The Silverton

Ben Goldsmith set for CrimeLandTown preview at The Pen Theatre

Affectionate spoof of mob movies is set for month-long run at JustTheTonic for the Edinburgh Fringe

Image shows a smiling man with blue eyes and red hair in a black and white check jacket and white T-shirt in front of Billingsgate Fish Market's red brick buildings
Comedian Ben Goldsmith, also founder and director of Goldsmith Communications

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Like many involved in the murky world of organised crime, Ben Goldsmith leads a double life.

By day, he’s founder and director of Goldsmith Communications – a public relations consultancy specialising in serving tech and venture capital clients.

But, by night, he can be found indulging his other passion – trying to make people laugh.

“Comedy is never a fork in the road decision – as a kid you know you’re a bit of an idiot and that plays out at school,” said Ben. “You just have it in you.

“I was used to teachers telling me off – that we should be getting on with maths rather than telling jokes.

“But my A-Level theatre studies teacher, Coral Walton at Monk’s Walk School in Welwyn Garden City, just thought it was great – that I was good at these things and she encouraged me.

“I don’t come from a family of performing people and it was Coral who, as a director at the local theatre, told me I should audition for a play she was putting on.

“This was never on my radar and I thought: ‘No way’ – it just wasn’t cool at 16.

“But she insisted and even drove me to the audition.

“I got the part and then, up until the age of 21, I did a bunch of acting stuff alongside university, where I worked on student papers and got into the world of journalism and PR.”

Comedian Ben Goldsmith mock-punches himself in front of an air vent to promote his show CrimeLandTown
Ben plays all the characters in his show CrimeLandTown

a move into comms

Ben’s career in communications then took over, seeing him move through various roles including running the PR operation for Canary Wharf’s tech community, Level39.

But he remained interested in the performing arts and especially comedy.

“Every August I’d go to the Edinburgh Fringe and I loved it,” he said. “It was like my perfect theme park, seeing comedians I liked and discovering new performers.”

After five years concentrating on his career, an encounter with Graham Dickson’s improv show at the festival sparked something in Ben and he returned to London, enrolled on a comedy class and started performing again.

“For years I did improvisation alongside my work,” he said.

“When I was 27 I set up Goldsmith Communications and the comedy was incredibly helpful because, when you’re setting up a business, every day is completely new and you have to adapt to it.

“The other brilliant thing about improv is that there are no lines to learn, so it fits in if you’re busy. It’s a huge part of my life – I met my wife through comedy.”

Ben narrows his eyes and peers at teh camera with his mouth half open
Ben Goldsmith says his show is an affectionate spoof of mob movies

Ben Goldsmith on his love for mob movies

The success of his PR business means Ben has a bit more freedom now to once again pursue comedy and he’s indulging another of his passions – Mafia movies – in a move away from improv.

“I’m making a show and taking it up to Edinburgh, which is massive,” he said.

“I took a piece called Steve’s Last Day to the Prague Fringe, which was all about a copper’s final shift with all the action taking place in the village hall.

“I did it six times and it went down really well, but I decided to put it aside because I knew what I really wanted to do.

“I’ve always loved mob movies.

“The characters are so much larger than life – they’re such a bunch of goofballs – so you can play with those stereotypes.

“I’ve been working on CrimeLandTown for the last year or so, building it up and presenting it as a work in progress.

“If you enjoy Mafia movies, you’ll enjoy the show.

“The idea is the audience is involved in what’s happening – you’ll always be a part of what’s going on.

“You might be part of a heist that one of my characters is leading, or guests in a club.

“You’ll meet mob bosses, the FBI and a bar singer who gets in too deep, then wants to clear his name.”

Comedian Ben Goldmsmith raises a finger in a mock salute while making a funny face
CrimeLandTown will have several previews in London before transferring to Edinburgh

playing all the parts in CrimeLandTown

For Ben, the show is a labour of love, poking fun at a genre rich in tropes and silliness, but from a place of respect.

Playing all the parts himself, it’s structured as a series of sketches that all combine to tell a story of wise guys and dodgy accents.

“I describe it as an affectionate spoof,” he said.

“People are familiar with these movies, which are often a bit like a high wire act because while they are about serious topics, many of them are also super funny.

“If you’re parodying anything, it’s important to work out what people already know – if you’re a nerd about those things, you’ve got to be aware how geeky you are.

“I’ve watched the movies and the TV shows, so I know what will be familiar to people who like the films, but hopefully a lot of the stuff will be funny to those who are not so familiar.

“In the show, the main character – a bar singer who always wanted to be a wise guy – sees the impending heist as a chance to live his dream of becoming a mobster.

“We’ve all had dreams and made compromises, so this guy takes a singing job in a mob-adjacent industry – then gets his chance to become part of it and it all ends one way or another.

“Of course, people who like the genre don’t want to see me take the piss out of them.

CrimeTownLand just aims to celebrate the funny things about them. “

Ben Goldsmith wears a pair of sunglasses and makes a silly face in Canary Wharf while promoting his new show CrimeLandTown
Ben says, like those in organised crime, he’s always wanted to push against the everyday

Ben Goldsmith on transgressing

“When you watch a mob movie, everyone in it is rejecting the conventional,” said Ben.

“They’re living outside the legal norms and everyone is transgressing. There’s a thrill in that.

“Personally, I’ve always wanted to push against the everyday too.

“Comedy is funny when people are trying to skewer the world and look at everything from a sideways perspective.

“Being at Level39, I was around a lot of business founders and it dawned on me that many of them just wanted to kick the crap out of the nine-to-five and do their own thing. 

“Similarly, people doing comedy want to see what’s out there and then to try and bend or break it, just like the characters in mob movies.

“Starting my own business totally changed my life.

“It’s now given me the time and the bandwidth to create shows and do these festivals.

“There’s a lot to do, but it works if you plan things.

“I know a bunch of comedians who are working and went into it without a safety net, but I needed to have the security of having the career side sorted.

“Right now I just love that I’m able to do it.

“When I first went up to the Fringe I didn’t know anyone who was performing.

“I wasn’t doing improv and my local theatre days were behind me.

“However, the people I met up there ultimately put me in the position to make this show now. Compared to others, it’s tiny – a 60-person room for 24 days in August.

“But hopefully it will be a step on the way to the next thing, whatever that is. 

“Either way, it’s been a dream to take a show to Edinburgh – it’s worth a go and it might just pay off.

“After the Fringe, I’d love to take it to more places round the neighbourhood.

“I’m keen to keep going because it’s just a really fun thing to do.”

So, you’ve got the dates. Just remember, don’t forget about it.

our thing

Ben Goldsmith’s CrimeLandTown will be performed at The Pen Theatre in South Bermondsey on July 11, 2024, at 7pm. Tickets cost £8.30.

Ben Goldsmith will also be performing his show at Watford Pump House on July 20, 2024, and Aces And Eights in Tufnell Park on July 25, 2024, before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe at JustTheTonic from August 1-25, 2024.

Find out more about the show here

Read more: East Bank director Tamsin Ace on collaboration in Stratford

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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
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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

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

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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
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