formed in 1982 when the guys were at school and their music was influenced by a mix of all the bands and artists that they were listening to at the time.
For Neil it was the music his mum and dad liked – artists such as Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Elvis and Burt Bacharach as well as Motown songs – and he himself was a big fan of bands such as The Clash and David Bowie.
He admits that looking back it was the best time to get the group together, not least because he says the industry is much more competitive these days.
“It’s incredible the changes that have happened over the last 30 years,” he says. “When we started it was just after punk rock had happened and we realised that anyone could write and play.
“That was our inspiration really. We got a manager, did an album and it went on from there.
“Now it’s completely different as technology has changed things beyond recognition. We are lucky as it’s so difficult for acts starting out now although YouTube gives them a platform which is something we never had.
“We have to live with the times but what I do miss are the album covers – it was great to buy an album with all the artwork that went into the cover – but it’s a different generation now. You have to embrace it or you get left behind.
“I feel like I’m starting to sound like my parents!” he adds chuckling.
Softly spoken but full of good humour throughout our chat, Neil comes across as feeling genuinely surprised that the band still commands box office greatness.
But when I remind him of their success he says it’s as much to do with the band and their long term friendships with each other as it is the music.
“What makes it work and continue to work is that we know each other very well and when things get hard for one of us we support each other,” he says.
“We have that affinity with each other. It’s a relationship where you have ups and downs just like anyone else. We do have to pinch ourselves that we are still here - even more so as we get older as there is so much more competition.
“You either want to do it or you don’t and we really want to and I think at this stage we really appreciate it now.
"I turned 50 last year so I'm delighted we are still able to play and draw in the crowds.
“We are more sensible now though - we are not spring chickens and don't go drinking anymore. I've a four year old son and hate hangovers!
"But we all still get a real kick out of recording and playing and to see people dancing and singing your songs from a long time ago, there really is no better feeling."

Wet Wet Wet brings The Big Picture Tour to London's O2 Arena in Greenwich on Sunday, March 6. Visit for tickets.

Friday, 12 February 2016

A new and exciting production of Cyrano De Bergerac opens at the Southwark Playhouse next week

GIVEN that the issue of diversity in the arts is currently on the news agenda it is perhaps timely that a play is being staged in which the cast is made up entirely of women.
The play in question is Edmond Rostand’s classic, Cyrano De Bergerac and features Olivier award-winning actress Kathryn Hunter in the lead role.
Adapted by Glyn Maxwell, it opens at the Southwark Playhouse on Thursday and is directed by Russell Bolam who makes a welcome return to the Elephant & Castle venue after his hugely successful production of Three Sisters two years ago.
“I love the Southwark Playhouse as it’s one of the most exciting theatre spaces,” he tells me during a break in rehearsals.
“It’s a great place to work in and I love going there as a punter.
“This play is also one of my favourites. It’s a great love story in terms of what happens with Cyrano and Roxanne, and an extraordinary play which is why it’s lasted hundreds of years.
“What I love about it is it’s got a bit of everything and each act focuses on something different. Act 1 is about swashbuckling, and is a bit like the Three Musketeers, Act 2 is farcical, Act 3 is a rom com, Act 4 is a tragic Journey’s End and Act 5 is like Chekov. It’s brilliant.
“I’ve also been a huge fan of Glyn’s for many years so when I heard he was adapting it and it was a play that was high up on my shortlist I couldn’t say no.
“I read the script and thought wow – this is the best I’ve read.”
For those who don’t know, Cyrano de Bergerac is a swordsman, philosopher, poet and Gascon. However none of this makes him happy. What he longs for above all else is the love of the beautiful Roxanne.
Unfortunately he has a problem and that is his big nose and it is because of this that he believes he is too ugly to be loved.
For Russell, Cryano is one of the great characters of the classics.
“It’s a beautifully tragic comic play and Cyrano is such a beautiful contradiction,” he says. “He’s a great poet and swordsman, a philosopher and Gascon and is a class warrior who battles pretension.
“He is an incredible character and hero and yet he feels he has a deformity in his large nose so there is a remarkable vulnerability about him.”
It was originally written in rhyming verse but this adaptation has been reworked so that it will be in free verse, something that Russell is pleased with.
“Cyrano is a play that can be a long evening but this one won’t be! It goes at a pace and should be a funnier adaptation than most,” he says.
“Glyn has broken it apart and reworked it again with his poetic sensibilities so it’s an incomparable and remarkable adaptation, funny and haunting.
“I don’t want to give too much away but it will be a mix of both modern and period dress so it’s going to be very exciting.”
But what he finds most exciting and exhilarating about the whole production is that of the cast being made up of women, although him being “the only chap in the rehearsal room” did make way for a few jokes at the start of rehearsals.
“It’s quite extraordinary because they are an amazing group of actors,” he says. “I have tried to treat them as a company of actors rather than being conscious of them being all women.
“It’s great for the cast because they play both genders and it’s good for them to use their wide range of skills. They are getting the chance to get their teeth into some great parts.
“Kathryn Hunter plays Cyrano which is one of the great roles of theatre and Ellie Kendrick gets her teeth into Christian De Neuvillette, one of the most under-rated characters.
“By playing both men and women it opens up all sorts of characters which is fantastic and brings a whole new dimension to the play. And I don’t think an all women cast has ever been done before which is very exciting.”
And Russell says the themes the play brings up are still as relevant as ever.
“It’s an enduring masterpiece and it’s testament to these great plays that they are still being done hundreds of years later,” he says.
“Cyrano has some real profound questions about what is love about, the nature of the soul and what love is in relation to the body and spirit. At its heart it has a man who feels disfigured. He has a very large nose and feels he’s deformed and so the themes of body image and how love is expressed are very much to the fore.
“It’s also a celebration of poetry and Glyn has found an argument for poetry in our lives and how vital it is that we express ourselves and our love.
“It’s one of those plays that audiences will be incredibly nourished by with the themes and questions within it.
“To bring it to the Southwark Playhouse at this time is incredibly exciting.”

Cyrano De Bergerac is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway between Thursday, February 18 and Saturday, March 19. Tickets cost £20. Visit for full listings

REVIEW - Battlefield, Young Vic

LEGENDARY theatre director Peter Brook is back in London from his base in Paris, with a show based on The Mahabharata.
Battlefield, now on at the Young Vic is a 65-minute snapshot of the Indian epic which he staged in a marathon nine hour showing in 1985.
It takes the audience to the aftermath of the great Kurukshetra war between the two warring families – the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
According to legend, the war lasted 18 days and left millions of bodies lying on the ground. Battlefield play begins with the victor of this war, Yudishtira (Jared McNeill) as the new Pandava King surveying the scene and wanting to make sense of it all.
It is undoubtedly a bleak picture – one that is conveyed with a vivid description to the audience – and he is reluctant to take on the role of king.
However he is persuaded to seek advice and wisdom and so he turns to the old blind king Dritarashtra (Sean O’Callaghan), queen Kunti (Carole Karemera) and soothsayers (all played by Ery Nzaramba).
The storytelling of the soothsayers is full of humour and features some lovely parables with animals including a snake who has bitten a child, a worm trying to cross a road despite fearing a chariot will come and crush him and a greedy mongoose.
The tale is simply told, with minimal props, four bare footed actors and Toshi Tsuchitori on the drum on a bare stage.
It starts off slowly but builds momentum and through the language and stories succeeds in taking the audience to another time and place while reminding us of conflicts still raging today, most notably in Syria.
Well staged and well acted, this is a short but magical piece.

Battlefield is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until February 27. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

My trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau....

SIX million people were killed during the Holocaust of which 1.2million were at the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Kate Gould joined 200 students from South London on a day trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust to these camps and to see the work being done to keep the horrors of what happened there f

IT'S more than 70 years since the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau near the town of Oswiecim in Poland were liberated by the Allies.
The camps are perhaps the most potent and recognisable reminder of the Holocaust - the systematic extermination of groups deemed by the Nazis to be not worthy of living - Jews, criminals, Poles, Russians, Roma and prisoners of war.
Although the exact figure is not known, it is estimated that six million people perished during the Holocaust of which 1.5million were children and of which 1.2million were killed at Auschwitz.
And they came to these camps on a lie - despite being told by the Nazis to bring their posessions as they were going to be evacuated to a better place, most were gassed or executed.
So to stand under the gates at Auschwitz with the famous Arbeit Macht Frei (work makes you free) in iron writing over the top of it, is somewhat overwhelming.
In fact nothing can prepare you on a visit to Auschwitz and its sibling Birkenau - the camps where unimaginable horrors to human beings took place between 1940 and 1945.
I was invited to go on a day trip to see the camps by the Holocaust Educational Trust on Thursday of last week. I went with about 200 students from schools across South London as part of the Trust's Lessons From Auschwitz project.
The project aims to increase the knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust on the premise that "hearing is not like seeing".
As well as the visit to Poland it also includes seminars and workshops for the students - aged between 16 and 18 - to share and pass on their experiences of what they have seen at first hand.
And so it was that after a ridiculously early start we arrived at Auschwitz I, somewhat bleary eyed to step into the place where so many died.
It was a very sombre moment to step over the threshold. It was snowing, bitterly cold and there was an eeriness to it.
Now a museum complex, still surrounded by three rows of barbed wire, Auschwitz I comprises rows of buildings which house artefacts from the war including clothing, pots, pans and even hair that were seized by the Nazis, as well as the gas chambers and crematorium.
During our visit our guide Marta Kadluczka took us to some of the many rooms full of these personal posessions.
We saw a mountain of 40,000 shoes, many of which were beautifully made, colourful and stylish, a cabinet of prosthetic limbs including many for children, one of brushes, combs and shaving brushes, another full of colourful pots, pans, kettles and other kitchen staples, one full of spectacles and one of luggage, all marked with names and dates.
And then there was the hair - a huge mound of it behind glass, some of which was made into clothes for the Germans.
We also saw the empty gas cannisters which contained the infamous Zyklon B gas. Marta told us how those arriving at the camp gates were told to strip off for a shower but instead were taken to the chambers into which the gas was piped. It was a slow and agonising death with those inside frightened, scrambling to try and escape and not being able to. To be standing, free, in the place where so many lost their lives felt almost disrespectful.
While many who arrived at the camps were gassed some were kept as prisoners to work in the camps, cleaning out the latrines or cooking in the kitchens.
Conditions in the camp were beyond dreadful and in most cases deadly as even those who were kept as prisoners were susceptable to disease or starvation - or worse, torture, beatings, hanging, medical experiments or being shot at the "death wall".
Many slept on the bare floor, a few fortunate souls had straw to sleep on or slept three to a bunk, but the sanitary conditions were abysmal and there was no privacy.
All vestiges of human dignity were systematically stripped away in the most ruthless way possible, designed to degrade and destroy. Man's inhumanity to man at its worst and in a place where there was no limit to how badly and inhumanely people were treated.
In the corridors we saw photographs in frames of just a few of the many prisoners who were judged to be of use to the Nazis - complete with their names, dates of birth, the dates of when they arrived and of when they died.
The statistics of people surviving an average of three months in these attrocious conditions was made much more tangible.
For me though it was seeing a broken doll in a cabinet surrounded by clothes belonging to children and babies that made my whole being ache with sadness and anger.
In short, seeing all these things that belonged to human beings made it all horribly real. Like I said, nothing can prepare you for what you see and how you feel. It was chilling - and it wasn't just the weather.
Normally chatty teens were left silenced by the things they saw and we walked through the buildings and the corridors within them in silence.
We were equally quiet as we stepped into the gas chamber and for many it was too much to take in.
After that it was a short journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau. If you think Auschwitz is big, Birkenau is staggering in its size. It was the largest of the more than 40 camps and sub-camps that made up the Auschwitz complex and was made up of nine areas, each surrounded by a barbed wire fence.
Entering through the main gate the infamous railway track disappears into the distance.
It is utterly vast and at its height we were told that 90,000 prisoners were kept there at any one time. Now most of it has been razed to the ground with only chimney stacks remaining.
However there is one row of huts that have been kept. It was here we were told that hundreds were crammed into these tiny, claustrophobic buildings in living conditions that are beyond comprehension.
A long bench with holes in it turns out to be a mass lavatory where men were given but a few seconds at specific times twice a day to use. Dysentry was rife as were diseases and rats. It is simply impossible to fully appreciate the conditions that these people had to suffer.
By this time, the weather was getting worse, it was snowing, there was an arctic wind blowing and we were all shivering with the cold. The only way to keep ourselves going was to keep moving. So we walked in sombre silence down alongside the railway track where so many were herded into wagons, one of which remains stationary, lonely on the track, and taken to their deaths.
We followed the track to the end of the line where we saw the remains of two gas chambers and the crematorium. We saw the ash pits, the steps leading down to the chambers and the woods beyond.
We then were taken to the last remaining building which housed a wall of photos of men, women and children, in happier times before the war. No one could have foreseen the terrors and horrors of what was to come for them and no one knows what happened to these people - were they victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau or did they manage to escape. It was an incredibly sobering moment.
Our visit ended with a short memorial service after which we all lit candles and laid them on the railway tracks.
The day was an emotionally charged one not just for me but for the students I was with.
For Fabian Smith-Williams, a history A level student at Haberdasher's Askes in New Cross said it was an experience he said he would never forget.
He said: "I've studied history for seven years and how the Nazis dehumanised the Jews but this is something else. This is the reality of what happened.
"I'm shivering with five layers of clothes right now and can't imagine what it must have been like in this weather for the people who were here who had their shoes and clothes taken from them."
Fellow student Mo Carpenter said: "It was harrowing to be here and it's hard to grasp that it actually happened."
Zavina Eguakun, a student at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls School in Clapham said: "It opened my eyes to a lot of what went on. Even though it happened a long time ago there are still issues today and we need to be more aware.
"The room with the hair was the most poignant for me - that really got to me. It just looked so ruthless because these were real human beings."
Her fellow student Niamh O'Connell agreed. She said: "It made it all real. You learn about it at school but coming here is a big deal.
"It makes you realise how many people were killed during the Holocaust and helps you understand that it happened and we need to learn from it. It doesn't matter what colour or religion you are, everyone should be treated fairly."
Natasha De Stefano, a history teacher at Bishop Thomas Grant School in Streatham said everyone should have an opportunity to come on such a trip.
She said: "This is my sixth visit and every time I come I notice something slightly different. This time it was the artificial limbs for babies and children. I'm an auntie and it really affected me.
"I think it's also about seeing the photos of those who were here and trying to find the individual.
"It's such a valuable project that the HET runs and I think it's extremely beneficial for the students who are able to come.
"It makes it all real and gives a fresh and real insight into what went on. Being here, seeing it and hearing the stories is an incredible and extraordinary experience that you can't get just by reading about it in class.
"Both my students today have got a lot out of today and it's made them think about the issues in history and modern day problems. It's been a great opportunity for them."
Student Alex Baxter said: "I feel it's life changing. You can see the scale of the horror of it. Being at Birkenau was the worst bit. To see how big it was and what the conditions were like was awful."
Fellow student Laura De Costa Videira said: "I got a more a more visual image of how people suffered. You can't tell from the figures but seeing the objects brought it to life and put it all in a different light. It was harrowing but it gave me a different perspective on it and a better understanding of what happened so I'll remember this visit forever."


Auschwitz I was primarily a concentration camp which held around 15,000 prisoners. It was initially used for Polish political prisoners but later housed Soviet prisoners of war, "anti social elements" and prisoners of many nationalities.
Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, was the main death camp. It was built in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, 3km from Oswiecim.
It is impossible to give precise figures for the numbers of people sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. However estimates suggest they included 1.1million Jews, 140,000 Poles, 23,000 Sinti and Roma gypsies and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.
At the end of 1944 with the Red Army approaching, the Auschwitz administration began to remove traces of the crimes that took place there by destroying documents and buildings.
Between August 1944 and January 1945 120,000 prisoners were evacuated to camps in Germany.

The remaining 7,650 prisoners were liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Half Term activities in South London

Surrey Docks Farm
As usual there are plenty of family activities lined up at this working farm. Family sessions include cooking, nature crafts in which those taking part can make a bird feeder or grow an edible cress field complete with a scarecrow, a piglets club for young farmers and a baby music class.
Elsewhere there is a chance for those aged between eight and 13 to become the ultimate survivalist with Wilderness & Survival Skills. Those taking part can learn how to build their own fire, do some wilderness cooking and make shelters from plants and trees.
There is also a Ceramics Workshop for those aged between five and 13 to learn how to mould and create objects from clay.
Throughout the week the livestock team will be on hand to introduce visitors to rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and poultry on the farm.
Visit for listings.

Herne Hill Velodrome
The weather may not be great but that doesn't mean kids should be inside. The Herne Hill Velodrome has sessions for children aged between eight and 16 this half term. The sessions run from 10am to 3pm, and are suitable for all abilities, from complete beginners to track riding and mountain biking, to experienced racers. Riders will be able to choose between mountain-biking and track cycling.
It costs £15 per child per day. Bike and helmet hire included. Those taking part need to bring a packed lunch, plenty to drink and warm, suitable clothes.
Visit or email to book a place.

Horniman Museum
An exhibition which shows what great parents dinosaurs were is set to open at the Horniman.
Dinosaurs: Monster Families aims to reveal the fascinating family life of dinosaurs through interactive exhibits, authentic specimens from around the world and life-size models. Visitors will be able to view an amazing collection of fossils including the longest dinosaur eggs ever discovered, meet a replica of Baby Louie which is the near-complete skeleton of a dinosaur hatchling, dig in the discovery pit and get face-to-face with T-Rex’s relative – a life-size Tarbosaurus skeleton cast.
Alongside bird and crocodile specimens from the Horniman’s collection, visitors can also see a fossilised egg of the extinct Elephant Bird, on loan from Sir David Attenborough’s private collection.
Tickets cost £4.40 for children, £7.70 for adults or £18.70 for family tickets. Visit for listings.

Design Museum
Visitors to the Design Museum in Shad Thames will have a chance to see two exhibitions this half term.
Cycle Revolution showcases famous bikes, the latest cycling innovations, and the voices of celebrated cyclists, both professional and amateur, to tell the powerful, personal and sometimes remarkable stories of cycling today.
There are also free Insight Tours running alongside the exhibition. People can join a volunteer-led 20 minute tour of the Cycle Revolution exhibition, featuring personal insights behind selected bikes and exploring key design features unique to the bikes of the four tribes featured in the exhibition.
Designs Of The Year showcases 76 projects and encompasses architecture, fashion, graphics, product, transport and digital design. It features some of the industry’s biggest names alongside rising stars and little-known practices.
Explore Kits for children aged five to 10 will guide them through the Designs of the Year exhibition. Full of fun design activities and challenges, they are available free of charge from the admissions desk.
Email or call 020 7940 8783 for full listings.

The Albany
SMASHfestUK will make a welcome return to the Albany in Deptford this half term.
Essentially it's a mash up of science, technology and maths with the arts in which kids and their families will be shown how to survive with no means of electrical communication - no internet, no electricity, no phones or computers and no social media.
Among the attractions will be a human power station, comedians, poets and astronomers, human-sized mutant fruit flies, Cracking the Code: The Genetics of Superheroes, solar storytelling, solar graffiti, Cosmic Jives, electric paint, an Aardman animator and a Mutant Generation Unit.
There will also be events running all week at the Deptford Lounge library, including the SMASHfestUK planetarium, the Mechanical Mobile Phone Exoskeleton, a code-club, a solar exhibition, an artist's residency and a film programme, all themed around the imminent solar storm.
There will also be a chance to stay, play and bounce after the show.
SMASHfestUK takes place at the Albany between Thursday, February 18 and Saturday, February 20. All events are either free or ticketed on a Pay What You Want basis with 20 per cent of tickets non-bookable so audiences can drop-in on the day. Visit or for details.

Imperial War Museum
Over February half term, families can get political and create a collage or drawing in the Lambeth museum's Family Art Workshop − Protest and Survive. They'll hear from celebrated political artist Peter Kennard, subject of retrospective exhibition Unofficial War Artist, about how he creates his work, and get hints and tips on creating protest artworks. All materials are provided and no previous art experience is required.
The free workshop takes place between 2pm and 4pm from Saturday February 13 until Sunday, February 21. The exhibition runs until May 30.
As well as the free workshop the rest of the museum will be open offering a chance to visit some of the ongoing free exhibitions.
Visit for listings.

Woodlands Farm
Youngsters will have a chance to turn sparrow detective, visit animals or go wild in the woods at the Woodlands Farm this half term.
Sparrow Detectives featuring activities to explore why the numbers of house sparrows in London have decreased will be held on Wednesday February 17 from 1pm until 3pm.
Families can just drop in for the event, which costs £2.50 per child, and also includes a farmyard trail.
A day inspired by the story of Farmer Duck takes place on Thursday February 18 with slots from
10am to 12noon and 1pm to 3pm which cost £4 per child and must be booked in advance.
On Friday February 19 children over the age of seven can have a go at wild cooking and shelter building at the Get Wild in the Woods event. Tickets cost £4 per child and must be booked in advance.
Email or visit or call 020 8319 8900 for details and full listings.

Southbank Centre
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl, Southbank Centre will host a series of events and activities in homage to the great man as part of its annual Imagine Children’s Festival.
The centrepiece of the celebrations is a new interactive experience The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl which takes visitors on a magical journey through seven different immersive worlds that explore the writer’s life and the world of his iconic books.
There will also be a day long reading of his famous book Matilda and a performance of his final book The Minpins accompanied by live animation and the music of Sibelius performed by the London School’s Symphony Orchestra.
Elswhere there will also be plenty of workshops giving children the opportunity to try their hands at a range of activities including making animated films, clay sculpture, writing poetry, illustrations and learning sign language.
Visit for full listings.

Vault Festival, Waterloo
This weekend children and their families can disappear into the leake Street tunnels underneath Waterloo and take part in a whole host of activities as part of this year's Mini Vault Festival.
Amongst the many events - many of which are free - are a magic show in which Michael Jordan treats audiences to astonishing illusions, the BAC Beatbox Academy, A Pony For Your Thoughts, a new physical comedy show for children and Poetry Pie in which one of Britain's best loved poets Roger McGough will entertain all the family with puns, word play and sharp observations on all aspects of life. There are also free workshops on dance, magic and drama, circus shows, storytelling, games, live music and interactive installations not to mention face painting and theatre shows.
Visit for full listings

SEALIFE London Aquarium
Join the Sealife staff this February half term for Clownfish Clues, a fun and educational family trail around the aquarium featuring these bright and colourful fish who inspired the characters in hit film Finding Nemo. All Child tickets include an activity booklet to complete whilst exploring the attraction. Will you spot all the clues?
Don't miss our daily talks and feeds, including our Coral talk at 3:30pm in Nemo's Kingdom.
February is also Turtle Month at the Aquarium. From the largest, the Leatherback sea turtles that visit UK waters each year to gorge themselves on jellyfish to the smallest and rarest, Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, and everything in between staff will be on hand to teach visitors more about these incredible animals and fundraising for turtle conservation.
The trails are on between February 13 and 21.

Visit for listings.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Review - This Was The World And I Was King at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley Road


MUSIC, puppets, song and a wonderful and inventive script are the key ingredients for a delightful, yet emotionally charged show now on at the Jack Studio Theatre.
This Was The World And I Was King is full of enchantment from the off. It features the story of three children, Evelyn (Laura Trundle), Alexander (Lewis Clarke) and Lily (Laura Hannawin) who are sent away with their mother (Lucy Peacock) to live at their uncle's farmhouse during the First World War.
Their father (Steve McCourt) is away fighting on the Western Front and he sends regular letters full of stories. The children spend their time playing endless games, some of which are based on their father's tales.
Through these stories and games we see their ingenuity, creativity and imagination as well as their boundless energy, naive innocence and happiness, as well as how far they are protected by their mother and uncle from the horrors of war.
However, when their father is wounded and has to return home it is not the happy homecoming his children had hoped for.
Indeed it forces Alexander, aged only 16, to volunteer for his country in a bid to emulate his father and make his family proud.
Throughout the piece there are some wonderful moments such as when King Thomas the Bear transforms into a puppet boy - though of course he keeps his bear's heart - and the wonderful way the scenes flow beautifully from one to the next with the cast using the props of crates, suitcases, sheets, shawls and rugs.
It is all set to a fabulous and captivating soundtrack of live music performed and written by members of the cast and creative team, all of whom are excellent.
But what makes this story so engaging is the clever way we see their childhood played out next to scenes in which Evelyn reminisces about their times at the farmhouse with housekeeper Elizabeth.
Although it's never explicitly said what happened to Lily the story is more about her and told through her eyes and Evelyn constantly refers to her in the past tense, making the ending full of emotion and poignancy.
Ultimately it is a great advert for traditional storytelling and shows the younger members of the audience how kids entertained themselves before iPads, Kindles and other electronic devices.

This Was the World And I Was King is on at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley Road, until February 20. Tickets cost £14. Visit or call the box office on 0333 666 3366.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Flavia and Vincent do the Last Tango at the New Wimbledon Theatre

Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone. Picture credit Manuel Harlan

THEY delighted millions of people with their extraordinary footwork on the hit BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing.
And then when they left the programme after seven years, they took to the nation’s theatres with several touring shows highlighting their not inconsiderable talents.
Now Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone are back, and possibly for the last time, with their latest tour The Last Tango.
The pair, who have been dancing together professionally for more than 20 years, are currently shimmying their way across the stages of theatres around the country, one of which is the New Wimbledon Theatre which they will be visiting between February 16 and 20.
In a break from rehearsals Flavia tells me they are really looking forward to it not least because it’s the first time they have performed there.
“It is one of the few venues we’ve not danced in so we are really excited,” she says. “It’s also close to where we live in Surrey so it will be nice to spend some time there.
"We are just doing our first week of rehearsals after a nice break for Christmas so it's been quite an intense week," she laughs. "But it's lovely to get back on the stage and we are looking forward to it."
Last Tango is the final production in a trio of shows the pair have choreographed and Flavia says they want to go out with a bang.
"We love performing our shows and our last two were great and audiences seemed to love them," she says warmly.
"Each one has been a little different but with this one we wanted to push ourselves to the limit and really go for it.
"Also, we’ve been doing our shows for several years now - doing eight shows a week is tough both physically and mentally so we both feel it’s about time to pack away the suitcase for a while,” she adds.
And she promises audiences are in for a treat with dazzling costumes to reflect the style of the dances, fabulous lighting, stunning sets as well as a great cast and live orchestra.
“It’s like a celebration of our best work," she says. "It's a beautiful show, very emotional, passionate, intimate, and with some wonderful dances.
"All our previous shows have had a storyline and this will be no different. This is about a couple who meet and become dance partners. The audience will follow them from the time they meet in the 1920s through to the 1970s.
"There is a real mix of dance styles – from Rumba to Foxtrot, Charleston to American Smooth, West End to Waltz and a special version of the Argentine Tango - and we've matched the music and dances so they tell different parts of the story.
"It's really full on but great fun and we have really enjoyed putting it together and bringing in new elements.
"One of the dances is a Flamenco which I've never done before, so I spent time working with a Flamenco teacher which was a lot of fun. It was nice to do something different and unexpected."
They will be joined on stage by what Flavia calls a family of dancers who help tell the story which she says will appeal to all ages.
“We’ve had some fantastic responses from audiences and what’s great is that everyone, no matter how old, will enjoy it,” she says. “It’s something for all the family which is what we have aimed for."
But where does all the inspiration come from?
"It comes from the music," says Flavia. "The main thing for us is to find music that we have always wanted to dance to or that jumps out at us as being something great for a part of the story. The choreography follows on from the music.
"There are so many beautiful tracks in this show that it's impossible to have a favourite."
I ask if she's sad that this will be the last tour but she says it's time.
"Vincent and I have been dancing together for 20 years so it's going to be emotional because we love what we do," she says.
"We do and feel very lucky and privileged to have had all the opportunities we have had, to perform in front of amazing audiences night after night and create these lovely shows.
"However, we want to pursue new projects and challenges and we want to end on a high."
But she stresses that doesn't mean a return to Strictly.
"We are very lucky to have had the opportunity to do Strictly but that is a box that has definitely been ticked," she says warmly.
"We want to try out some new things, maybe teach dance classes. We won't stop dancing though!
"We may be packing away the suitcase but we won't be hanging up our shoes - it would be impossible to do that!" she adds cheerfully.

The Last Tango is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, Broadway, between Tuesday, February 16 and Saturday, February 20. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Imagine Children's Festival back at the Southbank Centre

THE life and work of one of Britain's greatest storytellers is to be the centrepiece of a major children's literature festival.
Readings, workshops, performances and a new interactive experience celebrating the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl will be the undoubted highlights at this year’s Imagine Children's Festival.
Imagine is back at the Southbank Centre for a 15th year and will take over the 21-acre site for two weeks from February 10.
As well as the homage to Roald Dahl, Imagine will be packed full of events spanning theatre, dance, art, music and installations alongside readings and workshops with some of the country’s top children’s authors.
Among those taking part will be David Baddiel, Judith Kerr, Rastamouse, Cressida Cowell, Mary Hoffman, Laura Dockrill, Cerrie Burnell and Ben Bailey Smith.
For the fourth year in a row children will play a major role in the organising and running of Imagine. The Mini Festival Makers, a group of children from eight local primary schools, have helped programme, promote and produce key events throughout the two weeks.
They have worked alongside programme director Tamsin Ace who says she’s excited about what this year’s festival has to offer.
“It’s been a lot of fun putting it all together,” she says. “Every year we try and tweak and develop it a bit and this year we wanted to bring in and involve more kids.
“They are only eight and nine and have made lots of suggestions, will run the building, take tickets and work in the box office.
“To have them run the building with us and have them involved in the process has been invaluable. They are the best people to be involved – they underpin the very essence of what Imagine is all about – a festival by children for children.
“It also gives them great experience of what it's like to work in the arts. We always see performing roles with people on stage but there is a whole range of jobs within the creative industries which being involved in this festival will give the children a chance to see and experience.”
This year more than half the programme will be free of charge offering families and schools access to literature, music, theatre, poetry, dance, interactive installations, workshops and a whole lot more besides.
“We want people to come along and dip their toe in and try things out and see what it’s all about,” says Tamsin.
“Stepping into a big building like this can be intimidating so we hope that by making many of the events and activities free it encourages people to come in and see what’s on offer.
“Everyone loves stories, being read to or reading to someone. This year we have some fantastic authors coming in to do readings and Q&As. Laura Dockrill will be one I can’t wait to see but we have so many it’s hard to choose.
“We’ve also got a lovely end to each day with a bed time story. It’s always really busy, crazy and overrun with families during the festival so we thought that this year we would invite different authors to come in and read their favourite bedtime stories.
“It’s been inspired by the BBC’s Cbeebies Bedtime Hour and I hope it will bring a sense of calm to the building.”
Elsewhere Tamsin says there are plenty of things to see and do. Author Judith Kerr will be in conversation about Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, her first illustrated novel in 37 years, Michael Morpurgo’s I Believe In Unicorns will be brought to life by theatre company Wizard Presents, Theater Gnaffel will present their double bill of Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs performed by life size puppets, the Fantastical Story Factory will bring their improv comedy-inspired show which gets the audience to decide what happens next and there will be an interactive reading experience hosted by Michael De Souza, co-creator of Rastamouse.
There will also be plenty of workshops giving children the opportunity to try their hands at a range of activities including making animated films, clay sculpture, writing poetry, illustrations and learning sign language.
But for Tamsin the undoubted highlight will be the events focusing on Roald Dahl.
“This year is extra special because it is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and we wanted to celebrate that so we have a range of events inspired by his amazing legacy,” she says.
“Everyone has read him and I think what makes his books stand the test of time is that he believes in children as being the most powerful and important people within the narrative.
“His books are quite dark and nasty people get their comeuppance in them but children love that sense of naughtiness and he’s a brilliant mischief maker.”
The centrepiece of the celebrations is a new interactive experience The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl, commissioned by Southbank Centre in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre.
The experience takes visitors on a magical journey through seven different immersive worlds that explore the writer’s life and the world of his iconic books.
Featuring exclusive archival material from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, including original manuscripts, personal letters, drawings, photographs and cherished objects, the exhibition offers a unique insight into the inspiration behind some of his best loved characters and stories.
The exhibition will launch with Imagine on February 10 and will run until July 3, before travelling to the Wales Millennium Centre.
Other highlights of the Roald Dahl celebrations include a performance of his final book The Minpins accompanied by live animation and the music of Sibelius performed by the London School’s Symphony Orchestra.
And for fans of Matilda, Dahl in a Day will see a whole host of people reading this iconic story throughout the day accompanied by dance, illustration and music.
“Working with archive material from the Roald Dahl Museum has been extraordinary and a real privilege,” says Tamsin.
“But the whole festival has been amazing to work on. To have so many events and activities dedicated to reading and literature, I hope it inspires a new generation of storytellers."

Imagine Children's Festival is on at the Southbank Centre between Wednesday February 10 and Sunday February 21. Visit for full listings.

Monday, 1 February 2016

REVIEW - Minotaur, Unicorn Theatre


THE story of how Theseus slew the minotaur, the labyrinth-dwelling half man half beast of Greek mythology, is brought to life in a new adaptation by Adam Peck.
Minotaur, now on at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street, features a cast of just four who tell the story of how King Minos of Crete, so infuriated that his son was killed by King Aegeus of Athens that he demands 14 children be sent from Athens to Crete each year to be given in sacrifice to the Minotaur.
King Aegeus, weak and cowardly, agrees to this. However, when his long lost son Theseus comes back just as the first 14 children are selected, he boldly and confidently offers to go in their place.
He also promises his father he will put up white sails on the ship when he comes home to show he has been successful.
But will he be successful? The Minotaur, who has a head of a bull and the body of a man, lives alone in the labyrinth and is feared by all of those who hear about him, not least because no one has ever come out alive.
Only Ariadne, his sister, is unafraid of him and she visits him regularly to care for him while dreaming of setting them both free from the rule of their selfish father.
However, when Theseus arrives to kill the Minotaur she ends up making a decision that will change their lives forever.
It is a fascinating and well staged production - at times dark and foreboding, and at times full of humour but there is drama and tension throughout.
There is also some audience participation – and there seemed to be more than enough children willing to go on the first boat to be eaten by the Minotaur!
However it goes by a bit too quickly and the back story of the Minotaur is never fully explained, nor why Ariadne feels such an attachment.
Despite this it's entertaining and the Minotaur himself is suitably menacing and unnerving with his rusty metal head who fascinates and frightens the younger members of the audience in equal measure.

Minotaur is on at the Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street until Saturday, April 2. Tickets cost £10 for under 18s and £16 for adults. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560.