Thursday, 25 March 2021

National Theatre to re-open in June!

Good news for theatre lovers as the National Theatre announced today (March 25) plans to reopen in June. It will be the first time the South London theatre will have welcomed audiences since closing last December.  


The Dorfman theatre will be the first to reopen on June 2 with the previously announced co-production with Headlong, After Life written by Jack Thorne and directed by Jeremy Herrin. Based on the film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, with concept by Bunny Christie, Jeremy Herrin and Jack Thorne, After Life is a surreal and powerfully human look at the way we live our lives, asking who you would choose to live with for eternity. Initial casting includes Olatunji Ayofe, Danielle Henry, Maddie Holliday, Togo Igawa, Anoushka Lucas, Kevin McMonagle, Simon Startin, Luke Thallon, June Watson and Millicent Wong. It will be the first time the theatre has opened since February 2020.


The first play to be staged at the Olivier Theatre will be Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, opening on June 16. It will be directed by NT Associate Lyndsey Turner and will star Michael Sheen, Susan Brown, Ifan Huw Dafydd, Alan David, Michael Elwyn, Kezrena James, Karl Johnson, Gaynor Morgan Rees, Anthony O'Donnell, Si├ón Phillips and Cleo Sylvestre. The production will be performed in-the-round and the theatre will remain in this configuration for further productions until early 2022.  


Both productions will run until 24 July, with socially-distanced seating for the entire run of the productions. Tickets go on sale to the public on April 30.  


Rufus Norris, NT Director said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult year for theatre, but I’m delighted to be able to confirm our reopening plans today and to be sharing the news of our first two productions that will reopen the National Theatre in June. In our transformed Olivier theatre, Lyndsey Turner will share her new staging of Dylan Thomas’s masterful Under Milk Wood with Michael Sheen joining the company. We’re also very excited to reopen the Dorfman theatre for the first time since February 2020 with Jack Thorne’s new adaptation of the film After Life, with concept by Bunny Christie, Jeremy Herrin and Jack Thorne. Both shows will play to socially-distanced audiences and we look forward with cautious optimism to welcoming back larger audiences across our theatres soon. Sharing our work online and on television over the last year has enabled us to reach millions of people and continue to keep culture alive, but the magic of live theatre is what we can now begin to look towards: to creating work with our freelance artists and colleagues, to supporting young people’s creativity, and to bringing joy to audiences and communities through imaginative and inspiring live performance.” 


The Olivier theatre will have a capacity of approximately 500, whilst the Dorfman capacity will be 120. For Under Milk Wood over 200 tickets will be available at £20, whilst nearly half the house for After Life will be at £20. Tickets will be available to purchase as singles, pairs or in threes or fours and with social distancing measures in place. There will also be a number of Access performances for each production.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

My mum

I'm a journalist, a wordsmith by trade, and so words are my thing. Or they should be. But today I am struggling. Not just with the news that we have reached such a horrendous milestone in the numbers of those who have died due to Covid. Not just the fact we are in a worse position now than we were 10 months ago, listening to friends on the NHS frontline who are telling of unimaginable horrors they are dealing with day in day out while being on their knees with exhaustion. Nor the homeschooling, watching my two kids struggle with online learning for the second time, missing their mates, missing the school and, dare I say it, their teachers - who incidentally have been nothing short of amazing throughout this whole hideous nightmare.

No, I am struggling because I should be writing the eulogy for my mum's funeral which is tomorrow. Mum, Gill Gould, died on December 1 last year, not to Covid but following a stroke she had in July. That it's taken so long to organise the funeral is a result of Covid, Christmas and the huge number of people in the area who have also perished in the last couple of months.

Whenever I start to write something, I either well up or my mind goes off on a tangent, remembering that particular anecdote or her face or a comment that she had made at the time. I remember her love of life, always making the most of things and opportunities. I remember her warmth, her generosity of spirit and her love of nature, her garden, the environment, her intellect, her love of learning new things, always curious and always keen to share with others that which she has learned, seen or heard.

She grew up in rural Shropshire and so a love, and appreciation of nature was there from the off. But she was also a  lover of literature, proudly telling my daughter Lucy who is studying the play for GCSE, that she could recite Macbeth off by heart. She taught English until her rheumatoid arthritis, which plagued her for most of her adult life, forced early retirement. She always said one of her treasured memories and achievements was helping a young Hong Kong Chinese girl, who initially couldn't speak or write English, gain a very good pass at English O Level. 

She was a voracious reader and always had a few books on the go - growing up we were surrounded by books as we lived above my father's bookshop so reading was a thing. And even after he retired, her passion for literature and reading never wavered. She was hugely proud of my younger brother Charlie when he went into the bookselling business and ended up working at the LRB. It didn't matter what the subject was - history, autobiography, fiction, etc, she would be gripped by most subjects and the more intellectually stimulating the better. However, although she loved all kinds of literature, it was poetry that she loved and inspired her the most.

She and I were blown away when the actor Samuel West read some Tennyson for her in his series of Pandemic Poems and she delighted in being able to accompany me from time to time to various press nights at theatres on the South Bank. She particularly enjoyed King Lear with Simon Russell Beale in the title role and Othello in which Rory Kinnear played Iago, both at the National. It was while we were in the interval for one play at the National that she spied Rory Kinnear in the foyer talking to Sir Nick Hytner and others. My heart fell and my heartbeat quickened as I knew exactly what was to follow...... As soon as the bell went for the play to resume, walking ahead of me, she glided up to Rory Kinnear, touched his arm gently and said: "Your Iago was one of the best I've ever seen," before gliding off - giving him practically no time to acknowledge her! Embarrassment averted - only she could have pulled it off so successfully. 

As well as all things literary, she enjoyed history, regaling my son Tom about archaeology, the Greek and Roman myths and inspiring him to learn more about them.

Gardening was another great passion, and she was tickled pink when my first job in journalism was as a staff reporter on the trade title, Nurseryman & Garden Centre. Going to the Chelsea Flower Show with her was an education in itself and wonderful to see her so animated and alive. Her garden was her sanctuary and she loved hunting out exotic species of plants and those which were old or on the "in danger of extinction" list. She grew fruit, including apple and pair trees and despite the vole population exploding after the cat died, and subsequently causing grief for the trees, she would not hear of ways to cull them - she loved nothing more than to see them scamper in the undergrowth and watch the birds at the bird feeders.

And when Tom was tasked by his Biology teacher last year to do a project on a tree, he chose her hazel tree as inspiration - a tree she had grown from a nut found in a local park and which was now well over 10ft tall. The fact she never got to find out what his teachers thought of his project, which he dedicated to her, is a real sadness.

She also had a generosity of spirit - many were the times she'd befriend someone whether it was meeting them in Church and then inviting them back for Sunday lunch or talking to them in a cafe, shop or anywhere really. She made lifelong friendships from these encounters, many of whom live overseas, and it's been heartbreaking to tell them the news of her death.

I could go on and tell you how she took up lace making because my father's forebears were big in the lace making business and one of them even made some of the lace on Queen Victoria's wedding dress. I could also tell you how she was determined to sew and knit despite her arthritis and made clothes, curtains and even reupholstered her chesterfield settee. She went on a pottery making course, sang in a local choir for a time and supported my father in his business as a bookseller and when he developed Parkinson's Disease.

But most of all she was my mum. Always there for me and for my two brothers and latterly my kids. She has supported us all in all ways, instilled in us the values she felt are important and the tools to lead our lives in a good way. If I am half the mum to my kids as she was to me I feel I will have done well. I miss her more than I can say - her wisdom, warmth, kindness and love. The world is not the same without her.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Moment of Grace - review

Moment of Grace

Four stars

In 1987, Diana Princess of Wales visited London’s first AIDS Unit. It was a hugely significant and important event as during the visit she shook hands with a patient without wearing gloves. This historic moment was captured on film and the powerful image triggered a momentous shift in public and media perception of people living with HIV and AIDS.

This visit, now more than 30 years ago, forms the basis of a play written by Bren Gosling.

Moment of Grace is told from the viewpoint of three individuals - Andrew a patient at the Unit, scared about his diagnosis and who worries about the impact his coming out would have on his family and friends but who is excited about the prospect of a visit from the Princess; Jade, a nurse on the ward looking after HIV-infected patients, caring and empathetic but who keeps her job a secret from her friends and family for fear of what they might think; and Donnie, a fireman married to his childhood sweetheart, yet who is estranged from his only son and who has his own rather bigoted and ignorant views on homosexuality, HIV and women. 

As well as exploring the impact the Princess’s visit has on the three characters, Moment of Grace also takes inspiration from the oral history testimonies collected by the National HIV Story Trust’s archives and other original interview material.

The play was originally due to run at The Actors Centre’s Tristan Bates Theatre but thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic it has now been reimagined for the screen and is being streamed for a limited period.

Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the three actors shot the scenes in their own homes using a single phone camera, with no crew and using remote direction by Nicky Allpress. 

The result is a film/theatre hybrid beautifully shot and sensitively told, treating the issues of HIV raised at the time - ignorance, prejudice and lack of medical knowledge in how to treat it - with compassion and sensitivity. It manages to intertwine the lives of the three people whose story it tells in a way that has you smiling and then welling up throughout. 

The three actors - Luke Dayhill as Andrew, Lucy Walker-Evans as Jude and Andrew Paul as Donnie - are terrific and seeing their faces so close, with all the emotions etched onto them, adds to the intensity of the piece.

Engaging, powerful and full of emotion, in short it is storytelling at its best.

Moment of Grace is available to watch via The Actors Centre website until August 9. Tickets cost £6.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Millionaire Shortbreads

I don't normally do recipes. Anyone who knows me knows I don't cook. I bake cakes but that's about as far as it goes. However, this recipe was made by my 11 year old son who is great at cooking/baking. He made these on Friday and they are awesome. So I thought I should share the recipe. We used rice flour which was actually a bit past its sell by date and a mix of dark and milk chocolate.

(makes about 24)  
For the shortbread: 
200g plain flour 100g medium cornmeal, semolina or rice flour 100g granulated sugar 1/4 tsp fine salt 200g butter, cut into pieces 
For the topping: 
175g butter 175g sugar 60ml golden syrup 400g condensed milk 1/2 tsp fine salt 200g dark (40% cocoa solids) chocolate (or milk chocolate) 
Essential equipment: 
20x20cm / 8inch square (or similar) baking tin. 
Something to smooth the caramel, depending on your tin: e.g. spatula, plastic lid with a straight edge etc.  
  1. Heat the oven to 180oC/350F/gas mark four.  
  1. Grease a tin about 20x20cm (or line with baking paper).  
  1. Put the flour and cornmeal into a bowl with the sugar and salt and mix well, then cut in the butter and mix to form a dough.  
  1. Press into the tin, prick all over with a fork and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until golden and crisp. Allow to cool. 
  1. Put the remaining butter and sugar in a wide, heavy-based pan with the syrup, condensed milk and salt, and heat gently, stirring to melt the butter. Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until thick and fudgeyPour over the shortbread and smooth with a spatula. Leave to set. 
  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave, and spread evenly over the set caramel. Leave until solid, then turn out and cut into squares. 

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Up next from the National Theatre - Frankenstein and Antony and Cleopatra

The next two National Theatre productions to be streamed live on YouTube will be Danny Boyle's production of Frankenstein - filmed at the NT in 2001 and screened on Thursday April 30 and Friday May 1 - and Antony and Cleopatra on May 7.

They will be screened at 7pm via the National Theatre’s YouTube channel as part of National Theatre at Home; the new initiative to bring content to the public accessed from their homes during coronavirus. 

Frankenstein sees Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creation. The two versions will be shown across two nights: 30 April and 1 May

Simon Godwin’s sell-out production of Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra featuring the Evening Standard Theatre Award-winning performances by Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as the famous lovers will be streamed on 7 May.

Today also sees the launch of the National Theatre at Home Quiz, to be played from home featuring familiar faces from the world of stage and screen as the quizmasters. Each quiz will include rounds of five questions on a wide variety of topics. 

On the final Monday of each month people will be able join the virtual quiz directly from their homes via the NT’s YouTube channel and Facebook page live at 7pm. The first quiz will be on Monday 27 April with quizmasters Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry, Lesley Manville, and Sir Ian McKellen asking questions on topics including history, sport, nature, and of course, the National Theatre.   

Rufus Norris Director and Joint Chief Executive of the National Theatre said “We’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to National Theatre at Home since we launched at the start of April. We know that these are difficult and challenging times for many, and we hope that through this initiative we’re able to supply a weekly slice of entertainment for people to enjoy together, albeit digitally, when each production goes out at 7pm on Thursdays. We’re thrilled to be announcing the next two titles today, Frankenstein and Antony & Cleopatrawhich both feature award-winning performances and I’m sure will be enjoyed by all. We’re also pleased today to be launching the National Theatre at Home Quiz featuring some familiar faces posing the tricky questions. I’d like to thank all the artists and creatives who have continued to support us in being able to deliver this programme for free and also the public for tuning in every week and sharing their experiences of National Theatre at Home from right across the world.”