Tuesday, 21 July 2015

REVIEW - A Number, The Young Vic


THE terrible consequences of what can happen when science goes wrong are explored in a gripping production of Caryl Churchill's play A Number now on at the Young Vic.
Bernard always thought he was an only child – but at the age of 35 he learns the shocking truth. He's not. In fact he is one of a number of children cloned in a lab by scientists.
But is his father telling him the truth about his family, his other siblings and indeed about how he came to be? Was he really wanted and how many others are there?
It is a fascinating look at how the boundaries of science and ethics can be blurred with the added twist on the dynamics of the father/son relationship.
The Young Vic's production is brilliantly staged and the design by Tom Scutt is genius. The men, played by real life father and son John and Lex Shrapnel are confined in a box surrounded by mirrors - and while we, the audience can see them, they can't see us.
The audience are split into four groups - our tickets have but a number written on them - and is ushered into one of four small rooms.
The action is played out in front of us and in between the short, sharp and intense scenes the lights go off inside the box and the mirrors reflect not the actors but us the audience.
In each scene we see the father, Salter, try and explain what has happened and why to three of his sons - each played by Shrapnel junior.
But each time, a different story is told, leaving the audience wondering what the truth is.
It is quite brilliant. Both men show a range of emotions and Lex Shrapnel easily conveys the three cloned sons and their different characteristics.
Salter at first seems to be reassuring to his son, but then seems to be trying to wriggle out of a series of awkward questions, not least, did he know what was going on?
Punchy, fast and furious, with plenty of moments of laugh out loud humour it's all over in an hour - but what an amazing hour. Of that there is no doubt.

A Number is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, until August 15. Tickets £19.50. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

REVIEW - The Trial, The Young Vic

FOUR Stars

JOSEF K is a normal man. He has a good job in a bank, friends and life seems good. Then on the morning of his 35th birthday, he is woken by police and arrested for a crime or crimes unknown.
His arrest is the start of a living nightmare into which Josef descends unable to escape or stop. It is a a frightening and hellish situation where nothing is as it seems and there are no answers to anything.
The Trial was originally written by Franz Kafka as a short story before being turned into a play. A new adaptation by Nick Gill is now on at the Young Vic starring Rory Kinnear.
As the audience file into the theatre the first thing that hits you is a bright orange hue which is incredibly disconcerting. We are then seated in tiered rows as if in a courtroom.
The second thing you notice is a travelator which splits the theatre in half and much like Josef's nightmare situation, once it starts moving, it doesn't stop.
It is an odd story in that we never know why Josef is singled out for punishment. There is nothing out of the ordinary about him and he seems to have led a pretty blameless life although there are hints about his sexual experiences in the past.
It is perhaps for this reason that he mixes his speech with something reminiscent of baby talk, a babble that seems to be him thinking aloud as if in some altered state of mind.
The action takes place almost exclusively on the travelator and throughout the two-hour long show, Rory Kinnear as Josef is never off it - an incredible feat for any actor.
Not only does he have to avoid bumping into any of the props which trundle along it, he also has to dress, undress and deliver his lines and he does all of this brilliantly. It is an incredible performance.
The rest of the cast take on multiple roles and provide great support, particularly Kate O'Flynn who shows off a superb range of characters from the lovely, sweet kind Rosa who lives next door to Josef, to the lap dancer seen at the beginning of the play.
It's all pretty intense and at two hours with no interval it is exhausting to watch. But it is a stunning piece of theatre and a superb performance from Kinnear.

The Trial is on at the Young Vic, The Cut until August 22. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922 for tickets.

INTERVIEW - Joe Pasquale

AFTER two years of delighting and entertaining audiences as King Arthur in a touring production of Spamalot you would be forgiven for thinking that Joe Pasquale might want a bit of a rest.
But you would be mistaken. For the Eltham-based actor, comedian and all round entertainer is not one to rest on his or anyone else's laurels.
Indeed although the 53-year-old has only just hung up the chainmail he is about to take to the road once more with his new stand up show.
As part of the 25-date tour he is bringing his wit and wisdom gained from his 30 years in showbiz to the Ashcroft Theatre at Fairfield Halls in Croydon on July 26 and says he's looking forward to "having a banter" with the audience.
So what will he be talking about I ask. It turns out it will be a mix of anything and everything.
"I just go on and muck about with a bit of magic, singing, doing a few jokes, painting, reading and lots of silly stuff," he tells me.
"There will also be a lot of audience participation so anything could happen. I play it by ear really and don't write anything down so it'll be completely different from one show to the next."
And it transpires that that is just the way he likes it.
"I never know how it's going to go which is great," he says. "If you plan something and it doesn't work you're stuffed. If you don't plan it, nothing can go wrong. It's what I've done all my life.
"I have a rough idea of course but once I get out there I just talk about anything."
I can testify that this is indeed correct for during our chat topics of conversation range from food to whales, travel to keeping fit and everything in between - he just doesn't stop.
"I've been doing this for 30 years and I love it," he says warmly. "I always knew I never wanted to work for a living. This isn't a job. It's something I enjoy and I'd do it forever.
"It's tiring though," he concedes. "I'm knackered after Spamalot - it was a long tour but it was great fun. I got to work with my son [Joe Tracini] and it was a fantastic show that took you by the scruff of the neck and didn't let go. It was a real joy to do and we had a ball.
"I've always done the odd gig here and there in between times as I'd get bored if I didn't, so it's really nice to be back on the road for this tour.
"The best part of my day is going out on stage," he adds. "It's all the other stuff that's hard like the travelling, living out of a suitcase for months on end and not being able to find anywhere decent to eat - that kind of thing.
"I don't want to eat another kebab at 3am or have a pukka pie. I just want my greens. That's the hard bit - not the show - that's a piece of cake and I love it."
And he says he never feels under pressure.
"Pressure is being a brain surgeon," he chuckles. "What happens if you sneeze and what happens to the scalpel? That's pressure.
"I'm just on stage mucking about like a 13-year-old talking about willies and farts - that's not pressure.
"I still get nervous though - it's scary and exciting, like being on a really good rollercoaster or watching a good horror movie - but that's part of it and that's what I love. I like flying by the seat of my pants."
Talking of flying, six years ago Joe conquered his fear of being airborne and got his pilot's licence.
"I really enjoy it," he says. "When you learn to fly you have to know what to do if something goes wrong. You spend all that time training doing emergency landings. But it's so liberating.
"The year before last I hired a plane and went to Le Touquet in France, had chips on the beach and then came home just in time for X Factor. It's ace!
"I'm not going to be here forever so I want to do something with my life rather than sitting around watching Big Brother."
To that end he is also studying for a Geology and Geoscience degree at the Open University, indulges in his love of travel and discovering new places and took up boxing two years ago.
"There is always time to do these things if you really want to do them," he says "I've been to Belize and want to go and see the Northern Lights and climb volcanoes in Iceland. I'd also quite like to see the ice hotel in Norway - maybe I'll go after this tour.
"I box too and go to Gumshield gym in Eltham. It's a real spit and sawdust place - not the sort where you get a jacuzzi or a slice of cheesecake afterwards.
"There are a lot of cops from the Met who go there so it's a good excuse to go and punch them on the nose and know they can't do anything about it," he adds chuckling.
"I did a marathon a couple of years ago for Diabetes UK. I did it in five hours 20 minutes and the toes on my foot were like chipolatas afterwards. You could have stuck a toothpick in them and not known the difference. I lost five nails too.
"I'd do it again but my knees wouldn't take it. So I do a bit of boxing and still run a bit. I like to look after myself but it's hard on the road because I like my greens and in some places they're impossible to get - it's like Greggs is part of their five a day."
So what does he do to keep himself lean, mean and his vitamin and mineral quota up?
"I take spirulina," he says. "Whales live til they are 160 years old if you let them so I thought if they can do that I'd go to Holland and Barratt and get spirulina.
"If I'm still here in 150 years time you'll know it works. Though obviously I don't want to have developed a blow hole and start living in the sea.
"You see this is what happens with the show - I end up talking about anything!" he adds laughing.
"The news is terrible and horrendous and I can't change that but I can try and cheer people up. It's lovely to have that effect."
And he says he's looking forward to his trip to Croydon.
"I love it there," he says. "It's always got a great crowd who are up for anything so I'm really looking forward to it - especially as it's near my home in Eltham.
"I moved there from Essex and love it. On the A12 there are signposts to a secret bunker," he adds laughing.
"Of course now every bugger knows where it is so if it happens the place will be gridlocked!"
No doubt if it is he will be entertaining the crowd every step of the way.

Joe Pasquale will be at Fairfield Halls, Croydon on July 26. Tickets cost £18.50. Visit www.fairfield.co.uk/ or call the box office on 0208 688 9291.

Poetry International, Southbank Centre

IN 1967 poet, children’s writer and poet laureate, Ted Hughes founded the Southbank Centre’s (SBC) biennial Poetry International festival.
His vision was to highlight both traditional and new forms of poetry, welcoming poets from across the world for a varied programme of talks, readings, workshops, performances, music, films, family and free events.
Now nearly 50 years on the festival returns to the South Bank for four days of events from Thursday to Sunday showcasing this ancient art form.
This year’s event shines a spotlight on themes of conflict, war, censorship, oppression and shifting politics and features stories of political adversity and personal struggle.
As well as recitals and readings the packed line up features music, translation, new commissions and free events.
It includes a special focus on poets and their work from the Middle East and South East Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and the Palestinian Territories and Syria.
Among this year's highlights will be two groups of Pashtun poets. The first are a group of Pakistan refugees who fled from the Taliban to renew their ancient craft of writing poetry celebrating nature, tribal culture and love after being forced to compose jihadist messages of war and brutality.
The other is Mirman Baheer Society, am Afghan women's literary society based in Kabul who risk their lives to write poetry, often writing under the protection of pen names.
There is also some traditional poetry from Pakistan which is being specially translated into English for the first time.
As well as the groups from Pakistan and Afghanistan there will be more than 30 other poets, writers, translators, performers and musicians at the festival from more than 10 countries who will present a wide variety of work.
Those taking part include Sahera Sharif, Ghareeb Iskander, Sasha Dugdale, Saleem Khan, Sahid Ullah Khan, Dilawar Khan, Choman Hardi, Warsan Shire, Kei Miller, Imtiaz Dharker, Malika Booker and Jo Shapcott.
A year in the making it has been curated by SBC’s Anna Selby who says she is thrilled to be bringing such an "incredible and vibrant" programme to London audiences.
“When the festival was originally set up, Ted Hughes looked at what was happening around the world,” says Anna.
“At that time his aim was to bring poets and poetry from places beyond the iron curtain and share their work.
"He wrote that poetry is 'a universal language of understanding in which we can all hope to meet' and so we thought what would he do today? What are the issues poets face today? We looked at the most pressing issues of the world today and decided to focus on the Middle East and South East Asia.
"We wanted to give poets from these countries a voice and to listen to what they have to say.
"Too often we see such negative images of these places in the news so to have something positive that represents their culture and language through one of the oldest traditions and art forms in the world is amazing.”
However, Anna admits gathering such a contingent together was not without its difficulties.
"It took about a year to put together and there were a lot of challenges,” she says. “To begin with we had to find them – however, there are about 700,000 refugees displaced in camps at the moment and finding them amongst all these people, not to mention the contacts and translators that we could work with was tricky.
"We had to track them down and then make sure it was safe for them to travel."
For some the team were able to get them out and bring them to the festival but Anna says it was not a possibility for everyone.
"For some it was just too dangerous - not just to travel but to reveal their identity," she says. "Also some poets we wanted to be part of the festival were unable to come because they couldn’t get visas – a lot of the places in some countries where you get visas have shut down or they were too expensive to buy.
“It’s meant that for some poets like Iranian Sabeer Haka we will read his work as he can’t be here himself. He is a construction worker and writes some of the best poetry I’ve read in years.”
Despite the difficulties Anna says the festival will nonetheless showcase some of the very best poetry as well as show its power to influence, inspire, and engage.
“Poets are great spokespeople and philosophers of the modern world and getting them to talk about what’s going on is uplifting and refreshing,” she says.
“Language is so beautiful and a lot of countries have strong traditions of poetry and it is the most ancient form of storytelling.
"We have a whole range of events going on over the four days so there will be something for everyone including many free activities."
These include a chance for families to bring along a poem which will be included in a special book to be held in the Poetry Library.
"We have a free session for families on Saturday called Around The World In 80 Poems which we ask people to bring in a favourite poem, story or saying," says Anna.
"It can be from your home, your country, town or community or can even be something you've made up. Those who take part will work with artist and poet Sophie Herxheimer to create beautiful poetry pages to add to a new book which will be housed in our Poetry Library.
"On Sunday writer and photographer Yemisi Blake will be leading a poetry and censorship workshop for those aged between 14 and 18.
"He will help them use creative writing and photography to look at themes of censorship and speaking out.
"It will be an amazing few days," she adds. "I feel poetry is one of the things we still keep as sacred. In any cemetery you will see poetry quoted and at rites of passage such as naming ceremonies and weddings we turn to poetry.
"It will lift your spirits or make your feel morose and it paints a picture and I hope people who come to this festival will be inspired and engaged by what they see and hear.
"Ted Hughes was a global poet and I hope we have stayed true to his vision and that he would approve of the range of countries and languages we have got here.
"It's been such a privilege to have worked on this festival and it feels like a real celebration of lots of different people, cultures and languages coming together."

Southbank Centre's Poetry International festival takes place between Thursday, July 23 and Sunday, July 26. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk or call 0844 847 9910 for full listings and ticket prices.

Orson's Shadow - Southwark Playhouse

Three stars

IN a clash of theatrical titans it surely doesn't come much bigger and better than one between Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier.
The pair are thrown together in a play about them doing a play together back in 1960. Written by American actor and writer Austin Pendleton, Orson's Shadow is part fact, part fiction.
It imagines what happened when Welles was persuaded by theatre critic Kenneth Tynan to direct Olivier in the English premiere of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros at the Royal Court.
At the time Olivier was riding on the crest of a theatrical wave having wowed everyone in The Entertainer. Welles meanwhile had the weight of his classic film Citizen Kane on his broad shoulders, something that he couldn't shake off.
Indeed when the play begins, we see him in Dublin, playing in a howler of a production of Chimes Of Midnight to an almost empty house.
And so he is persuaded - perhaps against his better judgement - to meet Olivier and direct him in London.
What actually happened is that somewhere along the line Welles ended up not directing it afterall and Pendleton's story tries to imagine what might have gone wrong.
There is much backstage theatrical sparring to be had between the two great men who clearly had big egos, but it also a chance to see their perceived flaws.
Welles, is a colossus of a man who is still clearly frustrated at the fact the movie bosses in Hollywood have ditched him.
Olivier, recently hooked up with future wife Joan Plowright whilst still married to Vivien Leigh, doesn't take direction well. And while he blossoms like a flower unfurling when praise comes his way, he is also being outshone by Joan, and his petulance shines through.
The six strong cast are great. John Hodgkinson as Welles and Adrina Lukis as Olivier put in well-observed performances. They are ably supported by Gina Bellman as a vampish and fragile Vivien Leigh and Louise Ford as a gentle but determined Joan Plowright.
It is a piece full of gossip, bitchiness and wicked humour, but there is also a lot of sadness within it. As such the play makes a decent stab at what might have happened between the great men and is both entertaining and interesting. However, the characters are so fascinating I was left wanting more!

Orson's Shadow is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, July 25. Tickets cost £18. Visitwww.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Romeo & Juliet - Jack Studio Theatre

Three stars

ROMEO and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's best known and best loved plays. The story of the star crossed lovers is a tale full of the universal themes of passion, love and loyalty.
In a new adaptation by CandleFire Theatre Company, now on at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, it has been given a contemporary feel with an up to the minute soundtrack and grungy costumes.
It is a lively and imaginative retelling of the Bard's classic tale. As well as being pared down to just under two hours, there are only 10 out of the original 21 characters to tell the story.
Not only that there are a few interesting twists including the delivery of the prologue and the ending.
Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but there is no doubt that it is staged with energy and enthusiasm.
The stage is bare save for a small table which when moved around the stage serves by turns as a bed, a tomb and a bench.
The direction was spot on and really brought out the characteristics and rivalries of the two gangs - the Capulets and the Montagues.
Romeo and his gang were full of swagger, charm and fun - party animals and out for a good time. Tybalt and Paris by comparison were cocky, aggressive and up for a fight.
And there are more than a fair few of those - fight choreographer Steve Bradley deserves special mention for the incredibly realistic fight scenes in which Balthazar in particular seemed to get more than his fair share of beatings.
The cast was generally good with some great performances, in particular Robert Fellman as Romeo and Turan Duncan as Mercutio.
I wasn't convinved about the ending - a twist on the original that also seemed rushed.
That said, this was a lively adaptation full of passion and energy.

Romeo and Juliet is on at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley Road, until Thursday, August 16. Tickets cost £14. Visit www.brockleyjack.co.uk or call the box office on 0333 666 3366.

Against Captain's Orders - National Maritime Museum


IF you’ve ever fancied yourself as an explorer, detective or sailor, an interactive show at the National Maritime Museum gives you a chance to be all three.
Against Captain’s Orders is a show which is about as immersive as they come, blending performance, storytelling, adventure and intrigue and is designed for all the family but especially those aged between six and 12.
It has been conceived and put together by theatre company Punchdrunk who have plenty of experience in staging innovative and immersive theatre and this shows off their not inconsiderable talents to the full.
I took my two kids, aged six and 10 to the show and we weren’t disappointed.
On arrival our 30-strong audience was split up into four nautical groups and asked to don the corresponding life-jackets - Midshipmen, Salvage, Ship’s Watch or Navigation.
Although we were never separated from the other groups and went through the 50-minute adventure together, it did allow us to do certain tasks according to our group.
We were met by curator Arthur and Glan (played on our visit by Matthew Odell and Sammy Kissin) who were to take us on our adventure.
It starts off in a pretty ordinary way. We were escorted through a dark door and in our groups were invited to sit in small wooden boats. Each had a mast and within each mast is one of the National Maritime Museum’s treasured exhibits and artefacts – in ours was a pair of drumsticks – each pertinent to the story that was about to unfold. The other boats had a glass bottle with a letter inside, a telescope or sextant.
As Glan and Arthur begin their story and encourage us to find out more about our objects Glan decides – against Museum orders – to take the bottle out of the mast. It is then that the fun begins for as she tries, the objects vanish and the museum appears to go into lockdown with sirens, tanoy announcements and a mist that starts swirling ominously.
As the sound effects begin to get louder we are herded out of the boats and through a door that takes us to the Dispatches Room where our adventure really begins.
This is the first of many rooms we get taken too and explore and it is amazing.
It is strewn with artefacts, objects, maps, papers, and Bertha, an enormous machine in the centre with lots of buttons to press, flashing lights and noises.
We are charged with finding the telescope in amongst all the other objects but we are given clues to do so.
Once found it goes into Bertha and we are taken to the next room. And so it goes on until all four objects are safely returned to the museum’s stores.
It is fascinating not least because of the impressive sets – something at which Punchdrunk excels. The attention to detail is incredible with each room stuffed to the gunnels with props a plenty. We were also taken down a rabbit warren of endless corridors and through the multitude of rooms including one full of maps and globes with a giant compass which we had to use to find the artefact, past the swashbuckling parrot room, evident from the coloured feathers spilling out from underneath the door, and even one which seemed to be made up entirely of sails hanging from the ceiling which we had to navigate our way through - with no real idea of where we were going.
It was dark at times, some rooms smelled, there were loud noises, crashes and bangs, ghostly drumming, it was disorientating and disconcerting and for some of the younger members of the audience, my six year old included, sometimes a bit frightening.
Indeed towards the end when we had but 90 seconds to get out before the museum locked us in, was tense for all of us! Would we get out alive? My six year old had his doubts.
But it was undeniably exciting and a huge amount of fun. Not only that we really felt as though we were on an important mission and thanks to the interactive nature of it we all felt included – indeed even the adults got a bit competitive wanting to be the one to find the rooms’ hidden treasures!
It was brilliantly put together, had a lovely story to it and was a proper adventure that not only entertained but allowed us to use our imaginations and our brains to look for clues so we could find the objects and get out in one piece.
As we had been commanded to be right at the beginning by Glan, we were brave, we were loyal and we were true - and we’d do it all again in a trice!

Against Captain’s Orders is on at the National Maritime Museum, off King William Walk, Greenwich until August 31. Tickets cost £19.75. Visit www.rmg.co.uk/ for full listings.

Wind In The Willows

AFTER a hugely successful run of Goldilocks And The Three Endings last year, theatre company Sixteenfeet Productions is set to return to South London this summer with its unique brand of open-air theatre.
The Walled Garden in Brockwell Park is to become the stage for Wind In The Willows, an evergreen classic by Kenneth Grahame adapted by Brixton-based writer Andy Walsh with original music by Guy Holden.
The production will run at Brockwell Park from Saturday until August 2 before heading off to the Rose Garden at Morden Hall Park between August 7 and 10 and then finally to Streatham Rookery between August 13 and 16.
The Lambeth-based theatre company has been bringing its summer promenade productions to venues in South London for the past five years. As in previous years this performance features original music, which is played live by the six-strong cast of actor-musicians.
For Andy it was a chance to bring this quintessentially English tale to life for modern audiences.
"It's a beautiful story and one I grew up with as a child and loved so I was really keen to adapt it for this year's show," he says.
"It's got everything you need in a story - adventure, loyalty, great characters and is full of sentiment. It is also a story that really lends itself to an outdoor production so it totally fitted the bill.
"It's been a joy to do and we've had a lot of fun getting it ready for production."
As in the original story, the audience will get to meet the impulsive Toad, the good-natured Mole, the wise Ratty and the reclusive Badger and follow them and their adventures around the garden.
However, adapting their story presented a few minor challenges for Andy and the team.
"Some of the language, dialogue and the references in the original are of their time so I've adapted it a bit and given it a bit of a contemporary feel with a few tweaks here and there," says Andy.
"However, I wanted to stay as true to the story as I could so those who have grown up with it like I did will recognise it.
"Also the book is set in different locations and over many months but this play had to be distilled into a performance lasting an hour.
"Not only that, this is a promenade production so each scene is set in a different part of the garden and the audience follows the characters around.
"It's very much theatre without barriers which is great and the audience will be within touching distance of the characters. They will see them zipping about and through the audience so it will be really exciting and a lot of fun.
"The outdoor spaces we are performing in are some of the most beautiful places and really lend themselves to these kind of performances," he adds.
"What's great is that for those who may not have been to the theatre before or who are a bit intimidated by it, it's a great introduction.
"It's also a lovely family production so all ages can enjoy it and will get different things out of it and it's the right length to bring kids along to.
"It's a lovely atmosphere too and each year people bring picnics to have either before or after the show."
Of course the main challenge will be the weather but Andy says they will be able to deal with the the vagaries of the English weather.
"We are all doing sun dances in a bid to make sure this glorious weather will continue!" he laughs.

Wind In The Willows is on at Brockwell Park from Saturday, July 25 until Sunday, August 2, the Rose Garden at Morden Hall Park between Friday, August 7 and Monday, August 10 and Streatham Rookery between Thursday, August 13 and Sunday, August 16. Call 07958 448690 or visit www.sixteenfeet.co.uk to book tickets or for full listings.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

PREVIEW - The King Of Tiny Things

IT was reading a bedtime story to her young son that provided Poppy Burton Morgan with the inspiration for her latest show.
The King Of Tiny Things is based on the children’s book of the same name by Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward.
It is being staged by Poppy’s theatre company, Metta Theatre, at the Udderbelly Festival from Saturday ahead of a five month nationwide tour which includes a date at Greenwich Theatre in October.
It is also the third production as part of the company’s Metta10 – the staging of 10 shows in one year to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the company which Poppy set up with her husband William Reynolds in 2005.
The King Of Tiny Things combines music, circus and puppetry to tell the story which is that of two young sisters who huddle together one magical midsummer’s night as they camp in the garden.
To begin with they are frightened about what the darkness holds but then suddenly a mysterious winged creature appears and leads them on a moonlit adventure.
Together they rescue juggling slugs, contortionist worms and caterpillars, a collection of daddy long legs and a trio of acrobatic baby bats. But while they are busy doing all this, they overlook their new friend, the fairy King who really needs their help.
For Poppy, this enchanting story was a chance for her to showcase Metta’s skills in combining a host of ways to tell the story.
“I was given the book by a friend for my three-year-old and every night I read it to him,” she says.
“It is a beautiful and emotionally rich story which completely engaged my son night after night.
“It has so many layers to it and the more we read it, the more I began to wonder if I could turn it into a family show and I started to think of all the different circus disciplines I could incorporate into it to bring it to life.
“I got in touch with Jeanne Willis and she seemed really keen on the idea so we started to create it.”
The piece now includes eight original songs which have been composed by Jon Nicholls and features four circus artists who not only do acrobatics and show off other circus skills but they also sing songs and operate the puppets at the same time.
Each creature is represented by a different circus discipline, for example the daddy long legs is a stilt walker and the bats do acrobatic tricks.
“Music and singing is a big part of the show but so is the circus and puppetry so it was a challenge to find artists who could sing and hang upside down at the same time,” says Poppy cheerfully.
“However, Metta is known for its cross-art form productions so we are used to these challenges and we have some amazing artists in this show.”
What was more of a challenge was adapting the story for a younger audience but that would appeal to adults as well.
“There is some great theatre out there for young audiences but we wanted to create something that would be enjoyed by everyone no matter how old,” says Poppy.
“This is a story with such great themes and it’s a question of teasing them out so that all age groups can relate to them.”
These include on a very basic level that of someone being afraid of the dark and exploring and overcoming those fears.
However, Poppy is keen to point out that there are also wider issues about gender, disability and equality which she also wanted to be represented on stage.
“In many ways it’s quite a dark story,” she says. “It’s about children being afraid of the dark – something that most children can identify with – but it also looks at how they overcome that fear and begin to help other creatures who they encounter in that darkness.
“There are many layers to the story and a lot of symbolism. It explores growing up and the fears associated with that, as well as what it means to be kind and respectful and to be inclusive and considerate to other people and their feelings.
“One of the other reasons I wanted to do the show was because my three year old had a nervous relationship with insects and mini beasts.
“He was really freaked out by them at one stage so I wanted to create something that would help him overcome that. By turning them into a big circus event I hope we can encourage a whole new generation of insect lovers!
“I hope everyone who comes to see it will go away thinking insects are actually really cool and interesting and realise how important they are for the environment and the world. That’s a really important message.
“It has been such a joy to put the show together - I’ve tried to make it as engaging, visually stimulating and beautiful to watch as possible. It’s a very physical piece with a lot of humour, though of course there are a few moments of drama and I hope we’ve created an atmosphere where children aren’t afraid to interact with what’s going on.”
And she says she’s delighted that the show will get its world premiere at Udderbelly.
“I think it’s a great festival and so supportive of circus acts which audiences are embracing more and more,” she says.
“British circus is having a bit of a moment and companies in this country are making more and more circus-based shows which is great.
“I get really excited about the storytelling possibilities within circus so it’s great to be here doing this show.”

The King Of Tiny Things is on at Udderbelly, South Bank between July 11 and 13. Visit www.udderbelly.co.uk for listings and tickets.

INTERVIEW - Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden

BEHIND every actor there is a good director, behind every singer a good songwriter and behind most British comedians, there is the legend that is Barry Cryer OBE.
The veteran comedian, performer, broadcaster, raconteur, writer and human jokebox is the man behind a multitude of names, having written for the best in the entertainment business.
And in a showbiz career spanning more than 50 years the roll call of people he’s worked with is impressive to say the least – The Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise, Rory Bremner, Bob Hope, Kenney Everett, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Mike Yarwood, Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd, Spike Milligan, Willie Rushton and Tommy Cooper..... the list goes on.
Not only that he has become a firm fixture on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, has written several books and has even had a number one song in Finland.
And despite being in his 81st year is definitely not about to go and collect his pension. Far from it. Retirement doesn’t seem to be a word that is in his vocabulary. Indeed he is currently working on a two-hander with his long time friend Ronnie Golden.
The pair are gearing up for their debut appearance at the Balham Comedy Festival on Wednesday, July 15.
“We are looking forward to going to Balham as we’ve not done it before,” he tells me.
“There’s going to be lots of singing – it’s a very song-based show but there will be lots of gags and all sorts of silly stuff, a mix of observational humour and anecdotes.
“We have written all the songs ourselves. They are a bit rock n roll, gospel and bluesy and will cover a multitude of topics.
“I’ve worked with Ronnie for a long time and he’s superb. He plays every guitar known to man - he's brilliant.”
So what sort of subjects will be covered I ask.
“There are no rules,” jokes Ronnie. “We don’t poke fun but will do stuff on anything.
“There is a song featuring a Stannah stairlift that’s a good one. It’s about getting older and is based on a 1960s surf rock song like the early Beach Boys.
“It’s about a woman who’s in the chair but it short circuits half way up the stairs and it kills her. So some of it is quite dark.
“There might also be stuff about zimmer frames, mobile phones and even John Prescott.
“There’s no dancing though – Barry’s too old so there will definitely be no body popping,” he adds chuckling.
The pair have been working together for about 13 years after Barry contacted Ronnie to see if he might collaborate on some music.
“I was making an album with my band Ronnie And The Rex and had written a song with the idea of doing it as a duet,” says Ronnie.
“Barry’s daughter had sung with us before a few times but I didn’t know she was his daughter.
“Anyway he had obviously heard my music, asked me if I was interested in working with him and it went from there. I love working with him.”
It seems collaboration is the theme for Barry’s professional life, that and what he modestly describes as “being dogged by good luck”.
“I went to Leeds University and failed,” he says. “I had a half baked idea about being a journalist but blew my chance of a degree by chasing girls and being in the bar too much and as a result my first year results were awful.”
Fortunately he was spotted telling jokes and performing sketches in a university revue and was asked to perform at Leeds City Varieties.
Any thought of finishing his degree were ditched. He dropped out and eventually he packed his bags and set off to London to find fame and fortune.
“It makes you think about luck and about being in the right place at the right time,” he says.
“I failed academically but I fell into showbiz by accident – I have never had a plan and I don’t really consider I’ve had a career, just a series of incidents.”
These incidents have included writing Danny La Rue’s nightclub show and inviting Ronnie Corbett to a club one night for a drink where they met David Frost which led to working on the Frost Report and meeting Ronnie Barker.
“In those days they didn’t call it stand up,” he says. “It was always a turn or an act. I’d become friends with Anna Quayle and had written a couple of things for a revue she was in. Danny La Rue asked who’d written it and as a result he asked me to write for his nightclub show. You couldn’t plan it. It was just luck.”
This in turn led to Barry, or Uncle Baz as he tells me he's called, meeting and working with a whole host of other famous names.
And as you would expect he has a lifetime of anecdotes about all of them and as he regales them to me other famous names shamelessly get dropped into the conversation - something that is of course entirely forgiveable because it's done with warmth and humour and is utterly entertaining and fascinating.
“I’ve spent my life writing with other people and I’ve loved it,” he says warmly.
“To begin with I was writing mainly in the amazing era of Frankie Howerd, Morecombe and Wise and Kenny Everett. It was the golden age.
“Kenny was amazing and very funny. Some people have got funny bones but the great ones have something else as well and you don’t quite know what it is. It's something indescribable – that’s what Kenny had.
"That’s what Les Dawson had and Tommy Cooper. Tommy could do the most awful jokes but the audience would still laugh.
“It was an amazing time but there’s talent in every generation,” he adds. “Ross Noble is a little imp. He riffs off the audience and is brilliant. Bill Bailey is superb and Josh Widdicombe is another one who’s great.”
So across the years, has he had any favourites I ask?
“Well the obvious ones of course, Eric and Ernie who were the best double act at the time,” he says. “They’d known each other since boys and the bond between them was amazing.
“The speed of Eric’s brain was incredible. He was so quick. Lee Mack is like that – it’s the speed and when you work with him it’s hard to get a word in. He reminds me of Eric.”
Another person he thinks is “brilliant” is Ronnie G, who has had his own very successful career.
He started out as a musician opening shows for the likes of Tom Jones before working with David Bowie and then forming his band the Fabulous Poodles. Their album Mirror Stars outsold both The Clash and The Jam in the early 80s.
“Music was always a passion right from when I was a kid,” he says. “I liked playing in bands but when the Poodles finished I thought what can I do? I’d always mixed a bit of humour into my work even with the Poodles. I did a spot at a place called the Boulevard Theatre as part of the Comic Strip and suddenly I had a different career.”
Since then he’s done voice-overs, most notably on Spitting Image, won awards for radio jingles and was Oscar nominated for the score to the 2008 film Dark Streets.
“It wasn’t a terribly well received film but the sound track was really good,” he says. “It had singers such as Chaka Khan, Dr John and Etta James – it was fantastic and a real trip. It was music I grew up with and to have these people do your songs was really something.
“So my career is quite a broad church!
“And now I'm finally going to do Balham," he adds warmly. "It's a festival I've wanted to do for a while so when John Moloney called and asked we said yes.
“We are really pleased to be there as it's a great festival and it attracts some great names."
And they are both hoping to catch some of these “incredibly talented” individuals when they do their Balham gig as well as introduce more people to their brand of comedy.
"We get all sorts coming to our gigs – students, families, and that’s the marvellous part of my life," says Barry.
“I’ve had a knack of being in the right place at the right time throughout my life.
“But I think if you get a lucky break and the door opens you have to prove you’re worth it,” he adds.
“I work hard to get the job done but I’m not a workaholic - I'm a people-aholic. I go to the pub with my mates as they help me keep my feet on the ground. I want to be with other people as it gives me a good balance in my life.
“My darling wife says never look ahead so I’ve never had a plan, I just go with the flow.”

Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden will be at the Balham Comedy Festival on Wednesday, July 15. Tickets cost £16. Visit www.balhamcomedyfestival.com for full listings and to buy tickets.

REVIEW - An Oak Tree

Three stars

WHEN it was established a couple of years ago, the National’s Temporary Theatre promised a programme of experimental theatre.
And Tim Crouch’s play An Oak Tree is exactly that.
Crouch plays a sleazy and somewhat creepy hypnotist who is doing his second rate show in a pub where we the audience are his audience.
However, his ability to do his shows has been dented after he knocked down and killed a 12-year-old girl.
His hold on his show further diminishes when one night the girl’s father, Andy, riddled with grief and despair and believing an oak tree which is by the side of the road where the accident happened, represents his daughter, comes to see it in a bid to get closure.
Andy – who to begin with is sitting in amongst the audience – volunteers to be hypnotised and takes his place on one of a line of chairs facing the audience. The rest of the volunteers are imaginary.
At each show Andy is played by a different actor from the current National Theatre company. The night I saw it he was played by Kate Duchene.
To add to the experimentation, none of the actors who play the role have seen the script before they step onto the stage. They only meet Crouch about an hour before the show starts to get a few basic bits of info about the play but that’s about it.
It makes for a rather disjointed piece. Some of the lines are read aloud by both Crouch and the other actor from a script on clipboards but some are spoken just by Crouch and some he relays to the actor through headphones.
Throughout the piece he also gives stage directions, sometimes pausing the action to do so and sometimes while lines are being said.
For Duchene it was clearly an emotional experience, as she was wiping away tears at some points during proceedings.
It is essentially a play about grief, loss and suggestion and it was unsettling at times. There were moments of drama and of humour during the 70 minutes, but while it was undoubtedly an interesting piece, for me it didn’t quite work.

An Oak Tree is on at the Temporary Theatre, National Theatre, until Wednesday, July 15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

INTERVIEW - Piff the Magic Dragon

THE London Wonderground has showcased the talents of many a sensational act. From burlesque to acrobatic artistry, music to magic the glorious spiegeltent has seen its fair share of outrageous and incredible talent.
But now it’s about to host the hilarious and magical antics of a green dragon and his pet Chihuahua.
Yes, the genius that is Piff the Magic Dragon is back and aided by his cute and glamorous, long-standing, long suffering sidekick Mr Piffles.
They are hosting their show Breakfast at Piffany’s at the spiegeltent as part of the London Wonderground season for two nights next week.
The infamous pair fled South London 18 months ago and set up camp Stateside after being spotted by a fancy Las Vegas producer who asked them to relocate to Sin City and do a show at The Cosmopolitan hotel.
Up until that point Piff and Mr Piffles had built up a loyal following of fans and the pair had toured all over the world, appearing at famous venues such as New York’s Radio City Music Hall, London’s O2 and Shakespeare’s Globe, not to mention Sydney Opera House, Soho Theatre and the Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals.
But although they were riding the crest of a wave, by his own admission Piff says that the bright lights of Vegas won him over and when the offer came neither he nor Mr Piffles could say no.
“It’s going great out here and we have been having a very nice time,” he tells me. “I got offered to do the show and so we decided to come out. Mr Piffles has been getting shot out of a canon every night since then. He loves it.
“I applied for and got my green card so we decided to stay for a bit. I think Mr Piffles prefers it to home. It’s a bit warmer for a start.”
But now after nearly two years of lounging by the pool and soaking up the 110 degree heat, Piff says he has missed things like the rain, nature, grass and Jaffa Cakes and is about to pack his bags, tuck Mr Piffles under his arm and head back to South London.
Breakfast At Piffany’s, the show they are bringing to London, is a variation on one that has been very successful for them in Vegas.
With guaranteed thrills, spills, mischief and mayhem, it is part magic show, part game show and part comedy show. It sees Piff split the audience into teams to fight for points and prizes, whilst experiencing and enjoying some incredible magic tricks, surprise special guests and “epic thumb wars”.
“It’s totally different every night because it all depends on what the audience chooses from the menu,” he chuckles.
“The menu is my Wheel Of Magic which the audience spins and whatever the arrow points to when it stops will determine what happens.
“I divide everyone into teams and they compete against each other for prizes. It’s a lot of fun of course.
“At the end of each show we auction off a croissant for charity. We did it in Vegas and raised more than $15,000 over the course of 18 months. One night Hollywood star Brad Garrett bought it for $1,000. It got a bit crazy.
“I’m not expecting so much in London though – to be honest I’d settle for raising £15 over the two nights. And we might have to have a bacon sandwich rather than a croissant.”
As well as the food Piff says there will be a “very special guest star” involved in the show but is reluctant to divulge too many details.
“She is someone who has performed all over the world and does some crazy stuff in Las Vegas,” is all he’ll say.
“So that’s pretty exciting to have her in the show. I will also be assisted by Sophie Sunshine – she’s human but we do have Darren Gold who is the first mind reading goldfish. However he’s only going to do his spot if the audience choose him – so they need to choose wisely.”
And he says that Mr Piffles may well get shot out of a canon again.
“He loves it,” Piff assures me. “We might do the canon at some point – we may even open the show with it - it all depends on the audience. As well as some of the old favourites there will be some new tricks too.”
Piff acquired his act almost by accident. He had been a magician for 10 years and was and still is a member of the magic circle, but he wasn’t enjoying the work.
“I had always wanted to be a magician but ended up doing a lot of corporate events which wasn’t very showbiz,” he says. “It was more like I was in the catering industry and I decided I would have to change direction.
“I went to a fancy dress party dressed as a green dragon but unfortunately no one else bothered to dress up. A friend suggested I should wear the outfit as my act and Piff the Magic Dragon was born.”
However, it was during a gig at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that Piff realised he needed a gimmick.
“I saw an advert on Gumtree for a Chihuahua and I went to rescue him from where he was living in Dundee,” says Piff.
“He was all malnourished and mistreated and it looked as though the family had been kicking him, so I rehabilitated him, worked on some great material with him and gave him a new life in showbiz.”
The pair have been inseparable ever since and have travelled the world together honing their skills to rapt audiences.
“Mr Piffles is an integral part of the act now and he’s grateful of course,” adds Piff. “To be honest most come for the dog. I’m OK about it though.
“He gets to sleep for 23 hours in a day so he’s having the best time. He’s got lots of friends in the UK and will be glad to see people and spend some time back in London but to be honest I think he prefers Vegas to home.
“He sunbathes all the time, gets to walk to work and really doesn’t know how lucky he is.”
Despite living the high life out in the desert, Piff says he at least is looking forward to coming home for a few weeks.
“We are doing the London Wonderground which I’m really excited about before going up to the Edinburgh Fringe for a couple of weeks,” he says.
“We do have a very good life out here in America. I love performing and I have been able to tour the UK, Australia and America, something I have always dreamed of doing.
“However, I am sure we will come back home at some point. My parents still live in Honor Oak Park and I miss London – I miss the grass and nature – Vegas is a desert so we don’t have much of the green stuff. And Jaffa Cakes. I really miss those.”

Breakfast At Piffany's will be at the London Wonderground on July 13 and 14. Tickets £16. Visit www.londonwonderground.co.uk/ for listings and to buy tickets.

REVIEW - Shrek's Adventure!


THE popular film Shrek has delighted audiences across the world and spawned several sequels. It is now an imersive storytelling attraction too thanks to the new Shrek's Adventure that has sprung up on the South Bank.
And for someone who is a bit cynical about such attractions, it is quite something - and I mean that in a positive way.
The attraction, which has just opened, plunges visitors into the Kingdom Of Far Far Away where they meet Shrek, Donkey and all the other characters from the films and it is all brought vividly to life.
It combines live action, a really brilliant 4D bus ride to get to the Kingdom as well as plenty of fantastic special effects and lots of interaction for kids and their adult companions.
Everyone who goes on the tour is invited to play their part in the adventure as a story unfolds before them with lots of twists and turns along the way.
It starts with a ride in a bus - which is absolutely great. Piloted by Donkey, we flew through the air, circled over London, dodged witches on broomsticks, saw flying pandas and plenty of other creatures before we inadvertently crashed in the forest.
From there we had to make our way through the trees to find Shrek. Along the way we went through a series of rooms with their own adventures - the best being the room of mirrors which was truly stunning - it was designed as a maze and everywhere we went we were confronted with mirrors and no idea which way to go. It was a bit scary but lots of fun and really imaginative.
Elsewhere there were crystal balls, a swampy toilet, the Muffin Man's House, Princess Fiona, Pinocchio, bubbling cauldrons, magic spells and wizardry plus lots of jokes, laughter and mystery and intrigue as we went through the 90 minute adventure.
It was brilliantly put together, incredibly atmospheric and really brought the story to life.
And after the adventure there is a chance to meet some of the characters from other films such as Kung Fu Panda, the Penguins of Madagascar and the dragon from the film How To Train Your Dragon in what is known as the Arrivals Hall.
It was enchanting, fun, engaging and my kids, aged six and 10 absolutely loved it.

Shrek’s Adventure! London is at County Hall on the South Bank next to the London Aquarium and the London Dungeon. Tickets cost from £18.72. Visit www.shreksadventure.com for full listings, times and prices.