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Greenwich: How It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure puts blindness centre stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Isle Of Dogs: How David Grindley is set to star in his own play at The Space

The Island resident and original SpaceWorks member will stage a show from July 26-31, 2022

David Grindley is set to star in David's Play at The Space
David Grindley is set to star in David’s Play at The Space – image James Perrin

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Adam Hemming joined The Space in 2004, subsequently stepping up to the role of artistic director a couple of years later.

Not that it’s a competition, but David Grindley has been involved with the Westferry Road venue for longer than that – about 19 years, in fact. 

“I get a lot out of it,” said David, whose speech and movement is affected by cerebral palsy.

“It saved my life. When I was in a home, I was shut away a lot, but when I came here, I could do drama.”

Now the Isle Of Dogs resident has decided, as an original member of in-house company SpaceWorks, that he’s going to star in a production and that there’s really nothing Adam or anyone else can do about it – even if they wanted to. Actually, they’re complicit.

“This is the second play that we’ve done with David,” said Adam.

“The first was 2015’s The Man Who Found His Freedom, which was about a period in his life when he was in a care home and how he escaped to live a more independent life in east London. It was quite a hard-hitting drama.”

Whatever David’s Play turns out to be after the machinations of writing, rehearsal and devising, it won’t be that. Audiences are in for laughs.

“With this show we wanted to have a bit more fun,” said Adam.

“It’s a backstage comedy based on the last 10 years of David’s life – his time at The Space and the adventures he’s got up to since he’s been here.”

 Adam and David discuss the production
Adam and David discuss the production – image James Perrin

David’s disability hasn’t deterred him from consistently pursuing starring roles, something that’s key to the forthcoming show.

“The main thread of the story is that David is a part of our company SpaceWorks, where local people take part in creating theatre,” said Adam.

“At the end of each production we would talk about what we were going to do next, and David’s suggestion was always My Left Foot – I’d always shut him up.

“There are complications around staging My Left Foot, which was a book originally, then a film with Daniel Day-Lewis, but David was always suggesting it so that he could be the star of the show.

“In the end we decided that, rather than doing that production, we should create a play for David, which he could then star in, so that’s how it all began.”

David’s Play will be directed by Adam, David and deputy artistic director at The Space, Matthew Jameson, who all appear on stage as versions of themselves. 

“Nothing can go wrong,” said David. “I think we’ll feel better with the first night done, but I’m sure it will be alright – I hope people like it.”

Adam added: “It’s quite a rare thing to see someone like David on stage, but we’ve laughed a lot in creating the show and doing the read-through, so we’re hopeful people will find it funny.

“David keeps telling me off because I keep trying to do serious acting.”

The Space has raised cash to help put the show on – partly through a crowdfunding campaign – with David suggesting on the accompanying video that, should sufficient money become available, it would allow him to hire a better director than Adam.

The Space is still accepting donations for the show, although it’s unclear if this could affect Adam’s position.

In some ways, the fundraising efforts feel apt, given David’s own commitment to generating money for the charity that runs the theatre.

“I’ve worked on the box office, been on various committees and done a lot of fundraising,” he said.

“I recently did my annual sponsored walk across the Isle Of Dogs, which I’ve been doing for 10 years.”

David's Play is set to play at The Space from July 26-31
David’s Play is set to play at The Space from July 26-31 – image James Perrin

“David takes his fundraising very seriously and he’s very good at it,” said Adam.

“David has 24-hour care and this is one place where he can come without his carer and get involved in what’s going on.

“He’s seen more shows here than I have, but he’s also organised lunchtime music recitals as well as creating work like this – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

“David’s participation with SpaceWorks has helped to raise understanding about what someone with cerebral palsy is capable of.

“As a condition, it’s not that well-known, but he’s built up quite a good network of friends.

“He had a group of people go with him on his sponsored walk and then we had a barbecue fundraiser here before some other friends took him on to a pub quiz at The Ship – it was a pretty full-on day.

“The number of people supporting him during the day is a pretty good indication of how well-liked he is.

“One of the stories that we’ve used in David’s Play is about the year we decided to do a sponsored walk in Greenwich.

“I wasn’t with him that year and it turns out there are strict rules there about what you’re allowed to shake a bucket for.

“You have to have advance permission – it’s a bit different to the Isle Of Dogs.

“Anyway, some people asked David to stop and he didn’t take too kindly to that and in the end some mounted police became involved.

“Another story that’s featured is that there was an unfortunate incident where David fell down some stairs coming out of a pub so an ambulance had to be called and, on the way home, he asked the ambulance to stop outside The Space so he could get a drink before last orders.

“About 10 years ago David decided to stop drinking and hasn’t had a drop of wine since.”

David said: “My life has improved a lot since then. I don’t think I’d be here now if I’d carried on drinking.”

Created by David, The Space’s literary manager Mike Carter and the company, David’s Play is set to be performed at The Space from July 26-31, 2022, with shows at 7.30pm Tuesday to Saturday and 2.30pm on Sunday. 

Tickets for the shows cost £15 with 20% off for bookings made by July 12 (so get in quick).

Anyone who would like to donate to support the production or The Space can find more information here.

Read more: Discover Drag Syndrome’s Liberty Festival performance

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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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Deptford: How Sun And Sea is set to transform The Albany into a beach

We sit down with the composer, librettist and director of the sandy opera to find out more

The Albany will be transformed into a beach for the show
The Albany will be transformed into a beach for the show

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

A crowded beach, the burning sun, bright bathing suits and sweaty brows.

Sunbathers begin to sing languid songs of early morning flights, half-eaten sandwiches and plastic bags floating silently below the waterline. 

Sun & Sea is an afternoon at the seaside, witnessed from above.

Audiences watch from the balcony as the mundane evolves into an urgent exploration of our relationship with the planet and the threat of climate change.

The show stunned audiences at the 2019 Venice Biennale and makes its UK debut at The Albany from June 23-July 10, 2022, co-presented with LIFT and Serpentine. 

Ten tons of sand will be used to transform the stage for the “durational performance”, which unfolds on a loop over several hours.

The performers will include local singers and 13 vocalists taking on the role of beach-goers enjoying the sunshine. 

We sat down with composer Lina Lapelytė, librettist Vaiva Grainytė and director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė to find out more.

why a beach?

Rugilė: The image of a singing beach came while touring with our first opera Have a Good Day!

We were actively waiting for another idea. I was shooting my documentary film essay Acid Forest, which involved a birds-eye view. People were looked at from above as if they were animal species coming to one “cage” in a strange forest. 

This inspired an angle from above on another “zoo”. A beach is the place where the fragility of bodies is exposed. It made us think about the parallel with cosmic bodies, the fragility of the planet Earth. 

The visual, textual and musical layers of Sun & Sea are inseparable and make this work complex. However, in this complexity, we seek simplicity.

Lina: The idea to perform on the beach came gradually. We were looking for a situation that would allow for different individuals to coexist, a place to reflect society. 

The beach is the place where everyone becomes kind of equal under the sun. Swimsuits unify people – they get exposed to the planetary body that heals and is dangerous at the same time. 

At the beach, people mix up – you can meet a university professor, a banker and a hairdresser. It’s a place where their thoughts can meet too. 

We wanted to have a collective voice – a choir, that is driven by different attitudes, different thoughts – however, united by the time and place.

why climate change?

Lina: The work is labelled as climate change opera, but we wouldn’t rule out this being the second episode of Have a Good Day! that we sometimes, ironically, call an ode to capitalism. 

While Sun & Sea puts the joy of consumption on the sandy beach, my personal approach is through body politics: the parallel between the body of a human and the body of Earth.

Rugilė: Passive lying around, the lazy burning away of time and the body – this is the surface of the work. People are only resting, but the axis that holds the whole mosaic of the opera together is a sun which is getting hotter and the exhausted Earth. 

The message about the inevitability of consumption, which we developed in our previous collaborative work, is now delicately incarnated in ecological themes.

Vaiva: The opera consists of smaller sub-topics that can be found as fragments in the libretto of Sun & Sea. These themes are related to the pleasures of consumption, time, climate change, boredom in everyday life, pollution, tourism, the interconnection of hedonism and the apocalypse, skin care, depression, nutrition and technology.

why an opera?

Lina: Opera reflects the Gesamtkunswerk – a total work of art. However, we feel the term can be off-putting sometimes as people expect a traditional treatment of voices and stage. 

We try to challenge the term – to use the potential the genre can offer.

From left, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainytė
From left, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainytė

how long have you been friends?

Vaiva:  Since teenage times. We all grew up in Kaunas in Lithuania, so share a very similar collective memory of certain topography. 

Lina and I used to hitchhike and hang around in underground concerts, while me and Rugile studied in the same photography school. This is the core of our collaborative practice. 

Rugilė: Another level of friendship started when we realised how closely our ideas resonated while thinking about our first piece. 

Lina: It is also an intellectual friendship – we share some viewpoints and have similar feelings towards many things.

how long did it take to create?

Rugilė: The piece was developed during a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2016, then presented as a micro-opera at the gallery Palermo in Stuttgart with a premiere in full the following year. 

In 2018 the artists presented the German version in Dresden and the work was selected to represent Lithuania at the Venice Biennale – where the English and durational version was developed.

what impact has Covid had?

Vaiva: As the piece was touring during the pandemic, sanitation breaks, masked audience members, peeping from above, observing unmasked holiday goers, made the beach look like an idyllic postcard from the past. 

The lyrics from the libretto, originally referring to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökulls, which has brought all travelling into paralysis, suddenly sounded like a reflection of the current situation. The connotations of the piece change and closely coexist with current events.

Singers perform lying on their backs
Singers perform lying on their backs

has the show changed for the UK?

Rugilė: Sun & Sea is a mix of fiction and documentary, so the show is always shifting. The musical and textual layers are fixed, the colour palette is fixed but the local beachgoers and choir members bring their natural habits to the beach. 

We ask them to avoid acting, but to do whatever they like and feel comfortable doing on a real beach.

is the local choir new for London? 

Lina: Integrating the local choir has always been important. It does not happen everywhere, but we try. 

Integration of local people started in Venice with not only the choir but also solo singers, some of whom continue to tour.

does lying down affect the singers?

Lina: It is a challenging position to sing in, no-one gets to learn this in music schools, but the people we  work with are embracing these kinds of challenges. 

It’s not just lying down – it’s also occasionally sand landing in your throat while you sing, or a naughty dog taking over your aria, or children freestyling when you need to focus. The piece is life more than a performance.

The durational performance runs on a loop
The durational performance runs on a loop

talk to me about the viewpoint

Rugilė: The audience is looking down to the beach from above, focusing on peculiar species, living on the sand down below. 

Usually, we tend to use this perspective to observe bugs or other smaller animals than us – this creates some sort of hierarchy. 

Balconies frame the beach from all directions and it helps to close the potentially superficial perspective of the sea and the sky. 

Lastly, the angle from above allows the audience to see the singers lying and singing in a frontal position.

what should audiences take away?

Vaiva: The piece has lots of sub-messages and different overtones. It’s both light, bright, joyful, deeply sad, and sorrowful.

It’s up to each audience member to pick up on certain aspects. Therefore Sun & Sea is based on a dissonance – the feeling of catastrophe lurking in the air is wrapped in a contrasting sunny surface. Darker and ironic lyrics are interwoven with pop melodies. Micro stories of the characters told from the “I” perspective allow viewers to connect to the beachgoers emotionally, rather than intellectually. 

Even though the opera-performance is climate crisis-themed, it doesn’t suggest any solutions, but rather allows audience members to enter the realm of pure melancholy, and embrace the feeling of the end.

Read more: Discover Samskara at The Yard theatre in Hackney Wick

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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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Hackney Wick: How Samskara at The Yard explores black masculinity

Lanre Malaolu’s work deals with the generational ties that can hold men back from emotional vulnerability

Lanre Malaolu's Samskara returns to The Yard from June 27
Lanre Malaolu’s Samskara returns to The Yard from June 27

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

I’m really starting to question what toxic masculinity means?” said Lanre Malaolu

“I think ‘masculinity’ is just ‘masculinity’ and it can’t be toxic by its nature, just like ‘femininity’ can’t be toxic. 

“Saying that is putting a taint on with a very broad stroke and going deeper is what I’m really interested in.”

The Hackney resident, writer, director and choreographer, accepts men aren’t as readily available to talk about their emotions, but he wants to know why.

“What is holding them back?” he said.

“What are the chains that we feel we need to hold? It’s a two-way street. Men feel that they need to be the breadwinner, protect and be the alpha to get along. 

“Why and where that has come from is what I’m interested in, rather than putting something under the broad stroke of ‘toxic masculinity’.”

His thoughts spill out in his show Samskara – an exploration of black masculinity, vulnerability, and the cycles of fatherhood.

It returns to The Yard in Hackney Wick from June 27 until July 23, 2022, following a sell-out premiere in 2021.

It is a fusion of storytelling, movement, hip-hop, dance and text performed by five actors who play four generations of black men named Silent Man, Father, Wisdom, Young Buck and Older.

Lanre wrote, directed and choreographed it and said: “I find with shows, I may think they’ve come from one idea but really it’s an amalgamation of different events, moments and emotions that I’ve experienced over and over again in my life and that I’m finally ready to talk about and channel into work.

“My father wasn’t consistently present growing up and we had a quite fractured relationship. 

“So I decided to sit down and really let him know how I felt.

“My voice was raised, my emotions were high because it’s been a crazy journey I’ve gone through growing up as a young boy into a man.

“I remember him listening, taking it in and then right at the end he apologised and said: ‘All I know is how my father was with me,’ and he started to speak about his upbringing. It was the first time I saw my dad as a son.”

Lanre drew on conversations with his father when writing the piece
Lanre drew on conversations with his father when writing the piece

Lanre began thinking about the generational cycles of fatherhood and what he wanted to pass on as a son and potential father.

He also began unpacking his interactions with other black men.

“There’s been conversations I’ve had with black men about black masculinity,” he said.

“There have been moments of no conversation, of walking down the street and nodding my head with another black man, something that is not really spoken about, but is so universally understood within the black male culture. 

“I started to think about what is behind that? There’s love, joy, a bit of fear and, at times, solidarity. I thought: ‘What if we explore all those things?’.

“I did a workshop in HMP Thameside prison some years ago where I was really faced  with the stark truth of what it is to be vulnerable as a black man. 

“The idea was to explore sensitivity and touch. Getting the men to do that in an environment that didn’t promote vulnerability in any way was a real challenge, but it also birthed moments of real honesty.”

Lanre believes there is an untapped pool of willingness to talk about emotions but men are held back.

He said: “Because of walking down the street and, at times, being seen as a threat, because of needing to be perceived as someone that is strong and has their shit together, we then put that armour up and people with armour are on battlefields and don’t talk about their emotions. So we condition ourselves not to.”

Working class Hackney in the 1990s was an environment full of men putting on a front. But Lanre found his way through.

“I wasn’t a street thug, but I knew those guys and I could have gone the other way,” he said.

“When you have low income, poverty and a government that doesn’t seem to care, then of course these things are going to happen.

“There were hard times, times of joy and you grow and learn and keep walking your way through. Faith was an important part of that.

“Not just religious, but faith that there’s always an ‘and’ never just a ‘but’. When I get pessimistic I always feel like there’s a way through.

“Hope is always there in these communities. It’s not just pain and struggle. You go into a Nigerian wedding, or a black party and the flow of joy, love and abundance is there.

“I want to make sure that I always talk about that. This show is going to have that because that’s what it means to be black and a black man. There’s so much joy.”

The show is Lanre's first work on stage with a full cast
The show is Lanre’s first work on stage with a full cast

He was “bouncing off the walls” as a kid, but found his joy through performing after his mum took him to the renowned Anna Scher Theatre school and he began booking jobs with the BBC and Channel 4.

In between classes, he and his friends would put on dance battles and Lanre co-founded company Protocol with the sole aim of performing at Breakin Convention.

They got their wish and more, when founder of the international hip-hop theatre festival Jonzi D “saw a spark” in them.

“They nurtured and cultivated it and then allowed us to kind of find our own continuous path,” said Lanre. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without that support.”

He went on to study at Drama Centre London, but left early to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and, as an actor, appeared at the Royal Court and in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks.

It was being chosen for The Old Vic 12 – a scheme to help developing artists ready to take the next step in their careers – which garnered him attention as an independent movement director and, five years ago, Protocol ended “with love” so he could focus on the opportunities coming his way.

“It turned out to be the best thing, because I needed that space to create my own strand as ‘Lanre Malaolu the artist’,” he said.

That has involved I Can’t Breathe, a response to the police killing of black man Eric Garner in 2014, Elephant In The Room in 2019, which explored mental and emotional health in black men, The Conversation, a 2019 short film on communicating racial experience to white partners, and The Circle, a 2020 documentary digging into the dynamics of brotherhood between black men.

Samskara is his first full-length show with a cast and he said it  “started without me knowing”.

 “I reached a point in my life where I was able to talk to my dad and then follow through with other black men in an honest way and just try and understand more,” he said.

“I didn’t interview him because I find that isn’t the best way to have valuable conversations with black men because that’s when the guards come up. 

“No matter what anyone says, you will be able to get more of the truth over a meal in Nando’s when the energy is right.

“I was watching, listening, seeing and mentally noting things and writing them down.

“I would be at my barbers where I’ve gone for 15 years and had so many conversations that I’m sure, in some way, have fed into the show.

“When the Samskara started to come together, I got these sharp, bursts of images and wrote them down.

“Then I started to think specifically about generations. I knew one character was going to be really young and think he could take on the world.

“One was going to be a father, one an older man who’s been weathered down. I started writing monologues for them, workshopped it for two weeks and, from that, it continued to build.”

Samskara runs at The Yard until July 23
Samskara runs at The Yard until July 23

He grew up a 15-minute walk from The Yard and said he was proud of how it had transformed over the years.

“They’ve changed and learnt and they’re really supporting artists to do their best work by giving space, really listening and putting their money where their mouth is,” he said. “I really respect and love that about them.”

He hopes Samskara will open up conversations and allow black men in the audience to see themselves in ways they haven’t been allowed to before. 

“I still have a lot of chains to break myself, but I am able to talk about my feelings and my emotions in a way that I wasn’t 10 years ago,” he said.

“Hopefully, I can say the same thing in another 10 years, because I’m a work in progress.

“Making the show has allowed me to really challenge myself whenever I have interactions with black men, because I know and understand the pain.

“I think it’s the fault of a lot of things. Eddie Marsden said something brilliant about how when young boys grow up, they think they can be superheroes. 

“Some men let go of that and some take it on and that’s what feeds into this feeling that they are able to have an upper hand on the female sex. It goes back to the things we are taught. That’s what this show is really about.

“What do we learn that we don’t even realize and how do we unpack and untangle and break those chains to move on? 

“How do we accept that things like vulnerability are ultimately the superhero strength for a man, a black man.”

  • Those aged 26 or younger can get £5 tickets on the door to all performances that are not sold out
  • There will be shows on July 15 and 22 for black men and ticketed banquets for the black community on July 1 and mixed audiences on July 7 to encourage conversation

Read more: How businesses are tackling sustainability at Reset Connect

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Greenwich: How the all-female cast of Notflix create musicals from scratch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notflix’s Emma Read in full flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stratford: Discover Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World

New show at Theatre Royal Stratford East hails female role-models and stars Christina Modestou

Christina Modeastou as Jane Austen, right
Christina Modestou as Jane Austen, right

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The 1990s may be back in style, but thankfully Girl Power never went out of fashion.

It has been given an empowering new spin in musical Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, which is set to run at Theatre Royal Stratford East from June 15-July 17, 2022.

Based on a book by Suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst, it celebrates often forgotten women from history such as Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen and Pankhurst’s own relative Emmeline, all seen through the eyes of inquisitive schoolgirl Jade.

They are brought to life by an all-female cast and a creative crew who have worked with the likes of Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue,  Miley Cyrus and Beverley Knight.

We asked part-Welsh, part-Greek star of the show Christina Modestou to tell us about the fantastic women who have inspired her.

the matriarch

My mum Lula is one of the biggest role models in my life. She has always been 100% behind me with anything I wanted to try as a child and critiqued me in a healthy way. 

My mum was a hairdresser and she loved her job – having a parent who loves what they do really rubbed off on me.

I used to go and help on a Saturday and witness it first-hand. Looking back, I see how everyone there encouraged me.

I used to write stories and act things out as customers were waiting for their perms to set. It was one of the customers who said I should go to a drama class as it made me really happy.

the teachers

I started classes with Irene Hopkins when I was five. She was my first singing teacher and had a massive impact on me. 

She had this wonderful knack for bringing out your best qualities and encouraging you to flourish in what you were good at.

I never liked classical music, I always found passion in pop and jazzy sounds. 

Instead of putting me in a box I didn’t want to be in, she stretched me, found my flair and leaned into that. She didn’t try to mould me into anyone else. 

She still comes to see every show I do and will send me a card. There’s still that level of support.

My dance teacher Jackie Bristow was also pivotal. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for her

Star Christina Modeastou
Star Christina Modestou


the character

My claim to fame is being in the choir scene in Love Actually and the year I graduated I did We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre. 

But the pivotal role in my career was playing Nina in In The Heights at Southwark Playhouse.

That was an experience I still hold very dear. She comes from a working-class community and goes away to university but, in trying to work and learn, she has to drop out because her grades are slipping and she has to go home and tell her family she has failed. 

It’s something quite common in our industry. People say you’ve got talent and put you on a bit of a pedestal and the thought that going home is a failure is hard. Exploring that was really exciting.

the fantastic women

This show has a really special place in my heart because I wish I had seen something like this growing up. 

In musicals there are historically four types of women – the unrequited love interest, the princess, the matriarch and the whore. Even in Les Miserables, that’s how women are portrayed. 

In our musical, we get to show who women are without men and be silly and funny, serious, loud, quiet, sensitive and strong – so many different things. I was asked to audition after I played Anne Boleyn in the original cast of Six.

I have been involved since the original workshops and it’s been amazing to see how it has snowballed. It’s a very physical show and you are representing real women.

Christina as Gertrude Ederle, in red
Christina as Gertrude Ederle, in red


the brawn

I play Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel and broke the world record. I didn’t know her story but she is incredible. She had measles as a child and by her 40s was almost deaf. 

She taught swimming to deaf children and, when she noticed people were drowning, she helped open pools in poor areas so people could learn to swim.

She was as strong as a man, won gold at the Olympics as part of the first female swimming team and invented the two-piece bathing suit.

I admire her strength and resilience and warmth. She was unapologetic about what she could achieve and was always helping others.

the wit

Most people know Jane Austen. I love playing her in this show because she comes back around the age she died, in her early 40s and befriends Frida Kahlo. 

They are chalk and cheese but give each other a wonderful platform. The thing that impresses me most is her wit. She was such an observer and wrote characters and comedy so well.

the intellect

Mary Anning was an English fossil collector and palaeontologist who discovered the ichthyosaur when she was twelve years old and uncovered skeletons of the plesiosaur, pterosaur and lots of other key things. 

I get the impression she lived a very hard life. She got struck by lightning as a baby and everyone else near her died.

She was one of 10 children, but only she and one other made it to maturity. She also lost her work to men, who didn’t give her credit for her discoveries. 

There is a real isolated sadness to her, which I find fascinating.

I think she homed in on the joy in her work. In the musical, we meet her with Mary Seacole and Marie Curie and they become this superhero trio.

So she has learnt how to work as a team in our world, which has a magical vibe as if all these women had come back to life.

Christina as Mary Anning, left
Christina as Mary Anning, left

the co-stars

I have never been in a rehearsal room with so many women. Doing this show has been a real collaboration and we have had some amazing discussions about gender, diversity, and disabilities. 

I’ve never experienced a room as open as this and it has opened my eyes to a lot of bias I didn’t know about. 

It is also about the fact feminism isn’t about women being better than men, it’s about being fair.

We don’t want the young men in the audience to feel they should be controlled by women. We want them to be inspired by these women. Feminism isn’t about vengeance. 

Shows like Emilia, with an all-female cast, have paved the way for this. In that, women play men, which is something we rarely see. It’s bonkers, because men play women all the time – in panto and on stage. 

In Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, we see these icons through the eyes of a young woman of colour and that is wonderful.

We wanted to make sure there was diversity – as we tour the show we want to make sure as many children are represented as possible.

the body

It’s not just about representing ethnicity, it’s about body shape. The first time I saw a body I recognised as being like mine was in Mad Men. I saw Christina Hendricks and was like: “Oh my god, finally, a curvy woman”.

I have to wear a unitard in this show, which was quite exposing for me, but the power of going out there knowing I can be a size 12 or 14 and be proud of it and hopefully inspire others, is unexplainable.

Often I get told I don’t look Welsh enough. I sit right in the middle of a lot of categories. I’m Welsh but with a Greek Cypriot background.

I’m not young, old, tall, short, thin or fat. I once got told I wouldn’t have a career until I’m older as I didn’t fit a category and I thought: “Screw that”.

the stars

I would love to work with Olivia Colman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Emma Thompson. Jenna Russell is amazing and I would work with her again and again. 

We did Urinetown together at The Apollo and then I managed to put on a cabaret at Southwark Playhouse during the pandemic and she did that with me too.

She is a class act. I admire people who put the work first and are selfless enough to tell the story which sometimes means giving up your moment to shine. That’s what inspires me.

herself

Someone asked us in a Q&A who we would be if we could be any women for a day and my colleague, Jade, said: “I would be me”. What a cool thing to feel – that you just want to be you and no-one else.

Read more: Discover the denim-based art of Poplar’s Ian Berry

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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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Hackney Wick: How An Unfinished Man explores spirituality and mental health

Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play tells two truths and is set to be performed at The Yard theatre in Hackney Wick

An Unfinished Man is set to play at The Yard theatre

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On a chilly January morning, playwright, poet and filmmaker Dipo Baruwa-Etti stands on a boundary in Southwark.

Two things are true. He is standing in front of a red wall. He is standing in front of a blue wall. Neither statement tells the whole story, but neither is false.

To his right the property is painted a vibrant scarlet. To his left, an expanse of eggshell stretches away. He’s on a line between two places, two different ways of looking at the world.

His positioning is fortunate because his latest play – An Unfinished Man, set to run for a month at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick – is an attempt to explore how conflicting viewpoints can coexist and be equally valid, and his physical positioning in front of the camera is a convenient visual metaphor.

Audiences going to see his work may wish to reflect that the theatre is also close to a divide – the line between Tower Hamlets and Newham, the borough where Dipo was born and grew up, living first in North Woolwich and then in Stratford where he’s based today.

“The play is about a man called Kayode who’s been unemployed for seven years, and his mum and a pastor come in and tell him he was cursed as a child, and that’s why he’s unemployed, so they set about reversing the curse through a prayer ceremony,” said Dipo. 

“His wife thinks he’s just going through a mental breakdown and that the ceremony is going to make it worse.

“So it becomes a clash between Western and West African views on his mental health and his situation and, in the middle is Kayode, who’s trying to find out what the truth is and what his path forward should be.

“I have Nigerian heritage and in Yoruba culture if there’s something wrong or not happening in your life, you pray or sometimes have dreams about it and I found that spirituality really interesting.

“I believe in it, but to what extent is there still truth in it? How much is it society and how much is it a spiritual battle?

“Everyone around Kayode has all these answers about what he should be doing and what he’s going through. I guess the question I’m asking is whether there’s a true answer when it comes to mental health, unemployment, faith, spirituality, visions and witchcraft in particular?

“That’s what prompted me when I spoke to Jay Miller (artistic director at The Yard) about the idea in 2018 and I’ve been working on it since then.”

Dipo is a playwright, director and poet
Dipo is a playwright, director and poet – image Matt Grayson

An Unfinished Man was originally scheduled for performance in 2020, but the pandemic delayed things. On the morning we meet, Dipo tells me rehearsals, which are now in full swing at the Jerwood Space, should have started 665 days ago.

In the meantime however, he’s been busy, working as Channel 4 Playwright on attachment to the Almeida Theatre and, more recently, seeing his work The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East in June last year.  

Softly spoken, with a wellspring of considered, creative energy bubbling through him, he said he wasn’t one for detailed plot planning. I tend to go straight into the writing process – I don’t research around what I’m writing until after a first draft,”  he said.

“For An Unfinished Man, what I did immediately was write something based on instinct, on who I knew these characters to be and the situation.

“Then, after that I started having conversations with people who are working on it with me, through a series of workshops with actors, bringing people in to talk about the idea, about the concept and the questions they may have.

“All those questions and thoughts continue to challenge my perspective on what I think the story is.

“Not many people read the first draft – just Jay at The Yard and two friends. I think now rehearsals have begun we’re on draft 12.

“So I’m constantly letting the story evolve, based on questions I’ve had and thoughts that people have given me.

“That might be from comments that actors have made even if they don’t know they’re making them, if it triggers me to have a new thought.

“Because there has been this two-year gap, we’ve had the chance to interrogate and live with the material for a bit longer than usual.

“Mostly in this case that’s about making cuts – we’re in a good place with it. The play hasn’t changed that much since 2020, but it’s got tighter and tighter and that’s been great.”

Dipo is prolific, regularly working on multiple projects at once.

As a writer-director his film The Last Days (BFI Network/BBC/Tannahill Productions) starring Adjoa Andoh and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn had its UK premiere in August and he has projects in development with Blueprint Pictures, ITV Studios and Duck Soup Films.

“There was one day when I said I was going to be a writer, – my mum asked: ‘Why?’.” he said. “I was 15, I hadn’t written anything, but I loved reading stuff and watching TV and films, although I hadn’t seen that much.

“But that’s what I said I was going to do. I was part of a drama club in secondary school, so I was always aligned with creative theatre, but I performed in stuff rather than wrote it, because you don’t really do that then.

“The first thing I wrote was a TV script. I got my mum to buy me a bunch of screenwriting books, read them all and then I wrote 12 episodes of a show, called Secrets, Lies And Deceit – a drama, set in London, about a group of teenagers.

“My first five years of writing was really training – no-one ever saw the scripts. I wrote maybe 50 in that time because I just wanted to learn how to do it. That’s when I started writing plays, five years after deciding to become a writer.

“I actually went through and deleted all of the scripts I wrote as a teenager last year – although I have a record of the titles – because I don’t want anyone to ever see them. I think they’re just terrible.

“For anyone who’s considering becoming a writer, the only advice I have is to find stories you’re actually interested in telling because the path is really hard.

“I got my work seen through sending it out, submitting pieces to competitions.

“But I’ve also done lots of behind-the-scenes work in theatres and TV where I got to know people and took their advice. It’s often really about who you end up knowing and who can help you.

“If you’re writing by yourself without anyone challenging you or questioning what you’re doing, then it’s really hard to improve.”

While Dipo is engaged in many different kinds of writing, he’s especially drawn to the stage.

“What’s exciting is that live interaction with the audience – making them feel part of the narrative,” he said.

“That’s so important to me – that they are suspending their disbelief in such an interesting way and how you can play with the form.

“While I was interested in film before theatre, I’ve realised that plays are the medium at its purest and you don’t have to fit the conventions in the same way.

“I only ever write for myself – it’s an outlet – so if a play doesn’t happen it doesn’t really upset me. It’s not important whether someone sees it or not. 

“But when an actor says the words I’ve written, it changes. It becomes something bigger, something I want an audience to see, more than just words I’ve put on a page.

“It feels like a story that’s important to the room and the people who are listening to it.

“Actors bring my work to life and they put their own interpretation on it. It becomes something physical and that’s when I want people to see it.

“With An Unfinished Man, we did the first workshop in May 2019 and one of the actors said to me that the play made them want to start a conversation about the themes and questions it raises.

“That’s the response I want. I hope people watching the play will start to think about the ideas – in this case about explorations of faith and spirituality alongside mental health and depression.

“For me it’s about people having those conversations, particularly among the black community, saying: ‘This is what I believe – can our beliefs align?

“Are we going to be on the same page?’. It’s about the interrogation of those questions. Sometimes I believe Kayode is in a mental health situation and sometimes I believe it’s a curse.

“I don’t think you can ever fully know and that’s what’s interesting. Both explanations are true.

“I’m not trying to give answers and I never want people to think that the writer’s view is the right one.

“It’s about what the audience thinks and however they respond to the play.

“What’s important to me is to keep making the work that I want to make, that’s truthful to my voice. I’m not too fixed on what I want to create, but I do want to be proud of the body of work.”

Read more: Discover Carradine’s Cockney Sing-A-Long at Wilton’s

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Stratford: Theatre Royal Stratford East set to revive Conor McPherson’s Shining City

The play will be directed by Nadia Fall and stars Rory Keenan and Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle

Nadia Fall during rehearsals for Shining City
Nadia Fall during rehearsals for Shining City – image Marc Brenner

I keep joking about this, but going to the theatre really is the cheapest form of group therapy you will ever have,” said Nadia Fall. Theatre Royal Stratford East’s artistic director sounds as though she’s in a buoyant mood as I catch her on the phone while she’s striding towards a rehearsal room.

Within, the four-strong cast of the venue’s forthcoming production – Shining City – presumably await. It’s a week before the first night and, as director, Nadia is deeply immersed in the process of production.

Written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson and starring Curtis-Lee Ashqar, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Fox and Rory Keenan, the show will run from September 17 to October 23, 2021.

Nadia said: “It’s set in Dublin in the early 2000s and it’s about a recently bereaved middle-aged guy who’s not one to talk about feelings, not someone to go to a therapist, but he’s absolutely desperate.

“He walks into this therapy session and starts to tell his story, but there’s something more to his tale – he’s having visions of his wife. So it’s an ode to Dublin, but it’s also a story about how men hold their pain and how they don’t talk about it.

“Even now we talk a lot about mental health in men and how it’s not the thing to do to express pain. The play investigates that a bit as well.”

Brendan Coyle is known for playing Mr Bates in Downton Abbey
Brendan Coyle is known for playing Mr Bates in Downton Abbey – image Marc Brenner

Coyle, best known for his role as valet Mr Bates in Downton Abbey, takes on the lead role of John. He’s also no stranger to McPherson’s work, having won an Olivier Award for his supporting role in the playwright’s hit The Weir.

“Conor’s work is very celebrated in theatre,” said Nadia. “As a fan watching the original outing of this play back in 2004, I really remember it as one of those plays that gets under your skin, it’s really ripe for revival.

“I thought there might be a whole load of people in east London who might not have seen the original production, so for them it would be a new work.

“It’s a very well crafted play that really fits in our venue – a haunting story in our old Victorian theatre.

“I wrote a love letter to Conor to say how much the play meant to me, and we were very lucky to get the rights to do it, because it’s one of those plays that half the theatres in the land would want to revive. Everybody who saw it remembers it.

“It’s a great ensemble piece and we have a genuinely Irish cast, so I feel it’s really lived-in and authentic.

“While it’s a play about grief and loss, it’s got some gallows humour in it and some really uplifting moments.

“Audiences certainly won’t leave on a downer. I really hope people will want to talk about it in the bar afterwards. 

“Conor is a master craftsman. Shining City deals with a macabre subject matter but leaves people on a thrilling high.

“I feel that people, for very different reasons, have had a really tough year with the pandemic. While the last thing I want to do is to suggest people shouldn’t talk about it, sometimes they just don’t want to, they want to be uplifted and be distracted. 

“Theatres have an extraordinary way of processing life, which you can’t get by watching the television at home. We do need to get behind our gorgeous venues, or we will lose them – it’s as plain as that.”

Rory Keenan gets to grips with his role
Rory Keenan gets to grips with his role – image Marc Brenner

Nadia, who was just embarking on her second season at Stratford East when the pandemic hit, having previously spent three years at the National Theatre as an associate director, said she was quietly hopeful audiences would return to watch live performances. 

“I think people need it and there’s an appetite,” she said. 

“Being in the rehearsal room,  even when things are hard because it’s a difficult play, is just so joyful – you remember why you do the work, and there’s no substitute for that.

“As well as Shining City, this year finally, finally, because it had to be cancelled last year, we’ll have our panto, Red Riding Hood, from November 27.

“Yes, it doesn’t seem like high art, but for so many people it’s their first taste of a theatre, and it’s such an equaliser, bringing all generations, all creeds and colours together. 

“It was such a moment, having to cancel that, because it brings all our staff and families together and it’s such a buzz.

“There’s a noise in the building from morning till night when it’s panto season, with young people, and families in the evening – I’m really looking forward to it this Christmas.

“Then, after Christmas, we have the great Lyndsey Turner directing Dennis Kelly’s bitter comedy After the End, which was supposed to be this summer but was delayed due to Covid restrictions.

“It’s an incredibly dark and exciting work that’s both post-apocalyptic and chilling, set in a city that’s just been hit with a nuclear weapon.”

The opening night of Shining City, will be an occasion with a different sort of intensity, as the community of audience and staff once more gather together in a single location for a performance, just as humans have been doing for thousands of years.

“First nights never get any easier,” said Nadia. “In fact, I think I might get more nervous over time. I’m the worst person to sit next to and I’m very superstitious.

“I try to sit next to my brother – he’s the only person I usually invite, poor man.

“He doesn’t work in theatre, he’s nothing to do with it, and I’m digging my sharp nails into his thighs. I watch the productions I’ve directed like I’m watching a cup final – I feel I’m up there with them. 

“This time will be a bit different though. Even with staff in the building, we’ve tried to be as cautious as possible. 

“Opening up again will be very emotional. We haven’t all seen each other for a long time, whether that’s staff or regular audience members.”

Tickets for Shining City start at £10. Some performances will be socially distanced. Check with the box office when booking. 

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Canary Wharf: The Greenhouse Theatre brings zero-waste venue to Jubilee Park

Company set to perform three free shows in the round on rotation from July 23-August 15

Artistic director of The Greenhouse Theatre, Oli Savage – image Matt Grayson

As Oli Savage lies on a stack of timber in Canary Wharf’s Jubilee Park, the trees all around and the sky above are reflected in his glasses. His attitude isn’t one of repose but of mirthful collaboration, creating the illusion of a wooden wall where one is yet to be built.

This is because The Greenhouse Theatre, of which Oli is co-founder and artistic director, is only just starting construction ahead of its run on the estate from July 23 to August 15. The venue will host three plays in rotation during this period and tickets are free, although going fast online so eager attendees will need to move quickly. After picking himself up off the planks, Oli sat down to tell us more…

tell us what The Greenhouse Theatre actually is…

It’s the UK’s first zero-waste performance space. That extends to everything we do from the construction, which uses found or recycled materials, to our shows and our marketing.

What that means to us is that everything we use had a life before it came to us, and it will go on to have a life after, if we don’t continue to use it – that’s it in a nutshell.

how did it begin?

I’ve been involved in theatre since my mother took me to Stagecoach at the age of five. At university I picked up some directing credits and eventually went one step further down that path to become an artistic director. The only way to get even more ownership was to create my own venue.

A few years ago I was touring a piece of queer theatre with a very good friend, playwright and close collaborator of mine, Henry Roberts. One night, we’d had too many drinks and he pitched me the idea for a show, which went on to become Swallows – one of the pieces for when the venue first opened.

It was about intimacy and aggression and the damage that we do to each other and to the environment, and how we view violence towards other people and to the natural world as different, when really they’re kind of the same thing.

My mind immediately started whirring, and I said: ‘If we’re going to do this, then we’ve got to do it properly in a sustainable way that’s eco-friendly’.

The only way to really know if the venue fits in with that is to build it yourself and so that’s what we did – our first outing was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. 

When you start running a zero-waste venue, the antidote to inaction is knowledge. We’ve had to learn so much about sustainability as the project has developed.

Image of Oli Savage on a step ladder
Oli and the team are building the venue in Jubilee Park – image Matt Grayson

what will Wharfers be able to see once the venue’s finished?

We have a really fun selection – The Greenhouse Theatre offers a number of different things – the shows, which are designed to inspire, and a programme of workshops and events to help people convert that inspiration into action.

We’ll also have family events such as storytelling and scavenger hunts.

We’ll have three shows in rotation – I’m directing As You Like It, an all-singing, all-dancing musical production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. It’s about getting out after months of lockdown, having fun and having a laugh.

Henry Roberts is working on 12, which is a much more intimate piece, an exploration of how language and relationships shape our interaction with the climate and the natural world. It’s a bit more intense, a bit more hard-hitting, but very uplifting – a very beautiful piece of theatre 

The other piece is called Hjem, and is about a young girl whose grandmother has dementia.

The girl discovers the older woman had a relationship with a Norwegian sailor and, as the play progresses, she uncovers a beautiful story formed through sea shanties about how we build connections and relationships through the natural world.

All of our shows discuss the environment and the natural world in some way, but none of them are about the climate crisis explicitly. It’s about beautiful storytelling.

WHAT'S ON AT GREENHOUSE THEATRE?

AS YOU LIKE IT
7.30pm - Fridays, Mondays
2.30pm - Sundays
Shakespeare’s classic, directed by Oli, this cross-dressing love story comes complete with an original score of indie-folk music. A chance to escape to the forest in a celebration of life and love  

12
7.30pm - Saturdays, Wednesdays
2.30pm - Fridays
Written by Henry Roberts, this play explores memory, language and intimacy as it follows a relationship struggling to survive in a world that’s falling apart. Just what is worth saving? 

HJEM
7.30pm - Thursdays, Sundays
2.30pm - Saturdays
Harry Sever’s magical modern folk story of whirlwind romance across the decades connecting Northumberland with Norway as a story is discovered and a bond is forged between two unlikely friends 

what’s the atmosphere like?

In the past, our programmes have won awards but the main thing we’re trying to create is a really open and engaged space. 

When you visit the venue, the creators, once they’ve done the show, will be milling around for a chat.

The space is in the round, so it’s all about creating a social, informal, fun atmosphere, not like you’d expect when you go to the West End. The shows will be high quality, but it’s all about having a fun time.

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