Friday, 9 December 2016

Deck the Halls with................

This week I have bought my Christmas tree from a farm and decorated it whilst watching Love Actually so my festive levels are soaring nicely. I feel like we have all been waiting for December, desperate for a reason to feel utterly joyful and to spread some love around after the onslaught of the previous 11 months.

Last year the Christmas offering at The Rose Theatre, Kingston brought me out of a bleak hole, rather like Moley, and so I was looking forward to topping up my festive levels with their new production of Wind in the Willows. The Rose has had a knockout year; Hollywood directors, high class productions and promises of more to come.

After the hustle and bustle of Kingston’s markets the pastoral scene that greets you on entering the auditorium is a welcome respite. Once again, the use of projection aids the creation of a make believe world on their versatile stage with a babbling brook and luscious green amid a light jazz soundtrack - despite devouring a Wagamama’s 30 minutes before I could almost taste the hot buttered toast!

The adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic by Ciaran McConville has the Disney/Pixar factor; witty, fast paced and with winks to the adults too. The children squealed at the falling snow and Poop Poop (well, I did too actually – I don’t want to ruin it for you but the song is utter genius) whilst the adults enjoyed the dangers of ‘impromtu affairs’ and a tribute to Titanic. Lovely work Mr McConville!

The costume designs by Peter Todd have inspired me to dress like a rabbit in 2017; he made a beautiful job of suggesting animal characteristics via 1940s Britain, seriously, you may well see me sporting a floral tea dress teamed with an eared hat! The whole design is understated and gorgeous and pulls you into this gentle tale of friendship and loyalty.

That's GSA dance training, that is!
I was happy to see my old GSA friend, Mike Taibi in the cast stealing the show with his versatility as a baddie, an old nag (see I knew all that time in War Horse would pay off,) and a cameo as Lady Austin that leaves you wondering why you need to go see any other Christmas show to see a dame. The Youth Theatre are astoundingly talented and match up to the touching performances of the adult cast. The physical work is particularly impressive.

I don’t need a Facebook “review of the year” to tell me about my 2016; moments in this production did that for me. My whole year was there; the idea of coming out from underground to find an adventure, realising the value of home, seeing Mr Badger welcomed into the arms of Mrs Badger who has been waiting for him and meeting someone that makes you smell orange blossom water, the scent of a friendship that will last forever. All of life is found in this tale, that’s why it’s a classic. These are the qualities people are craving at the end of 2016; no need for big presents just grab someone you love and have a “just in case” picnic.

This year, of all the years, we need reassurance that there is good in the world and a reminder of the key values needed for survival; friendship, love and the appreciation for the simple things in life. This production of Wind in the Willows has them in abundance and I promise you that you’ll leave the theatre hopeful of a happier 2017 (and with a memory of the gorgeous Mike Taibi in heels!)

Wind in the Willows is playing at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until January 3rd 2017, get tickets here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Hasn't he done well? Edward Harrison at The Rose

There’s an old adage that actors are competitive – they don’t like to see each other do well and are only bitterly thinking about their own failures when they say “well done on winning your Olivier Award dear,” through gritted teeth. (Think All About Eve or Showgirls.) Well that’s utter tripe.

Most actors you meet are genuinely thrilled when a pal gets a super job; they understand all the years of graft, self doubt and physical theatre classes at drama school that they have endured and so are bouncing off the walls and speedily booking tickets when a job comes off.

Edward Harrison in rehearsals
for All My Sons at The Rose, Kingston
Someone from my old world who is doing jolly well is a lovely man called Ed. Edward Harrison. (check out his website here) We met years ago; him a LIPA graduate and I hailing from down south via GSA; there was no Anchorman style drama school rumble we had a mutual friend in the gorgeous Owain Rhys Davies and used to hang out sometimes. He’s done some amazing jobs and even achieved the holy grail of working in New York; (I’m not jealous I’m not jealous I said to myself even when I heard it was twice!) firstly with Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth and latterly in the critically acclaimed version of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Ed continues to be a successful working actor and is currently appearing in The Rose Theatre, Kingston’s production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller.

I love Arthur Miller’s plays and am off to see the show next week so I had a little chat with him about it.

It's very exciting to be part of the first Miller play ever produced here! (The Rose).....It's such a powerful, intricate play....a bedrock. All Miller's play's are layered and complex and so the detective work with regard to what the character is thinking and revealing has been fascinating.
 With our director, Michael Rudman, we've found a state of repression and control - so you're watching these people trying to keep the lid on for whatever reason. It's tricky, but rewarding when it really cooks.

The last play I saw at The Rose was thoroughly modern; will Arthur Miller have the same pull? I personally think that all good drama is consistently relevant and I can’t help thinking that the American Dream themes of Miller continue to echo as November 8th draws near. Ed agrees...

He writes about people in love, in crisis, in search of truth, or peace - universal and timeless - that's why he is brilliant. All My Sons is about many things; namely family, courage, truth and deceit. There was an obsession with money and business in America at the time and you can draw real parallels about what that does to good people and where any sense of morality fits in all that.

What’s lovely about Ed is that he’s reached the stage in his career where he is able to balance it with real life; he’s engaged, passionate about pursuing his craft and yet still in touch with many of his LIPA crowd whether they’re still involved in the industry or not. It’s bloody lovely to hear about his well-deserved success and you can see him at The Rose, or maybe grabbing tea in the Wagamama's next door, from November 2nd - November 19th. Ticket details are here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

People Call It Ragtime......

You all know how much I love Thom Sutherland, I gushedly blogged my admiration a few years ago after seeing his production of Mack and Mabel at Southwalk Playhouse. Well since then his star has been in ascendance - justifiably so – from awards, to Broadway and now Artistic Director of The Charing Cross Theatre. (The Players to us thesbs of the naughties!)

Working with Thom years ago I was inspired by his passion, the rewards of which are constantly seen in his emotionally driven productions. You can be in any space and he will tug upon your heart strings, revealing the fundamental human story within a long lost musical or classic tale -memories of heaving sobs (The Notebook style) sitting in Catford watching the final moments of Carousel prove my point perfectly.

In recent years I have taken myself off on solo dates to see his work, there really is nothing more pleasant than a solo culture date; spending time with yourself, expanding your mind and enriching your soul should be on the NHS, but it can be equally pleasant to share a theatrical date with a rather lovely gentleman. If only so you can have someone to debrief and bat opinions about with afterwards!

This is where I found myself on Monday night – the press night for Thom’s new production of Ragtime with the aforementioned lovely gentleman. The theatre was as hot as the themes Ragtime explores; racial tensions, immigration, prejudiced society, changing perceptions and dreams for a better life. Surely there isn’t a more relevant piece of musical theatre in London at present to shine a light upon our current sad state of affairs? It felt quite shaming to watch Tateh and his daughter arrive on the boat full of hopes and dreams only to see them met with wary looks and challenges......

And that’s where Thom is clever – by getting down to the basic human stories of a piece without the bells and whistles, leaves an audience free to reflect upon how the human condition hasn’t really changed. It’s not just Ibsen, Shakespeare and Chekhov who do this, musical theatre can too. One of the best moments in this production is as the company surround the audience at the end of Act One, the lyrics of Till We Reach That Day resonate beautifully and don't allow us to escape the potency of the message. This production should be compulsory viewing to our government, Brexit voters and potentially voters on November 8th, we can all be reminded of Tateh’s dream for the perfect movie from time to time.

So is this production any good? I have to admit that Ragtime isn’t in my top 10 musicals but with Thom’s touch it works; his direction is fluid aided by the fantastic, ever-changing, set. Using actor-musos works perfectly to bring the Ragtime to life; it’s a topical trend but never fails to be awe-inspiring to watch these insanely talented folk. Howard Hudson does yet another incredible job with the lighting – creating filmic images with shadows and gloom to guide the action, he really is a clever man.

For me, Earl Carpenter as Father steals focus; my Javert from our 2009 cast hasn’t lost any of his statuesque, commanding presence. I bloomin’ love his voice, rich and powerful and a welcome addition to this score. I can’t really recall the Father character from previous Ragtime productions, Earl’s performance made me understand it much better; What A Game is a masterclass in understatement and scene-stealing. He is constantly thinking and doesn’t need to display Father’s turmoil, it is just there in his eyes; indeed I barely watched Anita Louise Combe’s powerful final verse of Back To Before (wonderful vocals) because of the compelling stillness and pent up sadness of Father downstage right, this was the one moment of the show when I welled up. There’s a reason why certain performers endure, my gentleman put it perfectly “he is the Rolls Royce of performers...” reliable, classy and classic.

But enough about Earl! Ragtime is yet another hit to add to Thom’s increasing repertoire and it is so worthy of a watch. Take yourself on a solo culture date or go with someone who makes your heart smile but just go and enjoy the score, the performances and the message. It’s gonna sell out quicker than Glastonbury after all those 5* reviews, so hurry up!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Good Canary gives us a good shake-up

We all get stuck in ruts and routines but sometimes life sends you a curveball to shake you up a bit. Although highly comforting, I think it can be good to be shaken away from your safe place. We can often cocoon ourselves in so tightly that we miss exciting opportunities that could change our perspective on life and our direction. 

This has certainly happened to me since the last time I last rambled on here, less of a curveball and more of a juggernaut actually found me over the summer, and despite being ripped from my moorings, I am thoroughly enjoying this surprising turn of events.

Amid my turbulence came an invitation to see The Good Canary at The Rose Theatre, Kingston and with reflection it seems a fitting production to experience at this time. It certainly isn’t the usual fare for outer London suburban audiences, less chuckling Ayckbourn and more Channel 4 gritty drama. Indeed, some folk sat around us seemed surprised not to see Stephanie Cole, or the like, reciting a jolly tale with a predictable ending but I love that The Rose has such exciting productions, they invigorate audiences and theatre in general - just what we need in my opinion. Only yesterday, I read that The Rose has more exciting productions for their next season including an adaption by April de Angelis of the highly popular Elena Ferrante novel, My Brilliant Friend.

The Good Canary, like the title suggests, is a bright yellow blast of a play rattling around in a cage, a story that reels you in and spits you out exhausted by the end. Zach Helm‘s script explores the relationship between Jack, an up and coming writer, and his wife Annie, who struggles with drug addiction and mental illness. I am always drawn to dialogue between a couple spiralling into self-destruct mode (scenes in Matthew Perry’s The End of Longing earlier this year left me devastated me with their accuracy) and there are certain moments in The Good Canary that capture the despair as Annie and Jack fail to communicate. Most interestingly, is a scene where no words are spoken at all.

It’s an invigorating, ice bucket challenge of a production, a fresh and exciting addition to The Rose’s season. Not to mention a huge coup to get the legendary John Malkovich as director. Actors must have been falling over themselves to get this gig, as I imagine the punters were on press night to grab a selfie with him. So was his direction worth his fee? I bloomin’ think so – it is fast paced and utterly suited to the text. Malkovich seamlessly engineers the actors amid big screens and projections; the effect is ultimately filmic and terribly fitting. I was led along and engrossed in the action. The play really worked for me in the sections where the medium was embraced; the mania of Annie doing housework on a high as the projections morphed in shape and a seamless almost dance of the drinks party as the guests slink around social conventions.
Steve John Shepherd channels  Jeff Goldblum as Jack’s agent  and the party-hosting mogul is played by Michael Simkins, (you know from my past blogs how much I adore him) here he is suitably suave and sexy and I wished to see more of him on stage. In fact, many of the other characters felt on the sidelines, you don’t get to find out much about them or their back stories (to discover more about Sylvia’s character would have been fascinating, a great cameo from Sally Rogers) but maybe that’s how it’s meant to be; the self absorption of Annie may mean that people around her appear two dimensional in her world. Just a thought.     

But in spite of the movie star director and sexy Simkins, Freya Mavor is the main attraction and the reason why you need to go and see this play. She gives a powerful performance as Annie – focused, physical, raw and mature. Doing that eight times a week and twice on matinee days is quite a feat and without giving anything away, her performance at the end of Act 2 is exceptional.

So as I embrace opportunities and take the metaphorical ‘bull by the horns,’ so should you. Go and see a play this week. Go and see this one. Don’t slope into autumn, not yet, there’s plenty of time for Hooga, rugs and boxsets, get to Kingston this week to see a truly exciting piece of theatre.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

This no ordinary campaign.....this is a Mark's and Spencer's campaign......

Sometimes when people aren't making enough money they panic and spend more money trying to get it right. Marketing is big business all about buzzwords like 'branding' 'consumer' and 'demographic.' 

Sometimes these campaigns totally work like the drum playing gorilla or R Whites Lemonade, which I still sing occasionally to myself whilst tip-toeing about, but other times the "consumer" is left wanting to throw things at the TV. A perfect example is when I saw Marks and Spencers boss, Steve Rowe, last night talking about 'Mrs M&S.'  If you weren't present for your school English lesson on personification then you may have been left wondering if Marks and Sparks were only selling to one individual now or if Steve Rowe was talking about his wife. But no, apparently Mrs M&S is every woman, the core 50 year old who is loyal to the store. Well, which offended part of womanhood do we discuss first? The 50 year old (that's Halle Berry and Helena Bonham Carter by the way) who quite likes to still wear trendy things? The women who buy clothes already from the store and now feel like they may be dowdy? The women on each side of this age bracket who may still want to shop there?

Mrs M&S started the day as the 50 year old British woman but by the time I caught it on the News at 10 Mr Rowe was saying it was inclusive of every woman from a mid thirties working mum to a woman in her 80s. I mean who sat round that table (for how long and for how much?) and was struck by a lightning bolt that brandishing all the women in the UK under the same name was a good idea? 

To coin a 90s phrase as a 'singleton' I feel rather alienated. Where can the Bridget Jones of 2016 go to buy her big knickers, I'm sure she went to Marks and Sparks like a her mum taught her to but now why would a single woman want to be reminded of her lack of Mrs in her name when buying a bra? Not me that's for sure, life's hard enough when you're alone without M&S making a dig at you. If we're going to be pedantic about titles that only leaves me with 'Miss' Selfridge and I know that the current crop tops in there do not suit me! Oooo if they were still making Sex and the City, there'd be an entire episode and column on this.

I go to M&S for two reason and I'm not yet 50. 1- because touring life as an actor is fuelled by M&S Fuller for Longer range and flapjack tubs and 2- because my Nannie and Mum used to shop there and like all human beings I learnt by example. It's the place of first bra fittings, dads waiting on plastic chairs in over-heated stores and being dragged around as a child so the grown ups can have a catch up. But you learn from watching and suddenly you're in there yourself getting some pants and oooo look at the shoes they're similar-ish to the ones in Office and a hell of a lot more comfortable and BAM! You're in your 30s and love M&S. 

Each time Mr Rowe said Mrs M&S to the BBC reporter last night he looked as convinced as we are about this concept. He was dead behind the eyes and if there's one thing that being an actress has taught me is that the eyes don't lie. I know that it's a bit 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' but my advice to Marks and Sparks (my Nannie's name for the store) is - don't. Do what you know, M&S - classic pieces, the old favourites and great picnic food; don't try to be every woman because I have news for you, we're all different (but we do all need pants that wash well and hide a multitude of sins) so don't forget about us. Maybe a mother/daughter campaign might be better? Generations of women going where their grans went..... you're welcome Mr Rowe for that Xmas ad idea......I'll only need 12.5% commission for that inspirational nugget!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Just Do It!

I’m so glad that many of you were inspired by my last blog. Your lovely response made me think it might be worth charting my productivity plan journey with you – so here’s how it’s been going and you’re all welcome along on the ride.

February in the productivity plan asked me to “Nail What Really Matters” I did that through having some quiet time and journaling – I decided upon having a family, smiling, giving and receiving love and being healthy.  March was titled “Do Something!” No ambiguity there then. It’s all very well having the intention but I should get off my bum and do something about it.  We are awash with clich├ęs; ‘less talking more action’ or ‘actions speak louder than words.’ Being surrounded by people who talk and don’t act is soul destroying because you cling onto the hope that their talk brings. Which leads me back to my life lessons of 2015 and onto March – smiley daffodils and lighter evenings energise us all - so I got “doing!”

Trying a new gym routine and saying yes to social invitations were a start and they felt like small victories. But a turning point was at a funeral of an old family friend; she had left us far too soon from cancer and the church was packed with people that admired and loved her. As the service progressed it became clear that she led a full and busy life, always giving out love and energy to benefit others. It was not for recognition or plaudits but merely to be involved and this felt like a massive metaphorical whack around the face. I’d been looking inwards to try to work through things and been in a career that involved me thinking mainly about myself.  I was thinking about me so much that my head was in danger in of protruding from my a*%e!

So here’s what I did in March –

I started planning a charity event to fundraise for the hospice where our friend spent her last few days and Cancer Research UK. Sadly, we have lost so many people to cancer this year – and it’s only April. So I thought we could have fun and raise as much money as possible for these causes.

It is a Grease 2 Singalong in the Guildford Fringe Festival – this festival is organised by a dear friend of mine who is constantly ‘do-ing’ and achieving and it is full of great events. Grease 2 is, in my opinion, an awesome movie that always brings me joy and there is a real cult following. I am hoping to entice some of those cult followers along to Guildford on July 31st with a costume contest, raffle, drinking and of course singing at the top of our voices. I am in full organisational mode (I even rang Paramount studios in LA!) and it’s going to be great. I hope that I can spread some joy and raise some serious cash to help Phyllis TuckwellHospice and Cancer Research UK.

If you fancy joining me, please book a ticket here and get planning your costume! You can also follow the event on Twitter @Sing_Grease2 all proceeds will go towards the charities.

I hope that you are having a productive and happy time – please let me know what you’re up to and as we head into April, with all her showers, let’s see where our action can take us!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Role Models - the dinner party game

I’m attempting a year of positivity after a slightly below par 2015. Don’t worry this isn’t one of those new year resolution blogs which I’ll be giving up by mid February, (bleurgh!) A dear friend told me that rather than resolutions I should have goals. And not just general twaddle like ‘lose weight’, ‘run more’ but make them specific and be held accountable by someone so you have to explain how you’re doing or face the naughty step if you haven’t! I liked this idea of being productive and having a plan.

So when I read an article by Magdalena Bak-Maier mapping out a productivity plan it only strengthened my resolve. For January, she advised to find supportive role models – well I’ve been mulling this over, my afore-mentioned mate is definitely one, but I also started ruminating about dream role models. Kind of like the ‘dinner party guest game’ but with an inspirational twist!

o   Imelda Staunton in a rehearsal room
What performer hasn’t marvelled at this lady’s talent since her commanding performance in Gypsy? I admire her for her talent, her enduring marriage to the equally cool Carson and for her ability to just be magnetic in every performance she gives whether on stage or screen. But my main reason for having her as a dream role model is because she’s short; she would give me confidence as a small actress. I was once told by a director that it was a shame I was so short because I’d never play a lead. Now, the real reason may have more to do with my lack of star quality talent but the fact that I took it to heart must have had something to do with my lack of belief in my ability to succeed. I used it as an excuse when explaining away lost auditions but even to myself before I went in. Now all the positive thinking books in the world will tell you that your beliefs can shape who you are and what happens to you. So Imelda and I would hang out in a rehearsal room, chatting through scripts being small and fabulous!

o   Charlotte Reed walking in the country
I discovered Charlotte Reed via Facebook; she started drawing images to help her get through depression and as they helped her she began to realise that they could help others. She has a stall at Portobello Market and has released a book called May The Thoughts BeWith You. Her quirky drawings are full of energy and positivity. Their message is succinct and straight to the point; they achieve the same reaction as a long-winded article. They are colourful and a couple now adorn my bedroom wall. You don’t need to have suffered from a similar illness to reap the benefits from her work. Having a walk outside with this dream role model would get me out of a dull mood and make me see the brighter side of life.

o   My Grandad in armchairs with a cup of tea and biscuits
This man is a real role model and very much alive and kicking so I’m cheating the brief rather. But he’s special so I don’t care. My Pop has taught me hundreds of things including how to play snap and that there’s no such thing as a kipper but as an adult I’ve begun to see the real lessons - Family comes first, they will always be there to support and catch you. A close family is the ultimate safety net; a person’s eyes tell you the truth; a relationship is based on compatibility and the secret to a 60 year marriage is each person thinking they’re getting the best end of the deal.  I wear my heart on my sleeve far too much, I’d tell the postman about my latest drama, but his reserve shows me that there is a dignity to keeping something back. But his ultimate lesson is the power of the mind; you can do and survive anything if you put your mind to it, it is a powerful tool. And that is why my Pop is one of my ultimate role models.

o   Antony Sher sipping a GnT by the River Avon
Another actor – but this man’s passion for his craft is why he made the list. His published diaries are full of his creativity when preparing for a role; he uses art, research and truly submerges himself. I envy this ability to live and breathe acting plus his obvious talent. The way he writes about his life with his partner, Gregory Doran, in their second home near the RSC makes me want to sit with them by the river sipping gin. I imagine we’d have gossipy chats peppered with Shakespearean debates and maybe, just maybe, some of his passion would rub off on me.

So that’s my current four, I’m sure I’ll think of plenty more just like we do with the dinner party game! I have found this quite nice to think about. It’s obviously working as this is the first time I’ve felt moved to write in a few weeks, plus the sun was out today so positive 2016 is going alright!

Who is inspiring to you? Do let me know, if only so I can go “Oh Yeah me too!!”