Sunday, 31 January 2016

Butternut squash, lemon and almond muffins

These are great especially if you have kids who are fussy eaters and who are not great at eating your veggies.

You will need a muffin tin lined with paper muffin cases. You can also use gluten free flour and probably if you are allergic to nuts you could probably substitute the ground almonds with flour. I also don’t bother with the almond on the top even though my kids love almonds. I also drizzle the honey on the top of the muffins when they come out of the oven rather than heat in the pan. It’s up to you!

300g squash, peeled and diced weight.
125g unsalted butter, softened at room temp
125g light brown soft sugar
3 eggs beaten
1tsp almond essence
Finely grated zest of two lemons
125g self raising flour
150g ground almonds
1tbsp clear runny honey
12 whole blanched almonds, toasted in a deep frying pan until lightly golden,

Steam or boil the diced squash for 15 minutes until very soft
Drain, leave to cool, then mash with a potato masher
Preheat the oven to 200degC.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale, light and fluffy.
Gradually beat in the eggs.
Stir in the almond essence, lemon zest and squash.
Gently fold in the flour and ground almonds.
Spoon roughly equal measures into the muffin cases.
Bake for five mins then turn the heat to 180degC and cook for about 20 mins until golden.
Leave to cool

Gently warn the honey in a small pan and then brush a little over the top of each muffin and top with an almond.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Michael Woods at the Ministry of Sound

He produced Example’s only UK number 1, had a few top number 20 hits with tracks like Warrior, is currently based in the US with a Vegas residency, runs Diffused Music via Armada, has more than 500,000 followers on social media and is coming to the UK for a gig tomorrow.
Michael Woods has certainly been around the block on the music front! And now his legions of fans can see him in action at the Ministry of Sound tomorrow night.
He’s based over in America these days for his Vegas residency, but he’ll be down in London to spin his vast catalogue of tunes.
His new track Sleep has just been released on Armada – the track boasts a Michael Jackson feel, exploring the world of disco-house, something which is totally different to his last track London Baby which was a much grittier, bass heavy tune.
So what can we expect from the gig?
"I always look forward to playing at London's Ministry of Sound because it always attracts a really cool crowd who know and love their music," says Michael.
"I expect to be playing a lot of my own material both new and old, as well as some recent remixes just completed.
"I always like to mix it up and don't like to be pigeon-holed into one sound. There will be some surprises but if I told you what they were it wouldn't be a surprise!"
It's not the first time he's played at the venue and he says he's looking forward to being back.
"I've played there a number of times, and each time seems to get even better than the last," he says.
"I love the state of the art sound system there which they've painstakingly tweaked to deliver the best sound experience.
"The audiences in London are the best people to showcase new material to as they always seem open to new music.
"This is great for me as a producer because I'm always testing out new material. Vegas on the whole prefers to hear top 40 music.
"It's also a great feeling to be able to play your own music to a crowd of people and feels even better when you get a really positive enthusiastic response."
Michael says his musical inspiration comes from his dad and Michael Jackson, not to mention the dance music of the early 90s.
"My father had taught me music from a very early age so it was always in my blood – it’s a tough industry to get into but I've had a lot of helping hands along the way," he says.
"I used to love listening to Michael Jackson growing up. These days it's just anyone who makes good music.
"In my career, I've gotten to work with some great artists - working with Neyo in LA on a track for Shakira was probably one of the highlights. Neyo is an incredible artist, singer and songwriter, it was incredible to watch him work.
"I'd love to collab with Calvin Harris and Armin Van Buuren one day!"
Until then he's pleased to be back in South London and if you miss this gig he says he hopes to be back in the summer.
"I've got lots of music planned for 2016, a lot of it already written and produced so I'm really looking forward to getting it out there," he says.
"There's lot of gigs planned too with tours in Asia and Australia as well as the usual USA and UK shows."

Thursday, 28 January 2016

INTERVIEW - Alex Wright talks about Fable, now on at the Vault Festival Waterloo

A WRITER'S chance encounter with a small but close knit community in the Scottish Highlands was the inspiration for a play about what we believe in, what we stand for and what we can change.
Fable tells the tale of what happens when Blair, a man in his late 30s, meets J, a woman in her mid 20s on the end of a pier.
The pier is at the end of the road in a tiny village called Ardfern, which just happens to be the same village which inspired the play in the first place.
The pair talk and get to know each other and end up changing each other and their lives forever.
Written by Alex Wright, for his theatre company The Flanagan Collective, and co-produced by Greenwich Theatre, it was first staged in 2014 and has since been shown in venues around the UK including in Ardfern.
It can now be seen at the Vault Festival in the Leake Street tunnels in Waterloo before it heads to Adelaide, Australia and then to Greenwich Theatre at the end of April.
“It was serendipitous in the way it happened,” Alex tells me during a break from rehearsals. “We were in Ardfern, a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands, with another show we were touring.
“We went to the pub after the show and during the evening, a man called Blair came in. He came up to the bar, introduced himself and began quoting Rabbie Burns at me.
“It turned out he was the local tree surgeon and a poet, originally from Glasgow who wanted to build log cabins.
“He was a wonderful man, talked for much of the rest of the night and it was fascinating, very entertaining – not least hearing about how he was about to go to the Arctic to build these log cabins because he couldn’t do it in Scotland.
“When I got back to my digs in the small hours, I decided to write down what he’d said. I then realised it could form the basis of a play.”
Combining storytelling, music and performance, Fable is about our childhood dreams and what, here and now, we are left with.
A two-hander, one of the characters, is based on Blair, the other, J, is entirely fictitious. J is a woman from Birmingham who has always wanted to be an astronaut but because of a defect in the wall of her heart she can’t fulfil her dream.
So she becomes a physics teacher and imparts her enthusiasm for the solar system and space to her students.
However, one day she decides to take control of her life and answers an ad on a dating site. She finds herself on the end of the pier with Blair, a man who makes log cabins.
Although very different characters, their meeting and subsequent discussion changes both of them profoundly.
“It’s storytelling at its most beautiful and with a wonderful score,” says Alex.
“It is about the push and pull between the necessity of the modern world and how we find our own place in it, what we are in control of and how we manage to take stock of where we are and what we do about changing things.
“It’s also about how obsessed we are about how busy we are all the time and how we try and out-do each other by saying how busy we are.
“There was a wonderful moment in the pub when Blair said to me ‘I wish everyone would put that internet down’. It’s brilliant. And that’s the thing - we should all put our phones down and sit and look at the sea for a bit or talk to people a bit more.
“Both the characters in the play help the other to shake off the shackles."
Since the show was first made the company has been back to Ardfern to show the locals - including Blair - the play.
“I was really worried about him seeing it but it was great,” says Alex. “What was amazing was that in the play the Blair character tells J how he went to Canada, saw bears and swam in the sea to impress the girls.
"When we went back to Ardfern and met Blair again, he told us that’s exactly what he had done on a recent trip to Canada which was really weird!
“I think we owe him quite a lot. In fact we feel quite connected to the village – it’s a lovely community.
“This is the third incarnation of the show we made originally and it’s really nice to go back to it and make it again,” he adds.
“We are still enjoying discovering stuff about it.
“It is the most traditional show we have ever made so it will suit Greenwich and we are really excited to be performing it there, not least because it's a theatre that has helped us so much with it.
"But it also fits the Vaults too because it’s very site specific. The Vaults is quite a stark but beautiful space and is the kind of stage we are used to rather than a traditional theatre setting.
"It's really exciting to be here.
"Ultimately it’s a very simple but magical story that leads the audience on a journey that the characters go on," he adds.
“It’s nice to make a piece of work about who and how we are. And what’s great is that the story is still starting interesting conversations amongst the audiences who see it.
“We are so excited to see where it leads us next.”

Fable runs at the Vault Festival, The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo, until February 7. Tickets cost £12. Visit or call 020 7401 9603 for listings.

It is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill between April 26 and 30. Visit for tickets.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Shrek The Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre


Dean Chisnall as Shrek and Bronte Barbe as Princess Fiona. Credit Helen Maybanks

THERE can't be many who have not heard about or seen the heart warming story of Shrek, the giant green ogre who proves that beauty comes from within.
First a movie, the story then spawned a couple of sequels before being translated for the stage. And now after a successful stint in the West End it is on the final leg of a UK tour.
Shrek The Musical is currently on at the New Wimbledon Theatre and I defy you not to see it and come out without a big smile on your face.
Tap dancing mice, a host of colourful nursery rhyme and fairytale characters, a talking donkey and a princess who captures Shrek's heart are just some of the amazing characters in this barnstorming show.
For those who don't know, Shrek gets sent away by his parents aged just seven to go and live on his own in a swamp. Here he lives happily on his own with no one to bother him or tell him what to do. That is until the fairytale characters are sent to his swamp to live under the orders of the evil Lord Farquaad.
In a bid to get them off his land and back to where they belong, Shrek goes to visit Lord Farquaad. However Lord Farquaad has other ideas and insists that he will only comply with Shrek's demands if Shrek rescues a princess for him to marry.
And so Shrek, who is joined by Donkey, goes off in search of Princess Fiona who has been stuck in the tower for many many years and then deliver her to Lord Farquaad.
It is a wonderful story, full of humour and pathos and in this version, some fantastic songs which are sung brilliantly by the very strong cast.
They are led by Dean Chisnall as Shrek, Bronte Barbe as Princess Fiona and Idriss Kargbo as Donkey who are absolutely brilliant - the scene where Shrek and Fiona tried to outdo each other in the burping and breaking wind competition had my kids in stitches.
However it was Gerard Carey as Lord Farquaad who stole the show. Cavorting about the stage on his knees with perfectly coiffured hair he had the audience crying with laughter.
A real winner!

Shrek The Musical is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway until Sunday, January 30. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

Friday, 22 January 2016

INTERVIEW - The Original Rude Boy, aka Neville Staple of the Specials and Fun Boy Three is coming to Brixton

pic credit Christine Sugary Staple

HE may not be able to run and jump about on stage as much as he'd like to - or as much as he used to - but Neville Staple still likes to give his audiences a "wicked".
The 60-year-old Jamaican-born former member of The Specials is still writing and making music as well as touring all over the place entertaining his legion of fans.
And just so that there is no doubt about his continued passion for performing he is about to embark on a lengthy tour with his band which includes a date at the The Prince Of Wales in Brixton Road on February 5.
We chat not long after his return to his home in Coventry from a three-week holiday in Jamaica and it's clear his general demeanour is as sunny as the weather he has left behind.
"It was lovely and hot out there," he tells me cheerfully in his soft Coventry burr. "But it's bloody freezing here!
"But I'm all rested and geared up for my visit to Brixton.
"The Brixton gig is part of a tour which goes on all year. I love touring - I can’t help myself,” he adds chuckling away.
And this good humoured bonhomie extends throughout our chat in which he tells me stories about how fellow Specials band member Jerry Dammers “saved” him from "sinking into hell", how Ghost Town is still as relevant as ever and how he still gets a kick out of touring.
“I love it,” he says. “I’ve played Brixton loads of times before and have some great memories. It’s a special place for me because audiences are great there and always up for a good time so I'm looking forward to being back.
"It will be a real party with a bit of a mix of new songs and the old favourites.”
And despite having left the Specials, the band that made his name, Neville assures me he doesn’t mind performing their songs.
“You can’t go on stage and not expect to sing them,” he says warmly. “People want to hear the classics of course and it’s great because I’ll look out and see everyone joining in as they know all the words.
“However everything will have my own personal take on it. They will be played in a different way, and if the audience wants lots of long solos within the songs, then that’s what I’ll give them.”
And then he reels off a long set list – including Gangsters, Monkey Man, Too Much Too Young, Message To You Rudy, Ghost Town, and some of the songs from his latest album Ska Crazy plus a few from his yet to be released and un-named album.
“It will be great entertainment – I like to entertain, converse with the audience and chat to them although there won’t be any long speeches,” he jokes. “The audience will get into the music and we’ll have some fun."
And fun is what he seems to have had by and large during his 35-year career. Affectionately known as The Original Rude Boy, a term coined originally by his father when he was growing up, Neville led the 2Tone scene of the 1970s and 80s first with Coventry band the Specials and later as co-founder of Fun Boy Three with bandmates and fellow Coventrians Terry Hall and Lynval Golding.
They had a string of hits which Neville says still have relevance today – Ghost Town being an obvious example set as it was against a background of rising unemployment and social unrest – and they were never afraid of singing about issues affecting people at the time.
“Ghost Town still has meaning and relevance, even more so in fact,” he says. “It was about depression, recession, kids getting into trouble, that they have no manners – there are still so many social problems. It’s still all about society.
“We just sang about stuff people could identify with. But all our songs had meaning – ‘stop you messing around’ was all about getting kids to stop fighting otherwise you’ll get in trouble.
“I used to get into trouble but I stopped all that when I got into the Specials – in fact they saved me,” he adds.
“I’d done borstal but when I came out I ended up meeting Jerry and he gave me a chance in the Specials and from there it was amazing.”
And he says he’s really proud of their legacy.
“One aspect of being involved in the 2Tone scene I’m really proud of is the way we were a band with black and white musicians and we brought black and white communities together,” he says.
“There was a lot of racism in the 70s and we helped bring people together through music. We blended ska with white music and were telling people that they could get on, they could stop fighting.
“Next thing there would be punks dancing in the street and people stopped fighting so much.
“We still have racism but it changed then so we definitely had an impact and I’m proud of that.”
Although they have now all gone their separate ways Neville has remained active and despite his dodgy knees, a result of jumping off speakers on stage, and a slight hearing problem, due to said speakers, his charisma and enthusiasm are there is spades and he says he’s in good nick.
He tours relentlessly, playing venues across the world, including festivals such as Glastonbury, gigs and even private house parties.
He has also performed and worked with many great names in the business over the years, and during our conversation drops these names like confetti, while admitting he still has to pinch himself when he thinks about all the musicians he used to listen to growing up and who he now counts as friends.
“People like Dandy Livingstone and Derek Morgan, I used to listen to their records and now they are on the same stage as me,” he says genuinely in awe. “It’s amazing and a real privilege.”
“Working with Joe Strummer was wicked and meeting and working with people like Boy George was amazing. I met [music mogul] Pete Waterman at his club in Coventry – and then worked with him.
“In fact I’ve had so many highlights – meeting Amy Winehouse was incredible. She was gorgeous inside and out, such a nice girl and the way she sang was amazing. Her singing with us at a gig, that was a real highlight.”
Fortunately for his many fans, he has no plans to slow down saying it’s not in his nature to sit still.
He talks warmly of his wife Christine too, to whom he has been married for two and a half years.
“She does a lot for me,” he says. “She’s great – she looks after me, writes things down in my diary and is always with me on tour.”
And she’ll be with him in Brixton where he is expecting a good crowd.
“I can’t wait,” he chuckles. “Brixton, we are going to have a good time.”

Neville Staple and his band will be at the Prince of Wales in Brixton Road on Friday, February 5. Tickets cost 15. Call the box office on 020 7095 1978.

PREVIEW - Minotaur at the Unicorn Theatre

MOST people know the story of Theseus and his venture into the labyrinth to meet the Minotaur. It is one of the most recognisable and well known of the Greek myths.
A re-imagining of this classic tale is about to open at the Unicorn Theatre. Written by Adam Peck, Minotaur promises to be an action packed treat perfect for young audiences.
It is directed by Tarek Iskander and is part of the Tooley Street theatre's Greek season which includes My Father, Odysseus by Timerblake Wertenbaker.
It is set in Crete, in an impossible labyrinth, where lives a fearsome and lonely beast, half bull, half man.
Only his sister Ariadne cares for him, and she dreams of setting them both free from the rule of their selfish father, King Minos.
But when Ariadne sees her chance to escape, she makes a terrible pact with the enemy’s son that will change everyone’s future for better or for worse.
For Tarek it is a chance for him to direct a show specifically for a younger audience, something he's relishing.
"I really enjoyed the script when I first read it," he enthuses. "I was really moved by the language. It was also well structured and didn't hide from difficult topics.
"What was great was that the basic structure of the myth was there and it's kept throughout the piece so it's completely recognisable, but it gives people space to use their imaginations."
Not wanting to spoil any surprises, Tarek is understandably shy about giving away too much but says none of the drama, conflict or difficult parts of the story are lost in this retelling.
"There are no obvious good or bad people - instead it focuses on family, specifically King Minos and his relationship with Ariadne, the generation gap and what happens in family conflicts," he explains.
"I am sure the audience will recognise elements of the story in their own lives - such as having to deal with difficult parents or making difficult decisions.
"We have all had that," he adds laughing. "I had a very happy childhood but I remember my older sisters had lots of arguments with our parents!
"Crucially though, the piece is not patronising to children who it's aimed at - in fact it's quite dark and really challenging and is a good story to grapple with.
"We had some schoolchildren come in to see some of the rehearsals and we did a couple of scenes for them within which were complicated narrative twists and they understood every single bit of it.
"It shows that you don't need to create theatre any differently for children as they get it all."
As well as the drama of the story Tarek says the hour long piece is punctuated with humour.
"It’s also not unremitting misery," he adds. "It's still a Greek tragedy but even in the scenes that are serious we often find humour in it."
Such has been his enjoyment of being part of the process of bringing it to a young audience it has inspired the East Dulwich director to do more work in children's theatre.
And he says working at the Unicorn has been "an amazing experience".
"It’s the first time I’ve worked at the Unicorn," he says. "What I really like is the extremely friendly atmosphere here. It's laid back but they take their work very seriously and treat theatre as an art rather than a commodity. It inspires you to try harder which is fantastic.
"It’s made working on this piece such a joy," he adds. "Until recently I’d never done any children’s theatre but this has been such good fun I’d like to do more.
"What I love is that kids give an immediate reaction - the room is always alive and you get instant feedback so it feels participative.
"I can't wait to see and hear their reactions to this piece!"

Minotaur is on at the Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street, until Saturday, April 2. Tickets from £12. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560 for tickets.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

REVIEW - Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse


IN the 1970s a documentary was made depicting the lives of two American women. What made it remarkable was that these women – Edith and Little Edie Bouvier Beale – had at one time been American royalty.
They were filmed in their rambling enormous home in the Hamptons surrounded by a multitude of cats and racoons where they lived in poverty and squalor.
Their story was subsequently made into a musical – Grey Gardens – a version of which is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse.
It stars Jenna Russell and Sheila Hancock as the two women, in what must be a dream casting for producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland.
The musical is split into two distinct halves – the first is an imagined set up in which we see Edith, a woman who dreamed of being an opera singer, playing to the gallery as she tries to organise and take over Little Edie’s engagement party. Her meddling results in her daughter’s intended – Joseph Kennedy – skipping town.
Little Edie, distraught at what has happened, takes herself off to New York to escape the destructive relationship she clearly has with her mother.
In the second half, some 30 years later, their fortunes have changed dramatically. Gone is the wealth and the glamour. Instead they are living in poverty and Little Edie appears to be in a somewhat fragile mental state - though the reason for this is never fully explained.
Nonetheless the bond between them is still strong. And while they bicker and snipe at one another there is also much laughter, song and dance.
It is a fascinating story and it is beautifully played out by a strong cast led by Hancock and Russell and supported by Rachel Anne Rayham as Little Edie in the first half and Aaron Sidwell as Joseph Kennedy.
And what a treat to see Hancock as Edith. She is mostly on stage during the second half but when she’s on she really lights it up.
However, for me the night belongs to Russell in what is quite an extraordinary performance. She is on stage practically the entire time, playing Edith in the first half and Little Edie in the second. Her vocal range is astonishing and beautiful and she is an utter joy to watch.
Although their story is somewhat sad the musical has some very funny moments and the music is fantastic.
And to see two brilliant actresses illuminate the intimate setting of the Southwark Playhouse is wonderful.

Grey Gardens is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, February 6. Tickets cost £25. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Vault Festival preview

DEEP under the streets of South London, a series of tunnels are about to play host to a six-week festival of dancing, music, theatre, circus, comedy and cabaret.
Said event is the Vault Festival, back for a fourth year, and this time organisers say it’s bigger and better than ever.
Boxman, LoopsEnd, The Mmorpg Show, The Princess and the Pea, Pirates of the Carabina, Comedy Club 4 Kids, Trgyve Wakenshaw, Felix Hagan and the Family and The Misfit Analysis are just some of the many performers, shows and attractions which can be found in the eight performance spaces in the Leake Street tunnels underneath Waterloo, which also includes three bars and a restaurant.
The festival is co-directed by Andy George who says he anticipates about 40,000 people will come down into the depths to explore what’s on offer over the six weeks from January 27.
“It’s grown exponentially since we launched in 2012,” he tells me. “The first year we had 9,000 people come over a three week period.
“This year we are running for six weeks and we are expecting 40,000 people through the door to see and take part in 150 shows and events – it’s mad but fun and exciting and we are really looking forward to it.”
Between 50 and 60 per cent of the acts taking part applied to do so with the rest through invitation. It is a system that Andy says gives the audience a chance to see a broad range of talent – from those who are new to the circuit, and to the festival, to those who are more established and some who have done Vault before.
“This year we were inundated with applications,” he says. “It was really difficult because people had clearly invested so much time and thought in them.
“It’s hard on the soul as you want to give people the best opportunity you can so the process was tough.
"But it's great that Vault has now become an established brand and has been so successful."
He puts this success down to a combination of sourcing the best talent, giving it a community feel and the unique nature of the venue.
And with ticket prices averaging the £10 to £12 mark, Andy says it also represents great value for money.
"The reason we started was to create a fair platform for people to create and present work where the financial risk isn't all on their shoulders," he explains.
"We want it to work as much as they do. From an audience point of view part of the fun of it is the excitement of going underground. It's an unusual venue - a bit like escaping down Alice's rabbit hole.
"Money is also still tight for many people so we want to make Vault as accessible as possible which means keeping ticket prices as low as we can."
This year he promises an "incredible" and packed line up that has "plenty for everyone".
“We don’t have any headliners which means all the acts have equal billing," he says. "I think we have something for everyone and I’m really proud of that.
“Some are returnees which is great to continue the relationship but there are many new acts which we are really pleased to bring to new audiences.
"For me it's all one big highlight," he adds warmly. “However, I am looking forward to Bpolar show which is coming from Israel in the first week and is doing a visual re telling of the Diary of Madman. It’s the first year we have been able to curate and bring in work from outside the UK so it’s a landmark show.
"Then there is Echoes by Henry Nayler and Gilded Balloon which is an interlinking story about modern jihadi brides and Victorian colonialists which I am looking forward to and then we have cabaret act Denim which is here for a two week run.
“In terms of comedy we have Loren O’Brien who is very funny and one to watch. I'm also looking forward to the physical comedy of Squidboy."
As well as the main programme, this year the team has introduced the first Vault Film Festival which will include both long and short form screenings, drama, documentaries and animation and which Andy says has already had "an astonishingly positive response".
Not only that, from 10pm Vaults Lates kicks off with a series of events including barnstorming ceilidhs, an all night silent disco, a New Orleans Mardi Gras or a Valentines Ball.
"What’s great is that you can come down at about 6pm and see some comedy or drama, have something to eat, or a drink at the bar, and then stay and enjoy a cabaret or music and dancing making it a whole night event," says Andy.
And following on from last year’s success, Mini Vault is also back, to make sure that the younger members of the family are catered for - including newborns and toddlers.
This side of the festival is co-directed by Rose Alexander who says that it has doubled in size from last year’s debut and has an emphasis on fun.
"We were delighted that there was such a fantastic reception last year as it was the first children’s event in that space," she says.
"The tunnels are amazing and will feel transformative so it’s the perfect place for a party, and people especially kids, find it such an adventure.
"This year we have got three weekends of fun with a variety of events going on, some of which are free and some of which are ticketed.
"We also wanted it to be aimed at the whole family rather than just at children with an emphasis on the whole family having fun together, so to programme along those lines has been really exciting."
Among the many highlights is poetry by Roger McGough, music from BAC Beatbox Academy, comedy from Comedy Club 4 Kids and circus magic from Pirates Of The Carabina.
Elsewhere Rose says there are mime artists, fancy dress and face painting and a chance to make costumes.
"Big Fish Little Fish is doing a big family-friendly rave and then we are launching Under The Sea Mini Rumpus which will take over the entire space - it's going to be an amazing club event for all the family.
"There is lots of live music and this year there is a more carnivalistic gipsy feel to the festival. We have circus and an opportunity to learn circus skills, marching bands, installations and light shows and a soft play area for babies plus lots of amazing storytelling.
"We've also got loads of workshops as we wanted to encourage families to come in and stay and play all day.
"It’s going to be like a secret party that everyone is invited to!"

Vault Festival takes place in the Leake Street tunnels, Waterloo, between January 27 and March 6. visit for full listings.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

INTERVIEW Jenna Russell

She's sung the theme tune for TV series Red Dwarf, appeared in Dr Who and was a doctor's wife in TV series Born And Bred. Now Jenna Russell is back on stage playing two American women and she couldn't be happier.

JENNA Russell is no stranger to musical theatre. The London-born actress has graced the stage in a multitude of award-winning productions most notably Merrily We Roll Along, Guys And Dolls and Sunday In The Park With George.
And although she is a versatile actress, having also starred in numerous TV shows she says it's the buzz of a live audience that keeps her coming back to the stage - and Sondheim in particular with whom she has a particular fondness.
Her latest foray sees her tackle not one but two roles - those of Edith and Little Edie Bouvier Beale.
Grey Gardens, which opened last week at the Southwark Playhouse, tells the story of these remarkable women, who in their heyday were part of America's aristocracy.
The show, which is based on a 1975 documentary of the same name by film maker brothers Albert and David Maysles, is split into two parts.
The first is an imagined setting in 1941 in which Edith manages to ruin the engagement party of her daughter Little Edie to her intended, Joseph Kennedy.
Edith, who wanted to be an opera singer but never quite managed it, decides to sing at the party and has put together a show for the guests. However when her mother's meddling results in Joseph leaving, Little Edie decides to break free and heads to New York to seek her financial and career fortune.
The second is set around 30 years later and is perhaps a more truthful account of their lives. Little Edie has come back, though for reasons that aren't clear and she appears in a much more fragile mental state.
They are also now penniless, living in squalor and as reclusive social outcasts, in their sprawling 28-roomed house in the Hamptons in Long Island, which is overrun with cats and racoons, and where they eat liver pate in bed, sing, dance and reminisce about the past.
To play both women - Edith in Act 1 and Little Edie in Act 2 - is no small undertaking.
Barely off stage, Jenna sings an incredible 16 numbers, but if she's exhausted she doesn't show it. Indeed she is taking it in her stride and when we chat she tells me it was an opportunity she leapt at.
"I know the composer Scott Frankel and the music," she tells me. "It's such a beautiful score and an extraordinary story with two amazing female parts - and there aren't that many of those to be had so I couldn't turn it down!
"Here we see women in extremis - they are women of a certain age, who hold grudges, have fun and do things on their own terms. We see them warts and all.
"Edith had a beautiful voice and a great talent but when she met her husband she had to give up on that dream.
"Little Edie didn't have the talent her mother had but Edith encouraged her and like a lot of parents, wanted her to have every opportunity to follow her dreams. I think people will relate to that.
"Edith kept her own dream alive through Edie and in her own home with the people she chose to let in.
"Of their time they were extraordinary women, brought up to be political wives who were supposed to sit there and look pretty and give scintillating conversations.
"However they just didn't adhere to that. They were very intelligent and loved the arts and life but on their own terms.
"How they chose to live was no one's business but their own.
"That was what was so extraordinary about them.
"It's exhausting but you get so much back from the audience," she adds. "There is something glorious about powering through a show like this.
"It's the two hour commute to and from the theatre that's the stressful bit - being on stage is a joy and playing such great meaty roles as these two incredible women is fantastic. I'm very lucky."
She acknowledges that the documentary had its critics with some voicing concern that the fragile mental state of Little Edie was being exploited. However it's not something she necessarily agrees with.
"When they did the premiere of the documentary, Little Edie was there and loved the attention," she says.
"She obviously had some kind of mental health issues though we don't know what they were. We also don't know why she left New York to come home to her mother - did she fall into trouble or did she have responsibility to come back and look after her mother? It's not explained and no one knows.
"Maybe her fragility didn't allow her to live in New York in the way she had imagined. I get the feeling she needed to come home and didn't have the strength to break away from her mother.
"They were very close - maybe too close - but they were very protective of each other and loved each other despite the bickering. I think a lot of people will relate to their relationship on some level.
"They may have been very eccentric but actually they were really strong women and I love that about them."
Jenna shares the stage with Sheila Hancock who plays Edith in Act 2 and she says it's been a dream working with the actress who she describes as “stunning and elegant”.
It's not the first time the pair have worked together but Jenna says Grey Gardens has cemented their friendship.
"Sheila is amazing," she giggles. "She's nearly 83, is stunning, elegant and graceful. I think she's ravishing and it's an honour to work with her.
"We met 10 years ago when I was in Peter Pan with John [Thaw, Sheila's late husband] who was Mr Darling and Sheila was the narrator. Now here we are together again and it's a joy.
"Edith and Little Edie were so fiercely protective of each other and became like two peas in a pod which is what we've become - it's lovely.
"I adore her and she's been a tower of strength and a great playmate.
"It's been such a privilege to be part of this show," she adds. "It's the first time I've performed at the Southwark Playhouse and I love it. It's such a great space with a lovely friendly atmosphere.
"Also it's great to work with Danielle [Tarento, producer] and Thom [Southerland, director] who both have great vision and ambition.
"It's a gift and Sheila and I just want to tell Edith and Edie's story in as honest a way as possible so that we honour them."
So what does she think Edith and Edie would say about it?
"I'd love to have met them and ask them all those questions about what their lives were really like," she says.
"I would love to see them sitting there and enjoy it and I hope they would nod and say yes that was us."

Grey Gardens is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, February 6. Tickets cost £25. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.  

REVIEW - Guys and Dolls, Savoy Theatre


Sophie Thompson and David Haig. Photo Paul Coltas

The cast. Photo Paul Coltas

The cast. Photo Paul Coltas

Siubhan Harrison and Jamie Parker. Photo Paul Coltas

ANYONE fed up with the miserable weather we've been getting should go and see Guys And Dolls.
The musical, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser is currently being revived at the Savoy Theatre and is an absolute stunner.
Set in New York it follows the fortunes of two couples. Nathan Detroit is a man who has been engaged to nightclub singer Miss Adelaide for 14 years - much to her frustration. 
Although he loves Adelaide, he is clearly a man who has serious commitment issues when it comes to tying the knot - being more attached to organising games of craps for his friends than setting a date for his wedding.
Then there is Sky Masterson, a man who gambles big and professes to only have a Doll when he wants one.
Their lives become intertwined when Nathan, desperate to get $1,000 to pay for a venue to hold a craps game, bets Sky he can't take straight-laced missionary Sarah Brown with him to Havana for dinner.
Not one to ever turn down a bet, Sky goes all out to prove he can persuade the prim and proper Sarah to go with him but ends up falling in love with her.
However, the course of true love doesn't run smooth and there are a few twists and turns along the way before the end.
It is a great story with lots of humour and some great characters, including Nathan's two sidekicks, Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet and the set too is stunning.
But it's the music that really sells this show, featuring stunning numbers including Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat, Marry The Man Today, A Bushel And A Peck and the fabulous Luck Be A Lady.
The production is fabulous and features stand out performanes from Gavin Spokes as Nicely-Nicely and David Haig as Nathan. Siubhan Harrison is a delight as Sarah and Jamie Parker as Sky shows what a fabulous voice he has. His rendition of Luck Be A Lady was amazing.
But for me the evening belonged to Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide. She was utterly captivating and with a fantastic vocal range showing the love and vulnerability of her character, not to mention making the audience roar with laughter at her portrayal of the lady who eventually gets her man down the aisle.
A winner.

Guys And Dolls is on at the Savoy Theatre until Saturday, March 12. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7687 for full listings.