Discover Sushi Co

Canary Wharf: How Festival14’s packed programme is a whole new approach

Event running July 21-24 promises more than 50 performances to help people discover the Wharf


Festival14 will run from July 21-24, 2022 across Canary Wharf
Festival14 will run from July 21-24, 2022 across Canary Wharf

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Grandmaster Flash. Live, in Canada Square Park. For free.

Those words alone are testament to the fact that Festival14 is something new for Canary Wharf.

The DJ and hip hop pioneer –responsible for the first expression of scratching ever released on a record – is set to mix among the towers as the headline act on the main stage on July 21, 2022. And that’s just the first night.

Running Thursday-Sunday, Festival14 is set to fill the estate with more than 50 performances encompassing comedy, theatre, dance, family activities and, of course, music.

our MUSIC picks for FESTIVAL14
- July 21 - Grandmaster Flash
8.15pm, free, Canada Square Park
- July 22 - House Gospel Choir
8.30pm, free, Canada Square Park
- July 23 - Ronnie Scotts Jazz Orchestra
time TBC, free, Canada Square Park
- July 24 - Sona
time TBC, free, Canada Square Park

The mostly free events will run daily between noon and 10pm at a diverse selection of venues designed specifically to encourage visitors to explore Canary Wharf.

“We’d seen the success of events like our Winter Lights festival, which takes place across lots of different parts of the estate and the amazing buzz people feel when they arrive for that,” said senior arts and events manager at Canary Wharf Group, Pippa Dale.

“So we wanted to create a similar feeling for Festival14 so that it’s very obvious when people get here that there’s something really exciting and new happening.

“People in Canary Wharf are often quite set on the places they know – the places they go to lunch, for example – so we’re hoping this will help them explore and discover different areas.”

Most of the performances at Festival14 will be free
Most of the performances at Festival14 will be free

In addition to the dozens of performances and activities, there will also be a street food market every day in Montgomery Square and special offers from some bars, restaurants and cafes for the duration.

Canary Wharf Group director of arts and events Lucie Moore said: “Moving forward, we’re looking at putting on larger scale events over shorter periods of time to bring as many people as possible to the estate but also to change perceptions about the area.

“Events and cultural activities have always been really important to Canary Wharf in terms of placemaking and, since Covid, they’re something people are looking at and talking about even more.

our COMEDY picks for FESTIVAL14
- July 21 - Milton Jones, Jessica Fostekew
7.15pm, £11, Westferry Circus Roundabout
- July 22 - Reginald D Hunter, Jo Caulfield
6pm, £11, Westferry Circus Roundabout
-l July 23 - Paul Sinha, Felicity Ward
6pm, £11, Westferry Circus Roundabout
Follow this link for bookings

“These events are a real team effort and we couldn’t be able to do them without the work of so many people across Canary Wharf Group’s teams. 

“The estate is now busy and buzzy and with the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, there’s the potential for even more people to visit.

“That’s an opportunity for us, in terms of events, because there are people who will come in from other areas who may not have done in the past.

“For Festival14 it will be really interesting to see what numbers we get in comparison to things like Winter Lights in past years.”

Events will take place from noon over the four days
Events will take place from noon over the four days

The full programme for Festival14 – a name inspired by Canary Wharf’s postcode, E14 – is still being finalised, with all updates expected online by July.  

Pippa said: “In contrast to previous years with our Tuesday night music concerts, we’ve booked some bigger acts.

“It’s a packed programme and, especially at the weekends, people will be able to listen from noon right through until 9pm or 10pm at night.

“Grandmaster Flash is our opening headliner and we think he will appeal to the audience that’s already here – a bit of nostalgia after a day in the office and a bit of a party.

our THEATRE picks for FESTIVAL14
- July 21 - 440 Theatre, Hamlet
1pm, free, Westferry Circus Roundabout
-l July 22 - The Canary Cabaret

7.30pm, free (ticketed), Crossrail Place Roof Garden
- July 23 - Mischief And Mayhem

5pm, free (ticketed), Crossrail Place Roof Garden
- July 24 - The Handlebards Romeo & Juliet
1pm, free, Westferry Circus Roundabout
Follow this link for bookings

“I’m really excited about having House Gospel Choir – they’re a group I’ve admired for a long time and we’ve been waiting for the right event to book them.

“They’re pretty local too, as is Hackney Colliery Band. We’re also really pleased to be able to host Sona on the Sunday, during her UK tour.

“The outdoor comedy at Westferry Circus also features some big names, so that’s ticketed because we have limited space and we’re expecting it to be very popular.

“We’ll be having open air theatre at that venue too with the return of The Handlebards who are fantastic and 440 Theatre who do Shakespeare plays in 40 minutes.”

The Handlebards are set to return to Westferry Circus
The Handlebards are set to return to Westferry Circus

There will also be a series of theatre performances at Crossrail Place Roof Garden – ticketed but free due to the capacity of the venue.

“Whenever we do anything we try to include the local community and local businesses and organisations around the estate,” said Lucie.

“We’re very fortunate to work where we are but we’re aware there are areas around us that need supporting.

“The Space has been operating up in the Roof Garden for years now and they were an obvious choice for us as a partner for part of Festival14 because they know that venue, we know what they do and they’ve put together a whole programme for us there.”

A range of kids activities will take place on the Saturday and Sunday, including dance music party Big Fish Little Fish Family Rave at Westferry Circus and puppetry in the form of Bus King Theatre: Marvelo’s Circus at Montgomery Square.  

“We’re really hoping, especially for families, that they will come and spend the whole day with us – do a workshop, have lunch and listen to some music,” said Lucie.

“We’ve really tried to cover a lot of areas and there will be one or two unexpected events too, such as a van that serves up takeaway poetry. We’re not finished yet.”

Here’s a little Grandmaster Flash to get you in the mood…

Read more: The O2 celebrates 15 years of gigs, events and performances

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- 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
Subscribe To Wharf Life

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

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

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

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notflix’s Emma Read in full flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Subscribe To Wharf Life

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

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

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

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

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

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

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.

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to our regular newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Wapping: Wilton’s Music Hall reopens its doors with a busy programme of shows

The venue will welcome live audiences for black comedy EastEndless from May 28

The doors to Wilton’s will swing open on May 28 – image by Matt Grayson

The doors of Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping, shut to the public for more than a year, are set to reopen on May 28 and the team cannot wait to welcome people back to its forthcoming programme of shows and to its bars.

 Head of development and communications at the venue, Harry Hickmore said: “We closed the building to the public as instructed on March 16, 2020. The memory of that day is quite vivid because, like all arts organisations, we’re not used to closing our doors – especially not for an uncertain period of time.

“We haven’t been completely quiet over the past 14 months – we’ve had a lot of exciting things going on in the building, which was often used as a set for film or TV productions.

“We’ve had the BBC recording in here, as well as Amazon Prime and new Disney and Netflix films.

“So we’ve been using the building creatively – there have also been rehearsals in the building for streamed performances, but in terms of having real human beings enjoying culture together, May 28 will see us return to live performances.”

OUR TOP PICKS FOR SUMMER 2021

EastEndless, May 28-29, £19-£22
An obsessed EastEnders fan lands a bit part on the show in this blackly comic look at the soap 

Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, Jun 1, £19-£22
Mark Farrelly takes on the part of the naked civil servant in this resurrection of a work
 
Scaramouche Jones, Jun 15-26, £22.50-£25
A centenarian clown breaks 50 years of silence on Millennium Eve to tell the story of his life 

With restrictions constantly changing and unexpected lockdowns, the reopening means shows that have long been planned can finally go ahead.

“It’s been really rough for the artists,” said Harry. “Everyone who works in theatre, music or anything to do with industries that work with freelance creatives, knows it’s been really rocky, because people have not known when they’d be able to perform again. For all artists, it’s more than a job, it’s their livelihood, their lifestyle and their life.

“We’ve got so many who were meant to be performing in March or April last year that we moved to September or October in the first instance and, when that didn’t happen, rescheduled for January or February.

“Now we can actually say to artists with complete confidence that, in terms of being able to do socially-distanced shows initially, they will be performing to audiences who cannot wait to hear them. We’ve got a lot of frustrated performers and now they’re thrilled.

“We’re delighted that audiences and artists are coming back together in our venue – that’s what makes these buildings really sing – it’s very exciting.”

Harry Hickmore is head of development and communications at Wilton’s Music Hall – image Matt Grayson

At first Wilton’s capacity will be cut from 350 to 109 to ensure audience members can remain socially distanced and Harry said the venue could adapt its operation at short notice should government guidance change.

“Something very strange would have to happen for shows not to go ahead,” he said. “The only thing that would stop us is a full lockdown. If needs be, we can have a socially distanced auditorium for a bit longer in June. 

“The other thing is that audiences will be returning to a venue that’s really comfy and sounds great.

“Wilton’s was built to have more than 1,000 people in the hall for performances in the 19th century so it could be a bit boomy. We’ve just completed a £500,000 project to install acoustic pannelling on the walls of the balcony to enable a range of shows from one person speaking on stage to a full opera.

“We’ve also had new seats put in, which will be an extra bonus for audiences. We have a lot of generous donors who support us and we’ve relied on them this year when ticket sales and other income have fallen by the wayside.”

Harry, who oversees fundraising efforts for the venue, is also looking forward to the return of weddings at Wilton’s.

“By the time this article comes out we’ll have just done our first wedding since lockdown,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people approach us in 2020 who are planning to get married and really want to do it here so I hope there will be more in July and August when people can have a full ceremony and celebration.

“We’ll also be reopening the Mahogany Bar and we have a lot of regulars and locals who just visit us for a drink.”

Ready and waiting for an audience – image Matt Grayson

Harry, who is a trained musician and previously worked as a fundraiser for English National Opera, said he was especially looking forward to Scaramouche Jones Or The Seven White Masks later in June.

“It’s going to be brilliant – starring Justin Butcher in the lead role, it’s 20 years since it was made famous by the late Pete Postlethwaite,” he said.

“In general though, the thing I’ve really missed over the last 14 months is that feeling that people are coming from all different areas, different day-jobs, into one space, to enjoy one thing together – an experience of about 90 minutes without any interruption from the outside world.

“There’s the brilliant magic where there are two or three artists on stage with an audience and they’re all enjoying it together.

“There’s a reason why, since humans lived in the caves, we’ve been taking part in live performance.

“We love being in a  group – it’s something really simple – and we haven’t always been able to do that during the pandemic.

“There have been great things that have come from the proliferation of live streaming, which will really improve the whole theatre sector, but nothing can beat that bustle before 7.30pm, where loads of people who don’t know each other are about to share quite an intimate experience, side by side.

“It’s a really beautiful thing and it’s something we do brilliantly well in London.”

 With strong demand for tickets reported, don’t delay booking if you’re planning an evening out at Wilton’s or another venue in the coming months. 

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to our regular newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life