Friday, 29 July 2016

POWER UP at the Science Museum



I admit that my kids know more about computers, games and technology than I do. Maybe it’s a generational thing but maybe it’s because everything now requires a certain amount of tech know how and they teach so much more of it in schools.
So when I was invited to the Science Museum’s launch of its Power Up gaming event I knew they’d jump at it.
For anyone aged over five and remotely interested in gaming, Power Up is a chance to go console crazy as it features the very best video games, computers and consoles from the past 40 years. 
What’s great is that it’s wholly interactive as everything on display can be touched and played with and whether you are a beginner or a total pro there is something fully operable and available to play on.
Right from the tennis game on the old Atari and Amstrad computers through to the latest Next Gen consoles such as PS4 and Xbox One with games such as Minecraft I guarantee you will be spoiled for choice.
As soon as we stepped inside I knew I’d lost them - they were off, navigating their way around the banks of computers and screens like pros in a bid to find the best games - not just their favourites but experience the ones “from the olden days”.
For those who are somewhat older, it was a chance to go down memory lane and come face to face with the games and machines that were around when we were kids - and check out the ones that came along before and after.
So alongside the Ataris, SEGA and Nintendos were games such as pacman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario Brothers, Batman and Minecraft. In fact there are more than 160 systems to play with and hundreds of games.
It is a totally brilliant idea - and highlights just how far and fast gaming culture has developed over the past 40 years.
Not only that it allows people to experience science, technology and maths up close in a fun rather an an overtly educational way.
So if the weather is not so great and you are a gaming nut, then I’d totally booking a ticket. The only downside is that it has a limited run - until August 7 so get in quick!


Power Up runs at the Science Museum until Sunday, August 7. Tickets cost £8 for adults and £6.50 for children. Visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/powerup for full listings.

FIVE STAR REVIEW Now We Are Here at the Young Vic




ANYONE who has even a passing interest in the news cannot fail to have seen and heard about refugees who flee their homelands to find safety from such horrors as war, persecution or poverty.
But what is it really like to be a refugee? Normally we don’t see or hear about the individual stories of those who make the journey to what they hope is a better life.
But now a piece of verbatim theatre which has been created by individual refugees in collaboration with award winning poet and spoken word artist Deanna Rodger does just that.
Staged at the Young Vic and comprising two 45-minute acts it is performed by four actors who take on the role of the four very different refugees to tell their true stories of fleeing war and persecution and how they try to integrate into an alien culture.
In the first, we hear the painful and heartbreaking stories of three men - Desmond, Mir and Michael - played by Gary Beadle, Manish Gandhi and Jonathan Livingstone - who all claim refugee status in the UK. 
Desmond has escaped the homophobia he experiences in Jamaica, Mir leaves Pakistan to escape his father and younger brother who beat him because he is gay and imprisoned him in a mental hospital and Michael who found himself in an East African prison.
Although they don’t know each other and their stories are not linked, the men talk and interact with one another and also the audience throughout the piece.
Each has a powerful story - in particular, Michael moving from hostel to hostel and walking an hour and a half to the day centre because he doesn’t have the bus fare and Mir who is subjected to rejection by his father and then brutal beatings because of his sexuality.
The second half sees Golda Rosheuval tell the story of a 14-year-old Jamaican girl, Tamara McFarlane, who falls in love with a 15-year-old girl who moves to the area with her twin sister. Starting as friends the two girls experience first love and eventually share “tutti frutti kisses” in secret. But the fear of being lynched is ever present - not least thanks to the horrific murder of a 14 year old boy for being gay which Tamara witnesses when she is nine. So when the village busy body confronts Tamara with questions about her friendship with the girl, Tamara panics and ends the relationship.
Beautifully acted, the stories are brutally honest, heartbreaking, poignant, funny, sad, frank, intense and at times difficult to listen to. In short they are compelling viewing and a must see.


Now We Are Here is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo until Saturday, July 30. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. Donations to the Young Vic’s three charities, Micro Rainbow International, Room to Heal and NNLS Destitute Asylum Seekers Drop In, are welcome. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

FOUR STAR REVIEW Into the Woods at the Menier Chocolate Factory

FOUR STARS

IF you go into the woods today…. you may come across a baker and his wife who are desperate to start a family, Little Red Riding Hood, a witch, Jack and his cow and a whole host of other fairytale favourites.
This collection of characters are part of the musical Into The Woods, penned by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. It is a glorious mash up of all the stories, which has been set to music and is both funny and musically brilliant but with a very serious message.
A new production is currently being staged at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it is a real gem.
It has been brought to the Southwark Street theatre by Fiasco Theater, an American company who have stripped down the props and the set to make the story the focus of the audience’s attention.
It is utterly glorious and allows the silliness, the humour, the clever weaving of the stories and the characters to shine through.
Essentially the story explores the consequences of what people wish for and whether we should really be satisfied with our lot in life and it does so by taking the audience back to its childhood and reintroducing us to characters from stories we grew up with as children.
It begins with the baker and his wife who are desperate to have a child. They find out that they have been cursed and to break this they must go into the woods and get a series of items including  a cow and a red coat. 
They set about their task with gusto and begin collecting their allotted items meeting and interacting with characters from other fairytales along the way. By the end of the first act they have their happy ending - and so do the other characters.
However the second act delves a little deeper and shows them the realities of their desires and dreams and they find things are not as rosy as they seem.
The whole 10-strong cast who double up many of the characters, were great and there were some stand outs including Andy Grotelueschen as Jack’s beloved cow, Noah Brody as the wolf and Claire Karpen as a Cinderella who wasn’t really that interested in her handsome prince (Noah Brody), not least because he looked and acted like an ass on his hobby horse!
It is a glorious ensemble production, creative, imaginative, exuberant, fast paced, funny and touching and the 10 strong cast not only sing and act they also play the many instruments. 
And its message is still as relevant now as it was when it was written - that of the old adage - be careful what you wish for.


Into The Woods is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until September 17. Tickets from £39.50. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713.

INTERVIEW Olivia Vinall



BY the standards of any actress, Olivia Vinall’s career has soared to pretty stratospheric heights very quickly.
The 28-year-old, who lives in Brixton, landed her first role as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet even before she had left drama school. 
It was quickly followed by three meaty roles at the National Theatre - Desdemona opposite Adrian Lester’s Othello in 2013 and then Cordelia opposite Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear a year later and finally as Hilary, the lead in Tom Stoppard’s latest drama, and his first for nearly a decade, The Hard Problem last year. 
She cheerfully admits she couldn’t quite believe her luck when the offers came knocking on her door, acknowledging that it was both “extraordinary” and “huge”.
But such was the positive impact she made that she is now back at the South Bank theatre playing not one but three substantial roles, this time in a trilogy of Chekhov’s early plays.
The three - Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull — were premiered at Chichester Festival Theatre last autumn to critical acclaim and are being brought to the National as part of its Young Chekhov season. 
They can each be seen separately or as a single event when audiences can see the complete set in one day, starting at 11.45am with the second at 4pm and the third at 8pm.
For the most part the cast has remained the same as the Chichester run with many in all three of the plays. Olivia is one of them and she admits it has been tough going at times, but it’s clear when we chat that she is loving the experience nonetheless.
“It’s so cool,” she says excitedly. “They are amazing plays, each quite similar but with very different energies and with interesting themes so it’s a joy to be part of.
“It’s also great to be bringing them to the National - we have a few new faces in the cast which makes them feel different and fresh - almost like a new production. It’s definitely got a new lease of life.
“It’s quite full on at the moment though - learning lines and direction for one play is pretty normal but doing it for three at the same time is quite something and it’s been physically and mentally exhausting at times. But it’s been fascinating to explore the characters and present the three plays together.”
We chat in a break from the tech rehearsals and despite Olivia’s fatigue she’s delightful company - warm, friendly and very chatty about all manner of things including her love of Brixton.
“I’ve lived there for about four years and love it,” she enthuses. “It’s so cool, has so much energy and there is always so much going on. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
She’s also clearly excited to be back at the National, a venue she has much affection for.
“When I come into this theatre I wonder how it happened!” she says. “I didn’t think I’d get to perform somewhere like this so early on in my career. 
“To do the Hard Problem in particular was a gift. It’s fantastic to do new writing and to be in a new Tom Stoppard play was extraordinary and being at the forefront of the story and driving it, well it was a dream.” 
Given her obvious talent it’s not hard to see why she’s now becoming a regular at the National.
Although she says she wasn’t familiar with Platonov and Ivanov, Olivia had done a reading of The Seagull as part of a project to raise money for charity at St James’ Theatre.
“The year before I had my audition for these plays, I felt The Seagull was following me around,” she says. “I had never seen a production of it but doing the reading, there was something about it that captivated me. The writing is exquisite and the depth with which he writes made me feel like I wanted to do it at some point and so when it came up it was like a dream come true.
“Being in a rep company was a huge draw too. You hear about rep companies of old and that’s how the actors developed their craft so I leapt at this. 
“It’s so wonderful to have this opportunity, to be part of the trilogy and at the National - I have to pinch myself daily,” she adds cheerfully. 
Olivia plays Sofya in Platonov, Sasha in Ivanov and Nina in The Seagull. She tells me they are each different characters but through them we see the change and development of Chekhov as a writer.
“It’s fascinating to see the shift in how he writes about women,” she says. “On the face of it Sofya and Sasha appear to be quite similar but actually they are quite different and I’ve tried to show those distinctions.
“Sofya believes in emancipation and is very interested in thinking and ideas, but she lives in a world where she’s not allowed to go to university and her only life is to get married.
“In Ivanov Sasha was of a generation of women who were allowed to go to classes at university, just not get their degree. They were expected to look after the household.
“Sasha has wonderful discussions with Ivanov with whom she has been in love since she was a child. It’s like a meeting of minds - they talk about ideas and philosophy and Russian politics.
“With The Seagul, Nina is the 20th century girl who gets a job and becomes an actress. So you can see the development in his ideas and writing. It’s been really interesting.
“What’s hilarious though is that my characters get younger with each play!” she laughs. “I go from about 25 to 18. It’s brilliant.”
But how does Olivia manage to remember all the lines and to switch characters easily, especially on days when she does the whole lot in one go?
“I’m not sure,” she laughs. “It’s been a huge challenge but to be honest it’s not been as difficult as I thought it would be.
“Coming back to it after the run at Chichester is so lovely though and we’ve had a bit more time to delve deeper and expand and explore ideas.
“The three show days are mad but wonderful and there is nothing like it - in fact it is the best way to see them. As an audience you see the development in his writing and go through such an incredible journey and experience. 
“For us though keeping the energy levels up that is the hardest bit and we all have different strategies to cope with all the changes - I like to change my hairstyle which sounds bonkers but you have to feel a different energy with each part. 
“But it’s such great fun and I’m having the best time.”



The National Theatre’s Young Chekhov season is on now until Saturday, October 8. Tickets from£15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

INTERVIEW Pippa Nixon on Sunset at the Villa Thalia



POLITICS, military coups, democracy, greed, and what it is to belong and have a home are just some of the themes in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s startling and absorbing new play, Sunset at the Villa Thalia.
Set on a Greek island, first in the 60s and then nine years later in the 70s, it tells how the lives of two couples collide and the devastating consequences of their meeting.
It is currently in rep at the National’s Dorfman theatre and boasts a stellar cast including Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern and The Hollow Crown’s Ben Miles.
It also stars, Pippa Nixon, known to theatre fans for her impressive CV which has included in the last three years alone, playing such meaty roles as the Bastard in King John, Titania, Ophelia and Rosalind at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and Ariel in The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
She has also graced our TV screens with parts in Grantchester, Cuffs and Holby City and in the film Containment.
Pippa is now making her National Theatre debut as Charlotte in this production and tells me “it’s a joy” to be part of.
We chat as she’s rushing from her West Norwood home to the theatre for the start of an intense run of eight shows a week for the next five weeks - something Pippa cheerfully admits is “full on”.
“I am a huge fan of Alexi Kaye Campbell,” she tells me enthusiastically. “He’s a fantastic writer and having seen many of his plays I always come away feeling moved by his characters, stories and topics. 
“So to get a part like this, to be directed at the National and work with such an amazing group of people, I was like, give me the script now!
“I just thought the characters were so brilliantly written and it was such a well formed play that it was a no brainer.”
The story concerns young British couple Charlotte and Theo who have left their Camberwell home to come to one of the Greek islands on holiday. It is a chance for Theo, a playwright, to gain inspiration for his work not to mention the peace and quiet to think.
Into their lives come an American couple, Harvey and June full of charisma and charm. And over one fateful evening, Harvey - who has connections with the American government - persuades the young couple to buy the house they are renting from its Greek owners. 
Initially, given the house is going for a song, Charlotte has doubts as she is concerned about ripping the Greek family off. However, Harvey and June seduce them into the idea. But just as they buy the house, a military coup takes place on the Greek mainland.
The second act takes place nine years later. Charlotte and Theo now have two children and are happily still living in the house, and are still in touch with Harvey and June.
However when the American couple pay them a visit, they realise the devastating consequences of their decision to buy the house.
“I was quite unnerved by the play when I first read it,” says Pippa. “You think you know where it’s going but it’s quite complex because there are twists and turns which keep the audience guessing.
“Charlotte and Harvey have an instant attraction, although there is never any real suggestion they have an affair, but they definitely have a charged relationship. They are both passionate believers in politics, what makes the world evolve and what is morally right and what’s morally wrong.
“They come from very different places - Harvey comes from a much more right wing frame of mind - and throughout the course of the play they argue and debate over issues such as democracy, both making valid points.
“I think what Alexi wanted to explore was that there is no good or bad character and you may find yourself siding with one and then they do something and you fall on the side of someone else. It’s brilliant.”
For Pippa, who had wanted to be an actress ever since she was 12 years old, the debates about greed, poverty, wealth and cultural clashes, have been fascinating, especially in the last few months with the current political backdrop of the EU referendum.
“It’s very exciting to bring this play to audiences now, at this time in our history,” she says. “Even though it’s a period piece, it feels current. 
“The play has a back drop of political turmoil and clearly with what has happened in the last few weeks in this country there are echoes here.
“And with the play touching on other issues such as a housing crisis and democracy it all feels so relatable - and so it will resonate very much with audiences.
“For me what’s been so interesting is that I have played some hugely complex characters in my career but never anyone like Charlotte - never anyone close to my age or with such a political view. Charlotte is very passionate about what she believes in.”
I suggest that this sounds like Pippa herself. For during the course of our conversation she is warm, chatty, friendly, engaging and instantly likeable - and has a passionate conviction not only about her craft and career but also about her politics.
“I think Charlotte and I are quite similar in many ways,” she agrees. “Charlotte takes her stance with marches and petitions although her voice can be heard in situations where she can challenge people one on one. I can channel some of my thoughts and beliefs through her in this play.
“I’ve lived in South London for about 15 years and love it and feel very much part of the community.  Most of the people where I live were in the Remain camp, including myself, and so the Brexit result was a real shock. 
“A lot of people feel they have been told untruths, that there was a lot of propaganda and that they now feel powerless.
“Politically I have never known anything like this and it will be very interesting to see how audiences react now, after the result. 
“So to be part of a play like this that feels so current and with all the conversations people are having right now, it’s very special.”


Sunset at the Villa Thalia is on at the National Theatre until Thursday, August 4. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

INTERVIEW - David Babani, artistic director of the Menier Chocolate Factory



DAVID Babani is the very picture of contentment - and so he should be. The artistic director of the hugely successful and popular Menier Chocolate Factory, he is also married, became a father five months ago and lives happily in Brixton Hill. Life, as they say is good.
We meet during a break from tech rehearsals for the Southwark Street theatre’s latest production, Into The Woods, a musical mash up of all those wonderful fairytales we read as children linked together by a story of a baker and his wife who long to start a family. 
With the music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the book by James Lapine, it is a cleverly constructed piece, full of humour but with a cautionary message for its audience.
“It’s all going well,” David tells me as he settles down for our chat. “Into the Woods is very different and unlike any production I’ve ever seen. 
“It’s incredibly timely given the craziness in the world right now both here and abroad, especially in the second act which asks questions about identity, family, diversity and commitment. 
“It was written in the 80s but 35 years on it’s extraordinary how relevant it is to today. I think the message is so perfect for now.
“But it’s also a wonderful escape and with all the hardship and scariness of what’s going on in the world, we need some naughtiness, laughter and entertainment in our lives.”
And it’s entertainment that has been at the heart of the Menier since David established it 12 years ago with his erstwhile business partner Danielle Tarento.
Indeed he remembers clearly the day he first saw the building, a former chocolate factory, in what was at that time a less than trendy part of town, and says it was practically love at first sight.
“My first impression was that it was a half derelict building which had tremendous potential,” he says. 
“It was just bare bones but there was so much character and it was a hugely exciting prospect. 
“It’s gorgeous and beautiful and has lots of original features. There is nothing like it in London and there is no way you could have recreated something like this.
“At the time I had just enough experience to realise its potential and what it could be - not just to us but to the arts and the local community - and not enough experience from stopping myself from being an idiot and moving in. 
“I was full of the blind passion of youth,” he adds grinning. “We decided to go for it and jumped in at the deep end.”
The pair, who both saw the building independently before being introduced by a mutual friend, spent a week negotiating with the landlord before signing the deal on New Year’s Eve 2003. They moved in on January 5 and opened the doors to the first show, Julius Caesar a mere six weeks later on February 21.
And not just content with establishing a theatre, they included a restaurant as an integral part of the business which is just as popular.
“Danielle and I both had the idea of people being totally comfortable when they walked through the doors and so having a restaurant was key,” he says. 
“I’d learned from touring shows all over the world that food and drink were important companions to theatre and it added to the experience.
“Danielle ran it and did so beautifully. We have wonderful staff and the food and atmosphere are great and it’s a fantastic way to kick off your evening at the Chocolate Factory.”
Since opening, the 180-seat venue has achieved far more than most theatres. And thanks to David’s vision, ambition and determination, it has become something of a powerhouse with award winning shows, transfers to the West End and Broadway and a growing loyal audience - thus establishing itself firmly on the theatrical map. 
And they have done it all with no public funding, something David is proud of saying it allows them to have total freedom to put on the shows they want.
And rather than stick to one particular genre David has been adamant that the Menier should provide a mix and so over the years they have staged every type of show imaginable - from the classics to light hearted comedies, stand up to one-man shows, musicals to drama, thrillers to magic, and everything in between.
“Everything we do has to entertain, educate and move us,” says David insisting he’s not into labels. “It is really important to mix it up a bit and offer a varied arc of shows for the audience. 
“There are so many different types of theatre and I want to do as many as we can and as well as we can. 
“We have this incredible flexible space which is really cool and we are still finding new ways of staging our shows. It makes for an element of excitement when you walk in which you don’t get in other venues.
“It’s exciting for us as well as the audience and it means we don’t get bored. We have grown and been successful because we don’t play safe.
“We also have lovely audiences that we have built up over the years and who are very loyal - they trust us and they enable us to take a risk because they know we are offering a solid night out.”
Warm and softly spoken but with a fierce passion for not just the Menier but for theatre in general David is hugely proud of his achievements - and rightly so. 
And much like the production currently playing, the 38-year-old acknowledges his own career has been the stuff of fairytales.
Although he never wanted to be an actor he tells me that theatre “chose” him and he realised it was where he wanted to be.
He signed up for a drama degree at Bristol but he began doing productions in his spare time and it wasn’t long before he was doing more of that than his degree.
It came to a head when he was offered the job of artistic director at the Jermyn Street Theatre near Piccadilly and he decided to take a sabbatical from his degree - which he has been doing ever since.
“I was about 20 at the time and in my head I thought I’d do it for about six months,” he says. “However it ended up as an indefinite sabbatical and I’ve not looked back.
“I have been incredibly lucky as I’ve been able to work with some extraordinary people both on and off stage from whom I have learned a lot.
“I’ve made lots of mistakes of course but the good news is that I learned from some of them! That has made me a better director and producer.”
But he is adamant that it is down to his team, many of whom have been there for years, that the Menier has been the success it has.
“I couldn’t do this without them,” he insists. “It’s tough and there are long days but we all muck in together. It’s a genuine family and because of their brilliance we are able to do the work we do and I get to play with my heroes.
“And now as well as Into The Woods in this tiny 180-seat theatre and the 100,000 who come here each year, we have two shows running in the West End, one in Broadway, another one planned for the West End and one on a major UK tour. 

“It’s about getting it right but what makes us a powerhouse is the audience - they are loyal and willing to go with us wherever we go next. And that makes me very proud.”

FOUR STAR REVIEW Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

It’s nearly 50 years since the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang captured people’s hearts and imaginations.
Now, Ian Fleming’s classic story is being brought to audiences once more, this time in a  theatre production which is currently on a nationwide tour. 
It is having a pit stop at New Wimbledon Theatre and despite the almost suffocating heat in this beautiful venue it is a glorious production.
It stars Lee Mead as Caractacus Potts, the inventor and devoted single dad to two children, Jeremy and Jemima.
One day the children are playing the in yard of the Junkman, racing in a now broken down and dilapidated car which was once a famous racing car.
Desperate to buy the car they urge their father to raise the 30 shillings it costs to take it off the Junkman’s hands.
Despite a failed attempt to invent a sweet to tempt Truly Scrumptious’s father Lord Scrumptious, a visit to the fairground provides just the luck Caractacus needs.
With the 30 shillings in his pocket, he buys the car and transforms it into Chitty. 
But their happiness is short lived as on a visit to the seaside the children’s grandfather is abducted by spies from Vulgaria.
It is up to Caractacus junior, Truly, the children and of course Chitty to save the day.
It is a quite fantastic production - visually stunning and full of the songs made famous in the film, a really creepy and evil child catcher and hilarious turns by the two spies, played by Scott Paige and Sam Harrison.
There are also plenty of laughs and some really poignant moment including Caractacus singing Hushabye Mountain to help his children sleep.
And there is plenty of stage magic too when it comes to the car.
The cast is superb in particular Shaun Williamson as the Baron and Michelle Collins as his child hating wife.
But the undoubted stars of the show are Carrie Hope Fletcher as the delightful Truly with whom Caractacus finds love, the children, played by Henry Kent and Lucy Sherman and Lee Mead as Caractacus - who shows that not only has he a stunning voice but he can dance too. 
It is a real heart warmer of a show, perfect for all the family and guaranteed to melt your heart.


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday, July 30. Tickets from £20.40. Visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

FOUR STAR REVIEW Stalking the Bogeyman at Southwark Playhouse

ACCORDING to statistics one in five women and one in six men in the UK have been sexually abused or raped as children.
These chilling figures, from charities and agencies that offer help and support to the victims, also suggest that only six per cent of perpetrators are held accountable.
Fortunately things are improving in terms of more victims coming forward and the issue of rape becoming less of a taboo subject.
And in part it is thanks to those victims who are brave enough to come forward and tell their stories.
One such is David Holthouse, an American investigative journalist whose own experience of being raped at seven years old by a childhood friend led to him writing his play Stalking the Bogeyman.
It is a devastatingly frank account of what happened to him and the consequences of that night. It has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse and although at times difficult to watch it is a play that is vital and important.
Starring Gerard McCarthy as David, we see how he is befriended by the Bogeyman, a grade A student, 10 years his senior and who he idolises.
But one fateful night this teenager rapes David and his whole life changes. Initially David cannot tell his parents, he is scared and in pain and has been told by the Bogeyman that if he tells his parents they will not only not believe him but will hate him. 
But over time David tries to bury the secret and get on with his life. He works hard and gets a good job as a journalist, but he cannot escape the man who raped him. 
So much so that one day, David plots to kill him. He buys a gun, a silencer and stalks this man for a year, working out his plan.
Despite the grim subject matter it is a play that demands to be seen.
It is heartbreakingly sad, gripping and intense and the audience is sent on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the 75 minutes.
Gerard McCarthy leads a superb cast as David - brilliantly showing the innocence of being a seven year old happy to play computer games with his idol to having that taken from him in the cruellest of ways through to his life as an adult, it is an astonishing performance.
Ultimately this is an incredibly important play - brutal and honest but with a message of hope and also a plea to those who are too afraid to speak out - that they come forward, expose the perpetrator and break the silence.


Stalking the Bogeyman is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, until August 6. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Monday, 11 July 2016

INTERVIEW - Lee Mead in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Lee Mead as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Credit Alastair Muir

LEE Mead became a household name in 2007 when he won the BBC TV show, Any Dream Will Do. It secured him the title role in the West End revival of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice classic, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat winning critical acclaim for his performance and an army of fans along the way.
Since then the 35-year-old's star has been in the ascendant - he's had lead roles in several West End musicals including Wicked, has released four solo albums and has won legions of fans as Lofty in the BBC's long running medical drama Casualty.
He's currently on a year-long sabbatical from the show to take on what he describes as his "dream job" of Caractacus Potts in the musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The production is coming to the New Wimbledon Theatre next week and in a chat between shows he tells me he can't wait.
"It's also so much fun and to work with such a brilliant cast and go to some great places on the tour is fantastic," he says.
"I love the theatre in Wimbledon - it's such a great venue and the town and the Common are lovely so I'm really pleased to be back here.
"Caractacus is such a great part and by far the biggest role I've ever done," he adds enthusiastically.
"I saw the film as a kid and loved it and so to be playing Potts, well it's just a dream, although it's exhausting - every night I come off stage absolutely soaked!
"It's a real work out and I've lost over a stone in weight."
Despite these assertions, Lee positively brims with enthusiasm for the role and if he's tired, he certainly doesn't sound it.
It's also second time lucky for him in getting the role after missing out in 2002 to be cover for one Michael Ball.
"It was an open audition and I really wanted it but I am not a dancer," he explains. "To be the cover and understudy you have to able to dance and although I could act and sing, I couldn't pick up the dance routine so I didn't get through.
"But now after three hours a day of practice over four weeks with choreographer Stephen Mear, I've managed to do it and can now do The Old Bamboo which is incredibly intricate so a real personal achievement for me. "
It's not just the dancing that Lee is enthusiastic about though. The whole story is one he loves and he says he feels an affinity to his alter ego.
"When it was offered to me it was a no brainer," he says. "The story is brilliant, the set is stunning, the songs are beautiful with a real mix from ballads to up tempo ones and the characters are fantastic.
"Caractacus is a joy to play so to have a chance to play him at this time in my career is wonderful. I'm 35, a single dad with a six year old daughter so I can relate to him on so many levels.
"This is a man who is a grafter and the relationship he has with his kids is the most important thing to him.
"But then he meets Truly and although there is a class difference and it starts of as quite a fiery relationship, you see them find common ground and their relationship grow.
"One of my favourite songs in the show is Hushabye Mountain - it's ultimately about the relationship with his kids but it's also the point at which he decides at that moment to move forward and allow himself a chance at finding happiness."
The role was made famous in the film by Dick Van Dyke and although there may be comparisons, Lee says he's making the part his own.
"I've definitely put my own stamp on him," he says. "Dick Van Dyke was of course terrific as Potts and although I'm sure some people will compare us, I've made him completely me and tried not to think about how and what he did.
"I've made Potts sincere, a man who loves his family but who is guarded because he's a widow - there is clearly a lot of pain there."
Lee speaks with genuine affection for the role and throughout our chat he is honest, open, friendly and down to earth. In fact, one of the nicest men you could possibly speak to.
And his down to earth attitude is no fa├žade as he tells me he has kept his feet very firmly on the ground since he won Any Dream Will Do. In fact he remains very humble and modest.
"I take my job really seriously and try and have fun in each job I do, but I don't take the business seriously," he says. "It's not saving lives or brain surgery - that's pressure!
"I'm just a normal lad who was out of work for a long time before I got this break. I wanted to play football for Chelsea but realised quite quickly I wasn't very good as I was always the substitute.
"I was 18 when I started out, after having done school productions. I started out at the bottom, working on a cruise ship for £150 a week. I had the best time, got paid and kept going, working hard and trying to improve. It made me appreciate what came next for me."
And happily since his break he's been in regular work and has a schedule for the next year that would make lesser mortals weep - with the long Chitty tour, panto at Christmas at the Palladium, plus working on a fifth album and going back to Casualty.
"It appears as though I'm busy but it's like this for most dads," he laughs. "My dad did 80 hours a week and most of my friends do 12 hour days as very few of us are able to do less.
"I'm lucky though as I get time off between jobs so I can spend time with my daughter. However although it's been an amazing 10 years, I will and can never take it for granted.
"The whole glamour of the business isn't real - what's real is going home to my kid, having a cup of tea and being with family and friends - just like Potts."


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre from Wednesday July 20 until Saturday, July 30. Visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for full listings.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Milton Jones at Balham Comedy Festival, Friday, July 8


IT'S fair to say the last few weeks have been a bit of a rollercoaster in the political world. So thank goodness then that some light relief can be had down at the Balham Comedy Festival.
The annual, and now well established, event opens tonight for a 10 day run at the Bedford Pub and kicks off with the king of the one liners, Milton Jones.
And in a chat ahead of the gig the South London gag meister tells me that he's looking forward to coming back to bring his own brand of eccentric and surreal comedy to the festival.
"I love the festival because it's such fun to do and so well run," he says warmly. "The Banana Cabaret, which they do here on Friday and Saturday nights, was the first to offer me a 20-minute set back when I first started out in comedy so I've always loved being here.
"It's also nice to catch up with comedy friends and to open proceedings is great so I'm really looking forward to it.
"There is a real intimacy to it which I love because you can interact with the audience as they are so close.
"Sometimes when I'm doing a tour, I go to places like civic centres which is like performing in a corridor. You can't hear the heckles at the back and there isn't that interaction.
"So I love the Bedford and this year I'm in the Round Room which is slightly Shakespearean in that it's like a tiny version of the Globe Theatre. You've got the audience on all levels making it an ideal venue.
"In fact I'd love a chance at performing a gig at the Globe though am not sure they'd be up for comedy...." he muses.
For the gig he promises a mix of his one liners as well as anecdotes and stories which have featured in various guises in previous tours. There will also be music, his trademark vibrant and colourful shirts and a few props including his overhead projector.
"I did a big tour last year and have another one coming up next year so I'm in a somewhat weird state of being in a transition between shows," he says.
"I'm trying to work on a new type of show that's more about lots of little stories rather than one big one that flows through the act.
"So there will be brand new stuff as well as a few old gags which I'm trying to doctor to bring them up to date and relevant to today.
"I try not to call it a mish mash but more like a selection box of highlights!"
As an example he tells me he will be updating his flag routine that was a feature of his last tour and in which he's been able to change in light of the Brexit vote.
However, as he's known for not normally touching on political stuff in his act is this a new departure for him and something we will see more of?
"Comedians do look at the news and try and find something from it for their shows but political stuff has never been my thing," he says.
"But I think with all that's been going on over the past two weeks you can't really ignore it. It's been larger than life and quite hard to exaggerate what's happened which has been seismic and people are confused and shocked by it.
"I always thought the result would be close but I think especially in London there has been a real sense of shock as most of us wanted to remain.
"It has been very strange and a huge deal - people suddenly felt insecure about the future and in need of a hug because it meant something.
"However, I did a show in Bristol last weekend and the audience was glad to get together but didn't want to talk about politics as that's all they've been doing for ages and just the mention of Boris Johnson or Michael Gove and they were 'oh no...!' and shut off.
"Besides, there's always plenty of stuff in my act to allow me to stay away from politics as a rule."
And he hopes that as an antedote to all things Brexit, the Balham audience will be up for some light relief and having a chat about other things - and says he doesn't mind the hecklers.
"I don't mind hecklers as they don't tend to be aggressive," he says. "Mostly they are just trying to be helpful so it's fairly straightforward.
"The hardest thing to deal with is doing a show at a festival and suddenly a baby in the audience starts crying. You can't attack a baby on any level so they are definitely the worst hecklers," he jokes.
"Fortunately it's only happened a handful of times and I'm sure there won't be anything like that at Balham so it will be great."
"Besides I think people now want to get out and escape for a bit and comedy is one great way of doing that so I hope the Festival lifts all our spirits."


Milton Jones will be at the Balham Comedy Festival, Bedford Pub on Friday, July 8. Visit www.balhamcomedyfestival.com for full listings.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

INTERVIEW with Gerard McCarthy who stars in Stalking The Bogeyman at the Southwark Playhouse


Gerard McCarthy in rehearsals. Photo credit Pamela Raith

HE played a policeman in BBC 2's BAFTA nominated drama The Fall, has performed at The Globe, Penge's Bridge House Theatre and in numerous West End productions, not to mention his award-winning performance as Kris Fisher in Hollyoaks.
But now Gerard McCarthy is taking on what he says has been one of the most demanding and scary roles of his career.
The Belfast-born actor is making his debut at the Southwark Playhouse in Stalking The Bogeyman, the extraordinary true story of award-winning journalist David Holthouse's secret plot to murder the man who raped him when he was seven years old.
It opens at the Newington Causeway theatre next Wednesday for a four week run and Gerard admits it took some persuading for him to sign up to it.
"It's an incredible play but I took one look at the script, read it and said no way," he tells me in a chat during a break from rehearsals.
"It is really intense - a 90 minute straight through play which tells the true story of David Holthouse and how his life changed after he was raped by a childhood friend when he was just seven years old.
"So it's not for the fainthearted and it did take me a while and a few readings before I was able to say yes to it.
"David and I have nothing in common and nothing like this has ever happened to me so I couldn't relate to what he had gone through so it's a massive stretch and which is why I said no initially.
"It's such a huge role - I play him from age seven and then through his teenage years, into his 20s to when he realises this guy messed up his life and then thinking about how he could kill him. So it's just huge and to be honest I didn't think I could do it.
"But then I saw a documentary about David Bowie and he said that you need to break out of your comfort zone and always challenge yourself and something just clicked."
So, Gerard re-read the script and took the plunge but admits it was a daunting prospect and at times emotionally exhausting.
"It's still scary and huge but I knew I should do it," he says. “But it's also a massive responsibility not just to David and other victims of sexual abuse, but to tell David's story - which isn't a one in a million as it happens to kids all over the place - in a responsible way.
"The incident itself happens 10 minutes into the play and while you don't see it, the audience is taken on a journey to see how that night went on to affect the rest of David's life, the decisions he made and how he deals with it in his mind.
“It’s a compelling and incredible piece of writing. And of course it's amazing for it to be staged at the Southwark Playhouse, a theatre which I have wanted to work at for a while."
To help them in the play, Gerard says he and the cast have been working with counsellors and others who work with victims of sexual abuse and he says the stats are “gobsmacking".
“This happened to him when he was seven and the man who did this was 17 at the time, a family friend, a grade A student and David idolised him,” he says.
"Yet, he did this, telling David he mustn’t tell his parents because if he did they would hate him and that the Bogeyman would get him.
“I have spent so much time trying to imagine what that might be like and why would a seven year old believe his parents would hate him if he said anything. Kids don't even know what sex is at that age let alone what's just happened and because he's physically hurt and in pain I can only imagine what he was going through.
"The counsellors have given figures for the numbers of children who are sexually abused at the hands of people they know and it stunned us all," he adds.
"I went home and as I sat on the tube I looked around and thought about how many I was with on that train who that could have happened to.
"It has made me much more aware but also incredibly protective of my own two year old nephew, and so to some extent I can see why David felt he had no option but to kill the man who had done this.
“I can only imagine that you would just want to know why, why did that person do that to me and what did I do to deserve it. I suppose you can't process it or have closure if you don't understand it. And I am sure it's no coincidence that his career as a journalist and the fact he's adamant he will not have children of his own are a result of what happened to him.
“During the play David goes through every possible scenario in his head. He stops speaking to this man, moves away and then there is a sort of moment of enlightenment where he has an idea this guy might be out raping other children and he feels the only way to put a stop to it is to kill him.
“So he stalks him for a year, learns his daily routine, buys a gun and remodels it so the bullets aren't traceable and buys a gun silencer. However the night before he was going to do it his parents turn up with his childhood diary which they have read and ask if it is all true.”
Gerard says you will have to come to see the production to find out what happens next and whether or not David actually commits the act but he says it's powerful and hard hitting.
And despite the somewhat grim and dark subject matter Gerard says he believes passionately that it is a play people should see, if only to encourage other victims to come forward and have a voice.
"I hope very much, and think it will be the case, that those who come to see the play will be moved and will go out into the bar afterwards and start having a discussion about what they have just seen," he says.
"I should think there will be a lot of arguments about whether David was right to do what he did, or think the way he did as well as what our response should be.
"And if it encourages more victims to come forward and know that they will be believed then that will be a massive step forward."


Stalking the Bogeyman is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, from Wednesday, July 13 until Saturday, August 6. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies, Imperial War Museum

IN the 100th anniversary year of the release of The Battle of the Somme film, it is perhaps fitting and certainly timely for an exhibition that looks at and examines how wars of the past 100 years have provided inspiration to film and documentary makers.
Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies, which has just opened at the Imperial War Museum, is an interactive and immersive exhibition which goes behind the scenes of some of the war films that have captured the imagination of audiences across the generations.
Featuring some of the most celebrated and provocative war movies from the past 100 years, it shows how film-makers have used war’s inherent drama to translate stories of love and loss, fear and courage, triumph and tragedy into blockbusters for the big screen.
Alongside 200 items including a combination of film clips, costumes, props, scripts, sketches and designs, the IWM opens up its own extensive collections to bring original archival material and artefacts to new audiences.
Accompanied by immersive audio-visual installations, the exhibition will explore the film-making process and how war movies have shaped popular perception of conflicts.
It will also include items from iconic films such as The Dam Busters, Where Eagles Dare, Apocalypse Now, Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Casablanca, Jarhead, Atonement and War Horse.
It has been put together by historian and curator Laura Clouting who says that it has proved a fascinating subject to bring to the museum’s visitors.
“IWM has wanted to go back to look at the subject of war films for a while,” she says. “We felt it was important because the cinema is one of the main ways of getting a visual impression of what war can be like.
“What this exhibition does is explore the enduring fascination of war on the big screen, and why film makers have been inspired to make such movies and how these stories have influenced our understanding of war.
“It has been a fascinating process putting it all together and delving into the archives here at the IWM to bring out some items which we don’t normally see. It represents a unique opportunity to see these items which as well as our own include props and costumes from other organisations.
“What was important when creating the exhibition was to make sure there is a real mix and breadth to it - so it features the impact of documentary film such as the Battle of the Somme film as well as blockbuster Hollywood films.
“In 1916 the Battle of the Somme film was put together for audiences who did not know what was going on in the front. It is important to remember that cinema was very new during the First World War and people were desperate for news. They had been used to getting it through newspapers but film became a way of getting a sense of what their loved ones were going through. It was an important way of understanding what it’s all about to live through war.
“The equipment they used was very heavy and they had to go to a position of safety to shoot it. In fact some of the scenes were recreated elsewhere, but it was an incredibly important film and really paved the way for what has come since."
There are five sections which make up the exhibition - Introduction: the war film genre; Inspiration: why are war films made? Making a film: how do film makers bring stories of war to life? Release and reception: what impact do war films leave? and Finale: through a montage of final scenes and endings drawn from films across the century, this section shows how film-makers put an end to their war stories.
All of them explore how war has proved a profoundly compelling subject since the earliest days of cinema.
And while many might think that war films are just about the battles, it provides a chance to prove that this is not the case - and in fact that war can act as a backdrop and scene setter.
“War shapes peoples’ lives in ways that are far beyond the battlefield,” says Laura. “For example Casablanca is not about any battle but war was the backdrop for the story and it determines the course of that love story.
“The biggest surprise for us when collating all the various parts of the exhibition was that although we have all seen or have heard about a lot of war films, when we began to dig we realised just how many there are.
"And equally fascinating is that we see the way films have changed over the years - for example the sense of futility, waste and terrible slaughter in World War One had gone by the time it comes to World War Two.
“And of course some have been much more heavily covered than others. World War Two for example is a case in point, as is the Vietnam War - both have provided inspiration for films both fiction and non fiction.”
Laura hopes that the exhibition will fascinate both those who are film buffs as well as those who have not seen any war film.
“We want it to be approachable for everyone,” she says. “It is a big exhibition and is visually very striking and there is much for people to enjoy and take away whether they are avid film fans or are new to the subject.
“It’s an opportunity to understand the inspiration behind the films and there will be something there for everyone.”


Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies is on at the IWM, Lambeth Road until January 8, 2017. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children. Visit www.iwm.org.uk or call 020 7416 5000 for full listings.

Friday, 1 July 2016

INTERVIEW Matt Barber, Breakfast At Tiffany's


THEY say you should never work with children or animals but actor Matt Barber has ignored this advice and is currently sharing a stage with a rather beautiful cat.
The 33-year-old is starring as Fred in a stage production of Truman Capote’s classic novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which has just opened for an 11-week run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End.
And while many will undoubtedly be going to see Matt and his leading lady Pixie Lott, he says it’s Bob the cat who is the star of the show.
"He's unpredictable at the best of times," laughs Matt. "He’s a real performer though and likes to feel the limelight and generally upstages everyone.
"But he’s well behaved, sits on stage, doesn’t give a shit and is just interested in the fact he will get chicken when he gets off stage. He does his own thing. It’s all about him!"
Animals aside it is a welcome return to the stage for Matt who was last seen gracing our TV screens as the perfectly dashing Atticus Aldridge in ITV's Downton Abbey.
Indeed he tells me playing Fred is a dream role, though he describes it as demanding not least because he’s on stage “pretty much all the time”.
"It’s an amazing part and a wonderful story," he says warmly. "I don't leave the stage - apart from 20 seconds in the second half - so it's challenging but so exciting.
"In the show Fred is essentially two characters - one where he’s a young man, meeting Holly, this massively sparkly, colourful and exciting woman who explodes in his life, and the other is when he's 15 years older and telling the story of it all. By the end of the piece he's changed quite a bit.
"It's beautifully written and the way it steps in and out of these roles is fascinating - Fred is the linchpin around which it all happens.
"It's a dream role and I love being part of it. And it's fantastic to be at such a beautiful theatre - it's stunning."
Set in New York in 1943 Breakfast At Tiffany's sees Fred, a young writer from Louisiana, meet Holly Golightly, a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl.
Everyone falls in love with Holly – including Fred. However Fred is poor, and Holly’s other suitors include a playboy millionaire and the future president of Brazil so what chance does he have?
However, as war rages on in Europe, Holly begins to fall in love with Fred – just as her past catches up with her.
A version of the story was made into the iconic film that starred Audrey Hepburn. However, Matt says anyone thinking the play will be like the film should think again.
"It is based on Truman Capote's book which is quite different to the film," he says. "So if people come to the theatre wanting to see the film version, they will be disappointed. And it's not a musical either - it's a play with songs and music.
“However, the production we have got is wonderful. It is very respectful to the text and the style of the piece.
"It’s also very visually engaging, the sets are stunning and the music is just fantastic - we are all really proud of it."
And he says that although it is set in America in the 40s it's a story that will resonate with those who come and see it.
"It's essentially an unconventional love story featuring these amazing characters," he says. “But it has many other themes that people will recognise.
"The whole thing is a real expose of life in New York in the 1940s - people were finding themselves at a time when the world was in a state of flux and some things were not OK - much like today with the EU referendum and living in a world that is full of uncertainty.
"It is a fascinating piece and we are all having a great time being part of it."
And indeed Matt says he loves being back on stage again though he is coy about the possibility of a Downton Abbey film.
"Downton was a dream," he says warmly. "When I got the phone call, and then to be part of that whole family, it was astonishing and amazing. There are lots of rumours about there being a film but what they would do for the story I don't know. But it would be awesome though as it was so popular.
"But I do love the variety of my job. It's wonderful because I get to do so many different things. The best bits of acting are the work you do when you spend time in the rehearsal room where you pull around the text and delve in the the psychology of the characters, thrashing out who they are.
"There is something magical about messing around with people who are equally enthusiastic and talented.
"And then you get to bring what you have been working on to the stage and hopefully wow the audiences. It’s awesome."


Matt Barber stars in Breakfast At Tiffany's at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until September 17. Tickets from £15. Visit http://www.breakfastattiffanys.co.uk/ or call the box office on 020 7930 8800.