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Three evenings of performance in London: an Editor’s Eulogy


I use the term ‘eulogy’ here in its simplest form, to mean ‘writing in praise of something’, rather than suggesting that performance in London is (heaven forbid) dead: I am in fact delighted to report that the performing arts are veritably throbbing with vitality, as far apart as Waterloo, Hackney Wick and Sloane Square, which is where I have spent the past three evenings.

ReHome Production Shots (Credit Mark Douet)8.jpg

Re:Home. Credit: Mark Douet


On Thursday 11 February I went to The Vaults in Waterloo to see a play which was part of the Vault Festival: something I can’t believe I’ve never done before. The venue is buzzing: it is uncannily like stepping out of London and the winter altogether and into one of the venues at the glorious Edinburgh Fringe. Atmospherically low-lit tunnels are plastered floor-to-ceiling with flyers and posters for the various productions showing, and the bar areas are overflowing with young and old, arty types and (there is, it must be said, a high beard-concentration) hipsters. The play was Don’t Waste Your Bullets on the Dead: a new piece by young award-winning playwright Freddie Machin, and it was everything fringe theatre should be: brilliantly acted by its cast of three (Naomi Sheldon, Ben Dilloway and Ciarán Owens), with no need for the extras in terms of classy set and tech that a high-budget production can afford. The plot, about a playwright’s escape into writing from a relationship she isn’t sure about, was compelling and heartfelt in its portrayal despite many (great) moments of surreality, and the script witty and delivered with beautiful timing. Though the show itself is now finished, Vault Festival continues until 6 March and I shall certainly be trying to catch a couple more shows before it ends.

The following evening was press night for Re:Home, a new verbatim play about the beleaguered Beaumont Estate in East London, created by Offstage Theatre and directed by Cressida Brown. Again the production took me to a fringe theatre I hadn’t been to before: this one, I didn’t even know was there, which is a reminder of how much there is going on in London night after night. Never mind the rats, I maintain that you’re never further than a few feet from good theatre in the capital. The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick was apparently recently voted #2 best theatre in London by readers of Time Out, so I would appear to be a little behind on this, but it’s a great little space: I am particularly a fan of a steep, amphitheatre-style rake. The play was gathered from testimonies and interviews of residents and workers on the Beaumont Estate, and was a ten-years-later revisiting of the concept: the original play, Home, having been put together by the same company in 2005 when the three tower blocks which comprised the estate were about to be pulled down. Again, the production had a small cast: four in this case: Waleed Akhtar, Hasan Dixon, T’Nia Miller and Rose Riley, and again it was stunningly acted – honest and moving but also at times very funny. The actors’ portrayals of real people of all ages who’d met and spoken to the director truly captured their humanity, and allowed the audience a chuckle at very recognisable mannerisms and characteristics, without ever being caricatures. The play felt very relevant to the community upon which it was built – and I felt that I’d have loved to watch it in a room full of those who might have recognised the people it portrayed, but even for me, coming from the other side of London altogether, it was a way in to understanding and appreciating the joy and the frustration in one of the many parts that make up my home city. The production continues until 5 March and I heartily recommend it.

In another completely different part of the city, I spent the following evening at the Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square, where the Amadeus Orchestra and conductor Philip Mackenzie were joined by Russian pianist Alexander Karpeyev for a performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto, followed by a screening of Brief Encounter. I love the intimate yet open space of the Cadogan Hall, and notwithstanding a very poor front-of-house decision to allow a stream of latecomers in and three disruptions in the front two rows, right beside the pianist who played heroically on, it was an extremely enjoyable concert. I’d never seen Brief Encounter in full, either, and it was a great environment in which to watch it, particularly because the now older lady who had been the little girl in the film (in fact Celia Johnson’s niece) was present in the audience. We all applauded and cheered her one line in a lovely moment of audience-camaraderie.

There is so much to see in London: not absolutely everything is good, and sometimes, just sometimes, I do wish I’d just stayed at home. But these were three brilliant, and brilliantly different evenings, and I felt extremely lucky to live where such things were only a train or tube or two away.




Hamlet in the Jungle

Shakespeare’s Globe brought Hamlet to the Calais Jungle refugee camp this week, the newest installment of their Globe to Globe tour and the third refugee camp it has been performed in.


Naeem Hayat as the titular character. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The tour, which began in April 2014 with the aim of reaching stages in every country of the world, was seen by around 300 refugees in Calais, hosted by the Good Chance project.

Though not part of the original tour, Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole said that ‘two years is a long time in global politics,’ and it has also been performed in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and the Mirkazi camp in Djibouti. The stage was made from wooden pallets in the morning, which was used as shelter material once it had ended.

Hamlet is the story of a young man who is depressed and frustrated, between life and death, who does not know what to do, who is struggling to make decisions,’ said Joe Murphy, playwright and co-founder of the Good Chance project, which aims to provide a safe and welcoming space for expression in the Jungle. ‘That story is going to translate to thousands of people here who are in exactly the same position.’

Dromgoole confirmed that ‘it is a great privilege to play for displaced people in Calais. As a theatre company the only gesture we can offer is this: a show that we hope speaks to the human spirit at its greatest and its darkest moments.’

The audience were offered snacks and tea with synopses of the play in English, Kurdish, French, Arabic, Farsi and Pashto, and the reception was vastly positive. Benjamin, a builder from Iran described the language as ‘very beautiful. This is very good,’ while a young nurse forced to be a soldier in Eritrea said, ‘I’ve read the play in a book but never seen it. It is good to see theatre, good to see the English tradition. It is good to enjoy something.’

Alan Rickman dies

Stage and screen actor Alan Rickman has died, aged 69.

Most recently known for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series, Rickman was reportedly suffering from cancer and died surrounded by family in London.Alan_Rickman_after_Seminar_(2).jpg

He enjoyed a long career in film, television and on stage, beginning with the BBC Television Shakespeare version of Romeo and Juliet, in which he played Tybalt. His major Hollywood breakthrough was as villain Hans Gruber in Die Hard, and led to numerous other big roles, including the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Colonol Brandon in Sense and Sensibility.

His stage presence was as resounding as his screen presence; in 2005 he wrote and staged My Name is Rachel Corrie, a production based on the diaries and emails of the titular American activist killed in Gaza. The play was met with widespread acclaim.

Thousands have taken to Twitter to express their sadness at the news, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who tweeted: ‘There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death. He was a magnificant actor and a wonderful man.’

Win a class trip to see Bend It Like Beckham the Musical with an exclusive Q&A session!

BILB15_Q2_173_PO_A5_Lands_Press_Assets_AW-2.jpgHit West End show Bend It Like Beckham the Musical and Hot Tickets For Schools have joined forces to provide schools with the chance to see the internationally acclaimed production and an exclusive Q&A session with composer Howard Goodall.

With the musical offering a wealth of discussion material for students – from sexism and racism to family expectation – it’s a goldmine for many areas of study in the curriculum, including drama and theatre studies, music, PSHE, physical education and religious studies.

Teachers are invited to enter into a chance to win tickets for themselves and their students. Further information can be found at http://www.hotticketsforschools.com/competition.

Talks to decide fate of Brewery Theatre announced

Following its temporary closure, the Brewery Theatre in Bristol has announced that public talks determining its fate are to be held on 12 January. The theatre, part of Tobacco Factory Theatres, is receiving letters of concern regarding its future – which is in danger owing primarily to funding. If successful, however, the plans hold potential for a fantastic outlook.


The Brewery Theatre, Bristol

‘Since announcing the closure we have received many messages expressing sadness, dismay and frustration,’ said Ali Robertson, Director of Tobacco Factory Theatres. ‘Though the future is not yet certain, we’d like to tell audiences, peers and supporters what the next step is. There are incredibly exciting emerging plans which, though subject to funding at this point, we would like to share.’

The smaller performance space of Bristol’s Tobacco Factory theatre, the Brewery opened in 2009 and has played host to various in-house and visiting company productions. Robertson says the theatre prides itself on its success, 23,800 people having attended 337 performances between 2014 and 2015, with an audience capacity of 84%.

The public are invited to attend the talk, which will take place on 12 January at 6.15pm in the Tobacco Factory Theatre Bar.

Billy goes on tour

BILLY_ELLIOT_TT_3D_SINGLE_LINEwBOY.flat Billy Elliot the Musical has announced its final performance in London’s West End. The show, which has held residency at the Victoria Palace Theatre for eleven years, will close on 9 April 2016, having run for 4,600 performances to over 5.25 million people in London and almost 11 million worldwide, grossing over $800 million.

With the announcement from Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions, comes the news that Billy Elliot will be closing the door on their West End residency while opening another: a national tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland, which will begin at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in February. Following Plymouth the show will visit Sunderland, Bradford, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester, Southampton and Birmingham. The tour, which is currently booking until May 2017, will then transfer to the Akasaka ACT Theatre in Tokyo for its first Japanese language production.

Producer and co-chairman of Working Title Films Eric Fellner is thrilled that Billy Elliot will be touring the UK and Ireland. ‘After eleven incredible years at the Victoria Palace Theatre, I join my fellow producers in expressing our gratitude to absolutely everyone involved in making the show the enormous success it has become,’ he said. ‘It has been a privilege to witness Billy Elliot’s journey so far, from producing the film in 1999, to the musical opening in London, Sydney, Melbourne, Broadway, Chicago, Seoul and Toronto, among many other cities.’

Billy Elliot has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life,’ said Elton John, who composed the score for the production. ‘I am so delighted that new audiences around the country will now have the opportunity to experience this extraordinary piece of work.’

National Youth Theatre launches new technical courses for 2016

For the first time, the National Youth Theatre will be holding auditions and interviews for their brand new three-week technical courses. The auditions, alongside the usual annual intake of performers aged between 14 and 25, will be held across the UK. Actors hoping to follow in the footsteps of NYT alumni such as Daniel Craig, Dame Helen Mirren, Chiwetel Ejiofor CBE and Sir Daniel Day Lewis can attend auditions between January and March 2016, with interviews for the new technical courses taking place in February.


NYT rehearsal rooms on Holloway Road, London

Artistic Director Paul Roseby says that anyone aspiring to enter into the world of theatre can audition or interview. ‘Whether you’ve never done drama before in your life or it’s the only thing you’re passionate about, if you’re interested in exploring your creative talent we want to meet you in 2016. As our former members in the entertainment industry and beyond prove, anything’s possible – but it starts with an audition or interview.’

Playwright and star of Bad Education Sarah Solemani began her career with the NYT, and said that ‘Auditioning undoubtedly changed my life. It gave me world class training, introduced me into the industry and gave me friends for life. I wouldn’t have the career I have now without it.’

Doctor Who and stage star Matt Smith confirmed the career boost the NYT gave him, saying it’s the reason he’s an actor. ‘It’s given me great confidence, opportunity and life-long friends. I got an agent through performing with NYT and now I’m a professional actor who’s working. It completely transformed my life. No understatement.’

The NYT prides itself on the extensive reach it has across the UK, allowing those from all backgrounds to join. With over 4000 people auditioning in 2015, of the 500 successful applicants, 75% were from outside London, 21% from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, and 55% were female.

Prospective applicants hoping to join the brand new technical courses can interview for programmes in costume, lighting and sound, scenic construction and stage management – fantastic opportunities for individuals aiming to enter into the technical world of theatre. Following course completion, applicants will become members of the NYT and will be able to build on their CVs and experience, working on West End shows and both national and international productions.

Those seeking to audition for the summer intake need to apply by 31 January 2016 at http://www.nyt.org.uk/events

Theatre Skills Award nominations open

Celebrating fantastic mentors and managers in the theatre industry, The Creative and Cultural Skills Awards 2016 have opened nominations for their Theatre Skills Award.

Nominees should be individuals who work within the industry and strive to provide young people with the opportunity to work and learn in the creative industries. They must also ensure that employers benefit from a skilled generation of talent and help the industries continue on a course of economic growth.shutterstock_134693633 (1)

Last year’s winner of the Theatre Skills Award was Geoffrey Joyce of British Theatre Technicians. Judges were particularly impressed by Joyce’s ability to pioneer a training provision, helping young people find a suitable route into the creative industries.

‘The technical theatre sector can now rely upon an introductory training provision which was developed primarily through the dedication of this one theatre practitioner and trainer,’ said the final judging panel of Joyce. ‘Geoffrey’s achievements are truly outstanding and the theatre sector is in debt to him.’

If you know an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the creative industries, you can nominate them for the Theatre Skills Award until Friday 8 January 2016. The prestigious ceremony will be held at The Backstage Centre on 2 March 2016. It is free to nominate someone; to do so, simply download the nomination form at http://www.ccskills.org.uk/supporters/awards


Edge Investments launches £40m arts fund

In light of declining arts funding, venture capital firm Edge Investments has opened up £40 million to the creative industries, intended to encourage flair and entrepreneurial spirit within smaller creative companies which might be suffering at the hands of declining arts funding.

Theatre companies wishing to apply for the fund will be able to do so on commercial terms, with Edge Investments seeking a minimum of a three times return over its seven to ten-year life for investors, who include high net worth people and businesses. This includes government-owned British Business Bank, who are committing £24 million towards the scheme.


The fund seeks to stop decline in the creative industries

While full details have yet to be confirmed, Edge Investments have divulged that they will look to invest in ‘fast-growing and revenue-generating small- and medium-sized creative companies, which have access to core intellectual property assets which Edge believes are poised to benefit greatly from the growing digital economy.’ ‘The creative industry is of increasing importance to the wider UK economy,’ says Ken Cooper, managing director of Venture Capital Solutions at British Business Bank, ‘and we are particularly pleased that this fund will ensure these high-growth businesses have access to the finance they need to scale.’

Chief executive of Edge Investments David Glick adds, ‘There are nearly 160,000 creative industries businesses in Britain. Yet despite being in this high-growth sector, many of them find it difficult to attract adequate capital to maximise their potential. Our new Edge Creative Enterprise Fund aims to fill that funding gap.’

While there is no specified deadline for securing financial support as yet, prospective companies can visit the Edge Creative Enterprise Fund website for more information at http://www.edge.uk.com/edge-creative-enterprise-fund