Friday, 24 March 2017

FIVE STAR REVIEW - Love In Idleness at the Menier Chocolate Factory


A young man, with socialist principles, comes back from living in Canada for four years only to find his widowed mother living rent free with a millionaire who is still not quite divorced from his much younger wife.
And so begins Terrence Rattigan’s play Love In Idleness which is currently being staged at the Menier Chocolate Factory and directed by Trevor Nunn.
It is hilariously funny from the off with the characters leading a merry dance around the subjects of love, passion, politics, ideology and loyalty.
Set in the latter stages of the Second World War, Olivia Brown is vivacious, charismatic, dippy and ditzy and has been a widow for two years. After her husband dies she falls for Sir John Fletcher, a man with more money than he knows what to do with and who despite being a business man with no political experience, has found himself a member of Churchill’s war cabinet in charge of tanks.
He is as besotted with her as she is with him but because of his job he cannot divorce his wife. 
Her son Michael comes back from Canada and takes an instant dislike to Sir John and eventually, after much conniving and mischief making, forces his mother to make a choice - him or Sir John.
Torn between the two and with distinct references to both Hamlet and Oedipus, she chooses her son over her lover.
It is directed with panache by Nunn and thanks to a stellar cast this staging of the play works really well. 
Anthony Head as Sir John is terrific, showing off a quiet but steely determination to keep his love, as is Edward Bluemel, fresh from starring in The Halcyon, as Olivia’s sulky, petulant and firebrand son Michael.
But it is Eve Best as Olivia who dazzles her way through the production. She positively bursts with energy and is a delight to watch, capturing Olivia’s ditziness perfectly as well as her dilemma at having to choose between son and lover - particularly when her son has given her such a horrid choice. She lights up the stage whenever she is on, which happily is most of the time.

Love In Idleness is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until April 29. Visit for full listings.

Saturday, 11 March 2017


It’s 30 years since Paul McGann made a name for himself in the classic cult film Withnail & I. Now he’s about to embark on his first UK theatre tour playing German Major Von Pfunz in Gabriel. I caught up with him for a chat.

Paul McGann needs no introduction. He’s the man whose portrayal of the eponymous I in the cult classic Withnail & I propelled him to stardom. That was 30 years ago and in the years since his career has gone from strength to strength and he’s become a household name in the process. Indeed his CV is as impressive as it gets showing his versatility as an actor with performances on both stage and screen including in Hornblower and Luther and of course playing the eighth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who.
But he’s never done a UK theatre tour - that is until now. For next month the 57-year-old actor is to pack his bags for an eight-week stint in Moira Buffini’s acclaimed play Gabriel which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. 
Set in 1943 German occupied Guernsey, it tells the story of widow and mother Jeanne who does whatever it takes to keep her adolescent daughter Estelle and daughter-in-law Lily safe on an island filled with danger and fear. However she meets her toughest test in the form of the terrifying Commander Von Pfunz whose romantic advances are dangerous to say the least but which may be the only way to keep her family alive. The tension racks up further when a mysterious young man is washed ashore with no memory of who he is. It transpires he’s fluent in German and English, so the question is, is he an RAF pilot, an SS interrogator, a local boy with amnesia or a saviour sent from heaven? 
Kicking off in Richmond on March 28, the production will cross the country visiting theatres in Greenwich, Liverpool, Windsor, Guildford, Eastbourne and Clwyd, something Paul tells me he’s looking forward to. 
“It will be great to bring the play to all these wonderful theatres like Greenwich, places I’ve never performed at before,” he says.
“I’ve been to see shows in Greenwich and it’s a lovely theatre so it will be good to actually be on the stage there this time.”
We meet in a private members’ club in central London where Paul is spending the day chatting to various journalists about the production before he gets stuck into the rigours of rehearsals. And if he’s understandably growing a bit weary of all the attention and the barrage of questions by the time I arrive, he doesn’t show it. In fact he is as relaxed as they come with an easy going manner, affable charm and a warm sense of humour. 
So keen is he about the production, and being part of it, that he wastes no time in telling me all about it and about the research he did into the occupation of the island. 
“It’s a fascinating piece,” he says. “It’s dark and intense, although it’s not all doom and gloom of course, but it’s a real thriller, exciting and incredibly gripping. 
“It’s set in Guernsey in the middle of the Second World War, and it’s a great place to set a story. It was a strange time for the islanders as in many respects, life continued as normal. 
“On the face of it, it was a peaceful occupation. There was no armed resistance nor any uprisings. However food was scarce, there was a thriving black market, and plenty of wheeling and dealing going on. Indeed some people made a fortune. And while some worked the land, most of the men of fighting age were away so it was mainly women left on the island.
“So to have the central character in this play a woman is entirely fitting. Jeanne is widowed and has a daughter with whom she lives and a son who is in the forces. Her house is requisitioned by the German so she has to be careful. There are hints that she had a relationship with a German officer who has now been sent away and by all accounts they got on well - and again if you read the history books, this was what happened in many cases.” 
Into her life comes Von Pfunz, played by Paul, an army officer who has served in Poland but has now been sent to Guernsey and finds himself captivated by Jeanne. “He’s not a nice man, in fact he’s horrible, and he comes on to Jeanne much to her disgust,” he grimaces. 
“She is repulsed by him and is quite fearful of him, but there is a courage about her that he finds thrilling and intoxicating. It throws her completely. 
“Her dilemma is how to get on with the Germans, keep her family safe and survive without submitting to something she doesn’t want, where a mistake could be fatal.
“The tension is ratcheted up even further when a young man appears, washed up on a nearby beach. The girls save him and bring him to Jeanne’s house where he’s hidden. He claims not to know who he is, and when Von Pfunz later discovers him there the boy is able to speak with him in perfect German.”
It was, Paul says, a play he was instantly drawn to not least by the writing which he describes as “superb”. “The writing is key and is what really attracted me to playing this role,” he says.
“Von Pfunz is like nobody I’ve played before but it’s the way Moira beautifully weaves these situations and tensions together that is so good. It’s brilliantly told and when you get a really good story as an actor you can’t wait to tell it.” 
However, keen not to give away any spoilers Paul simply says the audience will be on the edge of their seats to find out what happens. 
“Jeanne is constantly in danger, the tension builds to a crescendo and she ends up in a really tight corner,” he says eyes twinkling. 
It’s clear throughout our chat that Paul still gets a buzz out of being on stage and he says he's excited to be making his debut theatre tour in such a “fantastic play”. 
“I’ve found over the years that the old actor clichè is true that live is best,” he smiles. 
“Doing TV and film is great, and I’ve been jammy enough over the years to do a lot of it, but when you go out on stage and feel the atmosphere and get that instant feedback from the audience, you just can’t beat it. 
“It is also a way of working that teaches you the most.” 
So why has it taken so long to get out on the road? It seems it’s mainly down to logistics and finding the right vehicle for his talents. This particular role and the fact his two sons are grown up has allowed him the flexibility to take on the challenge of a tour. 
“Many touring shows are musicals and there are few straight dramatic plays. I’ve been offered tours in the past, some of which were tempting, but they tended to last for months so were difficult to commit to.”
“This one stood out though as it’s so thrilling so I was really up for it. Also I’ll get a chance to discover and visit all these theatres that I’ve never performed in before as well as the different characters of the audiences, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s a new experience for me.
“It’ll be a bit like running away to the circus!” 
Paul is endearingly modest about his career and the word “jammy” to describe it crops up often. Indeed it is a surprise when he insists he never wanted to be an actor, instead harboured dreams of being a track and field sportsman. He was eventually persuaded to give acting a shot when he was 17 by one of his teachers. Somewhat alarmingly he also tells me he very nearly didn’t go to the RADA audition that had been organised for him as he was so unsure about whether it was the right thing to do. Fortunately for his legions of fans he didn’t walk past the door but went through it and got in on his first audition. He spent the next few years there “very happy” alongside such notables as Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance and says he has no regrets. 
“I was a 70s kid growing up in Liverpool, left school at 17, not qualified in anything and never thought about being an actor,” he remembers smiling.
“However, my teacher saw something in me and helped me prepare my audition to RADA. It was pretty embarrassing and I felt it went terribly. But I got in, and I loved it.
“I remember there were plenty of working class kids at RADA then. I think most of us had just fancied being movie stars. Of course that was all pie in the sky as there was no guarantee you’d even get into Equity. I was pretty jammy to get Withnail & I after just five years out. I loved working on it. We were pretty innocent and, in truth, didn’t really know what we were doing. We certainly had no idea how cool it would become.”
“Theatre has always been my favourite though - it’s what many actors will tell you - and the older I get the more I prefer it although I still get very nervous. 
“I’ve been lucky enough to play some incredible roles over the years and now I get to play Commander Von Pfunz in a play that is stunning. Life couldn’t be better!”

Paul McGann plays Commander Von Pfunz in Moira Buffini’s Gabriel, directed by Kate McGregor. Visit for full listings.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

FOUR STAR REVIEW - Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic


IT may be 50 years since Tom Stoppard’s seminal work Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was first staged but a new revival now on at the Old Vic shows it still has plenty of life in it.
The story is about the two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who find themselves on the outskirts of the play and in many ways, life itself.
Full of emotion and with an ending that is rather poignant, it has a whiff of Waiting For Godot about it all as the two try and make sense of their lot, with plenty of verbal sparring and discussion as they wait for things to happen.
As their own story develops, a production of Hamlet is staged somewhere in the background, dipping in and out of the proceedings. Added to the mix is a troupe of players who find themselves involved and perform a play for the King.
This particular production stars Mr Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz alongside Joshua McGuire as Guildenstern and they complement each other perfectly.
Radcliffe is really good, the foil and straight man to McGuire’s fidgety, constantly chatty and more intellectually gifted Guildenstern. With his pauses, vacant stares into the middle distance, shrugs of his shoulder and perfect comic timing, Radcliffe shines in the role.
McGuire too is equally captivating but for different reasons - he paces the stage, constantly questioning, discussing and dissecting life and there’s an uncanny resemblance to actor Tom Hollander about him too.
They are joined by the ever excellent David Haig who, as the leader of the players, swaggers about the stage giving a masterclass in comic acting.
Although undoubtedly for many the draw with be seeing Daniel Radcliffe, this production, directed by David Leveaux, is terrific, and breathes new life into what is a gloriously wordy and brilliant play.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is on at the Old Vic, Waterloo until April 29. Tickets from £12. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7628 for full listings.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

THREE STAR REVIEW - Ugly Lies The Bone, National Theatre


UNLESS you’ve been on a tour of Iraq or Afghanistan as a soldier I would guess it’s almost impossible to imagine what it must be really like to be there and part of military action. The noise, the smells, the injuries and in the worst case, threat of death are ever present.
And what must it be like to come home, perhaps horribly injured and to a life that is not the same as it was before?
A new play by American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino, and now on at the National Theatre, aims to shed light on this and explore a virtual reality therapy which, according to the programme notes, has been successfully used to reduce pain levels in patients who have suffered serious injuries such as burns.
Ugly Lies The Bone tells the story of Jess, a woman who has come home to her Florida town of Titusville in the heart of Nasa country, after three tours of Afghanistan. Horribly disfigured thanks to an IED, needing the help of a zimmer frame to move about and in constant pain she finds life is not as she remembers it.
Her sister Kacie and Kacie’s doting boyfriend Kelvin have thrown a homecoming party but the one person Jess wanted there, her ex boyfriend Stevie, didn’t show up so she goes to find him. It turns out he’s been fired from his job at Nasa and is now working in a petrol station.
As she tries to reconnect with her old life and in a bid to help her recovery she takes part in a virtual reality therapy programme which aims to help reduce her pain levels. She and the audience are taken into a world of snow capped mountains in the Rockies, where it snows feathers and Jess has to climb and move her body in a way she has hitherto felt unable to because it’s so painful.
And so begins her journey of recovery both mentally and physically.
It is a short 90 minute piece played out on the expanse of the Lyttelton stage by a strong cast led by an unrecognisable Kate Fleetwood as Jess. It is a physically demanding role not least as she’s on stage almost the entire time. Covered in prosthetics she conveys the awkwardness of her character’s movements as well as the dark humour and frustration she feels. It is a stunning performance. Ralf Little deserves praise as Stevie, bumbling, nervous and always saying the wrong thing.
However the play itself does not deliver fully - it’s rather flat in places and there is not enough character development although as a way to showcase what virtual reality therapy can do it does its job.
But it’s the set, particularly when Jess is in her virtual world that is the real winner here. Full of visually stunning graphics it is quite mesmerising.

Ugly Lies The Bone is on at the National Theatre until June 6. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

INTERVIEW - Michelle Collins

So familiar is her face that meeting Michelle Collins is rather like bumping into an old friend. The 55-year-old actress has graced TV screens in sitting rooms the length and breadth of the country for years thanks to roles such as Walford’s scheming Cindy Beale in EastEnders, Stella Price in Corrie and Abby Wallace in Two Thousand Acres of Sky to name but three.
But she’s much more than a TV actress as stage roles in Calendar Girls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and most recently Mrs Meers in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie attest. Indeed she started her acting career at The Cockpit Youth Theatre in Marylebone when she was in her early teens so the stage is very much her home.
And to prove the point - and that she’s long since left soapdom behind - she’s now starring in A Dark Night In Dalston, a gritty two-hander at the Park Theatre in a role she tells me that was specially written for her and that she is also producing.
Wearing a smart black suit and with her blonde hair tied back which shows off her amazing cheek bones, she oozes glamour, and greets me with that warm and familiar smile.
She’s also refreshingly down to earth and full of energy and joie de vivre. 
Indeed she’s keen to tell me about the production, written by Stewart Permutt, in which she plays a woman called Gina. It takes place on one Friday night where just outside Gina’s flat, a young Jewish man, Gideon, is attacked. She decides to help him and offers him shelter. 
As the play progresses, and we find out more about the two characters, it’s clear that Gina is not the woman you first think she is and nor is her life exactly as she describes it. But it’s not just Gina, as Gideon too goes on his own journey of self discovery.
Darkly funny it is also intense, poignant and sad with an ending that hits you between the eyes.
I suggest that it’s quite an honour to have a part written for you, and take the lion’s share of the lines. However Michelle says her involvement in it was really driven by her desire to find a “meaty and challenging leading role” given the dearth of such parts once women actors hit their 40s.
“I had wanted to do something like this for a while and had spent time researching writers before a friend recommended Stewart,” she smiles.
“We met and I told him I wanted something challenging and interesting and he went away and came up with this.
“I’m really excited about it because it’s a real character led play with a great script that touches on themes such as mental health and how areas change. 
“Gina is such a great role - she’s a complex character as she’s not all that she seems. She’s an older woman who doesn’t have a career and is living in an area that is changing massively. And although she’s someone who isn’t mentally ill, her situation, where she’s given up a life to care for her husband, has made her vulnerable. 
“She’s lost in society and finds it hard to fit in thanks to the gentrification that is going on around her which has resulted in different communities coming in.
“Despite the fact she doesn’t really have a lot going for her, she does see the bright side of life so when she sees Gideon being attacked her natural instinct is to reach out and help,” she adds. 
“Him coming into her life questions things for her and gives her a new start. It also makes Gideon question his own faith.
“She also really enjoys his company and as the play progresses we realise they are essentially two lonely people who meet and change each other’s lives.
“It’s been great to take on this role - it’s very intense and I loved the script although it’s tough because there are just the two of us on stage. I’m really excited about it.”
It’s clear during our chat that Michelle’s work ethic is strong. She grew up in Hackney and although she says she wasn’t sure how she could act for a living she was determined it was what she wanted to do.
“I loved drama and English at school and went to youth theatre as a teenager and that was it,” she smiles.
“I say to a lot of young people who want to break into acting to go along and get involved in their local youth theatre. It’s a very good way of getting into it.
“I didn’t go to stage school though as we couldn’t afford it - it’s worse now and I worry that it’s becoming even more unaffordable for a lot of talented young people which isn’t great.
“But I always wanted to be an actor and had a hunger for it so I just didn’t give up.”
It was her drive and determination that she says enabled her to not only forge a career as an actor but also helped her survive what is a notoriously difficult industry. 
And it is this drive that she says prompted her to tackle the issue of the lack of strong female leads head on.
“It’s so obvious there is a lack of lead roles for actresses my age in both theatre and TV,” she says.
“There is also unfortunately a lot of snobbery in this profession where a lot of people think TV actors can’t do theatre. I have never auditioned at the National Theatre or Donmar for example - not because I don’t want to, I’d love to!
“So, I felt that if it wasn’t going to come to me I would create something for me instead which is why this play came about. 
“Besides, I think it’s great to be versatile - I love variety and also I get bored quite easily so I have tried to do everything - including musicals even though I’m not a trained singer! 
“But I love theatre, it’s much harder and more demanding and you have to be fit and very focused.”
This love of variety has now led Michelle to taking on the role of co-producer, something she made a conscious decision to tackle.
“I’m getting my head around it but I do like a challenge,” she laughs. “I’m lucky in that we have a great team for this production and we get on really well so I’m really excited about it.
“I don’t do bucket lists as a rule but this was something I really wanted to do and prove I could. And at least I can say I’ve tried!”

A Dark Night In Dalston is on at the Park Theatre between March 7 and April 1. Tickets cost £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7870 6876 for full listings.