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Greenwich: How serial villain Anthony Spargo brings joy to Greenwich Theatre

The serial villain has written panto Robin Hood and will fill the theatre full of silliness and disguise

Anthony Spargo will play the Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood at Greenwich Theatre

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My interview with actor, playwright, author and star of this year’s Greenwich Theatre panto, Anthony Spargo, begins with farce.

I dial the number I think I’ve been given. There’s no reply. Eventually following an answerphone message a woman answers.

“Is this Anthony?” No, it’s Jane. I suppress an urge to shout “Oh no it isn’t”, and accept I’ve got the number wrong.

Time is short, I’m on a deadline.

Flustered, I check my handwriting and discover a four should be a nine. I can’t get through on this number either. 

Then my phone rings. It’s Jane. Oh yes it is! She’s confused and baffled by the number of missed calls and we exchange embarrassed pleasantries.

Meanwhile, my phone fields another call. 

This time it is Anthony, now available and ready to chat.

I hardly know who’s who and certainly not whether my contact with Jane is behind me or if there’s more to come. 

Fortunately this all turns out to be excellent preparation for an interview about a show that’s full of top notch deception and cunning.

“One of the central themes in Robin Hood is disguise,” said Anthony, not Jane.

“Pretty much everyone is pretending to be someone who they’re not at some point.

“Robin gets to wear three or four disguises over the course of the panto.

“You can imagine the over-the-top, ridiculous costumes we have, including for some of the band – but we don’t want to reveal too much at this stage.”

A veteran panto villain – having spent 11 years on the Greenwich stage soaking up the boos and hisses of exercised audiences – Anthony has taken on a bigger role in 2022.

This is the first year he’s both written and appeared in the theatre’s festive production – taking on the mantle from Andrew Pollard who has left the team after a celebrated 15-year run as writer and dame.

While Anthony said he would undoubtedly miss acting opposite his old friend, audiences could expect the new show to be a descendant of their decade-long collaboration.

“It’s the same but different,” said Anthony.

“My main influence is, of course, 10 years of Greenwich pantos and I’ll miss Andy on stage.

“We remain really good friends and have a great chemistry – it’s rare to find someone you can bounce off – but he’d done 15 years here and that’s a long time.

“Writing and producing a panto really lasts a whole year. I started writing this one in March and had a draft by July – nice and early so the theatre could get on with designing and building the set and all the rest of it. 

“Now the theatre’s artistic director, James Haddrell, is already talking to me about what we’re going to do next year and we haven’t even started the 2022 run yet.”

Martin Johnson will also return to Greenwich as Friar Tuck

Anthony is set to play the dastardly Sheriff Of Nottingham alongside David Breeds as Robin and Amy Bastani as Maid Marian. 

Martin Johnson will return to panto in Greenwich as Friar Tuck, while long-serving musical director Steve Marwick is also back to handle the songs.

Dame duties will be the responsibility of Phil Sealey.

“I’ve worked with Phil in the past and he’s also damed before, up and down the country,” said Anthony.

“He’s great – I think audiences will take to him because he’s such a warm person. He’s larger than life and he’s going to be amazing.

“We have a fantastic cast this year, we’re getting on like a house on fire. There are some great singers and we’re really gelling.

“As for the show itself, it’s quite anarchic.

“What I’ve always liked about the pantos here is that they build and build until the climax at the end, which is often utterly ridiculous, overblown and as silly as panto should be. 

“There’s a little bit of everything. Some comedy, some music, puppetry and a bit of magic. We’ve gone for a late medieval, ‘hey nonny-nonny’ vibe.

“Personally I love playing the villain. It’s the best part, you can get away with murder.

“I’ve always played my villains slightly unhinged, which allows you to have fun with the part and muck about – there’s a lot of eyebrow acting.”

Having discovered acting at school as a teenager before going to drama school, Anthony developed his writing in tandem, starting with sketches and skits and going on to take shows to Edinburgh and write more immersive pieces for Les Enfants Terribles. 

With politics and current affairs fluid, the exact content of the show will remain in development until the curtain goes up, but its universal themes of greed, taxes and money – as well as people coming together to help each other – are already set in stone.

“Dare I say it, I think I enjoy the writing more than the acting these days,” said Anthony. “There’s something really special and exciting about creating a show from scratch.

“But when the audience is clapping and laughing it feels fantastic to be on stage. It’s a feeling like no other.

“There’s great warmth and joy when you’ve been able to make something that people are able to lose themselves in.

“People can come to the theatre, forget about what’s happening in the wider world, let go and have fun for a couple of hours.

“For me, the louder they boo, the better I’m doing my job. I’m really looking forward to it – I can’t wait to get going – and all we need now is the audience, the final cast member, to do that.”

  • Robin Hood runs at Greenwich Theatre from November 24 until January 8 with plenty of matinees and evening performances scheduled. Tickets cost £31.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure puts blindness centre stage

FlawBored’s Greenwich Theatre show employs satire and glittered-up canes to explore its topic

Image of FlawBored standing against a colourful wall, from left to right, Aarian Mehrabani,(6ft middle eastern man with thick black hair and a shaved face) Chloe Palmer (5ft 8” white woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles.) and Sam Brewer (6ft 1” white man with a shaved head and a short ginger beard)
FlawBored are, from left, Aarian Mehrabani, Chloe Palmer and Sam Brewer

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“I think there needs to be a big shift in theatre to consider disabled audiences, and how you can make work that aims to be more inclusive,” said Chloe Palmer.

“No show is ever going to be 100% accessible, but having companies that are evaluating what they can do and how they can support people with disabilities has been a catapult for us.”

Actors and devisers Chloe, Sam Brewer and Aarian Mehrabani make up FlawBored – an emerging, disabled-led company – that’s set to stage three performances of its debut production at Greenwich Theatre in September, 2022.

A work in progress, It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure is a satire encompassing blindness, influencer culture and non-disabled anxiety about trying to get things right and do the correct thing.

“It’s really good fun, not harsh and nasty,” said director Josh Roche.

“It’s about the way some people presume to know what is good or useful for those with disabilities and gently mocks that anxiety.

“It’s very funny,  very fast-paced, very playful, and it tends to let you know where the floorboards are and then unsettles you and turns things on their head. 

“It’s also about how disabled identities talk to each other and how they’re competing for space. 

“It focuses on a young influencer who is trying to give disability a social cachet and the compromises they have to make, just like other social justice movements at the moment.”

The hour-long show follows “megalomaniac blind talent manager” Tim who’s on a mission to rebrand disability with “ambitious but naïve” blind influencer Ross as his possible golden ticket.

Audiences can expect glittered-up canes, blind TV spin-offs and hijacked political causes in the mix. It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on, with accessible layers to match.

An image of Sam (left), wearing a pink floral suit jacket, holding Aarian (right), wearing a mustard jumper and blue dungarees both on stage. A photo of Baker Street tube platform projected behind
Sam and Aarian on stage

“This is a piece we’ve worked on for a year,” said Chloe.

“Sam came up with the original concept and approached Aarian and me to ask what we could do to explore how blindness could become dramatised?

“We then spiralled from that. A lot of our process is based on doing research and focusing on ideas we want to explore within the theatre world.

“We go away and explore a question and, because access is so important to us as a theatre company, we also make sure that every idea we come up with can be made accessible.

“Alongside the devising, we have an access language and we look at how captioning and audio descriptions can be integrated into the script and scene – it’s not something we do at the end with limited time.

“Sometimes in theatre the audio descriptions are done by companies who don’t have much to do with the production process, but we say that you should start with access in the forefront of your mind and it should be turning in your head while you create work, which will be enriched because of it.

“You think about the language you can use in a play and the form it can take, and access is just another language, which allows the audience another way to experience your work. 

“For example, captions can add an extra layer of experience for anyone who can read them and you can use them however you want.

“I think the support we’ve had for this project is a testament to the fact that a lot of theatre is still inaccessible. 

“You’ve got people exploring these languages but not necessarily the know-how to use them.”

In some senses that’s less of an issue for FlawBored because Sam and Aarian are blind.

Having graduated from the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama in 2020, the three actors teamed up with the idea of making a show together, before finding support and funding in the form of a company.

One of the missions of that company is to put blind characters on stage that don’t conform to tired stereotypes.

Sam said: “I’m blind and so is Aarian, but we are very different people. We simply find ourselves lumped together by the happenstance that we are blind.

“This is one of the things we’re trying to find our way around.

“There are a lot of tropes around vision-impaired characters, historically – oracles in Greek tragedies, soothsayers, characters  who see the world differently – that’s all rather boring.”

A photo of Aarian (left) and Chloe (right) on stage. Chloe (wearing a blue and white stripy jumper with blue jeans) extends her hand to Aarian (wearing blue denim dungarees and a mustard yellow jumper) A projection of Baker Street Tube Station in the background

Aarian added: “We’re trying to show that people are an amalgamation of many identities – our gender, class and nationality, for example – blindness is just another one of those differences.

“Sam and I are both visually impaired but that’s just where our similarities cross – we’ve got completely different life experiences.

“All of the characters in It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure are fully rounded and deep. Inherently they all have loveable and likeable characteristics, but are also deeply flawed.

“It’s a complicated relationship between the characters and the audience and we never want to be saying: ‘These are the blind characters – and you know how to treat them’.”

Josh said: “You always know which identities on stage are allowed to be themselves and which are treated with kid gloves.

“Visually impaired people are typically clairvoyant or see life in a deeper way than those around them. 

“When you allow them to be just as flawed as all of the other characters in a play, you’re understanding that visually impaired people are just people – they’re as good or as bad as anyone else.”

Having won support from Arts Council England, Greenwich Theatre (which presented FlawBored with its 2022 LET Greenwich Theatre Award), Theatre Deli, Camden People’s Theatre, Les Enfants Terribles, Wildcard Theatre, Watermill Theatre and Extant, there’s clearly an appetite in the industry for the company’s work.

Sam said: “I think theatre can be really good at doing moments, but it’s about how those artists can then be developed.”

Josh added: “I think there’s a difference at the moment in the way arts funding is focusing towards different identity groups and the way they’re perceived in wider culture.

“I think there’s a reverence about the way funding operates, which can be incredibly useful but can also be quite restrictive – it’s not always as playful or bold as it could be.

“There’s a distinction between this and, for example, the way social media represents different identities.

“The hope is that others will find it easier to develop work in these areas and these ways if people have already done it.”

  • Performances of It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure are set to take place at 7.30pm on September 14, 2022, and 7.30pm and 2pm on September 15, 2022. Tickets cost £15.

Read more: Disabled dancer set to perform Sleepwalker in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How the all-female cast of Notflix create musicals from scratch

One of the stars of the improvised show explains the joy of making it all up as you go along

Notflix create the show based on suggestions from the audience
Notflix create the show based on suggestions from the audience

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Power will be in the hands of the audience when they arrive at Notflix: The Improvised Musical at Greenwich Theatre.

Spectators will vie to have their favourite film chosen as the inspiration for the show on June 11, 2022, at the venue and then watch as the cast members leap into action.

But once the performance gets rolling, the power will shift as the all-female improv group creates scenes, songs and vocals with a new narrative, all from their imaginations.

We sat down with one of the stars, Emma Read, to find out more.

how did the group start?
Our amazing director, Sarah Spencer, had this inkling she could make something really great and different.

She put together a mixed gender improv group called Waiting For The Call, and was exploring ideas.

Then she came up with the idea of creating a musical improv show based on a movie suggestion. 

when did you join?
At the end of 2017 and, by then, it was already all female. That’s actually the thing that really drew me to the group. We cannot have enough all female things. 

In improv and comedy, which is such a male-dominated place, it’s important that women feel they can be funny and masculine and feminine, or a penguin or whatever and that they’re not being predetermined by their gender. In our show, we don’t have any limits. 

Notflix’s Emma Read in full flow

how did you learn to do improv?
I was training for about three months. I had done it at drama school but never stepped on stage with improv being the premise of a show – that was really scary. 

I had to learn how to create music from improv and learn about song structure, rhyming, and rapping. It took a lot of time to get right. 

But that’s the thing that makes the audience feel like it’s magic and that it’s coming alive.

It’s a very difficult skill to learn – how to relax on stage when you’re just making up stuff. You have to unlock a weird part of your brain. 

was there a moment it clicked?
My first show was in 2018. I think we did X-Men but I sort of blanked it out because I was so nervous.

Then we did Silence Of The Lambs in Yorkshire and I decided to play a completely made up character who was the weird sidekick of the baddie. 

I just found a physicality that I thought was funny and remember hearing the audience react to that. 

If I don’t over think it and try and be funny or formulate a joke, but just come forward with something that feels honest and natural, that’s when the audience really connects with you.

In that moment I thought: ‘Oh, this is what it is. This is true improv’.

The cast make up the musical from scratch
The cast make up the musical from scratch

how do you know when to sing?
There’s a lot of eyeballing each other. We don’t start a song unless there’s an impetus. It usually starts with just one person and then, because we’re so versed in song structure, we’ll get the idea of what someone is going for. 

Or, if we don’t, we might have a moment to negotiate, which is fun too because a lot of songs have a sort of slow-paced start and then they rev up.

what do you love about it?
I think it keeps me on my toes as an actor – there’s nothing scarier than the show I’m in. Auditions can now be a time of play because if they give me a script I’m like, perfect. 

As an actor, there’s so much fear going into a room of people that could give you a job. If you can get rid of that desperation, that’s a step towards getting the role. 

Improv is magical. When you see the greats perform, it feels incredible, so organic, alive and present. It’s also scary because you’re watching, knowing that they’re making it up. 

So there’s a sort of fun and very intense energy between the cast and the audience, which is so different from a normal West End show.  

If you walk into The Book Of Mormon, you know they’ve rehearsed it for months and there’s not going to be a hair out of place.

In improv you could slip up at any time and that scary energy is something I’ve really come to love. 

what’s your favourite type of role?
Recently, I’ve loved playing the young ingenue sort of Spiderman vibe.

There’s a lot of heart to them – I love playing the Smee characters – grizzled, second in command but so pathetic with a kind of grotesque physicality.

have you had any disasters?
There are no mistakes in improv. If you’re a good improviser, you make that disaster into a joke, you make it the whole reason the show exists and it becomes the best thing in the show. 

People have come to see it because they know that there’ll be mistakes, and it’s what you do with that mistakes that’s key. I have frozen up, but you just make your character have a stutter or be lost for words because they’re so in love or they’re been poisoned. 

why are women good at improv?
Because we’re amazing. I think to be a good improviser is to be a good actor and women have an incredible ability to connect and empathise.

We are able to empathize with villains, which makes them more interesting, and create stories based on our own trauma which fleshes out a character.

As a cast, we’re incredibly supportive. We now have two members with little babies and there are not a lot of shows that might be able to support them the way we are. 

Because we’re all women, we just decided we would make it work. This is our life. 

We all have other jobs and projects – we fit this around that and some people will want to get married and have kids and we’ll make it part of our experience. We want everyone to succeed. 

We’re there for each other on stage as well. In improv, if you’re in a bad place, it’s really tough. 

We have the ability to recognize when someone is not feeling good, and take them out of it, and use it as part of the show. 

As a cast, we will huddle around, take that energy, adrenaline or sadness and use it to create something beautiful. 

what musical would your life be?
A woman dog-walking nine-to-five, making up musicals and watching lots of films in her spare time and listening to old R’n’B. 

Notflix comes to Greenwich Theatre on June 11, 2022
Notflix comes to Greenwich Theatre on June 11, 2022

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 

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