Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review - Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare's Globe

THREE STARS

The rags to riches story of Nell Gwynn is a fascinating one and one that is currently being played out at the Globe.
From prostitute to selling oranges at the theatre to finally stepping out onto the boards themselves and becoming the King’s mistress in the process, Nell was a pioneer for getting women on to the stage.
Her colourful story has been written by Jessica Swale for the Bankside theatre and a riotous romp it is too with laughs a plenty.
In it, Nell, played to the max by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, grows from a mouthy hawker to a statuesque and sophisticated mistress to King Charles II.
We see her rise to stardom on the stage thanks to her mentor and actor in the King’s Company Charles Hart whose eye she had caught whilst she was selling oranges.
It was not an easy start for her though not least because of an opposition to women on the stage – as displayed with great stubbornness by Greg Haiste’s hilarious portrayal of Edward Kynaston who having made a career out of playing a woman on stage realised the threat she posed. His stomping around the stage in indignation was one of the highlights of the piece.
As well as Mbatha-Raw and Haiste there are some other lovely performances, including from Amanda Lawrence as Nell’s old dresser Nancy who manages to steal several scenes, one in particular which brought the house down.
There are also a few digs at the establishment too – David Sturzaker’s Charles II gets a rousing cheer when he declares “Playhouses are a valuable national asset” as does David Rintoul’s Lord Arlington when he declares “down with austerity!”.
However, while it may be a crowd pleaser in many ways, for me it did over step the mark on more than a few occasions with often crass and coarse humour. At some points it bordered on panto.
That said there is much to recommend it and it is a rousing end to this current summer Globe season. Catch it while you can.


Nell Gwynn is on at the Globe, Bankside until October 17. Tickets cost from £5. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.


Monday, 28 September 2015

INTERVIEW with Steven Berkoff

WHAT would you have done had you been living in Baghdad in 2003 and opened the front door to find Saddam Hussein had invited himself round for supper?
That is the premis for satirical new play Dinner With Saddam by Anthony Horowitz which has just opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
It stars writer, actor and director Steven Berkoff who makes his Menier debut as the late dictator.
It’s a meaty role for Steven and one he’s relishing although he admits it’s a bit of a tough gig.
“I am enjoying it but it's a large role and exhausting with a large complicated text,” he tells me. “But audiences have been very responsive.
"I'm also pleased to be here at the Menier. It's a nice fringe theatre with a pleasant atmosphere and a great bar.
"It does exciting and intelligent work - it's not at all poncey - and it's run by a good producer which is key, so it's a pleasure to be here and in such a great production."
Indeed he speaks very warmly of the play which he describes as both funny and clever and which he hopes that people who come to see it will be "enlightened and surprised" by what comes out of it.
"It's based on Saddam's life and the last month in Iraq before the bombing by the Americans," he says.
"Something Saddam did which was most unusual was to go around the city with his bodyguards and stop in any particular house and either have supper there or sometimes stay the night as well.
"It was a clever ploy because it was not only a way he could meet the people but also he could avoid detection by the Americans.
"The play is about one of those evenings. He arrives at the house of a normal family who are terrified but excited about his arrival.
"We see all their grievances and petty passions and we see the effect his visit has on them and on him.
"It's got so much humour and I'm enjoying being part of it very much."
It is the first time in a while that Steven has been seen on stage but he says it was the quality of the writing that excited and attracted him as well as the challenge of playing such a character.
And it’s not the first time he’s played a somewhat villainous character – fans will remember him as Lieutenant Colonel Podovsky in Rambo: First Blood Part II, General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy, Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop and Adolf Hitler in the TV mini-series War and Remembrance.
“It’s the roles that come up,” he says simply. “Casting directors see you as having a certain style. They say ‘oh he plays tyrannous characters' and they have this idea that this is what you do. It's just how it's been but I can play anything.
"However, this is the first new play I have done in many years as I tend to write my own plays," he adds.
"The standard of play writing these days for me is not very interesting but this was amazing. Other plays that have come along recently have not been interesting enough for me in terms of breadth and scope.
"This was well written and had incredible speeches with a passion, dynamic and fury which is so unusual. That's what appealed to me."
And he says that the level of detail that Anthony Horowitz went into with the background to what went on before the Gulf War has given him a new perspective on Saddam.
"He was a fascinating character," he says. "Although I knew a bit about him from what I'd learnt from the media, reading the play has been a lesson and very interesting.
"Anthony has done so much research and has written the play skilfully to show both sides so of course I do feel differently about Saddam.
"In the play it tells of how America supported him in the war with Iran and supplied him with cluster bombs and germ warfare like bubonic plague - truly horrible things.
"He was also a psychotic dictator, an exuberant, bombastic and arrogant man, but there was an element in him which not many people know about and that is that he did some good things for the Iraqi people.
"For example he was very keen on women getting an education.
"In many countries women are kept in the background but Saddam insisted they go to university. He was also brave and a great reformer and wanted to help people and ensure everyone had some degree of their own civil rights which is fascinating."
So what would Steven do if Saddam had ever come round to his place for supper I wonder.
“We would not have been in England, we would have been in Baghdad but yes, I would have invited him in," he says.
"My partner Clara would have made him a lovely meal and we would have chatted of course.
“I think it would have made for a very interesting evening.”


Dinner With Saddam is on a the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until November 14. Tickets from £35. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

REVIEW - Future Conditional, Old Vic

FIVE STARS

AS the parent of a Year 6 child who is currently in the midst of the circus that is choosing a secondary school, Future Conditional is very timely.
The play, on at the Old Vic, is the first under the new regime of artistic director Matthew Warchus, and it’s a cracker. Written by Tamsin Oglesby it features four separate stories which interweave with each other.
The first is that of Alia who comes to the UK from Pakistan. She has lost her father, her mother is blind and yet despite her hardship, she is a bright child with a positive outlook and a love of school and the English language in particular. We first see her at an interview at Oxford University completely and joyfully wrong-footing the male tutor.
Then we meet the mandarins at the ministry who are trying to shape government policy on education. Three of the six have public school and Oxbridge education, the other three have come the comprehensive route resulting in plenty of heated discussions.
Then there are the group of mums with Year 6 children trying to navigate their way through an increasingly complex and fraught situation which gives them no choice about which schools their darlings end up in.
Should they try and cheat the system, lie about where they live or tutor their charges to get them into the "best" or "right" school?
And finally we meet Mr Crane, the inspiring teacher every child should have and his mission to educate, stimulate and inspire his charges, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
It is the most amazing piece of writing, intelligent, riotously funny, poignant and full of emotion. And it will strike a chord with anyone who is wading through the treacle of secondary school admissions processes.
Fraught with anxiety it pushes everyone involved and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wiped away a few tears at the end.
Set in the round, it was stunningly staged with a stellar cast led by Rob Brydon as Mr Crane and Nikki Patel, who makes her professional stage debut as Alia.

Future Conditional is on at the Old Vic. Visit www.oldvictheatre.com or call the box office on 0844 871 7628.



Thursday, 24 September 2015

REVIEW - Our Country's Good, National Theatre

FOUR STARS

IN 1788, after many months at sea the first ship crammed with English convicts arrived in Botany Bay, Australia.
Those who survived the perilous journey arrived to find an alien land and a discipline meted out by the officers who kept them to be as harsh as the beating summer sun.
How their lives unfold is imagined in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good, a new production of which is now on at the National Theatre.
It explores the themes of crime and punishment and how best to treat prisoners and those perceived as being at the bottom of society under control – by kindness or fear.
The officers, just as much prisoners in this vast country as their charges, advocate public hangings and beatings as the best way to keep the criminals in line.
But one officer, the ambitious second lieutenant Ralph Clark proposes to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – as a way of showing the power of drama to improve the convict’s minds, behaviour and ultimately their lives.
To begin with he is ridiculed by fellow officers and has trouble convincing them of the redemptive power of art and culture. He also finds it difficult to control the rag tag group of convicts who audition and then come along to rehearsals.
But over time they gel as a group and a transformation takes place, not just amongst the convicts but for Ralph too.
Throughout though, the increasingly depleting food supplies and the threat of hanging, flogging or beating is ever present – even for the smallest of crimes – as are the frequent clashes between Ralph and his senior officers over whether the play will provide the civilising effect on the prisoners he promises.
Among the stand out performances are Jodie McNee as thief Liz Morden, Lee Ross as the wannabe Garrick actor Sideway, Caoilfhionn Dunne as Mary Brenham with whom Ralph eventually finds himself falling in love and Jason Hughes as the idealistic Ralph.
Superbly directed by Nadia Fall and featuring a stellar cast this production is a deeply moving and poignant piece, made more so by some wonderful music by former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews.

Our Country’s Good is on at the National Theatre, South Bank, until October 17. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.


London Literature Festival, Southbank Centre

AN unabridged recital of the classic novel Moby Dick is one of the highlights of this year's London Literature Festival.
The reading, which is completely free for audiences, will take place over four days between Thursday October 1 and Sunday, October 4 at the Southbank Centre.
Herman Melville's epic book about Captain Ahab's quest for revenge on the white whale Moby Dick, will be performed in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall by writers, actors, comedians and his great-great-great-granddaughter.
It also includes musical accompaniment from a choir and newly commissioned work from illustrators, artists and musicians.
For curator Ted Hodgkinson, it is one of the most exciting parts of the Southbank Centre's 15-day festival, now in its ninth year.
"Moby Dick is one of the great classics in literature," he says. "It is a totally extraordinary book, a real masterpiece and we had so many people who came to us and said they wanted to read it.
"We've got 160 reading it over the four days so it's very exciting. It’s the kind of thing Southbank Centre does so well - a large scale public event that celebrates great art. For it to be free is a gift!
"What's great is that it can be enjoyed as both an adventure story but also one that has a lot to say about the current moment we are in with all that's going on in the Mediterranean.
"It will give so much to anyone who comes to hear it - whether you've read it before or not.
"For those who have read it, coming back to a book like this, they will find something new - that's the mark of great literature.
"And also to hear a story read aloud is amazing but also very different to reading it oneself. People will certainly get different things out of it."
As well as Moby Dick, the 15-day festival, entitled Tell Me Something I Don't Know, features a fantastic line up of 60 events, many of them free, alongside a celebration of the experimentalists of the literature world with discussions on literature, science, digital culture and gaming, literary cocktail hours, edge-of-your-seat read-offs and comedy.
It features leading authors, poets, artists, musicians and thinkers in a varied programme of talks, readings, poetry, films, comedy, music and free events which Ted says will include something for everyone.
For Ted it has been a labour of love putting the whole festival together and he is excited to be bringing it to audiences when it opens on Monday, September 28.
"My litmus test when planning the programme was asking myself if I would go to any of the events we put on," he says.
"For me it's all a massive highlight and has been incredibly exciting to bring all these elements together.
"Southbank Centre audiences always expect something unexpected, they want to be challenged and grapple with something new and different and with this festival line up I think we achieve this."
To illustrate his point he cites the Literature, Gaming and Digital Culture section of the festival which will explore these different worlds and how they relate to language each other.
"Gaming has had a bad reputation in a way as people tend to think of games such as Grand Theft Auto and themes of violence," he says.
"But actually it's an increasingly sophisticated world and the games are quite novelistic in their depth.
"Young people may not have read a book but will have played a game and in some cases its basis is narrative. As technology improves that narrative grows and diversifies so it's incredibly interesting.
"We wanted to create a space for debate and have included panel discussions on how games designers draw on literature to create immersive worlds and compelling characters. I think it will be fascinating."
As well as gaming there are also events for young people and families, something Ted says is a very important element of the festival.
"We want to reach out to young audiences as that's at the heart of what the Southbank Centre does and we wanted it to be a welcoming thread running through the festival," he says.
"We all grew up with stories and poems so we keep that in mind in our programming."
Included in the line up is the Young Adult Literature Weekender, featuring talks, workshops and performances programmed by young writers and readers aged between 13 and 25.
There is also National Poetry Day Live and for those under 10, Curious Cats, a day of cat-inspired poetry readings and workshops celebrating TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats.
Elsewhere comedian Terry Gilliam will discuss his life and career following the launch of his latest memoir, there will be an evening of poetry readings and new songs performed by Mercury Prize winner PJ Harvey and images and a short film presented by Seamus Murphy, and pop legend Sir Tom Jones will be in conversation to launch his first ever autobiography, Over The Top And Back.
Accompanying the discussion, which takes place on October 11, will be a special performance of songs including a number of tracks from the accompanying soundtrack album to the book, Long Lost Suitcase.
"Sir Tom obviously needs no introduction but the funny thing is that although he's as famous as can be and an extraordinary talent, he's never written about his life," says Ted.
"So this is a real opportunity to hear the voice behind the voice and I think it will be a fun event."
There will also be a section on Literature and Science exploring the relationship between the two with an appearance by theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli who discusses how scientists have borrowed from poets to explain their discoveries.
"Language is an integral part of explaining science and we wanted to embrace that," says Ted.
"I really hope that people will come along and be inspired," he adds.
"There are very few art forms that truly put you in another person's shoes and this is what literature does. It does it with great power and in a way that can change lives.
"Although the way we are reading is changing, with e-books and on computers, I do still think that books have an important place.
"They are a companion, you can take them with you and they have a life which is hard to replace.
"But however people read, they want something that is really going to immerse them into a subject or another world and I think novels are as popular as ever, and peoples' appetite for stories remains and that is something to be celebrated."

Southbank Centre's London Literature Festival is on across the site from Monday, September 28 until Monday, October 12. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk/londonlitfest for full listings.




REVIEW - Pomona, National Theatre

A GIRL has gone missing, dodgy things are going on in the middle of wasteland in Manchester and lives are spiralling out of control. Welcome to Pomona.
Pomona is a dark hole, somewhere where reality and the imagination collide and where you are never quite sure what is going on or whether it’s real or the most awful nightmare.
It is the subject of a play by Alistair McDowall which was performed at Richmond’s Orange Tree theatre a year ago and has now transferred to the National’s Temporary Theatre.
It is spooky, brutal, gripping, sinister, surreal and compelling and takes no prisoners.
It starts with Zeppo, a Manchester property owner, who is describing a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Ollie, a young woman whose twin sister is missing.
He tells her that she could be in Pomona, a deserted island in the middle of Manchester where people are taken - and very much gives the impression they don’t come out alive – warning her not go looking.
She ignores him and then via a series of flashbacks we see her journey to Pomona plus those of a brothel madam, two security guards, and a prostitute who is trying to flee an abusive husband.
In the middle of it all is Keaton, a young girl who is somewhat odd and with a penchant for HP Lovecraft’s monsters who meets up with security guard Charlie for regular games of Dungeons and Dragons.
Things start to go wrong almost immediately and it’s pretty horrible. Not only that it’s never made clear whether what we are seeing is the subject of someone’s over active imagination or whether it’s all real.
By the time it ended it was almost a relief as it was exhausting trying to keep up. But it is a clever story, fast, gripping and rather scary.
The acting is top notch and the staging in the round at the Temporary Theatre makes it incredibly immersive.



Pomona is on at the Temporary Theatre, National Theatre, until Saturday October 10. Tickets cost from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Bussey Building, Peckham



HOT on the heels of the Labour Party's election of the left wing MP Jeremy Corbyn as leader, comes a play which explores socialism and workers' rights.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was originally written as a book by Robert Tressell and published in 1914, three years after his death, but has been adapted for the stage by Stephen Lowe.
And now a production which has been touring the country for about two years, presented as a two hander by actors Jonathan Markwood and Neil Gore is coming to Peckham's Bussey Building between October 5 and 31.
Using instrumentation, songs of the period, movement, physicalisation, comedy and characterisation to create the spirit and clarity of the political message, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists shares with its audience a year in the life of a group of painters and decorators, as they renovate a three-storey town house for Mayor Sweater.
It traces their struggle for survival in a complacent and stagnating Edwardian England and shows what life was like for them.
These workers are the "philanthropists" who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.
For Neil so relevant are its themes and political messages to the political landscape of today that it could easily have been written much more recently.
It’s a socialist classic that is as relevant today as it was when it was written,” he says. “It describes the conditions of the workers at that time and shows quite clearly a society that was very much divided between those who had and had loads, and those who didn’t have anything at all – much like today.
Throughout the piece there is a real sense of poverty and terrible working conditions and that family life was highly pressured, again the parallels with today are there to see – the rich get richer and the poor poorer.
The setting is a house that painters and decorators are doing up all of whom are working in terrible conditions including a boy who is working for nothing as an apprentice. This was wrong 100 years ago and yet it’s still going on – it’s terrible.
So, the message within the piece is very much to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a system that’s kinder to humanity which, given the time it was originally written, was a rare and amazing thing.
Dickens hinted at it in his books and describes terrible poverty but Tressell actually laid out an alternative and made it sound appealing and that’s why the book is so famous.”
But he says despite the poverty and hardship, Neil says there is much humour to be had as well as hope for the future.
Whilst it’s undoubtedly a miserable setting, the characterisation within the book gives it life,” he says.
The banter between the main character Frank Owen and the rest the characters, all of whom we play, is great and often very funny.
What’s great is that Jonathan and I play all the characters, we sing, we dance, we play the instruments so it’s lively and hugely entertaining.
“It’s the relationship with the characters that gives it its strength and a political message that things can be better through a change in the system."
And not only does Neil think the timing of the play’s staging is right with the Labour leadership election and the potential changes to trade union rights, he says he’s excited to be bringing it to the Bussey Building.
"In London the gap between the rich and poor is massive and it seems to be appropriate to bring it to Peckham, an area which is changing massively.
"So we are really pleased we are going to be bringing it to the Bussey Building – it’s such a great space, big, industrial, the perfect place."
The staging of the play now so soon after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is purely coincidental but Neil says he hopes the production will provoke and promote debate, particularly about workers' rights and conditions.
Part of our plan was to get the play on and invite speakers and those who might be interested in taking part in debates about the themes of the book,” he says.
With Corbyn winning so handsomely it’s quite exciting. It’s come at a great time for us.
What I’m pleased about is that there is a sense of debate that is back within the party. Like so many people I left the party years ago as I felt it didn’t represent me or my opinions but it brings back the level of debate and opposition to this government and austerity.
Anyone interested in social history or politics will get a lot out of the play. It’s fascinating and so relevant to what’s happening today, not just in the Labour movement but also in trade union and workers’ rights.
I hope people will be encouraged and inspired to come and see it and then take part in the debates afterwards.
I think it’ll be really exciting.”



The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is on at The CLF Art CafĂ©, Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham between October 5 and 31. Tickets cost £12. Visit www.clfartcafe.org or call the box office on 07812 063 409.  

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

INTERVIEW - Luke Goss

BY his own admission when Luke Goss was growing up in South London he could never have dreamt he would one day be making films with the likes of legendary actors Omar Sharif and Steven Seagal.
But in the 16 years since the former pop star left London for the bright lights of Hollywood, that’s exactly what he's done, forging a successful career as a film actor in the process.
The 46-year-old left these shores a few years after his band Bros broke up in 1992 and hasn’t looked back. And he has no regrets.
Despite being hugely successful as the boy band of their day, selling millions of albums around the world and reaching number two in the UK charts with their catchy tune When Will I Be Famous, Luke, his twin brother Matt and friend Craig Logan split after five years, each going their separate ways.
For Luke it meant pursuing a career in acting – something he admits that took him by surprise.
"I had no idea what I would do after Bros as I didn't have a master plan," he tells me.
"However not long after we finished I was asked to do a play at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch.
I was so nervous and it was really scary but the cast was so supportive of me. When I stepped out on the stage it felt right and I just fell in love with acting.”
Other roles followed including that of Danny Zuko in the West End smash hit musical Grease before he decided to try his luck in America.
In the years that followed he has starred in a number of Hollywood films - from his critically-acclaimed role in Hellboy II: The Golden Army to his most notable role as villain Jared Nomak in Blade II as well as starring in One Night With The King, Tekken and Interview With A Hitman.
Indeed he is a rare breed in that he has managed to hit the big time in an industry and country which many Brits who go over seeking fame and fortune can’t crack.
He puts his success down to hard work and perseverance.
"Some people, when they come out here, give themselves a deadline and a budget - I never did that," he says.
"I just kept going, working hard, and it paid off. It was two years before I made my first film.
"The South London tenacity hasn't left me and I'm proud of that."
Now upwards of 50 movies later he has just released his latest film AWOL-72.
In it he plays Conrad an AWOL marine, a wanted man in possession of secret government information, pursued by Russian special ops, the LAPD, and a dangerous assassin.
"It’s about a guy in the CIA who has been in the business for a long time," he says. "His wife is pregnant and he wants a different life. However he realises he can't leave the profession without breaking the rules so he has decisions to make.
"He's quite a thoughtful person and introspective, a bit of an anti hero and someone I like to play.
"It was a lot of fun to make so I hope audiences like it."
It turns out that this isn't the only film he's working on and it becomes clear during our chat that he likes to keep busy.
"There is always a lot going on," he laughs. "I'm doing quite a bit of producing at the moment as well as writing, directing and acting.
"I do like action films because it's always so interesting to develop the characters but I've done love stories and sci fi too. I love it all.
"I think it’s important to bring emotion and the heart of the character into it otherwise audiences get turned off.
"I love the process of being that character, digging a little deeper to get to the essence of that person, whether it's bringing out tears, pain or humour – so people can relate to them and with the role of Conrad it's the same."
And he admits he often has to pinch himself when he thinks about all those names he's worked with.
"I was doing a film in India once with Omar Sharif. I had to do a scene where I ride up to my mark and all I could think was 'oh my goodness, it’s Omar fucking Sharif' - I couldn’t think straight!
"I've had loads of moments like that - people like Donald Sutherland, Wesley Snipes and Samuel L Jackson - they've all been incredible people to work with and it's still a thrill.
"It's a long way from Lewisham or beating the crap out of a set of drums," he adds laughing.
Despite making his home in LA he says he’s proud of his roots and speaks fondly of Lewisham where he was born and Camberwell and Peckham where he spent his formative years.
Growing up in South London was fun and was where the band was formed,” he says.
"I remember spending a lot of time in East Street Market, Camberwell Green and going down to the market on a Saturday - there was a real sense of community there.
"I had a great start - it was modest in terms of money but the sense of community was really important.
"It has changed massively since then of course but my memories are a huge part of who I am today."
And while he has fond memories of his time in Bros, sadly for all Bros-ettes there will be no reunion.
"Being in the band was fun but it didn't feed me enough," he says. "I'm not trying to make a point by saying we won't re-form but the truth is I'm happy with my life now and doing what I want to do.
"I was a pop star for five years. It was amazing and I was lucky enough to experience that.
"Some artists are very successful financially and reform to do it for fun, some have families and bills to pay and it’s an opportunity to have little slice of what they loved doing in the first place.
"But for me to go back to it would be for reasons that don't drive me."
Instead he says he wants to continue making films, writing, directing and producing as well as acting in them though he hints at a possible return to the stage one day.
"Film has become my true passion but I'd never say never to a good stage role," he says warmly. "I loved Grease and if there was a limited run of a show in the West End or Broadway that would be something special.
"I'm too old really but I'd love to play Chris in Miss Saigon or perhaps an adaptation of something that’s not been done yet or that hasn't been done for a long time.
"There is a horror movie I made called Inside which would work well as a two-hander. It's very creepy and spooky but would be amazing."
And when I ask what he’s got planned next, he tells me there are three films in the pipeline and ideas buzzing round his brain for future films, scripts, TV shows and other business projects.
"I’ve done 50 films and I think it’s one of those things that the day you lose the joy or wonderment is the day you might as well not do it," he says.
“Until then I won't stop. I’ve been working pretty much non stop for 16 years but I might take a vacation at Christmas. Maybe!”


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

INTERVIEW - Dame Zandra Rhodes



DRAMATIC, glamourous and extrovert. These are the three words that sum up fashion designer Dame Zandra Rhodes. With her bright pink hair, theatrical make up and art jewellery, she has, during a career spanning more than 50 years, firmly stamped her mark on the international world of fashion.
Indeed she was one of the new wave of British designers who put London at the forefront of the international fashion scene in the 1970s and she has been a key player in the industry ever since.
Her unique use of bold prints, fiercely feminine patterns and theatrical use of colour has given her garments a timeless quality that makes them unmistakably a Zandra Rhodes creation.
But now, after an iconic career that has seen the Bermondsey based designer constantly pushing the boundaries when it comes to creativity and originality of design, she has turned her attention to something new.
And in true Zandra Rhodes style, her latest creations – a collection of four wall art prints – are bold bright and fun.
The pieces, which will be launched next month in New York, are a result of a collaboration with interior designer Christopher Guy, and Dame Zandra is positively brimming with excitement at the thought of bringing them to everyone’s attention.


Given their different styles, she admits it’s not perhaps a natural partnership, rather a case of opposites attract, with her designs and Christopher’s furniture complimenting one another.
“I spend quite a lot of time in LA as well as London and I was introduced to Christopher when I went to his LA showroom and saw his exotic furniture,” she says.
“I fell in love with all his amazing pieces. They are elegant, wonderful and gorgeous and I imagined how amazing my designs would look on the walls next to his furniture.
“We met, got to know each other and talked about how we could work together on something that could combine our work.
“He said I should do it and it seemed a fabulous idea so here we are.”




We chat as Dame Zandra and her team are putting together the finishing touches to her creations for London Fashion Week and interviewing the models who will be wearing them.
“It’s keeping me very busy,” she chuckles. “This year I’m showing a collection featuring hand painted Malaysian textiles of vibrant and exclusive batiks.
“They are beautiful but as always there is lots of work to do. I always find Fashion Week is very busy and frantic.”
But if she’s stressed by all that’s going on she doesn’t show it. Indeed despite the fact that she seems permanently on the go and will be rushing off to New York to launch her wall art immediately after Fashion Week, she is full of energy.
And it is her collaboration with Christopher Guy that is uppermost in her mind. There are currently four pieces in the collection all based on her classic designs.
Each one is painted with a selection of hand mixed acrylics on to a custom made art board. Overlaid on to this is a fine clouded mist which she says gives “each piece a greater visual depth and sense of mystique”.
The four designs will be sold at all of Christopher Guy’s worldwide showrooms including London, New York and LA as well as online.
“They probably took about six months to create and I’m very pleased with them,” she enthuses.
“We tried to include those designs which we considered a Zandra Rhodes classic such as the Button Flower from 1971 and Lips and Nails.
“They are bright and bold but compliment Christopher’s elegant designs. They really work.
“I live in a wonderful rainbow interior but I now dream of getting a Christopher Guy couch which would zigzag across my room,” she adds warmly. “I think it would look amazing.”
If the collection is received well she hopes there will be more to follow.
“I’d love to do more and for this to be just the start,” she says.
“If these do well, I’d love to add to the collection with cushions and other products to create a whole range.
“When you are a designer you never know how your designs will be received. But I am always positive and hopeful.”
It is an ethos she has always adopted. She started off as a textile designer but moved into fashion design and has never looked back, becoming one of Britain’s most successful and most recognisable in the business.
“When I first started I didn’t know what would happen,” she admits. “I wanted to be a textile designer but everyone though my designs were too extreme.
“So I set up my own studio and learned to make dresses with my own fabrics and it went from there.
“I have been lucky and have survived and I don’t want it to end. I’m certainly not ready to stop!”
In the years since, she has nurtured, mentored and provided work experience for the likes of Philip Treacy and Iain R Webb and has dressed anyone who is anyone.
And after a period of having different parts of her business in different areas of London she is now firmly ensconced in a former warehouse in Bermondsey Street.
She moved there on the advice of her best friend, artist and former Bermondsey neighbour Andrew Logan.
It is here that she has her penthouse home, workshop and museum, the Fashion And Textile Museum, all under one roof.
“Andrew told me about this place and I love it,” she enthuses. “Years ago all the bits of my business were in different parts of London, now it’s all together and it’s so much better.
“This is such a vibrant area, though it has changed a great deal over the years. I always say you have to be positive about change as you can’t do anything else.
“I love it here though and I’ll be here til I die!”
As Dame Zandra has worked with so many people I ask if there has been a highlight from her long and illustrious career.
“I look back and think of the white top I designed for Freddie Mercury,” she remembers. “It was done a long while ago and it just happened to be memorialised by a gorgeous photo.
“I had a studio in Bayswater at the time and the band came to see me and I got them to try on different things from the rail that I had made.
“I made something for Freddie and got him to move around the room in it and it was extraordinary. But then I didn’t see them for years and when I did he was always wearing black.
“When he died though all the images of him was the one in which he was wearing his white top – it was incredible.”
As well as rock stars, others who have beaten a path to her door have included the likes of actress Dame Helen Mirren, pop star Debbie Harry, Bianca Jagger, Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Dame Shirley Bassey, model Kate Moss and Sarah Jessica Parker who wore her creations in the hit TV show Sex And The City.
She also famously dressed the late Princess Diana.
“She wasn’t ordinary at all, I still had to curtsey,” she says when I ask what it was like. “She came to the shop and had a look at my designs before I went to the palace to fit her.
“A lot of thought went into each piece. For example when I dressed her in a wrap dress she said I had to think about the neckline.
“She didn’t want it to be too daring because she knew there would be a photographer lying in wait who would take a picture the minute she stepped out in it.
“So we really had to think about the designs - people don’t realise how tricky that was.”
And she admits there is one person she would love to dress given the chance.
“Princess Kate,” she says without hesitation. “I would love to dress her. She has been well trained and is quite conservative in her dress but I would love to see what designs she would be drawn to.”
And then it’s back to preparing for London Fashion Week and the wall art launch.
“Life is always busy,” she says. “But I love it.”


Dame Zandra Rhodes will be launching her wall art on October 1 at Christopher Guy in New York.

Her Fashion and Textile Museum is in Bermondsey Street. Visit http://www.ftmlondon.org/ for listings.

Friday, 11 September 2015

REVIEW - Song From Far Away, Young Vic

THREE STARS


IT takes some balls to bare all on stage – especially when you are the only one on that stage and the period of nudity is for a good chunk of the play.
But that is what happens to Eelco Smits who stars as Willem in Simon Stephens’ latest play, Song From Far Away now on at the Young Vic.
At 75 minutes long this is a quiet meditative monologue on failure, love, emptiness, loss and grief that is both poignant and at times, laugh out loud funny.
Willem’s younger brother Pauli has died suddenly and Willem finds himself called back to his home town of Amsterdam after more than a decade living and working in New York.
As he makes the journey home he is forced to come face to face with his demons – those of a love affair that went wrong, his father’s disapproval and his feelings of failure as a son and brother.
These thoughts and feelings are brought out through a series of letters that Willem has written to Pauli which he recounts to his brother’s ghost whose presence hangs over the whole piece.
In these he speaks of the journey home, the reception he gets when he gets back, checking into a hotel to avoid being at home with the rest of his family, his feelings of alienation, his desire to escape the funeral and head back to America as soon as he can and having a brief one night stand with a man he picks up in an Amsterdam gay bar.
Through the letters his emotions are stripped bare – much as he himself is.
However, while it is an interesting story, I wasn’t sure it went far enough.
His escape to America is partly as a result of a love affair gone wrong, but we never find out why he didn’t get on with his brother or why he had such a difficult relationship with his father – and these are the things I wanted to know about and would have given the play more context.
But despite this, Willem is beautifully played by Smits and his story is well staged.

Song From Far Away is on at the Young Vic, The Cut until September 19. Tickets from £10. Visit www.youngvic.org/ or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.


Greenwich Theatre - Sunset Five


FRESH from the Edinburgh Festival, a show about an ordinary pub quiz team who try and save their beloved boozer from demolition is heading to Greenwich Theatre.
The Sunset Five was such a hit at the annual Scottish arts festival that Greenwich's artistic director James Haddrell was keen to snap it up.
And happily he was able to persuade DugOut Theatre Company to bring the show to the Crooms Hill Theatre for a short five night run from Tuesday to Saturday next week.
"The show has a cast of six and they are all incredibly talented actors and musicians,” says James.
"Featuring live music and with a raucous script, it is like a classic Hollywood casino heist played by the characters from The Vicar of Dibley.
"It’s so totally English in the way the characters approach their mission, and it’s hilarious."
Faced with losing their beloved watering hole, the pub quiz team embark on this brave robbery. Hailing from the run down seaside town of Chipworth, this band of very ordinary misfits come together in an attempt to pull off something truly extraordinary.
“The Sunset Five was one of the most talked about shows at the Edinburgh Festival and after we saw it we snapped it up like lightning," he says.
"It's such a great show so I’m really pleased and proud we were able to pick it up so quickly.”
The DugOut Theatre Company started at Leeds University in 2009 and they’ve already enjoyed success at the Fringe with Dealer’s Choice and last year with Inheritance Blues, winner of an International Student Drama Festival award.
The inspiration for this year's offering came about after the company began playing around with ideas for a story around a pub quiz team.
"Just thinking about pub quiz teams is amusing so we began exploring it as an idea and the characters within it and it grew from there," says producer Milly Smith.
An Arts Council England grant in December last year allowed them to work with the West Yorkshire Playhouse to devise the piece properly, rehearse it and build it up to an hour-long show.
"As a company the way we work is very collaborative and this was no different," says Milly.
"We got together with current and former members of the company as well as other theatre practitioners to come up with and develop the idea and the story line and then rehearse it.
"It's a really fun but very simple story," she adds. "The team want to save their pub which is being earmarked for demolition by a man called Mickey who is also attempting to destroy most of the town's pubs and theatres.
"They are outraged by this so they decide they must act to stop him and come up with a cunning plan - to stage a heist and it's there that their adventures start. It's a bit Hot Fuzz meets Ocean's Eleven.
"The set is very sparse but we've also added in live music, mime and movement which gives it an immersive feel.
"It's a great show - very funny, innovative and very simple with original characters but ones who people can relate to.
"I think that is why it works and why audiences loved it when they saw it at the Fringe - people said they left with smiles on their faces which is fantastic and just what we wanted."
And she says they are really keen to bring the show south of the border.
“We haven’t done Greenwich Theatre before, but it’s a lovely theatre and it’s great to get a London run," she says.
"We have been lucky to build up and grow a lovely following at the Fringe over the last six years that we have been taking shows there but have wanted to expand our audiences.
"So what better place to do that than at Greenwich which is a fantastic theatre and is so supportive of the work we do.
"It's going to be great fun."

The Sunset Five is on at Greenwich Theatre from September 15 to 19. Tickets cost £16. Visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 8858 7755.


REVIEW: The Oresteia at the Globe

THREE stars

WATCHING The Oresteia at the Globe makes you realise what a perfect space this Wooden O is for such expansive Greek plays.
The play, a trilogy of Greek tragedies - Agamemnon, Libation Bearers and Eumenides - written by Aeschylus, has been reworked for the Bankside theatre by Rory Mullarkey.
He has pared it down to a three-hour version with two intervals and largely pulls it off allowing the audience to follow the trials and tribulations of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Electra, Orestes, Apollo and Athena with ease thanks to the clear and concise verse.
It begins with the homecoming of Agamemnon who before setting out for the Trojan War, sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the gods, something his adulterous wife Clytemnestra has been quietly smouldering with anger about.
Instead of greeting him with open arms she brutally murders him and puts her lover Aegisthus in his place.
It is then up to Orestes, the estranged son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon to decide whether to stop the endless cycle of revenge by bloodletting or to carry on and murder his mother.
There are many aspects of this production that I loved, one of which was the Chorus - played not by one but more than half a dozen modern and suited figures complete with briefcases, hats and umbrellas.
I also loved the Furies - clad in black with black make up on whitened faces and long, black and unruly hair.
The cast was great especially Katy Stephens as Clytemnestra. Determined and resolute she had a steely and evil glint in her eye when she saw her errant husband had returned and, drenched in blood, she seemed to relish her butchery.
Trevor Fox as her drunk and louche lover Aegisthus was hilarious and George Irving as Agamemnon and Joel MacCormack as Orestes were also great.
The production succeeds in mixing the classic traditional with contemporary and the cast get stuck in with gusto - particularly embracing all the blood and carnage that end the first two parts of the production.
In fact all is going well until the end of the third and final part when a giant, gold and winged phallus was paraded aloft around the Globe stage and amongst the Groundlings.
That aside, it was a fascinating and clever production.

The Oresteia is on at The Globe until Friday, October 16. Tickets from £5. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.


Friday, 4 September 2015

John Waters season of films at the BFI Southbank

SINCE he rose to fame in the early 1970s, actor, writer and film director John Waters has been making work that entertains, shocks and makes audiences cringe.
With his now trademark pencil thin moustache, his early career was dominated by his transgressive cult films which featured a regular troupe of actors known as the Dreamlanders - among them Divine.
Since then the 69-year-old American, dubbed the Pope Of Trash and the Prince Of Puke, and has consistently been pushing the boundaries of taste bringing us such films as Female Trouble, Serial Mom, Pink Famingos and Hairspray.
Now, a season featuring his complete canon of work has just opened at the BFI Southbank.
It Isn’t Very Pretty… The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddam One of Them…), which runs until October 6, is the first complete retrospective of Waters’ work in the UK.
It features his very early underground short films, which have never been seen before in this country as well as his more contemporary and mainstream work such as the iconic Hairspray.
He has also personally selected six eclectic British films to accompany the season in a dedicated sidebar Teabaggin’ In The Kitchen Sink: My Favourite British Films – all of which have moved or inspired him in some shape or form, and include Joseph Losey’s Boom! and Roger Michell’s The Mother.
"This tribute is like receiving a plenary indulgence from the movie gods above and for once I can be show-biz thrilled without the slightest drop of irony in my thanks," he says.
"Yikes, respectability…the final outrage.”
The season has been curated by Justin Johnson who says he's "very excited" about bringing Waters' work to the BFI.
"He is a remarkable film maker by any measure and is incredibly interesting which is why we were so keen to put on a season of his work by way of celebration," says Justin.
"He has always been very much on the outside of both respectability and the establishment and so for us to honour him in this way is huge.
"He began when he was about 17 using the cheapest equipment to make a series of short films for about $1,000 each with his friends at his home.
"He worked with the Dreamlanders who included Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, David Lochary and Mink Stole. They were the core cast members in his shorts, Hag In A Black Leather Jacket, Roman Candles and Eat Your Makeup.
"Some of the stuff was outrageous, shocking and ridiculous - and made with shock value - but are fascinating examples of juvenilia, but they really show and hint at the genius that was to come with his later work.
"He was inspired by a lot of great film makers and eventually he managed to make the move to Hollywood producing more mainstream films and worked with amazing people like Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair and Mink Stole."
What Justin is particularly excited about is being able to bring all Waters' films to the BFI including those early shorts that have never been seen outside America.
"We are incredibly honoured and delighted that he's given permission for us to show them - it's a unique opportunity," says Justin.
"He never went to film school and so his early films are not polished at all but we wanted to celebrate his entire career and so if you see them as a whole you watch his journey in film.
"The films he made after he moved to Hollywood are more polished - in Serial Mom, which is one of my favourites, you can see that. It's really well edited and directed and I always have a smile on my face when I watch it.
"But I love most of his films - Pink Flamingos and Polyester are great - and I loved his career with Divine. It was so sad Divine died so early because it was a great film partnership.
"He deals with some really hard issues in his films but there are also some very sweet sentiments within them - they are such well constructed and lovely films."
As well as his own, Waters has also picked his six favourite British movies to be shown over the festival.
"He's coming over especially for the season and will be here for three days," says Justin. "We asked him to chose the six British films he loves most and he will be introducing them.
"He was really thrilled and a little surprised when we put forward the idea of the season. We started talking to him about it a long while ago but as he's so incredibly busy all the time, despite the fact he hasn't made a film in 10 years, it's only been now that we could get time in his diary."
As an extra treat Waters will be taking part in an In Conversation event with Justin on Friday, September 18 followed by a book signing.
"It will be really fascinating to speak to him," says Justin. "It will be a proper in depth career interview and a real insight into his life and career - about what inspired him to pick up a camera and then do work that would shock us.
"His reputation has been built around guerilla film making but he's a real auteur and a unique film maker and a fascinating character. He writes, acts and paints as well as directs - he's a real man for all seasons.
"Who knows what the future may hold for him. He’s a workaholic, very active and full of energy so he will do something - and it will be exciting.
"I am sure he will have so much to say so for John's fans it will be a real treat."




It isn’t Very Pretty… The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddam One of Them…) takes place at the BFI Southbank until October 6. Visit www.bfi.org.uk/southbank for full listings or call the box office on 020 7928 3232.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

REVIEW: People Places and Things, National Theatre

FOUR STARS


ADDICTION and the trauma it brings to the lives of those it affects is the subject of a new play by Duncan Macmillan.
People, Places And Things is being staged at the Dorfman at the National Theatre and to say it is a rollercoaster of a journey for both the actors and the audience would be somewhat of an understatement.
Brilliantly directed by Jeremy Herrin it stars Denise Gough as Emma, although she could be Nina, Lucy or Sarah, we are never really sure.
She is an actress and an addict of both drugs and alcohol. When we first meet her she is struggling, without success, to maintain her career and crucifying a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull.
Soon after she's checked herself into rehab but is instantly suspicious of the 12-step programme it offers to help her get clean.
Immediately she is confrontational, aggressive, opinionated and hostile to the treatment she needs in order to stay alive, spars verbally with the doctor and refuses to share her experiences in the group therapy sessions.
Throughout she is a contradiction - veering between absolute clarity of her situation and a refusal to be herself, lying about her name and whether or not she had a brother.
In between times she goes through the horrors of hallucinations and seizures in her bid to rid her body of the poison of the various drugs she has put into her system.
In these awful moments, music blares, lights shine blindingly and the stage is full of Emmas, spiralling out of control and showing how ferocious the cleansing process is.
By the end not only had Emma been spat out of the system, it felt we had all been put through the wringer as well. The scene in which she comes back to stay at her parents' home was particularly poignant and emotional - they could neither forgive or forget what she had done to both herself and to them.
Denise Gough puts in quite an extraordinary performance - physical and mental - and is never off the stage. She is well supported by the rest of the cast, in particular Barbara Marten as the Doctor, Therapist and Emma's mother and Nathaniel Martello-White as Mark, who sees through her and becomes her allay.
It is a stunning production all round.




People, Places and Things is on at the National Theatre until November 4. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.