Square Roots Lewisham

Greenwich: How The Duke Of Greenwich is a community pub reborn near Maze Hill

Colomb Street venue features locally brewed beer, punchy food and an expansive garden for some sun

The Duke Of Greenwich is located near Maze Hill station

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A lovely thing happened during my visit to The Duke Of Greenwich.

I’m offered a cup of tea on arrival at the watering hole and – following a tour of its dining room, bar and garden – return to find that Jack Crystal at the bar has carefully timed the brewing and removed the bag to prevent things getting too strong.

A small courtesy, perhaps, but typical of the overall flavour of the place.

Sitting officially in Colomb Street, the pub has found a new lease of life.

Landlady Jo Shaw ran it for 18 years as The Vanburgh, before passing it on to Jonathan Kaye and his cohorts.

Together with brothers Nick and Dan Blucert, plus two sleeping partners, they took the place on having seen success with the Jolly Gardeners in Vauxhall and a couple of complementary shops.

So, running as an independent, what does their south-east London venture have to offer?

“About eight months ago we saw the leasehold was up for this pub,” said Jonathan.

“I actually live just across the road and had walked past it every day, so we started thinking.

“We took on the Jolly Gardeners site during lockdown so we got a good price, whereas this was more challenging and needed more doing to it.

“But we opened in July last year with a barbecue set up in the garden and then moved inside to serve Sunday roasts.

The pub’s bar offers a wide range of locally brewed craft beer

“This year we’re aiming to have an epic outdoor space, with a really nice vibe – rather like a festival.

“We want barbecue, fresh local beers, garden games, some sport on a big screen and, hopefully, ice cream – a place where everyone can come.”

Dating from 1871, the pub was originally called the Duke Of Edinburgh before becoming The Vanbrugh, named for architect, dramatist and Maze Hill resident Sir John Vanbrugh who designed Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.

“We decided to change the name back to The Duke to recall the pub’s original name, but we also wanted to avoid confusion with other businesses in London, which is why we went with the Greenwich rather than Edinburgh,” said Jonathan.

“We’re trying to be something a little bit different from a normal pub and we want people to come and try us out.

“We take an honest approach to hospitality – we want to care for people when they come in.

“When regulars come here we should know who they are, know their stories and what they like to drink.

“We like to build community – that’s what I grew up with and what we like to see.

The Duke boasts an expansive outdoor area for guests to enjoy

“Pubs can be very transactional, but we don’t want that. We want to be open for everyone.

“We do quiz nights and live music, but we also have art from local artists on our walls that people can buy.

“It’s all about good food and good drink.

“You might come to us for a pint and some cauliflower wings or a three-course meal for your mum’s birthday – we offer those things and everything in between.”

The pub itself comprises a saloon bar with seating, a sit-down dining room with an open kitchen, a long sky-lit seating area with bi-fold doors and an expansive garden and terrace area. 

Located close to Maze Hill station, it’s a formidable piece of real estate.

But the team running things have some serious experience between them beyond their recent ventures. 

Operationally, Nick looks after the drinks, Dan oversees the food and Jonathan handles hospitality and anything else that needs seeing to.

Co-owner Jonathan Kaye

Pints may start at £6 for The Duke Of Greenwich lager – made in Croydon by Signal Brewery – but as an independent, the pub has decided to primarily stock beers made locally, favouring quality over low prices.

“We’ve got quite a range,” said Jonathan. “In some cases, people will be drinking beer that’s been brewed just 24 hours beforehand, not sat around in a keg for ages.

“We also collaborate with the likes of Brew By Numbers and Villages Brewery.”

 With the Big Easy, ETM Group, Oblix, Jimmy’s Farm and Polpo on their CVs, the trio also aim to deliver a food offering that lives up to the solid reputation they’ve created with their first pub.

Small plates include beer battered cod cheeks, crispy pork belly, cauliflower wings and asparagus, potato and pine nut salad.

These come with punchy accompaniments such as wild garlic aioli, freshly made slaw, dill pickle salsa and (best of all) a fiery chipotle sauce.

Most are around the £10 mark, while mains are typically just under £20. Sunday roasts max out at £24.

Pork belly with freshly made coleslaw at The Duke

The cooking is full of compelling crunch, with bold flavours and decent, colourful portions.

“We use Lyon’s Hill in Dorset for all our meat and James Knight Of Mayfair for our fish, straight from Cornwall,” said Jonathan.

“We use a company called Shrub Provisions, which sources produce straight from farms in the South East – it all makes a difference.

“For example, the coleslaw that is served with our pork belly is made fresh. Some places would just buy it in big tubs.

“We want people to come here, enjoy our hospitality and see that it’s worth it. We have some amazing ingredients and we also pay the London Living Wage to our staff.

“We’ll change the menu about four times a year, although popular dishes like the cauliflower wings will always be there.”

With warmer weather on the horizon, the team is currently sprucing up the garden and terrace with a view to screening selected sporting events such as the Olympics.

The venue is also available for weddings, with various areas bookable for events.

However, during normal operation, there will continue to be a focus on walk-ins.

“The dining room is the only part we take reservations for at the moment,” said Jonathan.

Spicy, moreish cauliflower wings

“We want to be a pub that’s open to everybody, whether it’s parties with kids or dog walkers. 

“What I always look for is when people buy their second beer. You want people to come in and stay for a while.”

Having originally studied sports injury and massage, Jonathan was bitten by the hospitality bug in his early 20s, pouring half a Guinness at a venue in his native Essex where his brother was the chef. 

“The guy ordering was very nice – I had to be shown how to do it – but he was speaking to me and I just fell in love with service,” he said.

Asparagus, potato and pine nut salad

“I’m obsessed with food and drink anyway and the people side of the business was just fantastic.

“I met Dan, who is now one of my business partners, working at a 50-seater gastro pub in Essex when he was head chef.

“It’s rare to get a front of house and back of house partnership working, but we got on really well.

“I followed him to London about 12 years ago and we had the idea to do a pub together during his stag do.”

And it was that ambition that has now led them to Greenwich…

Jonathan, right, with Nick and Dan Blucert at The Duke

need to know

The Duke Of Greenwich is located on the corner of Colomb Street and Woodlands Park Road. 

The pub is open Wednesday-Sunday from noon until 11pm (9pm on Sundays).

It’s also open from 4pm-11pm on Tuesdays.

The Duke is within easy walking distance of Maze Hill station.

Find out more about The Duke Of Greenwich here

The pub can accommodate 150 diners at any one time

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Property: How the cost of shared ownership compares with renting at Square Roots Lewisham in south-east London

Monthly outgoings for 25% of a property costs slightly less than comparable rental apartment

An artist’s impression of how Square Roots Lewisham when building work is complete

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Being a tenant in London can feel like you’re on a treadmill that it’s impossible to get off.

You work hard just to stay in the same place, with money simply disappearing from your account each month. 

For that, you get a roof over your head and a property maintained, but seldom improved.

Rent’s expensive too, making saving cash for a deposit challenging at the best of times.

It’s a precarious situation, with rent rises and landlords selling up a constant reminder that a rapid house move may always be in the pipeline, with comparatively little notice.

Without capital or the means to build it up, the dream of home ownership can easily seem just that, a fantasy. 

There is, however, another way. Affordable housing providers are increasingly holding up shared ownership deals as a mirror to renting.

Buyers can purchase 25% or more of a property with a mortgage while paying a capped rent on the remainder. 

That typically means a much lower deposit than buying outright, plus lower monthly outgoings than comparable properties up for rent.

The scheme features a communal roof garden for residents to use

“It’s the biggest selling point,” said Kate McLure, regional sales manager for south London at London Square.

“As a developer that’s all about creating communities, it was quite apparent to us that there were a large number of people in the capital who want to purchase a property but aren’t able to get on the ladder.

“Your average Londoner who works in the city often isn’t able to buy on the open market.

“That’s why we set up Square Roots as an accredited affordable housing provider, so we could offer shared ownership to those people.

“The products that we’re building are similar in terms of specification – really this is about opening up opportunities for people to get access to these homes.”

Square Roots Lewisham recently launched, a scheme of 141 apartments with one, two and three-bedroom homes available on a shared ownership basis.

Prices start at £106,250 for a 25% share in a one-bed with a full market value of £425,000.

The scheme is located within walking distance of both rail and DLR services at Lewisham station beside the River Ravensbourne. 

“The products we’re building at Square Roots are similar in specification to those we’re selling through London Square,” said Kate.

“Square Roots is really about opening up opportunities for people to be able to purchase these homes.

“The aim is that they can then staircase their share in the property until they own the whole thing.

“What we find is that a lot of people come to us who are renting privately in the surrounding areas and are paying more every month than they would on a mortgage payment and rent combined through shared ownership.”

A show home interior at Square Roots Lewisham


To illustrate that point, we took a deep dive into the figures to see how the entry level one-bed at Square Roots Lewisham stacks up against a similar flat available for rent in the area.

Using Square Roots’ affordability calculator, buyers of the £425,000 one-bed can expect a monthly cost of £1,531.

That figure includes a mortgage payment of £658 based on a 25 year term with a 5% deposit of £5,313.

Then there’s £730 of rent, payable on the 75% owned by Square Roots at a rate of 2.75% of its value.

The remainder – £143 – is the estimated service charge for the 551sq ft property, at £3.13 per sq ft.

In contrast, a slightly smaller rental flat (538sq ft) at a similar distance from the station costs £1,575 per month to rent. 

Square Roots Lewisham is located close. to Lewisham Station

“The other thing you get with shared ownership, which is really quite different to private rent, is security,” said Kate.

“It’s not like being a tenant. You don’t have to ask your landlord for permission to decorate or be worried about not getting your deposit back if you put picture hooks in the walls.

“It’s your property – you can do what you want with it, even though you’re sharing the ownership with the housing provider.

“You have that stability in knowing you won’t have to move and it works out as more affordable than renting.

“At Square Roots Lewisham, we’ve been very mindful not to build too many amenities into the scheme that would potentially make the service charge too expensive for people buying here.

“It’s right next to Lewisham town centre, so there are plenty of gyms, services, shops, restaurants and bars for buyers to enjoy.

“It’s a responsibility for us to attract as wide a customer base as possible and we don’t want to price people out.

“We want buyers to have the choice about what to spend their money on after they have moved in, rather than making assumptions about what they want.”

The entry-level one-bed apartment at Square Roots Lewisham comes with a fully-fitted kitchen, balcony, open-plan living area and built-in storage in the bedroom. Here are a few quick fire facts:
- Total size: 551sq ft
- Leasehold term: 990 years
- Time to Canary Wharf: 18 minutes (from station)
- Total value: £425,000
- Estimated monthly cost: £1,531
- Time to cycle to Greenwich Park: 12 minutes
- Train travel to Cannon Street: 20 minutes

With parent company London Square’s name an homage to the communal outdoor spaces in the older parts of the city, Square Roots offers a communal roof garden on the fifth floor of its Lewisham scheme. 

As an ongoing shared ownership partner with buyers, it will also host a customer community committee so residents will have a voice in how things are run on a long-term basis.

“It’s very much a collaborative effort,” said Kate.

“People will have a say and that say matters. I think shared ownership still needs demystifying to some extent.

“The process can seem overwhelming to first-time buyers, so I would always invite them to come and talk to us.

“We can then put them in touch with independent financial advisers who can help them to see what they can afford.”

Find our more about Square Roots Lewisham here

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Property: How shared ownership homes at Kidbrooke Square are surrounded by amenities and green spaces

NHG Homes scheme offers properties with deposits starting at £4,625 for 25% of a one-bed

An artist’s impression of Kidbrooke Square in Greenwich

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NHG Homes’ Kidbrooke Square development is all set to welcome its first residents in the coming months.

Set beside the wider regeneration of the Ferrier Estate, the area has been transformed in recent years with extensive house building and landscaping.

This project has seen a wealth of amenities arrive in this part of the Royal Borough Of Greenwich, including the blockbuster playgrounds and open spaces of Cator Park – a winner of the Sir David Attenborough award for biodiversity – all of which will benefit Kidbrooke Square buyers.

NHG Homes’ scheme is currently offering one, two and three-bedroom properties on a shared ownership basis, with prices starting at £92,500 for a quarter share of an apartment.

The housing association recently unveiled a one-bedroom show home on-site, showcasing the features of its homes including fully fitted kitchens with A+ energy-rated appliances, bathrooms with porcelain floor tiles and white sanitaryware as well as built-in wardrobes and storage space.

Properties feature open-plan design and boast private outdoor space (including two apartments with winter gardens). Further benefits on-site include communal cycle storage and a concierge service.

Locally, Pegler Square is home to cafes, shops and The Depot pub as well as a gym and regular food markets.

In addition to Cator Park, the open spaces of Kidbrooke Green Park and Sutcliffe Park are also within easy walking distance.

The development is located right beside Kidbrooke Station, offering rapid connections into the centre of the capital – London Bridge takes about 16 minutes, with Waterloo East three minutes beyond that. 

Shared ownership properties at the scheme feature open-plan design

Journeys to Canary Wharf take a little over 20 minutes with a change at Lewisham onto the DLR.

The area is well served by bus services and cycle routes, with trips to Blackheath and Greenwich within easy pedalling distance. 

NHG Homes head of marketing and digital, Amie Triphook-Cole, said: “Now is a brilliant time to buy at Kidbrooke Square, as residents start to move in and the community continues to grow. 

“These fantastic apartments have been designed with a sense of comfort, accessibility and sustainability in mind.”

NHG Homes said the monthly costs of a shared ownership property at Kidbrooke – where rent is paid on the portion of the property not owned by the buyer – were cheaper on average than renting locally. 

With a 5% deposit paid on a 25% share of its entry level one-bed, it estimates that cost to be £1,344 per month, dropping to £1,291, if a buyer pays a 10% deposit.

Fully fitted kitchens come with A+ energy-rated appliances
  • key details

Prices at Kidbrooke Square start at £92,500 for a 25% share of a one-bed apartment, based on a total market value of £370,000. 

The home extends to some 566sq ft and is available with a minimum deposit of £4,625 (5%).

Two-beds are also available starting at £111,875 for a 25% share. Deposits for that property would start at just under £5,600 (5%).

Find out more about Kidbrooke Square here

Bedrooms come with built-in storage

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Property: How Square Roots Lewisham offers shared ownership homes by the river

South-east London scheme’s apartments start at £106,250 for a 25% share of a one-bed home

An artist’s impression of Square Roots Lewisham

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The first development to feature in our focus on shared ownership is Square Roots Lewisham.

Delivered in partnership with developer London Square, the south-east London scheme presents prospective buyers with a collection of 141 one, two and three-bedroom apartments as well as duplexes.

Located beside the River Ravensbourne, the development is seven minutes walk from Lewisham Station for rail and DLR services offering links to Canary Wharf and the City.

Properties at Square Roots Lewisham feature fully fitted kitchens and bathrooms, private balconies or terraces for all apartments and space for home working.

The development boasts riverside walks, play areas and a communal roof terrace for residents as well as cycle storage, wireless door entry via handheld devices, a 10-year NHBC warranty and a two-year Square Roots customer service warranty.

Buyers can expect to be able to move into their properties this spring.

Square Roots is set to unveil a new three-bedroom show home at its Lewisham Sales Suite on March 16, 2024, and will welcome visitors from noon-4pm. 

Readers can find out more information about the event  by calling 0333 666 2535 or registering online at squareroots.co.uk.

The developer is also offering prospective buyers a package of incentives for those reserving properties at the full asking price.

Those purchasing a one-bed can get up to £4,000 of tailored benefits, while those opting for a two-bed can get up to £6,000.

The development boasts a communal roof terrace

Incentives include Window treatments from Thread And Dandy, John Lewis or Ikea vouchers, an annual travel card for Zones 1-6 or an annual parking space at Lewisham Shopping Centre.

London Square South managing director, Sean Gavin, said: “This is an outstanding opportunity for buyers keen to purchase a high quality new home close to the heart of London, which offers great value. 

“Square Roots Lewisham is part of an extensive regeneration of the town centre, where significant investment is being made.

“This is excellent news for buyers who are looking for an affordable home in a great location in the capital.”

Canary Wharf workers considering a home at the development can look forward to a commute of less than 30 minutes door-to-door.

Residents will also benefit from an extensive network of local cycle paths offering direct connections to Greenwich, Blackheath and Deptford.

Lewisham itself has seen an influx of capital and activity in recent years with regeneration projects that have delivered new homes and amenities.

The area continues to see strong price growth, with Rightmove recording a 6% rise in average values year-on-year, 11% up on the 2020 peak of £545,248. 

This contrasts favourably with trends in other areas of London, which have seen falls in recent years.

Square Roots was established by London Square two years ago with the aim of delivering 3,500 affordable homes over the next five years.

With 1,000 properties currently under construction, its schemes have already attracted recognition in the Evening Standard New Homes Awards and First Time Buyer Awards.

Square Roots Lewisham is set to launch a three-bedroom show home
  • key details

Prices at Square Roots Lewisham start at £106,250 for a 25% share of a one-bed apartment, based on a total market value of £425,000. 

The home extends to some 551sq ft and is available with a minimum deposit of just over £5,300 (5%).

Find our more about Square Roots Lewisham here

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Greenwich: How Greenwich Theatre is hosting four blockbuster shows in 2024

Artistic director James Haddrell talks Frozen, Beauty And The Beast and why there’s no rent to be paid for 24 years

Kerrie Taylor will play the mother in Frozen

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There’s a bit of a buzz at Greenwich Theatre right now.

Arts funding across the country is being cut, companies and institutions are under increasing financial pressure.

So it’s heartening to hear the venue has signed a long lease agreement with the Royal Borough Of Greenwich that will allow it to keep hosting and producing work for another 24 years.

“It’s astonishing that we’ve got this kind of security now,” said James Haddrell, the theatre’s artistic director.

“It doesn’t come with a grant, but it does come with a rent-free commitment from the council, which we reckon is worth about £2million.

Greenwich Theatre artistic director James Haddrell

“The only conditions in the lease are that we look after the building and we continue doing what we’re doing.

“It means we can plan much further into the future and build relationships with funders and sponsors who know we’re going to be there for the long term.”

It’s a deal that’s vital to the venue’s future, especially as the  creative landscape has changed a great deal in the time that James has been at theatre.

“I came to Greenwich as press officer in 2001 and back then, it was very much a place where people who were 50 and over would come,” he said.

“They were regular theatregoers for whom it was automatic to think about seeing a show, going to a concert or visiting the cinema at the end of the week.

“The changes here have been quite heartening as our average audience is now under 40 and for some shows it’s mid-20s.

“Theatre had to be brave and acknowledge that the older audience was going to disappear and to explore whether theatre was going to disappear with it – it hasn’t.

Paul McGann will play the man with no name in The River

“I wonder whether, as more and more things become digital experiences, theatre will survive because it isn’t like them and will stand out as the exception.

“We have also seen a huge change in theatre landscape, which has been challenging.

“Go back 20 years and there was a thriving touring circuit of companies in this country working on the 400-seat scale we are.

“They were able to do it because they were well funded.

“If you want to present a show with high commercial production values, you need financial support and there was a lot more of it about back then.

“Companies have had to be brave and grow – or disappear.

“That means we have to fill Greenwich Theatre either with our own shows, which are devised for the scale of the venue, or with smaller shows that are full of aspiration and come here to grow.

“We’ve always been excited about the fact we occupy that sort of position in the theatre ecology. 

“We’re not a tiny 40-seater – we attract audiences, press coverage and commercial partners – but if you want to come and try out an idea, you’re not going to lose everything if it doesn’t sell.

“It’s exciting to see companies, who do a show, maybe once or twice, by themselves on a shoestring, grow and develop.”

James Bradshaw will play the murderer in Frozen

As part of that change and, bolstered by its agreement with the council, the venue has announced four landmark productions set to take place over the course of 2024.

This quartet of productions made for Greenwich are all to be directed by James and feature well-known names including Kerrie Taylor (Hollyoaks and Where The Heart Is), Paul McGann (Withnail And I and Doctor Who), James Bradshaw (Endeavour and Hollyoaks) and Indra Ové (Sex Education and Holby City)

At first glance, a programme including Frozen and Beauty And The Beast might raise eyebrows about the Disneyfication of the venue’s offering, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“I’ve wanted to direct Frozen – which is by Bryony Lavery and quite a different prospect from the Disney show – for years,” said James.

“It’s a three-hander about a woman whose child has been abducted and murdered.

“The mother will be played by Kerrie.

“Indra will take the role of the New York academic who wants to study the murderer, who will be played by James.

“It’s a stunning cast and a tough piece of work but it’s not a show that’s depressing – it’s beautiful in its truth.

“It explores nature and nurture, but whichever side of the argument you fall on, it will challenge you.

Beauty And The Beast also isn’t Disney. It’s a very joyful actor-musician show – a folk music-infused hoe-down retelling of the story. 

“There’s a cast of six and it features music from David Haller who has worked on several of our summer shows.

Indra Ové will play the New York academic in Frozen

“It’s incredibly exciting and really fun – there’s just something amazing about watching a brilliant actor pick up an instrument and perform.

“With The River, 2024 is very much a year where I’m achieving my ambitions.

“I’d wanted to do Frozen for a long time and that’s true of The River as well. 

“It was originally performed at the Royal Court in 2012 and is Jez Butterworth’s first play after Jerusalem.

“It’s very different to that, though and has astonishing writing in it.

“It’s about an unnamed man, who will be played by Paul McGann, who takes his girlfriend fishing and camping in the woods.

“Something has happened in the past – but what was it and to whom?

“All I can say is there are more than two people in the cast. It’s brilliant to have Paul coming back.

“There’s something about the atmosphere and the environment at Greenwich Theatre – that applies to the staff and to the performers – people love being in the venue, so they return.

“For an actor like Paul to come to this size venue is a testament to that.

“It’s about the history and you can feel it when you’re in the auditorium. It’s something really special.”

Speaking of which, the final production confirmed will be the latest Greenwich Theatre panto.

Dick Whittington And His Cat will see Anthony Spargo back as writer and villain and Uncle Steve Marwick returning as musical director,” said James.

“We won best design at the Offie Awards for last year’s so this will be about being better and bigger.

“That’s a challenge when we had seven dwarves and a plane in 2023.” 

  • key dates 

Frozen will run from April 26-May 19

Beauty And The Beast from August 2-25

The River from October 1-27

Dick Whittington And His Cat from November 22-January 5.

For more about Greenwich Theatre, go here

Anthony Spargo returns as writer and villain in Dick Whittington And His Cat

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Rotherhithe: How Debut’s classical concerts are returning to the Brunel Museum

Lizzie Holmes’ monthly series presents musicians performing in the historic Thames Tunnel Shaft

Debut performances take place in the Thames Tunnel Shaft

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Debut has returned to the Brunel Museum, bringing a fresh series of classical music concerts to the venue’s subterranean Thames Tunnel Shaft.

The monthly events – set to run this year from March until September, 2024 – combine the delights of cocktail pop-up Midnight Apothecary, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches from Lo Viet and performances by musicians for audiences of up to 65 people sat at cabaret-style, candle-lit tables.  

The vibe is welcoming and accessible, based on a format created by Debut founder – curator, host and soprano Lizzie Holmes.

“I launched the company back in 2015, with concerts in different locations,” she said.

“The Shoreditch Treehouse was our first regular series and it became really popular.

“I’d attended an acoustic pop gig there through Sofar Sounds and told the owner that it was an amazing experience but that they needed to get some classical pianists and opera singers in to match the size and volume of the venue’s Steinway Model D concert piano.

“We also did performances in places like the Old Operating Theatre and at the Cutty Sark, but that’s more challenging as there’s no piano. 

Debut’s Lizzie Holmes

“Then a friend mentioned the Brunel Museum – we went along and saw the Grade II listed Thames Tunnel Shaft and remarkably, there’s a piano that lives down there.

“The environment and the atmosphere are beautiful – the acoustic is like a church and it’s steeped in history.

“It dates to the 1840s and so much classical music was created around that time.

“With Midnight Apothecary on the roof, it’s a match made in heaven.

“It’s very exciting to be able to breathe new life into the space and to encourage audiences to discover it.”

A typical Debut evening begins at 6.30pm with botanical cocktails created by Brunel stalwart Lottie Muir and her team.

“At 7pm the Tunnel Shaft opens with the first performances starting at 7.20pm.

“There’s a half-hour interval at 8pm, with the second half finishing around 9.15pm with the bar (and its fire pits) open until 10pm.

“When people come to a concert, first of all they’ll be greeted on arrival and then encouraged to chat to the performers,” said Lizzie, who trained at the Royal College Of Music.

“In London, or any big city it can be hard to find connections and we want everyone to leave feeling they’re part of a community – that they’ve had a communal experience for an evening.

“The energy is electric. During the concerts the musicians will share anecdotes to connect with the audience – something we often don’t get the opportunity to do, having performed to thousands of tiny faces at bigger venues.

The Brunel Museum’s roof garden above the venue

“We make sure that audiences are never spoken down to – we just share the music.

“If a performer just enters a room and breaks out into an aria, people’s jaws will be on the floor. Sometimes you don’t need to do any more.

“It can be amazing and thrilling, but it has to be presented in the right way with the right story. 

“People like seeing that the incredible skills of an instrumentalist or a singer are coming from a normal person who you might see going to the shops or queuing up at the dentist.

“It’s about creating that sense of normality alongside the extraordinary.”

Debut’s next date at the Brunel is set for March 14, featuring mezzo Leila Zanette, flautist Rianna Henriques and pianist Przemek Winnicki alongside host Lizzie and resident piano improviser Sam Peña.

Lizzie said: “People love Sam, he takes lots of requests and is also a brilliant collaborator.

“Prezemek is a superstar from Poland who has a big following on Instagram – he’s flying over from Europe.

“The whole idea is that people get a real mash up of different composers and musical feelings throughout the evening.

Audiences sit cabaret-style in the Thames Tunnel Shaft

“Leila is a wonderful singer who I met six years ago and Rianna is a woman of many talents who is joining us for the first time – she also plays clarinet and saxophone and has just graduated from the Royal College.

“We’ve got Debussy, Chopin, a little bit of jazz, Offenbach, Bizet, Mendelssohn and Mozart, with the Flight Of The Bumblebee to finish.

“It’s nice to have that variety and a combination of rising stars and people who are firmly embedded in the industry and making waves already.

“We’ll always have a guest singer and a guest instrumentalist, and sometimes a duo, such as guitar and flute. It’s always a very healthy mix.”

Lizzie finds musicians for Debut through her extensive contacts, word of mouth and via direct application.

She said: “We get about one a week applying and our doors are always open.

“In 2020, we also ran an artists development programme called the Horizon Project, which attracted 150 applications.

“This year we held an open stage for the first time where we had 25 new musicians we hadn’t worked with before coming along to play a couple of pieces. 

“It was like a Debut night, but without an audience.

Midnight Apothecary’s botanical cocktails are available at the events

“To perform with us, you need to be a brilliant musician, but it’s also about personality.

“The audience will miss so much if you can’t show them that inner person and so that event was really helpful in identifying the right performers for Debut.

“For some musicians, it can be quite disarming to be that open with an audience – it’s an interesting balance.”

Lizzie often performs at Debut nights herself, but says her main interest is in providing a platform.

“I do a solo here and there – I love to sing – but I revel in seeing other musicians flourish,” she said.

“Discovering new talent and sharing it is such an amazing thing.”

Tickets for Debut’s March 14 concert at the Brunel Museum cost £32.

Other events at the venue and Shoreditch Treehouse are also available.

Find out more about Debut here

Audiences begin the evening in the roof garden

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South Bermondsey: How The Pen Theatre provides a low-risk stage for performers

The Penarth Centre venue boasts 40 seats and is ideal for developing work or testing material

The Pen Theatre boasts a 40-seat auditorium and is available for hire

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There’s probably a half-baked line about The Pen being mightier than the Royal Court, where the latter is just about phonetically similar to “sword”.

But this isn’t the place.

This article should have gone through an editing process to knock it into shape and that sort of thing would almost certainly be left on the cutting room floor. 

But that’s also the point – I mention it here, because that kind of editing and development is one of the activities The Pen Theatre facilitates. 

“My background is in performance,” said MJ Ashton, the venue’s founder and director.

“I went to Rose Bruford College a few years ago, then started my own company – The Völvas – which was a feminist performance ensemble. 

“I toured that project for four or five years on the fringe circuits and played at various festivals and London theatres, so I experienced a lot of what was available for an emerging company.

“I’ve always felt strongly about theatres being accessible to artists and thought I’d love to run my own theatre so I could draw on my experiences and offer really cheap hire rates to performers.”

With her project having naturally reached its end and the pandemic closing the industry, that thought became more than an idea one day over a coffee with her partner, Jack Carvosso. 

The artist and photographer was looking at expanding his picture framing business, taking on a larger space at the Penarth Centre in South Bermondsey’s Penarth Street. 

A large unit had recently been vacated by a church and he was sure a third of it would do for his activities.

A similar space could be used by his friends’ business – artist-led publisher and bookbinder Folium – but what to do with the spare footage? 

“That was when MJ thought about creating a theatre,” said Jack, who has become the venue’s associate director.

“In that one meeting, we drew everything out on a napkin, then proposed it to the landlord and he loved the idea.

“The unit hadn’t been well maintained by the previous tenants, so we patched everything up, put in brand new wiring and started the journey to where we are now.

 “For me, it’s picture framing during the day and then, in the evenings, I help MJ with the theatre.”

Launched in January 2022, The Pen has hosted hundreds of shows over its first two years – offering performers a vital space to stage their first productions, hone works-in-progress, give fully realised pieces an outing or just experiment with an audience.

Jack Carvosso and MJ Ashton of The Pen Theatre

The venue has a maximum of 40 seats and provides box office facilities, technical equipment, a dressing room and green room, marketing support and front-of-house and bar staff.

Artists who want to put on shows apply to the venue, then go ahead if their proposal is accepted.

“We’re very inclusive,” said MJ. “We accept a lot of people’s applications – we invite them to come in.

“Some theatres ask for hundreds of pounds per night, but we run at cost and charge £56.50 per show.

“Then we offer a 70%-30% split on ticket sales in favour of the artist.

“This makes it affordable for artists to come in with new writing.

“It’s a low-risk space that allows them to perform – a platform that’s between a rehearsal space and a bigger theatre, where they can test their work.

“This can be good for getting reviewers in – it’s an opportunity for people to build a bit of a reputation before they start applying for larger venues. 

“We also offer free tech and dress rehearsals to keep costs really low because we know a lot of people don’t have much money.”

With the Edinburgh Fringe dominating the calendar, The Pen has carved out a role as an ideal test bed for shows before artists take them north to the proving ground of Scotland.

“We had about 65 shows over two months,” said MJ.

“The stress level was very high, but putting on shows at The Pen allowed them to try out their material before going up.

“The festival has really become the epicentre of our year – in August we quieten down, but then in September and October, we run a Fresh Off The Fringe season for acts that want to perform at a London venue after it has finished.”

With rehearsal space at the London Performance Studios in the same building, there’s a sense that The Pen is very much an integral cog in a larger machine of creativity and performance.

It’s a role both MJ and Jack clearly relish.

The Pen Theatre is located at the Penarth Centre in South Bermondsey’s Penarth Street

“When I was a performer, I thought I’d like my own space to put on anything I wanted,” said MJ.

“But now I have that, I’ve realised what I really enjoy is helping other people to develop their own stuff. 

“I’d feel a bit silly putting on my own shows – it would have been a bit egotistical to build this whole thing for myself.

“Perhaps I am surprised just how much I enjoy watching other artists develop, but I am rooting for everyone. It’s opened my eyes a bit to see what people can do. 

“We really want to create a warm comfortable environment for them and the audience so everyone can enjoy it.”

Jack added: “We watch every single show and I love it. The variety we see is just incredible. 

“Some are better than others, but it’s a great atmosphere here. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the performers and the audience having a good time.”

The Pen’s stage offers a growing pipeline of productions, with works for stage rubbing up alongside comics performing stand-up and even cabaret and scratch nights.

For MJ and Jack, having established the venue with no backing as a going concern, the next step will be to explore ways to grow and develop The Pen.

“At the moment we’re in a comfortable place,” said MJ. “We’ve made a profit and people are getting to know us.

“The next stage is for us to try and find some funding so we can hire people to work as programmers and manage the space. 

“We’d like to have a bigger team and to become a theatre that supports writers, directors and the production of shows.”

Jack added: “But to do this, we need funding. We want to pay people appropriately – we don’t want them working for free.”

The Pen Theatre is located about 20 minutes’ walk from Surrey Quays DLR, or 10 minutes from South Bermondsey station.

Find out more about what’s on at The Pen Theatre here

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Woolwich: How Woolwich Works is looking to the future as 2024 gets underway

Recently appointed director Nick Williams talks vast spaces and dog shows at the expansive venue

Woolwich Works director Nick Williams

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“I really want us to do a dog show – the Royal Arsenal is a very dog-friendly place and we are as a venue,” said Nick Williams, director at Woolwich Works.

“My own dog comes in regularly and she has very strong views on these things.”

It’s a new year and, having taken the helm at the venue only four months ago, there’s a sense of anticipation and possibility from the man at the top.

“It would be so easy to reel off lots of things I want to do, but actually part of the fun of this is finding out,” he said.

“I’m quite keen for us not to be just another arts centre.

vFor one thing, we’re too big for that – our main space is 1,500sq m and it can take 1,800 people.

“It’s enormous and that’s only one of seven spaces.

“That’s why I’m talking about Woolwich Works as an events space.

“If you take the word ‘arts’ out of it, the door is open to all sorts of things.

“There’s been an array of different sorts of stuff in its short life so far and I’m pushing us to experiment with more of that.”

He’s serious about the dog show, of course, with an ambition to build on last summer’s Woolwich Woofs event – but to do it at scale with exhibitors, stalls, events and categories that go far beyond the narrow pedigree world of The Kennel Club.

He says he wants it to be the antidote to Cruft’s, with space to celebrate waggy tails and grey muzzles.  

But that’s very much the wet nose of the Great Dane, with plenty of plans and opportunity coming over the next 12 months.

Family Folk Show
Jan 28, 11am, £12.10
Folk duo Megson present a concert of ditties for those aged 0-8.

Ruby Rushton

Feb 9, 6.30pm, £15.50

The jazz quartet offer an anniversary performance of their album Two For Joy.


Mar 7, 7.30pm, £13

An evening of classical accordion music and dance plus a Q+A.

“This year, I would like to be hosting profile events, where people will say the venue looks really great and that they’re going to come to us,” said Nick, whose career has taken in roles at Arts Council England as well as running venues in Notting Hill and Perth.

“It’s really easy to get to Woolwich on the Elizabeth Line – we’re six minutes from Canary Wharf, 15 minutes from Tottenham Court Road and an hour from Reading.

“I really want us to host stuff that couldn’t happen anywhere else because we have so much space and so much flexibility within it.

“We don’t have a single fixed seat anywhere – everything can all come out be moved around and put back in a different configuration.

“We started to experiment with a bit of that in the autumn and there’s a lot more of that to come in 2024, in various different guises.

“We have a fabulous courtyard at the centre of the venue and it’s our most underused space, even though it’s enormous.

“Last summer, we put a beach bar out there, which was nice, although the weather wasn’t that great and we’ve had a bandstand this Christmas with various different groups and performers, which has been great fun, and drew a lot of people with a bar and some mulled wine.

“This coming summer, we’re going to put something out there with a bit of shade – a bit more of a garden feel.

“We’ll have a stage for those months so we can programme a range of performances.

“People will just be able to drop in – it might be a DJ night or a community group.

“We’ll mix and match to connect with lots of different types of audiences.

“The idea is that people will just come by and hang out.

“Hopefully there’ll be lovely weather and we’ll have a wonderful time.”

The Fireworks Factory at Woolwich Works

While there are some big dates on the calendar but currently under wraps, Nick was keen to stress that staff at the venue were very much open to ideas – especially creative ones.

“There’s so much I can’t actually tell you at the moment,” he said.

“We have a very big wellness and fitness event coming up in early spring.

“We’re also going to have an all-day Eurovision festival at the beginning of May, before the main event, and that will be great fun, with some big-name performers.

“The beauty of this place is that we can do what we like with it.

“I had a festival director come down who really wanted to do a show with us because it suited the vibe to put in the round.

“He wanted it for about 450, but here he found he could get 650, which was brilliant. It’s that versatility that’s fantastic.

“One of my key aims is getting as many people as possible in to see what we can do here.

“My attitude is that, if you’ve got a project that might be worth doing with us, then approach us – we’ll have a wander round, a coffee and a chat and see where it leads.

“I’m really keen on exploring crossover events which mix food, performance, creativity and wellness.

“We can do that here – it doesn’t have to be one thing or another.

“But you can’t run a place like this in isolation – you have to be open, interested in other people’s ideas. 

“We’ve got too much space to fill just to rely on our own thoughts.

“We need people to come forward with their ideas.

“Word is getting out and that is entirely what we’re after.

“More and more people are coming forward with all sorts of things, and it’s all really exciting.

“In many ways we’re still a startup – still evolving and working out what works at Woolwich Works.”

Visitors and local residents can expect this spirit of openness to continue in 2024 – Nick’s overriding message being one of welcome.

He said: “I think we want people to realise there’s something for everyone here, and it really is for them.

“We encourage people to wander into the building and say: ‘Hi’.

“One of the first things I did when I came was to change the cafe opening hours.

“It used not to open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and it would open at lunchtime from Wednesday onwards.

Woolwich Works boasts seven spaces that can be used together

“Every time I was in there in the morning, someone would try to get in – I thought there was clearly an untapped market here – so from October we started opening at 8am on Monday mornings.

“We noticed quite a few people came and worked from the cafe, so we launched the Workers Club, and people take advantage of that because it’s a good deal.”

For £6, people can work from the cafe from 8am-6pm on weekdays with unlimited tea, coffee or juice. Times vary at weekends 

There are also options to upgrade to lunch for £12 per day or to lunch and an after work drink for £15 per day.

“There isn’t anywhere like it near here,” said Nick.

“These are people often running small independent businesses or sole traders who want to support us and we’re making it easy for them to do that. 

“We’re also very keen for our resident creative companies to perform here. 

“Chineke! and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra have both been in our Christmas programme and one of the things we’re talking about with all the organisations is how we can collaborate more effectively. 

“It’s a great conversation to have because everyone’s up for it.

“The Acosta Dance Foundation is a relatively recent arrival and Carlos is full of ideas. 

“He really loves the main space and wants to do stuff in it, which is an exciting prospect.

“Having a global superstar say that they want to do something in our space is thrilling, so we hope that will come this year.

“I’d like people to think Woolwich Works is a place where really great things happen – somewhere they have a great time when they come and that always has something interesting happening.

“I have a sort of mantra – I want everyone coming away from an event to say that they had a really amazing time here, that they felt comfortable in the venue, that they were really welcome and that it was an easy, fun experience for them. 

“I’d like people to think fondly of us, so that they want to see what’s on next time.”

Woolwich Works offers a regular newsletter with full details of forthcoming shows and ways to help support the venue.

Find out more about Woolwich Works here

The events venue has no fixed seating and can be used in a wide range of configurations

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Old Kent Road: How The BeCa at Ruby Triangle aims to attract first-time buyers

Developer Avanton intends to maximise value for a domestic audience at its south-east London block

An artist’s impression of The BeCa in South Bermondsey

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“Value” is the topic on the lips of David Ronson, sales and marketing director at Avanton.

We’re talking about The BeCa, the first phase of the developer’s Ruby Triangle scheme, located in South Bermondsey just off the Old Kent Road.

This £150million red brick-clad structure takes its name and inspiration from the former industrial buildings of New York’s Tribeca neighbourhood – also the reason why it’s pronounced “becca” rather than “beaker”.

The 170 apartments available for private sale within, form part of the 1,400 homes that Avanton is set to build on the five-acre site.

It’s located around 22 minutes from Canary Wharf via bus and the Jubilee line from Canada Water, but could also be on the Tube if the mooted Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham is approved. 

It’s a tough time for buyers and those selling property at the moment.

The cost of living crisis and high mortgage rates present a challenging landscape to those keen to get on the ladder and those servicing that market.

The BeCa is inspired by converted industrial buildings in New York

As a counterweight, Avanton has come up with London @Last, a three-part package of incentives aimed at first-time buyers to encourage them to purchase a home at The BeCa. 

“We’re concerned with the domestic market because you want to build a place that has a community in it – somewhere that has a soul,” said David.

“If you sell everything to overseas investors, it has only transient tenants living there. 

“Our Coda scheme in Battersea is rated as one of the best places to live in south-west London and that’s because it has a community of owner-occupiers.

“That’s what we want to do with all our developments.

“Typically first-time buyers are at a disadvantage when it comes to buying off-plan.

“The least expensive units typically offer the best rental yield for investors to pick up.

“But prospective owner-occupiers, especially those feeling the pressure of the cost of living crisis are not in a position to tie up money for long periods of time without the ability to access it.

“With some developers, that could be as much as 25% of the purchase price and that’s one of the reasons we’ve created London @ Last.”

One and two-bedroom apartments are available at the scheme

The incentives on offer are threefold, amounting to a possible £40,000 saving on a property.

Firstly, first-time buyers can exchange on a property with a 5% deposit under the scheme.

Secondly, Avanton will put in a further 5% and cover legal fees for buyers using its recommended solicitor.

This allows purchasers to take out 90% mortgages on the property rather than 95%.

Thirdly, the developer says it will guarantee a 4.99% interest-only mortgage for a year.

With rates coming down in any case, it will also likely reassess this to ensure it remains competitive.

Avanton will also pay 10% interest per year on deposit money it is holding, payable on completion.

“If your circumstances change prior to completion, we’ll give you back your money,” said David.

“If not, we’ll pay you better than a bank to hold the money for you and we’re only taking 5% as a deposit.

“It gives you the flex that, if something does happen, you have the ability to step out of the contract.” 

An artist’s impression of a kitchen at The BeCa

With starting prices for one-beds at £450,000 and two-beds at £585,000, the package presents the possibility of significant savings on the initial cost of buying a home.  

Avanton, however, isn’t only about deals in the short-term.

David said the design of The BeCa had taken into consideration what residents actually wanted from a home rather than stuffing it full of facilities they may not want to use or pay for through their service charge.

“We’ve been very conscious on this scheme regarding people’s affordability,” he said. “Some developers put in too many residential amenities within a block.

“We’re a little bit different. We look at what the key essentials are for people.

“At Coda, for example, we have some flexible workspace, meeting rooms, a small gym and a 24-hour concierge service as well as two podium gardens.

“We completed these and the service charge has now come in at about £6 per sq ft.

“If you look at the south-west market, that’s quite affordable in contrast to some developments with all the amenities under the sun, and the charge is around £13.

“If, before you’re even looking at the mortgage, you’re being hit with £10,000 of service charge a year, your average domestic buyer can’t afford it.

Many apartments will feature views over the London skyline

“That’s why some developments are primarily bought by investors from overseas who rent out these properties to transient tenants.

“It’s one of the reasons 80% of our Coda scheme was sold to owner-occupiers who want to live there and not feel like they are being charged for amenities they are not actually going to be using.

“This can be a deterrent for people considering buying into a scheme.

“With The BeCa, we’ve ensured the service charge is as low as it possibly can be. 

“We’re looking at £4.27 per sq ft and that will have a day porter, about 2,000sq ft of flexible workspace and residents’ access to three roof terraces.

“In the current market, you have to look at specific locations where buyers can see real capital appreciation. Old Kent Road is the cheapest place you can buy in Zone 2.

“Ultimately Ruby Triangle will become an extension of London Bridge and Bermondsey, where you have some of the best lifestyle amenities in London. 

“As the whole wider South Bermondsey regeneration takes place, you’ll see 20,000 new homes, 10,000 jobs, it’s going to change the place massively.”

Even with all that change, Avanton is also addressing any concerns about connectivity with a further incentive.

It’s offering buyers a free electric bike on completion, or the cash equivalent off the purchase.

Find out more about The BeCa here

Communal facilities at The BeCa

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Greenwich: How Anthony Spargo and the team are set to take on Snow White

Greenwich Theatre pantomime eschews a dame in favour of a dragged-up villain and a cast of puppets

Anthony Spargo has written this year’s Greenwich Theatre panto, Snow White, and will star in at as the Evil Queen

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I‘m delighted to find Anthony Spargo walking when he arrives for our interview.

The last time I saw him, on stage as the Sheriff Of Nottingham at Greenwich Theatre, I feared the machinations of one scene in particular might have caused irreparable damage to his lower half.

But the intervening months have been kind and there’s a distinct bounce in his gait as he strides into the Arcola – the Dalston venue where rehearsals are being held for this year’s pantomime.

For 2023, writer and actor Anthony has penned a version of Snow White, set to run at Greenwich Theatre from November 23 until January 7, 2024.

It’s the second work he’s written for the venue, following on from Robin Hood last year, but his 12th as the villain, who this year doubles as the dame.

“It’s a bit like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, where there’s no dame character,” said Anthony.

“I knew I was playing the Evil Queen and I did write an early version with a dame as the queen’s beautician and Snow White’s nanny, but I was struggling with the material.

“The problem was when Snow White escapes to the wood, the nanny doesn’t have anything to do.

“So instead it’ll be me dragging-up and encompassing both roles in a single part.

“It’s the same team as last year – ‘Uncle’ Steve Marwick as musical director, James Haddrell directing and me – and we decided to tackle Snow White because none of us could remember the theatre putting it on before and we wanted to have a female-focused story after Robin Hood

Anthony in a more troubling pose as the Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood

“Next year, who knows – maybe the hero will be a trans person. Pantomime has always been a bit gender-neutral – guys dressing as dames and women dressing as male heroes.” 

Also returning alongside Anthony will be Martin Johnson as Herman The Huntsman (previously Friar Tuck) and Louise Cielecki as Muddles (formerly Mutley).

Other lead roles are taken by Katie Tomkinson as Snow White, Tom Bales as Prince Charming and DeeArna McLean as the Magic Mirror.

“When writing a show, you take the essence of the story and use that as a kind of chassis – a foundation,” said Anthony. 

“But it wouldn’t be a Greenwich panto without a nice twist. There are stand-out plot points and, if I went to see a version that didn’t have some of them, I would be disappointed – so we’ve got the poisoned apple, and the dwarves are obviously in there.

“Then there’s the queen ordering the huntsman to kill Snow White, and he can’t quite bring himself to do it – so the big iconic moments are present.

“In fact, Act One is pretty packed with story, story, story. It moves fast, with lots to set up – the stories of all the characters, for example, which is a panto staple.

“As an audience member though, you could be forgiven for thinking that pretty much all of the story is wrapped up by the interval – that’s where the twist comes in.

“In Act Two you can get away with having a bit of fun and silly surprises – taking people to places they least expect and climaxing in the destruction of the villain. 

Louise Cielecki, seen here as Mutley in Robin Hood, is set to return as Muddles

“In Sleeping Beauty we went to the moon and in Robinson Crusoe we went to the Wild West.

“This year we’re not travelling to different destinations, but I don’t want to give too much away – you’ll just have to come and see.”

Anthony said the thrill and unpredictability of the show was the main draw, with people able to step outside their lives for a few hours and revel in some proper, carefully crafted nonsense. 

“With any show, it’s escapism – a chance to get away from whatever’s going on in the world and let it go,” he said.

“People should come to have fun and be a kid again – shouting out at the villain and cheering the goodies.

“The first read-through is when I get to hear it out loud.

“What I secretly love, is the way a whole gang of people take the inane, stupid, silly nonsense that I have written, completely seriously, and have the most intense and serious conversations about the most stupid things.

“For example, there have been lengthy discussions about how a machine that sticks labels on boxes in this year’s show works, even though it doesn’t actually have to really operate at any point on stage.

“One of the joys of working with a brilliant cast is that while I might have written the lines, other actors may come up with stuff I hadn’t even thought of and deliver it in a way I hadn’t expected.

“When that happens, it’s amazing. 

Long-standing panto player Martin Johnson, seen here as Friar Tuck, is also set to return as the Huntsman

“The dwarves in the story will be played by the cast, our two ensemble members and stage management using puppets and we have a couple of really lovely sequences with them because you can’t do Snow White without that.

“We’ll also be bringing back the revolve on stage this year so we can change scene.

“We have a great new designer – Emily Bestow – who’s been absolutely brilliant.

“Last year it was realism in Sherwood Forest, but this year it feels like we’re back in panto-land. It’s bright, colourful and there’s loud glitter everywhere.

“As for next year, we have started to have conversations about it but haven’t decided what it will be yet.

“With this one I started getting ideas for it while performing Robin Hood and then began writing the show in January last year.

“You start off setting out a plot scene-by-scene and things slowly start merging and coming together.

“I’d love to do Peter Pan again, because selfishly I’d like to play Captain Hook.

“We did it about eight years ago and it’s a great show – audiences love it, there’s flying and also, THERE’S NO BETTER VILLAIN IN PANTO.”

…must resist. Ok, fine. OH YES THERE IS… (suggestions on a postcard to info@wharf-life.com)    

  • Tickets for Snow White cost £33 (£16.50 concessions), with performances running Tuesday-Sunday at various times.  

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