Tuesday, 29 March 2016

FOUR star review The Truth, Menier Chocolate Factory

Robert Portal as Paul and Alex Hanson as Michel in The Truth, photo credit Marc Brenner

TWO couples and four lives which are intertwined. But what is the truth behind them? That is the premise of a play by Florian Zeller and which is now on at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Michel is sleeping with Alice, the wife of his best friend Paul with whom he enjoys games of tennis. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Michel, Paul is having an affair with Laurence, Michel's wife.
Both couples are lying to each other and all of them are lying to themselves - and trying to convince themselves that despite that it's OK because they are not hurting anyone and by lying they are protecting their other halves. But no one is being truthful.
Despite the lies and astonishing level of hypocrisy, it's very funny with more than a nod to farce - will the spouses find out about these trysts, will their lies unravel? Things come perilously and deliciously close on more than one occasion.
Most of the action centres around Michel who finds his life begins to spiral out of control when Alice suggests they go away for the weekend. They both lie to their partners about where they are and to begin with it looks like they have got away with it.
However, when Paul phones up, Michel begins to sweat and worry about his indiscretion.
In the end Alice suggests they come clean, something that makes Michel sweat even more.
It's a hugely enjoyable piece, with a great set and a tight script, acted out by a stellar cast led by Alex Hanson as Michel.
There are also plenty of laugh out loud moments, most notably when Michel squirms as he thinks he's about to get rumbled, breathes a sigh of relief when he thinks he's got away with it and then crumples when he realises he hasn't.
Robert Portal is also excellent as Paul, who plays his own game with ruthless calm and poise. My only niggle was that the other characters were not as fully developed as Michel which was a shame.
However, ultimately it's about hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal with a real twist in the tale at the end and leaves you guessing what is The Truth, right up to the end.

The Truth is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until Saturday, May 7. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com for listings.

INTERVIEW - Beardyman

BEARDYMAN, aka Darren Foreman, first realised he had a talent for beatboxing when he was about 20.
He had started performing his "party trick" after years of playing instruments and began to realise that not only did people actually like what he was doing but he was good at it.
"I was doing it as a kid but didn't really know what it was but by the times I was a teenager people thought it was cool," he tells me.
"Slowly but surely it grew into a form of beatboxing and I realised it was a super power which enabled me never to have a proper job," he adds chuckling.
It wasn't long before he had won the UK Beatbox Championship and was developing his act by adding his own comedic slant on it to set him apart from the rest.
"I remember people like Michael Winslow doing voices and sound effects and I took my references from them as much as hip hop," he says.
"I ended up winning competitions because I was good at the showmanship aspect of it all."
And while today he still beatboxes, he admits to constantly pushing the boundaries to explore what he says are the endless possibilities with music and sound.
"I tend to use beatboxing as an instrument and as a component within what I am doing," he says.
"But the emphasis has shifted over the years and it's now more about the technology."
And this obsession with technology and experimentation is evident in the creation of the Beardytron5000, a custom built rig that combines multiple iPads and devices loaded with FX and loopers that enables him to experiment and improvise with sounds and use live loops.
Those curious to know what can be created by it should head to the Electric Brixton on Saturday (April 2).
The gig will not only showcase the capabilities of the Beardytron but will also allow the audience to take part in the creation of live album, something Darren is very excited about.
Indeed, Darren says the show will be special for a number of reasons - not least because he will be on stage with a handpicked supergroup of world class musicians - The Dream Team - who will help him make the album from the show.
It will be inspired by suggestions for song titles from the audience and will be made under the banner, Improvisation. Telepathy. Imagination. Beat Boxing. One Album. One Hour.
It sounds a daunting task but one which Darren is taking in his stride.
"It will be a bit nervewracking but it's also incredibly exciting because no one knows what will happen," he says.
"What's amazing is the audience gets to see the entire process behind making the music.
"For me it's the most exciting kind of gig as you know what you are watching is real and genuine. They are not songs that someone wrote when they broke up with their boyfriend and is now over it. It doesn't apply to an emotional state that has now passed.
"This is of the moment and you know that what you are hearing is what we are feeling at that time and that matters.
"It's also a much faster process - you have to think on your feet throughout and work faster. You can't re-write anything so it's genuine and raw.
"I love that we will be flying by the seat of our pants!" he adds laughing.
"Besides, I've got the most amazing brilliant musicians with me who all have got unbelievable talents so there is zero chance it will fail."
These include JFB, three times UK DMC champion and who Darren describes as "the best scratch DJ", female beatbox champion Bellatrix who is a "wizard on the bass", MC Dizraeli on vocals, violinist and saxophonist Ben Sarfas, " an unbelievable jazz beast", Rob Lewis on cello and Emre Ramazangolou on the drums.
Through a special mic and earpieces Darren will be able to speak to the band and give instructions without the audience hearing him.
"The audience's suggestions will be transformed in to a three to four minute song which will be recorded for the album and which will be available for download after the gig," he says.
"I did something similar last year but it was just me on my own so a more comedic experience but a lot of fun.
"This is a similar idea but with a different execution. It's not going to be a comedy night but a concert and rave.
"It's actually really audacious as it's a really big venue but I know it's going to work."
And at the heart of it all will be the Beardytron, the latest incarnation of which is the Beardytron5000mkII.
Indeed he credits his "awesome" machine with enabling him to undertake such exciting projects as this concert and do the shows he has wanted to do.
However he admits it's not a cheap piece of kit.
"It's costly but it means projects such as this are possible," he says. "I remember doing a show at the Electric about five years ago with a string ensemble.
"The gig had so much potential but I realised I was limited by the consumer tech available and it annoyed me that I couldn't do what I wanted so I devised the Beardytron.
"It's been built for me by several total geniuses. It's an insane network of computers, touch screens and bespoke software that represents hundreds of hours of development and manpower - and is constantly evolving.
"It enables me to do what I do and really widen the pallet of sounds I have got - there is so much potential.
"So who knows what the show will be like and how it will sound," he chuckles. "It will be totally improvised and created there and then with a mix of sounds from drum n bass, house, acid, dub, reggae, hip hop and even a bit of jazz and rock.
"The audience should expect to be dancing and having a great time, staring in wonderment at the talent of the band. They can definitely expect awesomeness!" he adds laughing.

Beardyman presents The Dream Team Session at the Electric Brixton, Town Hall Parade, on Saturday, April 2. Visit http://www.electricbrixton.uk.com or http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/XUL0204Z?brand=electricbrixton&camefrom=ELECBRIX_WEBSITE_beardyman for tickets.

THREE star review for If You Kiss Me Kiss Me at the Young Vic

photo credit Johan Persson

IF You Kiss Me, Kiss Me is not something that you can easily define. Part theatre, part gig, part dance, it's an hour long show now on at the Young Vic.
Choreographed by Aletta Collins, and featuring a company of dancers and a live band, it stars Jane Horrocks who looks rather like a young Debbie Harry with her peroxide blonde hair and commanding presence on stage.
The piece was conceived by Horrocks who grew up in Lancashire and essentially it's a homage to the new wave music of the 1970s which she grew up with - that of Joy Division, Buzzcocks and The Smiths among just a few.
There isn't much narrative. In fact the vast majority of the hour long piece is just music and dancing with Horrocks belting out her own gritty and soulful versions of the songs that inspired her and that she clearly has a connection with.
She has a lovely voice but at times it gets lost with the dancers who are at times a bit distracting as they cavort around the stage. Sometimes they interact with her but a lot of the time they don't and instead interact with each other. Then there a fridge which is pushed on and off the set a few times though I'm not sure quite what it was meant to signify.
The set itself is bare save for a huge plug at the back on which Horrocks sometimes sits and the band who are mostly kept at the back.
Sometimes this is a show that is successful and if you like these songs then chances are you will like Horrocks' interpretation of them. It's clear these are songs which mean a lot to her but she doesn't get a chance to explain to the audience what they mean to her.
It also feels as though it's being staged in the wrong place with all the audience sitting down rather than on their feet and dancing.
However, despite the loose ends, it is an interesting idea for a show and a treat to see Horrocks back on stage.

If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo, until April 16. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

FOUR STAR REVIEW Luce at the Southwark Playhouse

WHAT would you do if you were a teacher and one of your students handed in a paper in which he appeared to support right wing extremism and terrorist organisations?
Well, that is the dilemma facing one such teacher in JC Lee's play Luce, a production of which is now on at the Southwark Playhouse.
Directed by Simon Dormandy, himself once a teacher, it centres on Luce, a 17-year-old Grade A student who has ambition thrust upon him by his teacher Harriet and his adoptive parents Amy and Peter.
Set in America the story starts with a meeting between Harriet and Amy in which Harriet tells Amy about a paper Luce has written and what a subsequent opening of his locker has found - illegal fireworks that could maim or kill someone.
Harriet, Amy and Peter are then faced with a dilemma - should they confront Luce about the explosives and their concerns over the paper or keep quiet.
But the question that hangs over the piece throughout is whether or not Luce is rebelling against his parents and teachers and just writing the paper to be noticed. Or does he really believe the propaganda and does he intend to use the explosives that were found in his locker.
The narrative twists and turns and even when his friend Stephanie tells Amy about a party in which she gets drunk and is passed around the boys - including Luce - like a piece of meat, it is still uncertain whether he is the nice boy his parents and teachers believe him to be. And it is not until the end when things become clearer.
It is a thrilling and totally gripping production and staged in the Newington Causeway theatre's Little space at times the atmosphere is uncomfortable, claustrophobic and like a pressure cooker about to explode.
It is superbly acted by the five-strong cast, particularly Mel Giedroyc as Amy, a woman who struggles to believe her son is capable of anything bad and Elizabeth Tan who gives an emotionally charged performance as Stephanie, which is by the end heartbreakingly sad.
But the stars are definitely JC Lee who with his writing and Martins Imhangbe as Luce, keep us guessing right to the end.

Luce is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, April 2. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/ or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Monday, 21 March 2016

INTERVIEW Simeon Qsyea of BirdGang Dance

Kate Gould

pix in with Joe

THIS weekend and throughout the Easter holidays, the Southbank Centre will be celebrating everything Urban.
Between today (March 25) and April 10, visitors will get a chance to explore a concrete playground in the heart of London and find out how urban environments inspire people.
The whole site will be buzzing with activity and children and adults will be able to enjoy workshops, performances and lots of free events as well as celebrate the endlessly inventive culture born from this city's environment.
The events are part of Urban, a festival Southbank Centre normally runs during the summer but is being held this Easter for the first time.
Among the many highlights will be Mylittleboarders in the Clore Ballroom on April 2. Suitable for those aged between four and 10, this free session will be a chance for kids to learn and perfect their skateboarding.
Join Mylittleboarders' highly trained tutors to learn the basics of skateboarding along with skilful tricks to impress. Boards, ramps and pads will be provided.
Later on in the festival is Grass, which encourages youngsters to explore the world beneath their feet.
Suitable for those aged between two and five, this quirky dance show will feature worms, slugs, snails, spontaneous outbreaks of ant dancing and plenty of obscure insect-related facts.
It uses performance, puppetry and projection to inspire children to look closely at the world around them, to get mucky and play.
Elsewhere there will be breakdancing battles, Hip Hop Karaoke, performances by internationally renowned DJs and dancers and join a massive carnival-style party beside the Thames.
One of the undoubted high points is a residency by South London-based BirdGang Dance.
Headed up by Simeon Qsyea, the hip hop, body locking, and street dance company is offering the chance for young people to get involved in creating a short dance video.
It will also offer an opportunity to see the creative process unfold, join in warm ups and choreographic tasks and feature in the film itself.
As well as this, Simeon will be running a workshop on how to make a dance video using a mobile phone.
It is the first time BirdGang and Southbank Centre have collaborated in this way and Simeon says he's really excited about it.
"All the kids these days have mobile phones with really good cameras," he says. "They are always taking selfies, pictures and videos and sharing them on social media.
"However, no one is giving them advice or showing them how to video things properly and so I thought it would be a really good idea to see if I could teach them how to create a dance video on their mobiles.
"I want to show them that you can do this on your phone and you don't need expensive equipment to do it.
"I spoke to the Southbank Centre about it and they really liked the idea so here we are. It's going to be really exciting and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of it."
During the two hour workshop those taking part will get to know how to use angles, lights and props but Simeon says it will be the content that matters most.
"It's all about the content - if you don't have that people won't want to watch it," he says. "When we started BirdGang we didn't have any money so shooting videos and doing promos was one by trial and error. Something like this workshop would have been invaluable."
Although it's all about shooting a dance video, Simeon is keen to stress he's not teaching anyone to dance in this workshop and that it's purely about how to get the best angles, lighting and edits when filming the dancers.
But for those who want to do some dancing, the BirdGang crew will be taking up residency at the Royal Festival Hall's Clore Ballroom for three days to collaborate on a dance video.
The piece the group will be doing is a variation on White Girl Black Girl, a new dance that will be shown at the Young Vic later this year.
As well as featuring the professionals from BirdGang, Simeon hopes to attract non professional dancers to take part.
"The piece has an all female cast and focuses on various themes such as racism, sexism, religion, polities and sexuality," says Simeon.
"It's a show we put to the Young Vic and one which we are still working on ahead of presenting it on their stage later this year.
"I wanted to keep working on it and create a promo of what the theatre piece will be like.
"With this three day workshop we can have another creative outlook on it and the video we shoot on the third day will be based on the show. The cast will also be there so they will be part of it too. I'm really excited about it."
He says those who take part in the shoot should have a bit of previous dance experience but everyone can come along to the rehearsals to learn some moves and which he promises will be fun and lighthearted.
And he says even those who sit and watch will learn something from the workshops.
"Even if you want to just sit and watch it's an insight into the creative process at work, how we as a company go through the process of putting on a dance routine and the end result," he says.
To tie the two projects in together, those who took part in the video creating workshop will be invited back to shoot this dance video.
"For me it's important to give something back and try and inspire people," says Simeon. "When we started BirdGang in 2005 we never had this type of support, help and advice.
"But we worked hard and learned a lot along the way. We knew how to dance but didn't know how to maintain the company or go through the creative process.
Simeon set up BirdGang with friend Ivan Blackstock in 2005 after he finished at Lewisham College. The 32-year-old was soon joined by Ukweli Roach and Kendra J Horsburgh. Their blend of hip hop, street dance and Aahehop is used not just to entertain but also explore social issues and Simeon says they "learned on the job".
After about a year, they were spotted by Jonzi D, creator of annual hip hop and street dance festival Breakin' Convention at Sadlers Wells and were asked to do a spot there.
Since then they have performed all over the world, taught in colleges and have collaborated and performed with the likes of Alexandra Burke, Kylie, Mariah Carey and Will I Am and were made an associate company of the Young Vic in April last year.
"We have worked hard over the last 11 years but I feel we have so much more to offer which is why I'm very passionate about being able to give other young people opportunities like this," he says.
"It's all about sharing. My greatest teachers have been the ones who want to share and support other people and that's the BirdGang ethos."
And Simeon hopes this latest collaboration with the Southbank Centre will be the first of many.
"I hope this is the start of a great and special relationship with Southbank Centre," he says. "It's a great place to be and really exciting.
"Urban Festival is really magical, there is so much going on but it's not just about dance but a multitude of things which I hope people will come along to, have a look at and be inspired."

Urban takes place at Southbank Centre from Friday, March 25 until Sunday, April 10. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7960 4200 for full listings.

Friday, 18 March 2016

FOUR Star review for The Tempest, Sam Wanamaker Theatre

IT'S a case of sad goodbyes at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the moment. Not only is the last of the season's "late" Shakespeare plays, The Tempest, being performed on the bijou stage but it's also Dominic Dromgoole's swansong. After 10 years as the Globe's artistic director he's setting sail and off to pastures new - much like Prospero in the play he's retiring from the fray and handing things on to the next generation.
But enough of the sad stuff, this is a production oozing with humour, beautifully staged and totally magical.
In fact it is a joyous experience and the sense of fun that is part of Dromgoole's personality is very much to the fore as the play comes alive in the small space.
Right from the off, drums crash and pound in the gallery above signifying the storm which wrecks the ship carrying Prospero's brother Antonio onto the island on which Prospero found himself and raised his daughter Miranda.
Here they live with the spirit Ariel and Prospero's slave Caliban who lives in a prison under the stage.
With all the candles and live music it's an extremely atmospheric and intimate production.
The cast was excellent notably Phoebe Pryce as Miranda, Fisayo Akinade’s Caliban and a stunning performance by Pippa Nixon as the etherial and suitably spirited Ariel.
The drunken and rowdy clowning around by Trevor Fox as Stephano and Dominic Rowan as Trinculo was a highlight particularly Trinculo's generous ad libbing.
But it was the central performance by Tim McMullan as Prospero that was the real stunner and so fantastic to see him in such a prominant role.
Pure magic.

The Tempest is at the Sam Wanamaker Playerhouse, Bankside, until April 22. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com for full listings

INTERVIEW - Jeremy Herrin on directing People, Places & Things

Jeremy Herrin, pic credit Alex Rumford

WHEN People, Places & Things opened on the National Theatre's Dorfman stage last year it rightly won acclaim from the critics and audiences alike.
Written by Duncan Macmillan, it starred Denise Gough in an award-winning performance as Emma, an actress whose life had spiralled out of control thanks to a heady cocktail of drink and drugs.
After a particularly nasty binge she finds herself in rehab. Although it's clearly not a place she wants to be she tries to piece her life back together but it’s difficult especially as she can’t admit she has a problem.
Not surprisingly she finds herself clashing with everyone there from fellow patients to the staff and those trying to help her – and staying clean is far from easy.
Lurching from moments of despair to hope, it’s a constant struggle for Emma and the people, places and things which have an impact on her and her addictions.
So successful was the production that it has earned itself a transfer to the West End’s Wyndhams Theatre where it opens on Wednesday, March 23, something that its director Jeremy Herrin says he’s delighted about.
“It’s such a great story where you see the issue of recovery treated with honesty,” he tells me.
“The challenge of recovery really speaks to people whether they are plagued by those issues or not - it's a metaphor for endurance and struggle and people understand it.
"It's also very rare that you get a female role that is strong and central and but isn't sexualised.
"So it really spoke to me.”
The transfer has offered Jeremy and the cast – all of whom have come back to do it – a chance to revisit the piece - and make a few changes.
“It’s a real privilege to go back to a show,” he says warmly. “Elements will be different – the staging for example because it’s a completely different theatre space in that we have gone from the Dorfman to a beautiful Victorian playhouse.
“There is also a new bit of writing in Act 1 where Emma’s relationship with the rest of the group is more interesting.
“The big challenge is to make sure you don’t get carried away with yourself - you have to maintain integrity. You start again and remember what’s important about the story.”
To that end the Brockley-based director says research was a key part of the process in bringing the piece to life. He says he and the cast were fortunate to have a wealth of material to draw on including organisations based in South London.
"First and foremost it's entertainment," he says. "It's very funny but also very dark and tragic and the character of Emma brings out all those emotions in her story.
"But we were all aware that in plays such as this we have a responsibility to our audience. There may be people who come and see it who have had first hand experience of the kind of things Emma is going through and for them it's a matter of life or death.
"We have got a responsibility to reflect honestly that experience because someone might turn up and look to the show for a pointer.
"They may be recovering addicts or know people who are. So we have to be sensitive and respectful. But at the same time it’s got to function for those who don’t have those issues.
"Research was key to make sure we get the portrayal right and do it justice."
During rehearsals, the cast had testimonials and visits from various organisations that deal with the issues presented in the play including The Priory, AA and proponents of the 12-Step programme of recovery.
They also had input from Catford-based Freedom Recovery Centre something Jeremy says was invaluable.
"This group was amazing," he says warmly. "We went to see them and they were really great providing detail and support. It was so inspiring to see them face their demons.
"We invited them to come and see the show when it was at the Dorfman and they said it was an honest portrayal about the process, the moments of despair and the triumphs, without it being sensational."
And he says it was the story as well as the quality of the writing that was a factor in his original decision to take it on.
“I love new writing and my preference is to do something new and that talks to the world,” he says.
“What made this extra special was that the trinity of the production, the performances and the play met in a really blessed way.
“However it’s always good to dip into the classics – Shakespeare was a new writer at one point and it’s great that those texts are being revived. But I try and do something different, keep moving and have new challenges.”
So what’s his next challenge I ask.
It seems Jeremy is in high demand and lists a forthcoming tour of Frank McGuiness’s play Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme and a revival of This House, which was another which he brought initially to the National.
He also runs Headlong, a theatre company which Jeremy says is very exciting not least because he’s in the envious position of getting government support to commission and produce their own work.
But he’s also very much involved with his organisation, Stage Directors UK, which he helped set up to represent directors.
“It has existed for over a year and has about 250 members,” he says. “We have campaigned on issues such as fees, fair pay and ensuring we look after young directors who are coming into the profession.”
And Jeremy says this is particularly important in London given the high cost of living.
“I moved to Brockley from Newcastle in 2008 and have been very happy," he says. "My kids go to a local school, we have nice neighbours and live in a friendly community.
“But if I was starting out now I couldn’t afford to live here. I cycle through Elephant & Castle every day and although it looks impressive I do feel very let down because of the lack of affordable housing. It’s really difficult for people.”
But for now, People, Places & Things is uppermost in his mind.
“It’s such a great piece of writing," he says. "So it’s a real privilege to go back, have another look at it and introduce it to more people. We are very pleased."

People, Places & Things is on at the Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road until Saturday June 18. Ticket cost from £15. Visit www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Shlomo is back at Southbank Centre this weekend as part of Chorus Festival

THIS weekend hundreds of people will take to the stage to perform in a festival which is all about celebrating the human voice and communal singing.
Chorus Festival, curated and organised by Southbank Centre, will feature 40 choirs from across the country who will perform a range of musical styles across four stages, in a series of free concerts.
As well as being able to sit back and listen to some amazing music, there will also be a chance to take part in a range of interactive workshops and free events aimed at encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to join together in a big sing.
The highlight will be Choirs Remixed, a show featuring a whole host of alternative choirs on the Royal Festival Hall stage.
It will be an opportunity to hear innovative arrangements incorporating musical styles as diverse as rock, pop, jazz, gospel and beatboxing as well as hear new pieces created especially for the show.
Headlining it will be Andreya Triana, a London born singer-songwriter who will be performing songs from her album Giants alongside the hundreds of singers from the different choirs which include Some Voices, London Contemporary Voices and The Mike King Collective.
Also performing is new 50-strong all-male choir Beyond the Bassline, formed by the show's host, beatboxer Shlomo, and Southbank Centre’s own Voicelab.
Not only has the world record breaking beatboxer, composer and world looping champion helped form the group, he's also composed a piece of music especially for them which will get its premiere on the night, something he says he’s extremely excited about.
“I’m honoured to have been asked to be involved and am super excited about having one of my pieces performed in it," he tells me.
“I’ve only been composing work for other people for about four or five years now and I get a real buzz out of it.
“Beyond The Bassline is an amazing mix of people – all aged from about 18 and up and from all walks of life, different backgrounds and experiences.
“What’s great about it is that it’s a very inclusive project. Some of them have never sung before. I held an open call out for people to come along, there was no audition, I just wanted to get as many as possible who wanted to take part.
“It’s awesome as they are all there to celebrate music and the human voice."
He admits it’s been a bit of a learning curve for him not least teaching them how to beatbox but he says he’s really proud of their achievements after only a few weeks of rehearsals. And he’s confident they will nail it on the night.
“The first time we all met a few weeks ago I told them to just act like kids and make a load of sounds and they really went for it,” he laughs.
“It was absolutely fantastic to see them running around and making all these noises.
“When I composed the song I had to keep it simple so they could learn it by ear but I’ve pushed them out of their comfort zone.
“I was really nervous as I didn’t know if they would like it but they just ran with it and the energy was amazing – I was flying!"
So can anyone beatbox I ask?
“It’s something that anyone can do but you have to do your homework,” he says. “It’s got that joyous thing that you don’t have to buy expensive equipment to do it. It’s democratic in the same way that dance is. Everyone can learn.”
Shlomo has been beatboxing since he “was a kid” and practising rhythms with his drum kit. He admits he has always been “obsessed” with music, perhaps not surprisingly given that his father was a jazz musician.
He grew up listening to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder before turning to jazz and latterly electronic music.
When he was 18 he began touring with the award winning hip hop group Foreign Beggars before finding himself collaborating with Bjork on her vocal album Medulla.
It was, he says, a “life changer”.
“At the time I was doing stuff as a way to show off but she saw it as a raw musical composition. It inspired me to think about my music more seriously,” he says.
Since then he has worked with some “brilliant” people including Imogen Heap, Rudimental, Lily Allen and Ed Sheeran, written the score for the BFI’s restoration for Alfred Hitchcock’s Downhill, as well as a specially commissioned piece for the Royal Festival Hall’s restored organ.
And as well as working on these and other projects he has his own band, is preparing for a stint at Udderbelly’s purple cow this summer as well as a solo show, New Rules, not to mention composing material for a new album due out next year.
But for now his focus is on the Chorus Festival and getting his choir ready for their debut performance.
And he says that being at the Royal Festival Hall, a venue he’s performed at many times, is still a thrill. Indeed, he has a long association with the Southbank Centre, not least being made artist in residence in 2007, a title he still has.
“It’s been an absolutely joyous relationship which gives endless challenges and possibilities,” he says warmly. “It’s the most magical place, a real creative hub that I love being part of.
“This festival is particularly special. It's a celebration of the human voice and you don’t get many opportunities to hear something like that so it's going to be a fantastic weekend.
“Andreya is amazing with a very soulful and beautiful sound. But with all the choirs there it will be a pretty magical experience and I’m super proud to have created something with this amazing group of people. I hope they will be inspired to do more and keep singing.”

Chorus Festival is on at the Southbank Centre from Friday, March 18 until Sunday, March 20. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk for full listings.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

REVIEW - A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic


ADAPTING an award winning novel for the stage must be a bit of a scary thing to do. Will you do it justice, will the audience like it and what will the author make of it. Then of course there is the process itself.
These questions might well have been pondered upon by Annie Ryan when she set about adapting Eimear McBride’s acclaimed debut novel A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing.
Her version, now on at the Young Vic is really quite faithful to the original and is brought to life by actress Aoife Duffin.
It is an intense piece of theatre but that's what you would expect given the book is about life, death, abuse, sex, drugs, religion, family and rape.
The story tells of the Girl and her relationship with her brother whose battle with a brain tumour he has as a child and that eventually kills him overshaddows her life.
In a bid to come to terms with it her life spirals out of control. She becomes a target of abuse by her creepy and predatory uncle and religious fervour from her mother.
Even leaving home is fraught and she regularly finds herself in less than safe situations, waking up in strangers' beds after a night of drink and sex. In short, her life is painful and she does not seem able to escape it.
It is a gripping production. Aoife Duffin is astonishing in her portrayal and inhabits all the characters within the story on the dimly lit stage brilliantly.
It is an intimate portrayal of a damaged soul with the words spilling out of her mouth like a stream of consciousness, all the while chopping and changing the characters.
At times shocking and uncomfortable viewing, at others it's laugh out loud funny, it gives an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the Girl who we see grow from child to woman.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until Saturday, March 26. Tickets from £10. Visitwww.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

REVIEW - Twelfth Night at The Globe


IT is an exhilarating experience watching a play performed at the Globe theatre. It is largely down to the atmosphere generated by the audience, many of whom are standing in the pit area.
But when that audience is predominantly made up of teenagers, this amazing atmosphere is ramped up to a whole other level.
And this is currently the case with a production of Twelfth Night which is being staged as part of the Bankside theatre's Playing Shakespeare project.
With the text cut neatly to about 100 minutes, the production is geared towards teenagers and brings out the main themes of the play without losing any of the drama or the wonderful language.
Director Bill Buckhurst's version begins with Viola and twin brother Sebastian atop a shipping container which is rotated round the stage by the rest of the cast to show the violence of the storm that eventually separates them.
While Sebastian is rescued by Antonio, Viola is washed up on the shore and resolves to dress as a man in order to work for the Duke Orlando.
As Cesario, Viola has the task of wooing the lady Olivia on Orlando's behalf. However, Olivia will have none of it and instead falls in love with Cesario who in turn has fallen for Orlando.
Meanwhile Olivia's man Malvolio is being mightily abused by her cousin Sir Toby Belch, her maid Maria and friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Eventually of course, all the storylines come good, order is restored and Sebastian and Viola are reunited.
Despite the cut in the text, the story is easy to follow and the language shines. The comedy of the situations is worked to the max and the mostly young audience loved it, whooping and cheering throughout.
Fast paced, energetic and very funny, it was inventively staged and well acted with stand out performances from Dickon Tyrrell as Sir Toby and Molly Logan as Viola.
For any youngster who has never seen a Shakespeare play performed, go and see this one. It's terrific.

Twelfth Night is on at the Globe Theatre until Friday, March 18. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com/ for full listings.


ANYONE remotely interested in music will have heard the name Judge Jules. In a career spanning almost 30 years, he has immersed himself in the music business more fully than most.
Most notably he is a musician, lawyer and an award-winning pioneer of the electronic music scene establishing himself as a master behind the decks in venues all over the world and influencing a generation of music and musicians in the process.
He’s currently gearing up to play at the legendary Ministry of Sound in Southwark, a gig that is part of his huge Judgement Tour that spreads across the UK and will head to Europe this summer.
The Ministry is a venue he tells me he always looks forward to, not least because it's on home turf, and this one, on March 18 is no exception.
"London audiences are great," he says warmly. "When the crowd gets behind you and you look out and see all those faces, people enjoying themselves and getting swept up in the dancing, there is nothing better.
“I’ve played the Ministry loads of times and I love it. It’s got an iconic sound system and there are lots of rooms with different music in each to get immersed in.
"It’s always a good event there and people travel a long way to be there so I always want to do my best.”
He comes to London on the back of two tracks that smashed the Beatport progressive house chart – Peekaboo and Turn On The Lights, both of which got in to the top 30 – and work in a back to back set with Marco V.
“A lot of gigs in the 90s were back to back,” he tells me. “Two DJs with two distinct sounds but working together.
“Marco V is great, very well respected so I’m really looking forward to it.
"The set list will be a real mix. I describe my sound as different – what I do is either my own stuff or a one-off variation of other people’s because as a DJ you need to differentiate yourself – even if it is a familiar track it will be my own version.
“I’ve always got a lot of my own new productions but there will be a mix of tunes that have been made and released, stuff that is close to completion and some that will be heard for the first time.
"But Marco and I are only a part of it - it’s actually a pretty big line up and I’m really excited to be there."
Jules started his career in the late 80s when he was about 16. He and some mates found a “large venue” and promoted a music night. And that was just the beginning.
Before long he was promoting raves but had also carved his name in the history of DJing as one of its most successful.
“I started when I was 16 and because I was at school I had a massive social circle which meant we had a big crowd,” he said.
“We put on these huge events in dirty warehouses which gave me experience of promoting myself as a DJ. When acid house happened it was all about illegal raves. It was quite bold and brave but when you are young you are fearless,” he chuckles.
“Pop and early house elements were what I grew up with and my love of music evolved over the years.”
From those early days he has since gigged all over the world including extensive residencies in Ibiza.
“It’s the longest standing residency in Ibiza which I’m proud of but I do have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about it,” he says.
“I spend a lot of time there and speak fluent Spanish - there is definitely a lot of love there.”
But he says Ministry is up there with his favourites.
“There are few venues like it,” he says. "It’s an amazing venue with fantastic DJs and I love being there.
"I have always gone there socially and I remember DJing there in the early days. The décor is great, the branding is very good and the compilation records have extended its reputation. People always have a great time there."
Throughout our chat he is both modest about his achievements, passionate about his craft and comes across as driven and hard working.
Evidence of which can be seen in his work as an entertainment lawyer.
“I have to be very organised,” he says when I ask him how he fits all these elements into his life.
“I’ve been a lawyer for four years and it takes up a lot of my time but it’s all centred around dance music so it’s all very connected.
“I did a Law degree when I was 21 at the London School of Economics but was DJing and working elsewhere in the business.
“But when I hit my 40s I decided that I would give myself a shot at being a lawyer. It seemed a natural way forward so I went to night school, redid my degree and now spend most of the week as a music lawyer.”
And it’s clear he enjoys the challenge of the many aspects to his career.
“I’m very driven,” he admits. “You only live once so why waste your life? The opportunities don’t come knocking on the front door.
"I am passionate about music and don’t look backwards, only forward. I'm never half hearted about my work and aim to do everything to a high standard. That's very ."
But now it's all about the gigs and as well as a rousing call to his loyal fans, this Judgement Tour will be a chance to introduce himself to a new generation of dance music lovers.
“It’s exciting but I love what I do,” he says. “The biggest challenge is to sell yourself to the next generation so you never rest.
“I have got a recognisable brand name but I can’t be complacent. It’s the love of what I do that drives me. I’ve just immersed myself in music from day one and count myself very lucky. You can’t fake that passion.
“If everyone on the dance floor is looking at you when you are on the decks, dancing and totally loving it and enjoying themselves, then you know you are doing the right thing and it’s amazing."

Judge Jules will be at the Ministry of Sound, Gaunt Street, Southwark on Friday, March 18 as part of his Judgement Tour. Visit www.judgejules.net or www.ministryofsound.com/ for tickets.

Friday, 4 March 2016

INTERVIEW Simon Dormandy, director of Luce at the Southwark Playhouse

WITH the threat of extremism and terrorism ever present in our lives it is perhaps timely for a play about such a subject to be staged.
Luce, written by JC Lee, comes to the Southwark Playhouse next week where it will get its UK premiere. Directed by former actor and teacher Simon Dormandy it boasts a six-strong cast including Bake Off star Mel Giedroyc.
For Simon it is an exciting prospect - not only to work with Mel and on a play which he says is both thrilling and gripping, but also for it to receive its UK premiere at the Elephant & Castle-based theatre which he describes as "wonderful".
“It is very exciting and I’m thrilled to be directing this fantastic play,” he tells me in a break from rehearsals.
“It is disturbing, thought provoking and a bit like a thriller as the audience is presented with the story but really have no idea what’s going to happen and how it's going to be resolved."
The play itself is set in an ordinary American town and centres on a nice American family of two white parents who adopted an African war orphan, Luce, when he was seven.
Now 17, he is every mother and teacher’s dream - he’s hard working, clever, a great athlete and destined to go to a top university. In short he's an inspiration and a role model for other students.
That is until one day his teacher reads an essay he has written in praise of extremism and terrorism and in which he extols the virtues of right wing European nationalism.
His teacher is so unnerved that unable to let it pass, she searches his locker and to her dismay finds lethal explosives.
It is at this point that the lives of those involved unravel.
"It's every parent and teacher's nightmare," says Simon. "Throughout the play it raises troubling questions about parenting, schooling, racism, terrorism, extremism and growing up as a young black man in a mainly white society.
“The audience will be challenged by it and it will certainly resonate with anyone who is a parent or teacher.
“A very big part of it is about what happens when you put someone on a pedestal, live your life through them and what damage it can cause – and how you can kill someone with kindness.
"What the play exposes is how teachers and parents put their expectations on young people and create the pressures that lead to rebellion or that lead them to do things to get some freedom.”
Despite its dark storyline, Simon insists it's also very funny and bringing Mel Giedroyc in to play Amy, Luce's mum, will bring the humour to the fore.
"It's extremely tightly and beautifully written," he enthuses. "I came across it in 2012 after the events of 7/7 and before the atrocities of San Bernadino and Boston. Of course since then there have been other incidents such as the Paris attacks which make it even more relevant.
"Apart from the fact Mel's in it, and she's brilliant, there is a hairaising sense that it is a play about something that not enough people are writing about - seeing these things from the perspective of those who may or may not be perpetrators in these dreadful atrocities.
"But the sheer quality of the writing is what makes it. Every page is exciting to read and to act. It’s fast paced, lean and witty and puts the audience in an uncomfortable position. It definitely holds a mirror up to our society.
"It was also important to me to cast people who the audience can identify with," he adds. "Mel is a case in point. She plays Amy, a sweet, lovely, funny and eccentric modern young mum and as the play evolves she makes decisions which will make the audience sit up and think.”
Although Simon started his career as an actor, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and at The Old Vic among others, he says he has no desire to be on the stage with the rest of the cast stressing his acting days are very much behind him.
Instead he's very much loving directing, a career that he's enjoying after a 15-year stint as a teacher at Eton College.
It was here that he taught the likes of actors Tom Hiddleston and Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne although he dismisses any idea that he might have had something to do with their successful careers.
"They were both academically very able and I knew they were both extremely good actors at school," he says.
"They are phenomenal actors - the finesse and detail of their work is incredible - but they would be so even if they’d never met me.
"I went into teaching as I didn’t find acting completely satisfying and wanted to work in a slightly different way.
"However, I had always tended to think a bit like a director and was fascinated by the structure of drama and how to make it.
"After about 15 years teaching I wanted to see what it was like working with professionals again so I changed tack and moved into directing."
And he says he doesn't regret his decision and is pleased to be working at the Southwark Playhouse, a venue he's not worked at before.
"It's an exciting place," he says. "It's one of those wonderful small venues where they take on new writing and make brave decisions.
"I really admire their programming and I'm thrilled to be here and directing such a great piece of work with such a talented cast."

Luce is on at the Southwark Playhouse between Wednesday, March 9 and Saturday, April 2. Tickets cost £20. Visitwww.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234

INTERVIEW with Nigel Plaskitt, puppeteer and puppet coach for Avenue Q

BEHIND every puppet is a great actor. And behind them is someone like Nigel Plaskitt.
Nigel is a puppeteer and coach, something he has been doing most of his adult life after starting out as an actor.
During his long career he has worked on his fair share of exciting projects, most notably TV shows such as Spitting Image, films such as The Muppet Christmas Carol and the stage musical of Doctor Dolittle.
His current project is one he has been involved with for about 10 years, that of the hit stage show Avenue Q.
A smash hit on Broadway and in the West End this multi award-winning comedy musical is currently on a UK tour and coming to the New Wimbledon Theatre for a week from Monday March 14.
The show features a host of puppets brought to life by an ensemble cast of 11 performers – all of whom have been trained by Nigel.
"It’s a great show, very funny but definitely not for children,” he laughs. "It’s an adult take on Sesame Street, featuring characters who might have been in that show, and what happens to them when they grow up and leave home to go to university.
"During the show they find themselves in situations that most people can identify with at some point in their lives. It’s funny, rude and a lot of fun to be involved in.”
The story is about a group of characters who inhabit a New York neighbourhood of Avenue Q. Amongst them is Brian and his fiancée Christmas Eve, Nicky and his closet gay Republican roommate Rod, Trekkie Monster and the cute kindergarten teacher Kate Monster. Into their world comes Princeton, a bright eyed graduate with big dreams and a tiny bank account and it his arrival that heralds adventure and fun.
To make the characters come alive, the puppeteers have to act, sing, do all the voices and learn how to move the puppets so that the audience looks at the puppets rather than the actors.
It has been Nigel's job for the past 10 years to train all those involved. But if you think it looks easy he says you should think again.
"It’s actually extremely difficult and not everyone can do it,” he says. "The actors make it look easy but it takes a lot of practice and co-ordination.
"There is a huge amount to think about and that’s where I come in by teaching them how to use the puppets.”
He says the puppets themselves are not heavy and indeed are made to be really light as they have to be easy to move around. But he says for the actors it’s learning how to move in a totally new and unnatural way that is the tricky bit.
"It’s just off being comfortable," he explains. "I always tell them that if they feel comfortable they are doing it wrong.
"They have to get the puppet's faces and expressions right, learn how to lip sync correctly and make sure their hands are in the right position.
"They also have to learn their lines, the songs and move in the right way so there is a huge amount of stuff to take on board.
"I get involved in the casting process of the show, lead workshops and stay with them all throughout the rehearsal process, keeping an eye on them and then I see the show every three to four weeks.
"Half way through the rehearsal process you can see real panic set in,” he chuckles. "However it begins to feel more like second nature fairly quickly and they master it totally and then it becomes great fun."
So what made Nigel become a puppeteer I ask.
"I wanted to be an actor so that’s how I started out,” he says. “I didn’t get any careers advice on being a puppeteer when I was at school! However, pretty early on in my career I was approached to do a voice for a children’s TV show called Pipkins which ran from 1973 to 1981. When I auditioned they asked me to do the puppets, so I learned the craft on the job and by trial and error as I had no formal training.”
From there Nigel went on to star in Spitting Image and worked for Jim Henson Productions plus numerous TV shows, films and adverts including the PG Tips Monkey.
“I have been very lucky and realised I filled a niche that not many people were filling and I could do it and do it well,” he says.
“It’s a great business to be in and I love it. Spitting Image was amazing because it’s like an historical document and was really exciting to work on. There were a couple of moments when we thought we might get sued but we didn’t!
“The PG Tips Monkey is a great character to play too. My career has been full of highlights!” he adds warmly.
He got the Avenue Q job through a recommendation after having worked for Jim Henson Productions, creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street. That was 10 years ago and he’s still loving being part of the show.
"I still get a kick out of it,” he says. “I have seen it about 200 times now and still love being in the audience and seeing their reactions.
“Nothing beats a live audience and the experience of being in a theatre and that’s why Avenue Q works so well.
"It’s magical to see puppets on stage and I think their resurgence on the stage in shows such as War Horse, The Lion King and more latterly The Lorax is testament to that magical moment where you use your imagination and suspend belief.
"It’s an amazing thing - even though you know the actor is there you almost forget.
"The cast coming to Wimbledon are top rate and really great performers and just seem to be getting better and better."

Avenue Q is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, Broadway, between Monday March 14 and Saturday, March 19. Tickets from £15. Visit http://www.atgtickets.com/wimbledon or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

FIVE star review for The Solid Life Of Sugar Water, at the National Theatre


LOSING a baby must be one of the most painful things a parent can experience. How to reconnect then with your partner when that happens is the subject of a quite astonishing play now on at the National’s Temporary Theatre.
The Solid Life Of Sugar Water is a two hander written by Jack Thorne featuring Alice and Phil who have lost a longed for baby shortly before the due date.
We see them in the process of healing their wounds, desperate to communicate with each other and not always succeeding.
It is staged by Graeae Theatre Company, which aims to break down barriers and challenge preconceptions by placing disabled actors centre stage – in this case one actor who is deaf and one who has an impairment of one arm.
It is also a fully accessible production with captions and audio descriptions at all performances.
The play is quite beautiful and the actors who play Alice and Phil, Genevieve Barr and Arthur Hughes, put in stunning performances.
The action jumps around between the present and the past and we see how they got together – a rather inauspicious meeting in a post office – to their first and fourth dates, the first time they had sex, the nightmare that unfolds when they rush to hospital after Alice, heavily pregnant, starts bleeding heavily, and then how they try and reconnect with each other afterwards.
The action takes place against a mock up of an upright double bed in which they spend a lot of their time.
It features plenty of strong language and scenes of an adult and sexual nature – in fact there is a lot of talking about sex, what they did and how they did it making it refreshingly candid, honest and very funny.
Beautifully acted and staged it also challenges our preconceptions and is raw, visceral, tender, blunt, poignant, at times hilarious and at others heartrendingly sad – sending the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions.

The Solid Life Of Sugar Water is on at the Temporary Theatre, National Theatre, Belvedere Road, until Saturday, March 19. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.