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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 photographer Lorenzo Garrido is helping people capture the area

Born in Greenwich, the 28-year-old leads small groups of snappers in tours to take in the best sites

Lorenzo’s tours cover major sites in Maritime Greenwich

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Photographer Lorenzo Garrido never leaves his Greenwich home without a camera. He has thousands, perhaps millions, of photographs to show for it.

Most – from his childhood holidays right through to the eerie days of empty lockdown streets – sit undeveloped and unseen.

They have taken a back seat to his career, which has seen him photograph the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and shoot campaigns for brands such as USC.

But while he is yet to fully showcase his collection to the world, he is about to start sharing the expertise he has gleaned from creating them.

The 28-year-old has launched a business, Greenwich Photo Tours, offering others an insight into favourite spots on his home turf and the best ways to capture them through a lens.

“I walk around with my camera all the time,” said Lorenzo.

“If I’m just stepping out of the house to have a stroll, or whatever, I’ll always have my camera with me. 

“Greenwich is such a beautiful, picturesque space and, when I researched, I found nobody was doing a tour like this here.

“I wanted to take my expertise from my day job and bring it into a community space and put the two areas of my life together.”

Born and raised in Greenwich, he first began capturing images as a child.

Greenwich-based photographer Lorenzo Garrido

“My dad bought me a Polaroid camera when I was like 10 years old and straight away I was pretty obsessed,” said Lorenzo.

“I have a vivid memory of taking it on a Year Seven trip to France and shooting some pictures.

“I started doing street photography when I was about 16 and it opened up into this whole other world – that this could actually be your job.

“I just kind of stuck at it and went with it.”

Photography wasn’t a course option at his college, but Lorenzo studied art and design instead and just kept on clicking.

Despite his obsession with taking photographs and having his own darkroom at home, Lorenzo said most of the photos he takes in his spare time never see the light of day.

“I have a lot of work that I can’t even remember,” he said. “Heaps of negatives and undeveloped rolls of film that I have from over the years and I have no idea what’s on them.

“I’m just sitting on an insane amount of photographs.

“I’m sure they would serve some purpose to someone down the line, perhaps when they’re trying to look back at what it was like in the mid 2000s.”

Lorenzo said it was hard to find the time to organise his archive alongside his busy career.

He went freelance full-time in 2016 and has built up a name for himself in the music and fashion industries – mostly by word of mouth.

“I think being a Londoner, you have circles of friends that you grew up with and you get referred and brought in on jobs and then, if it goes well, you get more jobs,” he said.

“I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve not really had to chase work much or really rely on using things like social media.”

The tours cover a range of styles including street photography

In fact, search online and you won’t find much evidence of his commercial work, as he prefers to operate discreetly.

But recently he has shot a documentary at the Dr Martens factory in Northampton and was waste-deep in a lake in Snowdonia to shoot a campaign for brand USC.

One of his biggest clients is Sony Music.

“I do a lot of album artwork and press shots, headshots,” said Lorenzo.

“You do end up rubbing shoulders with a lot of people but I avoid name dropping at all costs, so I’ve probably just taught myself to push it all down.”

When nudged he does reveal a pretty big name though.

“I was on a job with Cristiano Ronaldo last week and he turned out to be a nice guy,” he said. 

“The other 95% of the time, people have diva behaviour but I just keep my head down”.

He is now adding another string to his bow with the launch of his tours, created with support from Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency (GCDA).

Customers will be taught the basics such as how shutter speeds, apertures, depth and exposure can affect a photograph.

Lorenzo will also give guidance on how to alter composition using techniques such as angles perspective.

He will then lead clients on a route around Greenwich, starting at Borough Hall and ending at the market.

“There’s no end to the different types of characters that are about during the weekend,” said Lorenzo.

His most visited spot – the Old Royal Naval College – will also be included.

“It’s hands down my favourite,” he said.

“Especially this time of year when the autumnal light is  low and gold and dances around.  You can’t really take a bad picture there.”

Lorenzo is confident he has explored every part of Greenwich but said it still holds his interest and probably always will.

“I wanted to keep the tour very specific about the local community where I live because Greenwich is just such a beautiful place,” he said.

“It hasn’t been touched by gentrification too much so it’s kind of old school and I’m a bit of an old soul so I think that kind of works out.

“But London is always changing. When it does, you can rediscover it, which is pretty cool.”

Canary Wharf viewed from Greenwich Park

THE NITTY GRITTY

The two-hour tours are for those with their own digital or film camera.

They run every Saturday from 11am-1pm and cost £60 per person with a maximum of four people per tour.

The three-mile route starts at Borough Hall clock tower in Greenwich High Road and skirts around the market so people can try out street photography.

Next it will head to the Cutty Sark and along the riverside to the Old Royal Naval College.

Here the focus will shift to architectural photography and composition and clients will have five minutes to wander around.

Then it will be over to The Cutty Sark pub for river views before heading up Maze Hill and through the park to the observatory for a hill-top lesson on landscapes.

From there the tour will head back down into town for more street photography at the market.

Read more: How Bureau is offering creative workspace in Greenwich

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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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Greenwich: How Bureau offers space and connection for creatives on the Peninsula

Helen Arvanitakis on why Design District has dedicated buildings to freelancers and small firms

Design District director Helen Arvanitakis – image Jon Massey

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When I was a boy, on visits to my grandparents’ house, one of the highlights was an ancient bureau.

This may mark me out as a peculiar child, but this dark, mysterious piece of furniture, with its polished wood and an infinite number of drawers, nooks and pigeon holes, held a universe of possibilities and secrets.

In reality, it contained old gas bills and bits of unused string. I wasn’t to know.

I mention it because it shares some qualities with Bureau on Greenwich Peninsula – itself a multifunctional place of possibility.

Spread across two buildings at Knight Dragon’s Design District, the creative industries co-working space, membership club, bar and restaurant does many things – like that antique piece of furniture.

But its myriad spaces are anything but dark and mysterious, even if the pale grey fluting on one of the buildings has something of the roll top desk lid about it.

Instead both blocks, designed variously by Architecture 00 and HNNA, are light, airy and functional.

“It’s somewhere for freelancers, gig workers, start-ups and small businesses that want to stay small – it’s secure, professional and very good-looking,” said Design District director Helen Arvanitakis.

“To give it some context, these two buildings are occupied entirely by Bureau, with the interior design created by Roz Barr Architects.

“It was important for us to have a single company doing that because even though the two buildings look different, people should get the sense in both that they are still in Bureau.

“From the outside, one feels quite angular and macho with a lot of exposed concrete, while the other has an undulating facade with more exposed timber and windows that punctuate the walls, creating pockets of light throughout the building rather than big, open expanses.”

Access to Bureau comes at many levels, with day passes available for £15 plus VAT, covering use of a desk from 8am to 8pm.

Monthly hot desking costs £125, fixed desks are £230 and serviced studios start at £280 per desk, all plus VAT.

Helen said: “We do vet applicants to some extent, although we’re fairly relaxed.

“We broadly follow the government definition of the creative industries – which is a really wide group, everything from heritage, museums and galleries, through to fashion, advertising and so on.

“However, we’ve expanded that a little bit, because we’ve found that there’s real value for our members and tenants to have businesses that are on the periphery of the creative industry.

“For instance, we have a specialist in intellectual property law, and that comes up a lot in the sector – it’s something that adds value to the community.”

That word – community – is at the heart of the Design District project and Bureau is much more than a co-working silo with some interesting looking neighbours.

“As a member, the benefits include being in a professional environment with someone on reception and lots of spaces you can use within the buildings,” said Helen.

“There are phone booths, meeting pods, bookable rooms with big screens and all the kit for doing video-conferencing, presentations and so on.

“We also have a totally fantastic restaurant with a brilliant team of chefs, which is open into the evening as a full-on bar.

“Then we also have an events programme with a good mix of stuff designed to inspire people and to educate them on particular aspects of the creative industries.

“But there’s also a lot of interaction between Bureau and the tenants in the other buildings at Design District.

“We wondered when we were setting it up whether we would be able to achieve that, because the temptation is to hang out with Bureau members. 

“So we regularly host social events and work hard to introduce businesses and individuals where there’s cross-over.

“For example, one of our members is a company that designs beautiful books.

“They recently worked on a knitting guide written by Tom Daly and used a post-production company based at Design District as a venue to do the photography shoot with him.

“Having that proximity was really helpful. I know we can all do things remotely, but creatives work better collaboratively when they are face-to-face.”

Helen first worked on the Peninsula project in her capacity as managing director of product designer Tom Dixon’s studio.

It played a major role in kitting out the gallery space and the now (sadly) closed Craft Restaurant as well as some of the Upper Riverside apartment buildings.

She said: “I’d always enjoyed working with Knight Dragon and stayed in touch with them after I left Tom Dixon.

“I went on to work with lots of small creative firms on the business side.

“The reason Knight Dragon was keen for me to work on Design District was because of that experience, I had an insight into the sector and understood what would motivate those small businesses to take a particular space. 

“We have 14 buildings, soon to be 16. There’s one block where we’re looking for a tenant and a couple of smaller spaces, but the whole development is basically let.

“Bureau gives us that entry point for individuals and smaller companies.

“We offer a warm, welcoming environment and we’ve worked hard to fix our energy costs so we won’t be putting up our prices for the foreseeable future.”

Read more: Discover ceramics with Made By Manos

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Greenwich: How Made By Manos offers everyone the chance to make ceramics

Manos Kalamenios hosts taster and workshop sessions at his Design District studio space

Manos Kalamenios of Made By Manos on Greenwich Peninsula

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The world of ceramicist, alchemist and experimental creator Manos Kalamenios is filled with impossible things.

I was going to use the word littered, but thanks to a relentless focus on sustainability, there’s practically no rubbish in his bin.

His sink even has a filter that allows him to recover particles of clay for recycling in future projects.

And what projects they are. Made By Manos, his ground floor studio space at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula, is filled with finished pieces.

Its shelves are strewn with exotic vessels in bone china, porcelain and earthenware – pieces that light up and even ones made from ceramic foam, shaped and then solidified to give the appearance of a fossilised sponge.

There are improbably thin pieces, delicate as paper, and shards of material that seem perfectly solid until light shines through their translucent forms, radically altering their appearance.

When I arrive, the table is filled with ghostly white Christmas baubles which are just being removed from their moulds.

Everywhere there are trial pieces, innovation and work – either Manos’ own creations or those of his students. It’s much more than just a showroom.

Manos’ studio is on the ground floor at Design District

“Experimentation is paramount for me because it keeps me sane,” he said.

“It would drive me mad if I had to do the same thing for the rest of my life, so that’s why everything is different.

“Of course, if someone really likes something then I will make another one and I’m always happy to try new colours or textures. I never say no to anything.”

A Greek who grew up in Athens, Manos originally came to the UK in pursuit of his dream to become a chef at a Four Seasons hotel.

Working first in Greece, then Spain, he achieved his aim, cooking at the brand’s Canary Wharf hotel from 2003 to 2005.

But the long hours took their toll and he left hospitality, initially to live with friends in the Isle Of Man.

With the intention of pursuing a career as an artist (having never touched clay) he enrolled on a foundation course where he first encountered ceramics and a new passion. 

Further study led to a degree in fine art and then an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College Of Art as well as the chance to collaborate with an old friend.

One of the pieces Manos created for Lima

“When doing my MA, I met up with a man I used to work with at the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf – Robert Ortiz – who had become head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Lima, in Fitzrovia,” said Manos

“We decided to do this collaboration with the restaurant’s menu on my tableware and it was magical.

“When I was a chef I was always excited by using unusual plates, so it’s nice to see pieces designed for food and not the other way around.”

Having worked out of a studio locally, Manos saw a sign on the door of Design District – Knight Dragon’s project to fill a plot with workspaces created by numerous architects – and applied for a studio.

Manos removes a Christmas decoration from a mould

“In the past, I was making work for myself, for clients and commissions,” he said.

“But when I moved here, I found the potential was not just for me.

“My aim would be to see this place buzzing – I have the space to offer workshops, to teach and to help people with their projects.

“My tag line for Made By Manos is: ‘If you can’t find it, come and make it’.

“I want people who live or work locally to come because using clay is so nice, so relaxing – you can just get away from stress.

“It’s great to have something you’ve made or to give it as a gift – I want people to come here and to feel happy at that feeling of achievement.

“You can be a complete beginner, someone who has never touched the material before, and then leave with something you have made.

“For me, it’s amazing to pass something on and to give back to the community.

“This isn’t that old mentality of not sharing a secret glaze or something.

“I think you can only make progress by sharing what you know.”

Tiles made by participants on a taster session

Manos is constantly developing his own practice, blending ingredients in different ways to create new materials and approaches. 

His pieces have been widely exhibited and used, including pieces for Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights Festival in 2018, tableware for Tate Modern’s members club and work for Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts in Athens.

“About 99% of my work is slip casting, so I don’t have the mess with a wheel spraying the clay everywhere,” he said.

“I also find the wheel very restricting because everything you make has to be round.

“With slip, I have the ability to get any shape I want, any size, any height and any finish.

“I love lighting and working on a big scale – I also like collaborating, doing things outside my comfort zone with glass, jewellery and metal.

“My favourite is probably working with bone china – I’ve even found a way to make it into a foam by adding extra air.

“As a student I was taught air was imperfection and my instinct is always to go completely the other way. That’s the most exciting thing to do.

“When I was making the foam, I was told I was looking for trouble but once you know the limits you can adapt it to what you want.

“I was also told never to add glass and I wound up making pieces for James Dyson after doing that, so I think you should listen to your gut and go with it.”

For those who want to have a go themselves, Manos offers one-hour taster sessions at his studio for £30 per person, where small groups learn ancient techniques to hand-build vessels in stoneware clay. 

He also offers three-hour themed workshops for £80, where participants in groups of five work on specific projects such as building mugs or cups or making Christmas decorations such as paper porcelain baubles for the tree.

One-to-one coaching and mentoring are also available on an hourly basis as well as a firing service for people who have made pieces but lack a kiln to finish them.

Read more: How inhaling nitrous oxide can damage your spine

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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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Woolwich: How Pouya Ehsaei is set to bring his Parasang project to Woolwich Works

The British Iranian musician will be performing on the same bill as Addictive TV at Arsenal Of Sounds

Pouya Ehsaei, centre, is set to perform at Woolwich Works – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

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Musician, sound designer, producer, curator and promoter Pouya Ehsaei wants his audience to join him on a journey and it’s called Parasang.

Talk to him about the project and it quickly becomes apparent that the British Iranian creative is more or less constantly in a state of flux himself – sands shift, ideas evolve and develop.

Parasang is a Farsi word for an ancient unit of measurement – specifically the distance it is possible to travel from one location to another in a single day.

“If you were to go from London to Reading, for example, that would be two parasangs,” said Pouya. “If you go today, then you’d get there tomorrow night.”

Parasang isn’t, however, about traversing great distances.

“It’s a live collaboration between Pouya and a series of other musicians, fusing his electronic music with their free improvisation.

Created initially as a club night, it ran for 30 performances between 2018 and 2020.

“The idea was to invite musicians from around the world with different backgrounds who would not normally play with electronic music to join me on stage in a club so we could improvise and play together,” said Pouya.

 The project then went virtual during the pandemic and has now changed again.

“That was using streaming platforms and we were jamming online,” said Pouya. 

“There was me in my room and musicians from all over the world – from Detroit, Berlin, South Korea and Brazil – we played together remotely, which was very complicated to set up, but we managed it.

Pouya’s system allows him to jam on stage with musicians – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

“Now we changed Parasang to be a bit more like a trio or duo that plays electronic dance music mixed with world music in a concert set-up.

“I developed a hardware system so I could improvise with the musicians on stage.

“I have a modular synthesizer, a sampler, a drum machine and a few effects pedals – I signal process all of the sound from the musicians I’m working with as well.

“Everything goes through my system. I mostly make the structure with simple beats, atmospheric sounds and modular generated patterns and then the musicians will freely improvise over the top of that. 

“Each of our concerts is one of a kind – the music is made there on stage and it will never be the same again.”

Parasang is set to be one half of the double-bill event Arsenal Of Sounds, which is set to take over Woolwich Works’ Beanfeast venue at Royal Arsenal Riverside on October 7, 2022.

Also on the bill will be Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples, which sees soundscapes created from a vast library of recordings from musicians all around the world.

For this iteration of Parasang, Pouya will be joined on stage by Kadialy Kouyate, a kora player and griot (storyteller and musician) from Senegal.

“Every time I’ve played with him – three times so far with Parasang – it’s magic,” said Pouya. “His sound, his voice and his kora go very well with the stuff that I do.

“I’m really looking forward to the performance at Woolwich.

“The main idea is the sense of journey in our music. We start with something very pure and we take that purity to many places and we like our audience to come with us.

“Our music is hypnotic, immersive and atmospheric.”

Addictive TV's Orchestra Of Samples is also on the bill
Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples is also on the bill

Pouya has been on a journey himself, both physical and musical, to get to where he is.

“Originally I’m from Iran and I started as a musician when I was a teenager – I took flamenco guitar lessons before moving on to classical guitar,” he said.

“In my early 20s I was teaching classical guitar in a school in Iran and then I found out about the electric guitar and I got into metal, nu-metal and rock music.

“It was a big thing back then.

“This was all underground though, in people’s houses or very small venues because that kind of music was banned.

“It was very hard to have a band and to do concerts – really to keep everyone motivated – so I gravitated to electronic music because you could just do that on your own.

“I could sit in my bedroom and send it out into the world, just to have a voice. There was no need to find rehearsal space for a band. 

“It’s hard to be committed as a group if you can’t play concerts or really get any kind of feedback on what you’re doing.

“So then I stopped playing guitar and applied to study music technology at York and then I did a PhD before moving to London 10 years ago.

“I’ve been playing music here for a decade now.”

In many ways, Pouya created Parasang in an effort to recapture the feeling he’d had playing music as part of a group, rather than creating it on his own.

“When I came to the UK, I was working on electronic music and that aspect of being in a band with others was missing,” he said.

“That’s why I thought I’d get rid of the laptop and arrange my instruments so I could just play with others intuitively and do that live if I wanted.

“I really like it, the state of flow you get into – the connection I feel with the musicians is completely different than if you just play alone.

Pouya will be joined by kora player Kadialy Kouyate for Parasang in Woolwich
Pouya will be joined by kora player and singer Kadialy Kouyate for Parasang in Woolwich – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

“Especially when you’re improvising, you have to be present in the moment – all your senses are at work – and with my setup there are so many cables, knobs and buttons, they demand a state of complete focus. That’s something I really enjoy.

“When you come to a city like London it’s so vast and so big that you’re a little bit confused in the beginning. 

“Finding people you want to work with and feeling part of a community can take a long time.

“But I have that now and I really feel that this is just the beginning for me. I’m now in the process of turning Parasang into more of a band situation.

“We don’t want to be a club night any more.

“The plan is to have an album a year with, say, with two musicians I want to work with, and then to go on tour with that before changing the line-up.”

It’s also through collaboration that Pouya came to be aware of the work of Addictive TV, the group he’s now sharing a bill with for the second time.

“I have a band called Ariwo, which is me playing with three musicians from Cuba – mixing Cuban and electronic music,” said Pouya, who has performed at venues such as King’s Place, the Barbican, the Royal Albert Hall, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Academy of Arts.

“We were playing at the Womad festival and I saw Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples there – I was totally blown away by what they’d done.

“They saw one of the Parasang club nights in London and we got in touch. I think it was in May that we did a similar thing to what we’re doing in Woolwich – getting together for a concert. That turned out really well – we’re a good combination.”

Arsenal Of Sounds – Orchestra Of Samples And Parasang takes place at 8pm on October 7, 2022. Standard tickets cost £10.50.

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Greenwich: How GDIF is set to fill east and south-east London with performances

The 2022 edition of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival runs from Aug 26-Sept 11

GDIF will feature Charon, a zoetrope-like installation

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“We’re opening this year with a truly amazing event – Spark – the creation of a Dutch artist called Daan Roosegaarde, it’s a complete reimagining of what an environmentally sustainable public celebration might look like,” said Bradley Hemmings, artistic director and founder of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival (GDIF).

“He’s taken inspiration from fireflies to create this wondrous moment, that audiences will see lying on their backs on the grass in front of the Queen’s House.

“They will be surrounded by myriad moving sparks in the sky – something very beautiful and very much echoing the magic of the natural world.

Sat in Festival.org’s offices at the Old Royal Naval College, Bradley’s obvious enthusiasm for GDIF is undimmed as he looks ahead to overseeing its 27th iteration. 

Taking place across an ever-evolving spread of locations in east and south-east London from August 26 to September 11, 2022, it promises 18 days of free arts performances selected to astonish, amaze, delight, amuse and challenge those attending.

“As always, this year’s GDIF is going to be characterised by a whole range of extraordinary and spectacular events, as well as performances taking place at a more local level,” said Bradley.

“The last two years have been difficult for everyone – certainly in mapping out, understanding and planning how things might transpire.

“We were incredibly fortunate to be able to deliver two festivals with a strong sense of confidence, so we’re incredibly proud of that.

“This year we’re in different territory, with new challenges and new contexts. We’ve always been a free festival and that’s something people can make the most of as we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

“It does put into sharp relief the power of a festival like GDIF – it is there for everyone, accessible, and we try to go the extra mile to make sure we attract people who might otherwise not attend the arts.

“For 2022, we’re going out to new sites, like Rathbone Market in Canning Town, Avery Hill Park in Greenwich as well as Thamesmead near Abbey Wood and Deptford, to bring performances to different areas.

“That’s one of the challenges of going outdoors, because for each site we have to create the theatre as there’s nothing on the ground.

“Of course there are venues we work at every year – Greenwich town centre for Greenwich Fair on August 27, for example, but actually discovering new sites and venues, as well as returning to places after a period away, is what keeps GDIF fresh and audiences awake and excited by what we’re doing.

GDIF founder and artistic director Bradley Hemmings

“For example, it’s great to be working with Tower Hamlets again  – we have a wonderful audio piece at Island Gardens called Final Farewell, that takes people on a journey through the streets and parks of the Isle Of Dogs.

“Then we also have a new production from Air Giants called Unfurl over in Bethnal Green Gardens, which features ingenious, soft robotic technology – people will walk in a garden of giant inflatables that come in a whole range of different colours and react to the public passing by.”

The problem when writing a preview piece about GDIF is the sheer depth and number of the performances it offers. 

With limited space, it’s hard to convey the often surprising blend of art, acrobatics, dance, circus, theatre and spectacle the festival offers – soaking the locations it touches in the unexpected to create memories that still echo many years after. 

In previous years I’ve watched an acrobat tussle with a huge robotic arm, seen a whole band swing on a giant chandelier suspended from a crane high above dancers in an imaginary ballroom and been charmed by two performers being silly with a stack of buckets.

Bradley is, understandably, at pains to select highlights given the embarrassment of riches on offer – a reflection perhaps of the fact that all the performances have the potential to be affecting in their different ways.

“We care deeply about all the events, although one of the things we’ve done is continue to work very closely with Flanders House in London and this year we’re focusing on Flemish circus,” he said. 

“There’s an amazing performance as part of GDIF 2022 called Follow Me, by a company called Be Flat, which will take people on a completely wondrous tour of a part of Thamesmead using acrobatics, Parkour and ingenious staging to draw the audience in. 

“They are incredibly skilled performers who will leave amazing images in people’s minds after it’s gone.”

The best thing to do, of course, is just see as many performances as possible and decide for yourself.

DIARY DATES

While there are far too many performances to list over the 18 days GDIF runs in east and south-east London, here are a few highlights that demand a place in the diary

Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula
Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula

Sept 3-4, 6pm, freeGreenwich Peninsula

Artist Stephanie Lüning will use mountains of rainbow-coloured foam to transform Greenwich Peninsula.

Bradley said: “This is a UK premiere, a very exciting, unpredictable event with a huge outpouring of foam as Stephanie controls the palette and how the colours behave.”

Charon will be at Limmo Peninsula

Sept 1-10, 8pm, freeLimmo Peninsula, Royal Docks

Originally created for the Burning Man festival, Peter Hudson’s kinetic installation is a 32ft-high zoetrope powered by volunteers.

Bradley said: “Audiences arrive at the artwork having gone on an immersive sound journey. This is an extraordinary piece sited right beside the River Lea with the figures appearing to move.”

Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford
Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford

Sept 7-10, times vary, £10 Here East, QEOP Multi-storey car park

This unapologetic response to rising Islamophobia uses verbatim speech from members of modified car clubs.

Bradley said: “This play by Zia Ahmed casts real people using their own words as they tell their stories, all while stripping down a car and putting it back together again.”

Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College
Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College

Aug 26-29, times vary, freeOld Royal Naval College

This work sees mosaics destroyed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine projected onto the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College.

Bradley said: “This is a project that really speaks to the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage since the February invasion, and shares with us this remarkable tradition of mosaic-making.”

Read more: Go for a dip in the dock 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 Just Vibez is ‘a everybody ting’ for the people of Greenwich Peninsula

Two-day festival is a celebration of soca music and the work of the late Brixton hip hop pioneer TY

Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula
Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula

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There’s a fair bit going on at Greenwich Peninsula over the warmer months with events and pop-ups scheduled by developer Knight Dragon, all with the aim of bringing life and entertainment to the area.

There’s mini golf from artist Yinka Illori, table tennis from artist Camille Walala and JeeYong Lee’s new installation at Now Gallery – Maiden Voyage – all running into September.

Also on the horizon is Just Vibez – a sonic rather than specifically visual attraction – set to take over a slice of land beneath the columns of raised public park The Tide.

Running over two days – August 13-14, 2022, from 1pm to 8pm, this free musical festival marries a line-up of DJs and MCs with dancercise and street food in a celebration of soca, hip-hop, afrobeats and reggae.

“Just Vibez is a collective of DJs, musicians, artists, different types of creative people, and we have crew in the UK but also in Singapore, Australia, Brazil and Toronto – our main goal is trying to put on events which will entertain or ‘edutain’ people,” said Mark Chan Poon, one of the movement’s coordinators.

“We run authentic Caribbean and African-American pop events, but it’s not just for that community, it’s to open up and be welcoming for all communities to enjoy.  

“For us, ‘edutaining’ means entertainment where people also get to learn something, such as facts about the countries where the music comes from, or about their culture.

“For example, with the kids, we don’t just have a colouring corner, we have Caribbean heroes they can colour-in, so they learn a little bit while being entertained by the music. They party, but with a bit of education as well.”

Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez
Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez

Mark, originally from Trinidad And Tobago, came to the UK via New York and Costa Rica.

He said: “Music’s always been a big part of what I do and through that music I’ve had lots of collaborations in urban music, Latin music and hip hop.

“We’re stronger together, so we wanted to pull this together as a crew rather than all of us doing our own things individually.

“Out of that desire came Just Vibez for the UK, but I’m not the only person organising it.

“It’s been going loosely for more than 20 years, but probably a little bit more formally over the last seven or eight.

“I guess there are really three kinds of events that we put on. The most straightforward is the club nights with various DJs playing.

“That’s adults only and probably takes place three times a month in London but also in Australia, Singapore and other places.

“We also do special events such as one for the F1 racing in Singapore – any excuse for a party. 

“People may not know us or the music, but some people have even travelled to the Caribbean for the first time after hearing it.

“Finally there are the family-friendly days like the ones we’re doing on Greenwich Peninsula.

“We encourage people to bring kids, nieces, nephews, as well as their older relations so that we have babies of maybe a few months up to people in their 90s.

“We try to programme the day so that it runs a bit more kid-focused at the start, with entertainment for them, such as bouncy castles, face-painting and colouring – even making a carnival costume – then later it will be the full-on carnival vibe, and similarly we do this for hip hop as well.”

Just Vibez features soca and hip hop
Just Vibez features soca and hip hop

Just Vibez at Greenwich Peninsula will have two different themes on the Saturday and Sunday.

The event will open with Caribbean Vibez – The Soca Summit featuring UK soca artists such as Trini Boi, Joocie, Scrappy, Sun Divas, Miss Desire, Batch, Pahjo and One The Band.

“This will be up-tempo calypso from Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada and so on,” said Mark. “Of course, there’ll be dancehall and reggae too.”

This will be followed by CelebrateTY on the Sunday – an event to mark what

 would have been the 50th birthday of Brixton-born rapper, TY. 

The line-up will include long-time collaborators Shortee Blitz, Billy Biznezz, DJ Croc and DJ Mr Thing as well as a live stream from Maseo of De La Soul and a set from DJ Sarah Love.

“Ty was a UK hip hop legend who passed from Covid in 2020,” said Mark.

“We thought it would be a nice opportunity to have a good outdoor event, where a lot of his peers and collaborators could come out and perform – or just be there to celebrate. He was a great pillar of the hip hop community in London.

“On the Sunday we’re doing special T-shirts for TY, a limited edition of about 200 – get one there and then never again. His mum and sister will be coming as well.”

Mark said one of the core principles of Just Vibez was its mission to attract and entertain as many different people as possible.

“One of our lines is that Just Vibez is a ‘everybody ting’,” he said. “That means everyone is welcome to be there and that’s really the main thing about it.

“Some events may be quite closed to their own communities, because, if you don’t know the culture or the language, you would feel quite out of place – but that’s not the way we do things.

“We also encourage people from our community to invite their neighbours, who may feel it’s not their culture, so that they can have a taste of that.

“We’ve done a lot of events in Brixton over the last 10 years, but some people were very sceptical at the start. Now they come often.

“For example, there was an English gentleman I spoke to a little while ago who discovered soca music at our event in Greenwich in 2019.

“He’s in his late 60s and joined Instagram just to follow us and now he comes to so many events and brings many of his family and friends who have never heard this type of music before.

“That’s really satisfying to me – he even came to our special event to mark the arrival of the Windrush and also drove out to one of our events at Lingfield racetrack. That’s really nice to see.

“With Greenwich Peninsula, people might know The O2 but some don’t know about other things that happen there, so, by us doing these events, our followers will find other things too.

Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez
Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez

“We’d done events at places like the Royal Festival Hall and the National Portrait Gallery – cultural icons around London. 

“So we were very flattered to be asked to do one on Greenwich Peninsula and now to come back again.

“We hope people will come for us, but also that they will check out all the other things on offer during the summer too.”

In addition to a few surprise guests over the course of the two days, visitors to Just Vibez can expect a selection of street food to keep audiences fuelled for the dancing.

Those visiting the event can also find refreshment at Design District Canteen – a nearby food court or at the wide selection of restaurants on offer within The O2.

Read more: Sadler’s Wells East set to run summer dance workshops

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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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Property: Last chance to buy at Upper Riverside on Greenwich Peninsula

Developer Knight Dragon eyes acceleration of delivery as deal signed with contractor Mace

Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside
Upper Riverside is almost sold out at Upper Riverside

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This moment represents something of a tipping point in the regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula.

There are still 20-odd apartments left in the Upper Riverside phase of Knight Dragon’s mammoth project, so for buyers this is a last chance to get in on one of the angular blocks set along the Thames. 

“That’s really been our focus for the last four years, with just over 1,000 properties and it’s very much an established community now,” said Kerri Sibson, chief operating officer at the developer.

“We launched the last building – No. 5 – just as we went into the first bout of Covid, so things stalled for a little while and then subsequently picked up.

“We have a few one-bed and two-bed homes available, so this is a last chance to buy.

“There’s a really strong sense of community across the five buildings at Upper Riverside, which is really lovely and, of course, that’s what you hope for – people who will occupy the space and make it what they want it to be.”

Homes at No. 5 Upper Riverside start at £487,500 with residents’ facilities including access to a co-working space, three gyms, multiple roof terraces and a 15th floor swimming pool.

For those who’d rather rent, No. 4 Upper Riverside offers studio, one, two and three-bedroom homes to let with starting prices ranging from £1,500pcm to £3,000pcm, a selection of contract options and the option to move in without a deposit.

“The rental operation has had a full year now and the rental market is booming, so that has performed really well for us and we’ve been really pleased,” said Kerri.

“Having that option is part of what we talk about all the time for the Peninsula, which is that you need diversity of product to keep your audience as wide as possible.

“If you have just one type of property, it quickly becomes a not very interesting place to be. Rental gives us a different clientele and it definitely feeds into our sales business.

“We haven’t been able to do it yet, but we might be on the cusp of seeing if we could do ‘Try before you buy’.

“I’d like the idea that we could have a rental offer which ultimately means that the money you’re spending on rent becomes a deposit and – although it sends our finance department into palpitations – it would be wonderful if we could achieve that.

“On the sales side, having Lower Riverside has always been the perfect counterpoint in terms of accessibility so we’re not just offering one price point.”

Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson
Knight Dragon COO Kerri Sibson

Knight Dragon’s approach to making sure the area it is creating appeals to buyers somewhat sets it apart.

The company has invested significantly in public space as well as an ongoing programme of art exhibitions and events, intended to attract visitors to the area and entertain the now circa 5,000 residents.

That includes the creation of The Tide – an elevated park complete with sculptures including a work by Damian Hirst.

Knight Dragon has also worked to help establish local businesses to serve those passing through, studying and living on the Peninsula, opening a diverse collection of commercial buildings at Design District in 2021.

“That’s been a great success for us,” said Kerri. “It was enormously stressful for all parties getting it launched post-Covid.

“We had businesses really excited and ready to move in and we were behind because everything had been closed for many months, but when it arrived it exceeded all out expectations.

“When we launched, we had a journalist from the BBC asking whether we were worried about people not returning to work, not coming into the office – but that’s hasn’t been our experience.

“We have such a great mix of tenants in the creative industries and they were just really desperate to get in, to collaborate and to feed off each other.

“I’ve been working on this project since Knight Dragon got involved and I’ve found that if you engage with the creative industries early on in any process, the product you come out with is so much more interesting and challenging than if you stick to a very traditional property route.

“You can end up with a very homogenised product with ‘Do Not Stand On The Grass’ signs. We didn’t want that here.”

Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames
Knight Dragon has created The Tide leading down to the Thames

With a total of nearly 17,500 homes in the pipeline, both residents and visitors can expect to see a ramping up of activity, as Knight Dragon prepares to announce the next phases of its project later in the year.

“We’re probably around the 30% mark in terms of completion, so there’s still an awful lot more to do,” said Kerri.

“We’ve just announced a partnership with construction firm Mace – which built Upper Riverside and The Tide – and there’s a big push forward in terms of momentum and speed of delivery. There are going to be lots of homes on their way very quickly.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve been very focused on place-making.

“The river bank, back in the day, was a desolate tarmac path that ran along the Thames, so we invested in The Tide to get people to enjoy the area.

“It was important for us that Greenwich Peninsula was not just about homes, but a balance between home and work and a place where people would want to spend time during the day.”

A show home interior at Upper Riverside
A show home interior at Upper Riverside

With Mace set to build 20 buildings as part of Knight Dragon’s 40-acre project, the exact shape of the final development cannot be set in stone.

“From an infrastructure point of view, it’s a constant game of moving things around,” said Kerri.

“When we started the project, the Silvertown Tunnel hadn’t been given the green light, so two of our buildings won’t be delivered because now that’s very much happening.

“It’s also absolutely our ambition to redevelop North Greenwich station, although we weren’t able to make our original plans for that site work.

“However, it’s important to remember, from a residents’ point of view, how well connected the Peninsula already is – London City Airport, for example, is a big plus for us.

“There’s a perception Greenwich is further away than it actually is, but once people are here they realise how well connected it actually is – just minutes from Canary Wharf and the City.”

Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula
Knight Dragon puts on numerous cultural events on the Peninsula

Read more: How Urban Space Management wants to put homes on a bridge

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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 Peninsula: How The O2’s premium offer has evolved over 15 years

The North Greenwich venue is celebrating one and a half decades in business since launch in 2007

The O2 is celebrating 15 years since its first gig
The O2 is celebrating 15 years since its first gig

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To paraphrase the work of the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson –  it’s been 14 years and 361 days, since The O2 officially welcomed its first audience (at the time of writing).

The chords that rang out on June 24, 2007 did not come from the purple guitar of His Royal Badness – although he did play a 21-date residency at AEG’s Greenwich Peninsula venue in its inaugural year. 

That honour was taken by Bon Jovi and, as the duck-quacking riff of Livin’ On A Prayer sounded in the Arena, Matt Botten was standing in the wings.

“I’d snuck in at the side, having made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to miss it,” he said.

“I found myself standing just behind AEG president Tim Leiweke and immediately I started thinking: ‘What have I done? Should I even be here?

“But he turned round and we high-fived – it was this feeling that we’d all done it.

“It was a huge relief to hear those chords, to know everybody was in the building, that the suites were full.

“We had done it, we’d opened and we’ve never looked back.”

As head of hospitality then, and senior director of premium seating now, Matt has pretty much seen it all – making him the ideal interviewee as The O2 prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday.

“I always joke that when I finally retire or move on, there’s a book waiting to be written,” he said.

“There have been some huge events – the opening was massive and when Led Zeppelin reformed for a single show in 2007, that night was a who’s who of the music industry.

“Working on premium, I’ve been fortunate that some of my experiences have meant contact with remarkable people – just escorting the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, David Beckham and Kylie Minogue to their suites.

“But really it’s the little things that we do as a team – bringing someone a birthday cake, making those ‘wow’ moments happen. Delivering a real difference to somebody’s experience – that are huge for me.”

The O2's senior director of premium seating Matt Botten
The O2’s senior director of premium seating Matt Botten – image Matt Grayson

For a bit of context, it’s important to realise what a massive deal The O2 is.

Pandemic notwithstanding, the project has taken Richard Rogers’ vacant tent following its troubled inception as the Millennium Dome and created a venue that by 2020 had sold more tickets to events than anywhere else in the whole world, every year, for more than a decade.

Right here, in London on Greenwich Peninsula. Let that sink in. Nothing compares.

With a broader range and greater number of shows than any other arena in the UK, The O2 heads into its 15th year with a packed schedule. 

Billie Eilish, Alanis Morissette, The Kings Of Leon, Cirque Du Soleil and Haim are all set to play in the first 30 days.

 But there are also a host of sporting events in the pipeline including boxing with Chisora vs Pulev, UFC Fight Night London and the Laver Cup London with tennis stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal scheduled to play.

“That’s what makes The O2 unique – the sheer number and variety of events,” said Matt. “It really is quite something working here – I’ve got lots of peers and friends working at sporting venues and they talk about the 30 shows they have a year. We have 25 just in June.

“That was a real game-changer in the corporate market. Everyone was used to Twickenham and Wembley, which I say with great affection because I worked at both of them.

“I sold my first T-shirt at the old Wembley Stadium with the twin towers back in 1997 outside a tribute gig marking the release of Nelson Mandela.

“Then I ended up working there full-time after my A-Levels, and then Wembley Arena, and that threw up opportunities such as spending time on the road servicing U2 tours, selling merchandise.

“Then I was at Twickenham Stadium for many years, and then moved across to The O2 when it was still a building site inside.

“For the launch, we had to educate people. Businesses could understand the value of gigs by the Rolling Stones or Queen but what about The X-Factor or Disney events? 

The American Express Lounge at The O2

“When we were launching in 2007 it was about that shift in work-life balance – if someone accepts an invitation to go to a game of football, for example, that might mean a day out of the office.

“But as a company, if you can work it so that guests can bring their whole family to an event, then you can merge the two things and over the years we’ve seen more and more use of our suites in that way.

“The companies that buy them also use them for staff incentives internally or in partnership with local organisations such as charities and schools. 

“When we opened, we had two premium products – the suites and an annual membership, which was typical for stadium venues.

“We’re proud to say, after 15 years, we still have some of  our original clients with us – some having taken suites for five or even 10 years initially. 

“But since then, a lot has changed – our smallest suite has 15 seats and, if you imagine 180 shows a year times 15, that’s a lot of invites to ensure you’re getting people down and making the most of your investment.”

The two levels of suites offer commanding views over the stage
The two levels of suites offer commanding views over the stage

An evolving business landscape and a resurgent experience economy has seen The O2 expand and develop its premium offerings in concert with those two core strands, meaning there are now more ways to experience high-end hospitality and personal luxury at the venue than ever.

“This is particularly pertinent post-Covid,” said Matt. “We’ll see if it continues, because people’s disposable income at the moment is being squeezed in all areas.

However, with people having been locked down for 18 months to two years, there seems to have been this shift from an emphasis on buying physical possessions to buying experiences.

“We’ve seen more individuals thinking that, if they’re going out, they want to make it a night to remember.

“The corporate suites are a large part of our business, but the direction we’re going in is to make them and a range of other premium experiences available to far more people.

“Even before the pandemic, there was demand for smaller numbers, simpler products – options akin to a season ticket at a football ground.

“We’ve seen smaller businesses buying into this too – they can use two, four or six seats at every event where they would struggle to deal with 20.”

This shift has resulted in a collection of products including whole suite hire for a specific event, Encore Seats offering individuals tickets to 10 shows a year, plus the option to buy more in the members’ area of the venue close to the stage and, for businesses, the chance to buy a number of seats in a shared suite for a set period of time.

The venue also offers American Express Advantage tickets to the credit card company’s customers guaranteeing seats right by the stage.

These and several of the other premium options also grant access to the luxury American Express Lounge, which offers live music, cocktails and food on event days.

The current crop of premium options – with more in the pipeline – reflects the venue’s increasingly relaxed approach to its model, something typified by the freedom its suite clients have to design their spaces.

Matt said: “Back in 2007 we were probably a little bit more corporate.

“Today our customers want to bring their brand identity into their space and we understand that. 

“Companies inviting people to events need to get a return on their investment and those attending need to know who’s invited them, so we work with them and they can do pretty much anything. 

“I have this idea that we’ll end up with the most eclectic collection of suites in the UK. We have some very corporate ones and one from a partner who’s just come on board that has a shuffleboard table in it.”

Suites at The O2 offer a range of attractions including a dedicated bar
Suites at The O2 offer a range of attractions including a dedicated bar

Read more: How The O2 is fixing the hole in its roof

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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

Read more: Discover author Jane Austin’s second novel Renegade

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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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