I was very sad to hear about the death of Kate O'Mara. I had the enormous privilege of meeting and interviewing her in October last year when she came to the Misty Moon Gallery in Ladywell.
It was one of her last interviews. She was charming, classy, generous with her time and fabulously funny. She was great fun to be with and she didn't hold back on anything!
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
DEBT, racism, love and isolation. These themes are still as relevant today as they were when Shakespeare wrote about them in his play Merchant of Venice.And they are brilliantly brought to life in a fantastic production of the play which is now on at Shakespeare's Globe.
Created especially for young people it has been commissioned by the Bankside theatre's education department for this year's Playing Shakespeare With Deutsche Bank project which aims to support the teaching of the national curriculum for English at KS3 and KS4.
And it was heartening to see so many young people in the audience to see the play brought to life.
Bassanio is in love with the wealthy Portia but needs money to woo her. On the advice of his friend Antonio, he goes to the moneylender Shylock. Shylock agrees to give him the money on condition that if it's not repaid on time, Shylock will take a pound of Antonio's flesh.
Bassanio successfully woos Portia but then tragedy strikes when the money is not repaid in full at the allotted time and Shylock demands his bond.
It is then up to Portia and her maid Nerissa, desguised as a lawyer and his clerk, to save the day.
Stripped back to 100 minutes, it is a fast-paced, energetic and spririted production retaining all of the Bard's language but designed for those aged 11 and over.
The cast is brilliant and full of enthusiasm really playing to the gallery, encouraging the audience to get involved and obviously loving every minute of it.
Among the stand out performances are Shylock played by Ognen Drangovski and Catherine Bailey as Portia.
As an introduction to Shakespeare this is about as good as it gets.
Merchant Of Venice is on at Shakespeare's Globe on Bankside until March 29 with school performances every weekday at 2pm and free public performances on Saturday March 22 and Saturday March 29.
Call the box office on 020 7401 9919
IT is fitting that in the 450th anniversary of the birth of Christopher Marlowe, the theatre where many of his plays were originally performed, is showcasing some of his best work as part of its current season.
The Massacre At Paris was the last play that Marlowe wrote and a new adaptation of it is now being staged at the Rose Theatre, Bankside, the theatre where it was first performed in January 1593, just four months before Marlowe's murder in Deptford.
As its name suggests, it is a brutal and bloody piece with death a-plenty. In fact it could almost be renamed People Pie such is the body count when the curtain finally comes down.
The play is a mere 90 minutes in length, yet it romps through 20 years of the French Wars of Religion, beginning with the marriage of the catholic sister of Charles IX of France to the protestant Henry, King of Navarre, a marriage promising religious peace – a peace that is destroyed by the scheming Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, in league with the villainous Duke of Guise, the ultimate Marlovian over-reacher.
The first murder takes place within the first 10 minutes of the play and it's not long after that that we see the carefully planned mass murder and notorious St Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre in Paris where thousands of protestants met their end on August 23, 1572.
This is a great adaptation of Marlowe's play. Many of the 14-strong cast double up by playing more than one character and they all use the small space well. John Gregor is particularly good as The Duke of Guise who sets about the massacre.
The death scenes are great too and there is an ingenious way of portraying the huge amount of blood that is spilled throughout the piece.
But despite the bloodthirsty nature of the piece, there is also humour within the piece to ensure it's not all doom and gloom.
As such this production by The Dolphin's Back theatre company is brilliantly executed and performed and well worth seeing.
The Massacre At Paris is on at the Rose Theatre, Park Street until Saturday, March 29. Tickets cost £12. Call the box office on 020 7261 9565.
YOUNGSTERS are to take to the stage in a specially commissioned play looking at issues surrounding mental health.
The eight strong group of 13 to 18 year olds from Ovalhouse Theatre's youth programme worked with award-winning playwright Joseph Wilde to develop the story, characters and script for the piece which will be performed at the Kennington theatre on March 28 and 29.
Kaleidoscope finds sister and brother Lisa and Leo with only each other to count on and a small group of friends. They are all struggling to make their way in the world, cope with the often underestimated stresses of teenage life, the possibility of the onset of mental illness and to top it off Leo has started seeing the ghost of his father!
It is a story of ghosts, exams, first dates and what happens when Leo’s dad tells him it’s his mission to ‘save his generation.’
"When we first started talking to our group of young people about mental health, we were amazed to find how much the subject resonated with them as an issue, and so we wanted to take a further step and look at the issues as a play," says the theatre's head of youth arts Naomi Shoba.
"There are many stresses and risk factors that affect the lives of young people which may have a negative impact on emotional well-being, from poor housing to economic disadvantage, serious illness, homophobic bullying, abuse or bereavement.
"They told us about their feelings of extra stress and pressure from home, school and life in general and what struggles they were facing. These also included the influence of media and social pressures of image.
"Also through our research we found Lambeth has nearly three times more people registered with severe mental health illness than the national average.
"It's a taboo subject for many so being able to discuss it openly and honestly has been fantastic for everyone involved."
The group got together in September and since then have been working on the piece, rehearsing regularly and developing the characters and storyline from their own experiences.
"The response so far has been amazing, and we’re really pleased to see so many of the group so passionately engaged, presenting a play that came from their hopes, concerns and ideas," says Naomi.
"But it's not just about some of the negative issues," she adds. "There are a lot of positive influences in the play and we explored what makes young people happy and the positive things they are engaged in.
"It is also part of the nationwide Truth About Youth programme which works to dispel negative perceptions of young people in society and the media as well as empower young people as advocates and role models for others.
"The whole process has been incredibly interesting and rewarding for them and we are really excited to be bringing it to the stage."
Kaleidoscope is on at Ovalhouse Theatre on March 28 and 29.
Tickets cost £5 or £3 concessions. Visit www.ovalhouse.com or call the box office on 020 7582 7680.
pic credit Tristram Kenton
THERE can't be many people who grew up in the 1970s who didn't watch Starskey and Hutch.
The American cop duo played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul respectively were the epitome of cool as they cruised around the streets of the fictional Bay City in California in their red Ford Gran Torino bringing the local criminals to book.
Running for 92 episodes over four series, the hugely popular and successful American show propelled both Paul and David to stardom.
However, although for a generation Paul will be forever known as heart-throb David Starskey, he has not been idle since ditching the keys to the car and giving up the famous knitted cardigan.
Far from it. Indeed he is an accomplished director, actor, writer and photographer and has spent the intervening years doing all of the above.
He is now back on the stage and in a musical no less - Fiddler On The Roof - which is enjoying rave reviews as it tours the country.
Despite his superstar status he's genial and down to earth when we chat ahead of the production's arrival at the New Wimbledon Theatre on April 1.
But although I'm supposed to be talking to him about his starring role as Tevye in the production, he throws a curveball by immediately asking if I know Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.
He then regales me with some of Katherine's lines before urging me to revisit the text to see my namesake's great speeches.
That he knows his Shakespeare shouldn't come as any surprise as his acting career started on the Broadway stage more than 40 years ago.
He has appeared in more than 50 roles in regional, Broadway and off-Broadway productions since then not to mention a stint in panto in Sunderland in 2008.
So when he was offered the part of Tevye in this production he leapt at it saying it was "a no brainer".
"When you get offered these roles it's stupid not to take them," he says in his soft Massachusetts drawl.
"I come from a theatre background and always wanted to do a musical. When it was offered I'd just spent a year raising money for a book I'd written, Chrystallia And The Source Of Light, and it was a question of 'why not?'.
"Besides, how many times in your life do you get offered a role like this? It's a great part and I embraced it."
The 71-year-old is on good form despite a "full on schedule" which began when the tour started in September last year. And he says he's looking forward to coming to Wimbledon, especially as he's never been to this part of London.
"The show's doing great," he says warmly. "We have a brilliant production which has been well received and there are fantastic actors and musicians in it.
"It's a full on show and I'm having a lot of fun.
"And it'll be great to visit Wimbledon as I've never been here before but I've heard good things about it," he adds.
Fiddler On The Roof is a bit of a homecoming for Paul as he played Perchik in the classic film version of 1971 and in which the role of Tevye was made famous by Chaim Topol.
"I was in the original film, or at least I think I was," he jokes. "I've grown up a bit since then....!"
Tevye is the local milkman in his village of Anatevka. He has always stuck by his traditions but is suddenly confronted with his three headstrong daughters who tell him they want to marry for love and not whoever Yente the Matchmaker decides.
The original Broadway production ran for more than 13 years from its premiere in 1964 winning nine Tony Awards and went on to have four Broadway revivals.
"It's a great story and timeless," says Paul. "It has all the key ingredients of a classic - love, loss, family, every day problems, and real emotions, in fact everything that grabs your attention.
"It crosses cultural and geographical boundaries. Plus it has the most amazing, beautiful score," he enthuses.
Love and loss are not unknown for Paul. Tragically he lost his first wife Elizabeth and their daughter Ariel to AIDS thanks to an infected blood transfusion.
However, despite the tragedy he says he's in a "good place" now, thanks in part to having written his book.
"Originally it was written as a screenplay but I realised quite early on in the process I was talking about dealing with fear, helplessness and loss," he says.
"It's humorous, dramatic, exciting and whimsical but the heart of the book asks and answers the question what is the purpose of fear in our lives.
"It's something I wanted to share with people. It was an incredible experience and I had a great time writing it," he adds
"Life is an amazing journey of discovery and I truly believe you should never have any 'what ifs' because you can't change anything. It doesn't help anyone to have regrets," he says.
And this philosophical outlook extends to all aspects of his life, not least this current show.
"When you have an opportunity in your life to do something like this and you put yourself in that position you learn a lot."
So are there any parallels between Tevye, Starsky and his own life I ask.
"Yes absolutely," he says. "They are the classic everyman - they explore and experience all these different feelings and emotions and I'm no different.
"Playing Starsky wasn't nearly as exciting as it sounds though," he laughs. "It was a lot of hard work and very challenging.
"It was like being thrown into a volcano. At the time it happened I wasn't emotionally mature enough to deal with it. But it's lovely that people still have such fond memories of it."
Fiddler On The Roof is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, from Tuesday, April 1 until Saturday, April 5.
Tickets from £15. Call the box office on 0844 871 7646
Friday, 7 March 2014
LAST year, Kate O'Flynn wowed audiences when she played a northern teenager in Port at the National Theatre's Lyttelton stage.
Now she's back at the Lyttelton and playing another troubled northern teen, Jo, in a new production of Shelagh Delaney's kitchen sink play A Taste Of Honey.
Jo has just moved into a shabby flat in Salford, next to the gasworks and the abatoir, with her tarty mum Helen (Lesley Sharp).
Life appears bleak - they have little money, not much in the way of food and they have to share a bed.
With her peroxide blonde hair and non stop and often nasty chatter Helen is not the most likeable character. She's certainly not the most maternal and when she runs off with her latest boyfriend Peter, you can almost see Jo's sigh of relief.
However, it is tempered when Jo finds she is pregnant by a short-lived affair with Jimmy, a sailor who has now gone back to see despite promising marriage.
With Jimmy and Helen gone, Jo seeks solace with her gay friend Geoffrey who offers her a stability she hasn't had before. Life appears happier and much less volatile - until Helen comes back.
Kate O'Flynn is superb as Jo showing a vulnerability alongside a no nonsense typical teenage defiant attitude as she tries to come to terms with her lot in life.
Lesley Sharp as Helen is stunning. Skittish, flighty and flirty she dances around the stage, chatting inanely, posing and preening - a woman of no morals or care for her daughter and with a viscious nasty tongue which she uses to devastating effect. It is a glorious performance.
The pair are brilliantly supported by Eric Kofi Abrefa as the charming and gentle sailor Jimmy, Harry Hepple as Geoffrey and Dean Lennox Kelly as Helen's seedy and drunk boyfriend Peter.
This is a terrific production and despite the bleakness there is a warmth and humour to the piece which shines through.
A Taste Of Honey is on at the Lyttelton stage at the National Theatre until May 11. Tickets from £15. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000.
BATTERSEA'S small and intimate Theatre503 has long been known for its support of new writing and its latest production is the debut work of actress Annie Hulley.
Dog Days is set in the living room of middle aged couple Cate and John. With its plates on the walls, knick knacks on the side table and faded decor, it is bland, boring and beige - not unlike their marriage which it quickly transpires is in tatters - familiarity breeding contempt has clearly manifested itself here over the years.
John, played by Jonathan Oliver, is not a likeable man and treats his wife with derision. Cate, played by Hulley, is fretful about her future and drinks on the sly to hide her sadness at the obvious end to her marriage.
Tensions are running high, not least because their house is on the market and has been for a while, with not much interest from any prospective buyers. That is until young couple Hayley and Tony rock up unannounced and invite themselves in.
Hayley (Lashana Lynch) is hilarious and definitely has the best lines in the piece. She is ditsy, pregnant and has a mouth which doesn't engage with her brain. Tony (Peter Bramhill) by comparison is controlling, cocky, arrogant and struts about in his maroon suit.
Their arrival heralds the start of some sinister events and secrets being exposed and there is clearly a sense of unease when they are in the house, making themselves at home in a rather over familiar way.
The performances from the four actors are great and it is a brilliant portrayal of lives unravelling and at only 90 minutes it is a tight script which manages to keep the tension brewing throughout until it reaches the inevitable awful end.
Dog Days is at Theatre503 above the Latchmere Pub, Battersea Park Road until Saturday, March 22. Tickets from £15. Call the box office 020 7978 7040.
ACTOR Andy Rees is no stranger to musicals. Since he graduated from drama school the 31-year-old has rarely been out of work, appearing in a string of West End favourites such as The Rocky Horror Show, Legally Blonde, A Chorus Line and Mama Mia.
But he admits it's his latest role as Rocky in Tonight's The Night that he's particularly pleased to be in. Not least because he gets to sing songs from the cannon of one of the most successful singer songwriters of all time - Rod Stewart.
The Wimbledon-based actor is currently mid way through a UK tour of the jukebox musical which includes a week at the New Wimbledon Theatre from March 17.
Written by comedic legend Ben Elton, it tells the story of Stu, a shy and geeky young man from the back streets of Chicago, so tongue tied that he cannot find the courage to declare his love to the girl of his dreams.
However one night he strikes a deal with the Devil, trading his soul for that of his hero, Rod Stewart. It seems like a good idea at the time but he finds out the hard way that you can’t find true love using another man’s moves and that devil or no devil, there’s only one Rod Stewart.
"It's a bit Faustian," laughs Andy. "The lead, Stu, is in love with a girl called Mary and sells his soul in order to win her love. The story is really what happens after that.
"I play Rocky who is a bit of a tragic character. He's Stu's best friend but he's also in love with Mary which is a bit awkward so he keeps it a secret.
"Stu ends up as a bit of a rock star and when he goes off on tour, Rocky declares his undying love for Mary but she's in love with Stu.
"Rocky's gutted as you can imagine but he ends up with Dee Dee though so it's not all bad," he adds chuckling.
"It's a bit like Mama Mia in the way it uses Rod's songs to help tell the story," he adds by way of explanation.
Since the original production which graced the West End in 2003, the narrative has been tweaked to bring it bang up to date.
"Ben Elton came along while we were rehearsing for this tour," says Andy. "He spent a lot of time with us making script changes and bringing in some topical jokes so it's slightly different to the original.
"He's a brilliant writer and it was an honour to meet him especially as I'm a big fan!" he says.
"It's very clever in the way it's constructed as it's part musical theatre and part concert. I've never been in a show before which has this level of energy but I'm absolutely loving it."
So is he a fan of the mighty man's music I ask?
"It was quite nervewracking when I was offered the role because I wasn't familiar with all his material," he admits. "But that's the great thing about this show because now I've really got into the music and find myself singing his stuff at home!
"Rod is an amazing songwriter and the songs are beautifully constructed. I've got lots of favourites but I Don't Wanna Talk About It is pretty special. It's a lovely song and I get to sing it on stage - it and really gets the audience going!
"Doing a show like this, it's a real laugh and very much a good night out," he adds warmly. "It's a high energy show. We want to have a party on stage and so the audience party along with us.
"I'm always amazed though. People come along and sing along with us night after night. It's brilliant! They sing every single song from the start to finish. There is a lot of love for the show so it's very special to be part of that."
And he says he can't wait to be bringing it to his home town.
"I live in Wimbledon and so to be performing at my local theatre will be very special," he says warmly.
"I've lived here about five years and really like it. But I've never been in a production here! I have worked in the theatre's wardrobe department in between jobs a few times so I know the building well.
"My job was to look after the costumes and make sure they were in the right places.
"It was great fun actually because you get to see bits of the backstage stuff that you don't fully appreciate when you are a performer so it was really interesting.
"And it's a lovely theatre - with fantastic audiences and so to be performing on home soil after so long of wanting to is going to be amazing," he says.
"I know Rod came along when the show had its original West End run but he's not seen this particular tour," he adds.
"I'd love to meet him though so I hope he comes to see us at some point - and if he came to to see it in Wimbledon, well that would be magic!"
Tonight's The Night is at the New Wimbledon Theatre from March 17 until March 22.
Call the box office 0844 871 7646 or visit www.atgtickets.com/wimbledon
Giles Cooper as Michael, Dennis Herdman as Tim, Matthew Needham as Rafe, Hannah McPake as Mistress Merrythought and Dean Nolan as George. pic credit Alastair Muir
Pauline McLynn as The grocer’s wife. pic credit Alastair Muir
SITTING in the intimate surroundings of the newly opened Sam Wanamaker Theatre on Bankside it's hard not to be enveloped in a warm cosy glow.
Lit entirely by candles and with cushioned benches the theatre is really quite beautiful.
It also appears much smaller when it is packed with people. But this is by no means a bad thing. In fact it makes it all the more interesting because the audience is so close to the action.
Indeed in its latest production, Knight Of The Burning Pestle, some of the actors are even sitting amongst the audience.
Written by Francis Beaumont in about 1607 it is the second play to be staged at the new theatre and is a glorious three-hour fun fest.
A play within a play, it features a 14-strong cast led by Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn who are the grocer and his wife.
The pair are at the theatre with their son Rafe (Matthew Needham) but they don't like what's being staged so they demand something different - and starring their son.
This as you can imagine goes down like a lead balloon amongst the actors but the couple persists and soon Rafe is on the stage playing a Knight errant saving damsels in distress, fighting knaves and getting involved in all sorts of other capers.
What follows is an hilarious romp with plenty of thrills and spills, mock fights, a lot of clambering into and over the audience and some fantastic chases through and around the theatre.
The cast is great and Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn are fantastic as the grocer and his wife, constantly interrupting the proceedings, chatting to the audience, offering them liquorice and generally making a comic nuisance of themselves.
Elsewhere Dennis Herdman as Tim and Dean Nolan as George provide much of the other comedic moments as the hapless stage hands who get roped into helping Rafe.
At three hours it's a tad long but it's great fun and well worth seeing.
The Knight Of The Burning Pestle is on at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, Bankside until March 30. Tickets from £10. Call the box office on 020 7401 9919.
SOUTH London's Victorian past is being brought vividly to life thanks to a Lewisham-based theatre company.
Out Fox Productions is staging The Gut Girls, a play written in 1988 by Sarah Daniels about a group of Victorian women working in Deptford cattle markets at the turn of the last century.
Here, the girls would, in the freezing cold and up to their ankles in blood and gore, earn a decent salary by carving up dead cows, sheep and pigs.
But despite the conditions, the women had a level of financial and social independence that was extremely unusual in Victorian times.
The play is being staged in Brockley at the Jack Studio Theatre, a few miles away from where it is set near the Deptford docks.
Out Fox Productions' producer Kirsty Fox says she chose the piece not only because of its local connections but also because it is a story about women and their struggles against social change.
"It's a fascinating and compelling drama which shows very clearly what life was like for women at that time," she says. "For those who were not born in to wealth, it meant going into domestic service where there was no independence and not much money.
"But here in Deptford there were a group of women who, despite being viewed as being at the bottom of the social heap, were not only working and earning a wage but they were getting relatively well paid and they were able to have a social life which was incredibly rare."
The story charts the journeys of five different women who work in the gutting sheds. They are brash but are hard working and proud of their jobs. They are boisterous, foul-mouthed, drink beer and after clocking off they are able to have free time which they spend either in the pubs or local music halls.
However, things start changing when a 'reformer' arrives in the shape of Lady Helena, an aristocratic do-gooder. She tries to improve the girls through bible studies and sobriety and 'save' them from their appalling working conditions.
"It is ultimately quite tragic," says Kirsty. "These reformers were on a crusade to save the women because they thought life would be better for them if they were more ladylike and genteel. It was well intentioned but wasn't wanted.
"Social change was beginning and there were new laws on hygiene and health and safety and all these things eventually saw the demise of the gutting sheds.
"But with that it meant the girls were robbed of their independence, their spirit, their jobs, and really their lives.
"In the play we see how their fortunes panned out - some went into domestic service, but some didn't and fell into extreme poverty which must have been horrendous - not least because they had lost everything they worked so hard for as well as the friendships they had with each other."
Despite the subject matter the cast, who are all based in South London, have had fun re-creating the grim conditions the girls would have found themselves in.
"It has been a real challenge to give a sense of the blood, guts and gore of the slaughterhouse but we've had a lot of fun - especially making livers and sausages," laughs Kirsty.
"One of the cast even went to her local butcher to help out to get a taste of what life was like handling and cutting meat.
"But it's the stories of the girls which has been really exciting to find out more about," she adds. "It's a great play for women - they are really are meaty roles," she laughs.
"It's hard to come across plays which have such strong female characters so I'm really excited to be bringing it to the Jack, especially given the local references within it - of which there are a few."
It is the sixth production the company has brought to the Jack Studio Theatre.
"We were over the moon to be asked to be one of the Jack's associate companies especially as we only established the company three years ago," says Kirsty. "They have been brilliant to work with, are very supportive and give lots of advice as well as rehearsal space."
"Out Fox Productions is a very exciting young company," adds the Jack's artistic director, Kate Bannister. "The Gut Girls is a great local story for us so it has been a perfect fit. It's gritty but there is a lot of humour in it as well as being an incredible and fascinating piece of social history.
"What would be fantastic is if we get a descendent of the original gut girls come to see it."
Gut Girls is on at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley Road from Tuesday March 11 until Saturday, March 29.
Tickets cost £14. Call the box office on 0844 8700 887.