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

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

Kerrie Taylor will play the mother in Frozen

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

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

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

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

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

Greenwich Theatre artistic director James Haddrell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Bradshaw will play the murderer in Frozen

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

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

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

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

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

“The mother will be played by Kerrie.

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

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

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

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

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

Indra Ové will play the New York academic in Frozen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • key dates 

Frozen will run from April 26-May 19

Beauty And The Beast from August 2-25

The River from October 1-27

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

For more about Greenwich Theatre, go here

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

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

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

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

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

But this isn’t the place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Carvosso and MJ Ashton of The Pen Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Line: How Candace Bushnell is set to bring her show to The London Palladium

Author will perform True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City in February 2024 for one night

Sex And The City author Candace Bushnell is coming to London

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BY JESS MADDISON

Are you a true Sex And The City fan?

Ever wondered how it all started?

Now’s your chance to find out. Carrie Bradshaw is coming to the UK. Not Sarah Jessica Parker, but author Candace Bushnell. 

Candace published Sex And The City – a book of of her newspaper columns from The New York Observer – in 1996, which went on to inspire the TV series of the same name.

More recently, spin-off series And Just Like That has been hitting the headlines, with Parker’s Carrie once more at the heart of the action. 

Candace, however, is set to bring one-woman-show, True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City to London on February 7 and I, for one, cannot wait. 

Candace is based in New York (of course) so we meet via Zoom when, even at 9am, she looks fabulous – all perfect hair and freshly applied makeup.

I’m so excited that I’m wearing high heel shoes in my living room for a video call.  

“In a lot of ways, the show is the origin story of Sex And The City,” she said.

“It’s about how I wrote the columns, how hard I worked to get there, why I invented Carrie Bradshaw and what happened to me after. 

“I also answer some people’s burning questions like: ‘Was there a real Mr Big?’ and: ‘Do I really have a shoe fetish like Carrie Bradshaw?’

“I also talk about my Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha – we play a little game, Real Or Not Real, because there’s so much that happened in the TV show that’s better or worse than my actual life.

Candace is set to perform her one woman show at The London Palladium

“It’s true stories of sex, success and Sex And The City. So it’s mixed in with my life story – how I came to New York – plus a couple of little naughty sex stories.”

The show will be on tour in the UK in February 2024, with one night at The London Palladium – a short hop from Canary Wharf on the Elizabeth Line via Tottenham Court Road. 

“In some ways performing is easier than writing novels, which is probably one of the hardest things that anybody can do,” said Candace, who has published nine books. 

“Writing is something you have to do on your own – you’ve got to come up with something new every day to keep the story moving.

“You have different characters, the story and the dialogue – you have to know what’s going to happen at the end and what’s happened at the beginning.

“Performing is very physical. You’re doing the same thing, pretty much every time. It’s choreographed in some ways and you’re interacting with the audience and bouncing off them.  

“I’m always trying to improve a little – deliver that line a bit better.

“This means sometimes you get the laugh and sometimes you don’t – sometimes you mess up a little bit.

“But it’s a pretty exciting thing to do – it really is – and people are really complimentary afterwards, which is nice.

“I love doing it and I’m so excited to bring the show to the UK.”

At this point Candace’s poodle wakes up from where she has been sleeping on the bed and starts barking, momentarily interrupting the interview.  

“She’s such a sweet little girl,” said Candace, returning to her thought with barely a breath.   

“I love England. I’ve come to the UK so many times, on every book tour, and I have friends who live there.

“I had a boyfriend there, so I used to go back and forth a lot really and I love it.”

If you are unfamiliar with Candace’s work outside of Sex And The City, it includes Lipstick Jungle and The Carrie Diaries, both of which had their own TV adaptations.

“I really felt like Lipstick Jungle was the next phase of women that I observed” she said.

Sex And The City was all about being in your 30s, Lipstick Jungle is about being in your 40s, starting a family and really working on your business.

The show features tales of her past and reveals some secrets

“New York City is a place where there are a lot of successful women and it’s a place where women really can have a big career.

“One of the things that I noticed was how women bond together and have each other’s backs in business.

“I absolutely loved the TV version, which ran for two seasons.”

So what advice would she have for women looking to make their way in the world today?

“The advice I would give is that it’s really important for women to have careers – to work hard, it’s like: ‘Make the money’.” said Candace. 

“That’s something that’s really important because money matters –  a lot.

“The older you get the more important it is.

“When you’re in your 20s you’re like: ‘Oh money it’s not so important’. When you get older, it’s really important. 

“That’s something I would really encourage in women – to think about their finances and to put money into a retirement fund.

“You know, maybe don’t buy that really expensive handbag.” 

Candace pauses, but only momentarily. “Shoes,” she said.

“It’s okay to buy them. They’re not as expensive as handbags.” 

Candace’s books always feature New York and often address the theme of feminism, whether this is women and their relationships with men, women in marriage or women in business. 

“I get asked about feminism quite a bit,” she said.

“I talk about it a little bit in my show and I am a feminist. That seems to be in some ways sort of a dirty word. 

“I don’t think people really understand what it’s about.

“But I think it’s really about being a self-actualised person, not being dependent on a man and being able to think outside of the box, where the patriarchy is concerned. 

“So I think it’s incredibly important for women to have their own money and make their own living and not just have to access to an income stream through a man, which is traditionally how we have gotten money for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. 

“It’s about education, the ability to earn your own money, to make your own life and to be able to say no.” 

On the front page of my own battered copy of Sex And The City, there is a quote from Bridget Jones’ Diary author, Helen Fielding, branding it “Intriguing and highly entertaining”. 

Does Candace think Carrie Bradshaw would have gotten along well with Fielding’s central character? 

“I don’t know why not,” she said. “It’s interesting because I think Bridget Jones is pretty much from the same time I was writing Sex And The City.

“I remember when I came to England – I guess it was 1996 or maybe 1997 – I was flying back to the States and my publisher gave me Helen’s book to read on the plane from London to New York.

Candace says making money is really important for young women

“I thought it was just terrific. It really captured what life was like at that moment for women – the stresses and the pressures – how we’re all trying to be perfect, to be better and to control our weight, our drinking and our love lives.

“But really, we have no control.” 

Candace began performing her one-woman-show in 2021, in her 60s, and has played dates at dozens of venues with a run of 13 in the UK for this tour. But where does she see herself in the next five or 10 years? 

“I might do another show,” she said.

“But you know, at my age, who knows? Who knows if I’ll still be here?

“I’m 65 and, when you get to be my age, you see that people age in very different ways, so I don’t know. 

“I have friends who are 70, who work and they have really vibrant lives.

“But there are other people who are 70 and it’s like they’re 80 – so you just don’t know.

“Unfortunately, my mother got cancer and died by the time she was 70.

“So you can make the 10-year-plan but the reality is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s why it’s so important for young women to take action now. 

“It’s like: ‘Make the money, get that money’. That’s the most important thing, I’m telling you.”

  • Candace’s Bushnell’s True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City is set to be performed at The London Palladium at 7.30pm on February 7.

Tickets range from £38 to £113, which includes a meet-and-greet with the woman herself. 

For more about Candace Bushnell’s show or to book tickets, click here

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Woolwich: How Punchdrunk creates immersive shows to delight audiences

As The Burnt City enters its final months, we catch up with founder and artistic director Felix Barrett

The Burnt City has been seen by more than 200,000 people in Woolwich

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Scroll down for Part One, if you prefer.

>> PART TWO <<

If you’ve started reading here, welcome. There is no right or wrong way to experience this article.

Just your eyes, these images and words and, perhaps, a sense of bewilderment when you reach the end at a place of your choosing.

Feel free to leave at any time. Or not.

Time, it turns out, is short. Punchdrunk has announced that it will welcome its final audience for The Burnt City on September 24, 2023.

Tickets for the final performance (at the time of writing) were selling fast and cost £145 per person.

Other shows in the remaining three months had availability from £45. VIP and premium option are also available.

There are a limited number of tickets for Royal Borough Of Greenwich residents priced at £25. These are released on the last Friday of each month, for performances in the month ahead.

Now all of that tiresome admin is out of the way, why don’t we have Felix (see Part One) tell us what impact he hopes the show will have on those who see it?

He said: “I would like people to feel that childlike awe and wonder that you get as kid when you go and explore your grandfather’s attic.

“You’re told you’re not allowed, but you know that serious wonders lie up there and you brave it anyway.

“You’re by yourself, you open the door, it’s very dark and full of clutter. There’s something in the far corner and you venture over there.

“It’s thrilling, terrifying, exhilarating and it’s full of magic. That’s our aim.

“As adults, much of the magic has been removed from life because of our responsibilities. We’re trying to give that back to our audiences.”

Read Part Three for a bit of history and a smattering of inspiration

Punchdrunk founder and artistic director Felix Barrett

START READING HERE

>> PART ONE <<

This isn’t exactly a typical article structure.

But then its subject matter isn’t a typical show.

Since it opened in March 2022, more than 200,000 people have seen theatre company Punchdrunk’s latest offering – its first at Woolwich Works, the organisation’s permanent global home.

The Burnt City is a sprawling creation.

Masked audience members are free to explore around 100,000sq ft of warehouse space, transformed for the production into an enormous, intricately detailed set in which the show’s multitude of performers appear and disappear.

Founder and artistic director of Punchdrunk, Felix Barrett said: “The show is based on the fable of the fall of Troy and the collapse of that mythical metropolis.

“It’s a future noir sci-fi thriller, told across 120 rooms, which audience members are free to explore in their own time.

“It’s part haunted museum, part real world living movie and part adult adventure playground.”

Audience members wear masks immediately marking them out from the performers who go about their business without acknowledging the watchers.

Audiences are free to explore the show in whatever order they choose

“Most of our performers are contemporary dancers and there’s a big soundtrack, so it’s like you’re inside a movie,” said Felix.

“It’s a gestural, physical language, rather than the intellectual side of your brain having to process it, so it transcends language.

“It takes at least 200 people to run a performance.

“There’s a big cast, a big group of front-of-house stewards, the stage management team, all the backstage departments – design, costume, lighting and sound.

“It takes a village, that’s for sure, but that’s what’s necessary to create single moments for the audience members.

“Different people in the same building will have different experiences.

“I want people to treat the show like a gallery or a museum but one where everything has come alive at night.

“It can have a clear story if you follow a single character but there are myriad narratives to uncover.

“We don’t want to prescribe a certain way to do it, and there’s no right or wrong way to watch the show.

“The reason why you enter through the bar is important, because that’s your safe space, so, if it all gets too much, you can go back, have a nice drink and watch the band.”

Read Part Two to find out why booking sooner rather than later would be wise

The Burnt City features an enormous cast of contemporary dancers

>> PART THREE <<

“At The Globe theatre in Elizabethan times, if you didn’t like the show, you could throw a cabbage at the performers and leave – I thought that was empowering,” said Felix. 

“I created Punchdrunk in 2000 because although I’m a theatre buff and I love it, I was a bit disillusioned with the stuff I was seeing.

“So I asked how we might give the audience control and tried to set out to create something where they were the epicentre of the work.

“Ideally I wanted to create something which could bring the hairs up on the back of the neck.

“What I’m interested in is trying to flip audience expectations and to give audiences a night out which they wouldn’t easily get elsewhere.

“I always want to break the rules of conventional theatre – to try to make sure that there are secrets to unlock.”

For Felix, that process is rooted in the bricks and mortar of the places Punchdrunk performs.

“The company’s shows have called disused warehouses, private houses, an old school and tunnels underneath Waterloo Station home.

“It has made work in locations as far flung as Shanghai and New York.

“A theatre is a blank canvas, but a building is already quite detailed, so we look at all the architectural detail and how we can harness that power, accentuate it and make it stronger for the audience,” said Felix.

“First of all I walk the building, let myself be guided by it and then chalk out the safest place and the most threatening part.

“You’re left with a beautiful, existential tour of a space, and then we start to put a story across it, with the source material.

“Then you start to dream about the environments and the worlds.

“We definitely do world building before we do narrative arc – we’re closer to a video game than a play.

“The word ‘immersive’ came from that genre of entertainment originally.”

Read Part Five for a look into the future

The Burnt City is based on the fable of the fall of Troy

>> PART FIVE <<

“We’ve been nomadic for 23 years, and although we’ve got buildings we can settle into in New York and Shanghai, we’ve never had that in London, where we’re from,” said Felix. 

“To have a home base is extraordinary, so I’m excited about us starting to break new ground, asking questions about the future of the theatre – how we surprise our audience so that we can create something nobody has seen before – that’s our main objective.

“We’re going to start playing with and experimenting with new projects. In a computer game, you can often take your character and go anywhere you want in a world.

“I think the future is taking that empowerment and applying it to real live shows.

“It took us six or seven years to get into our home in Woolwich and open our first show.

“Now it’s almost hard to imagine us not being in Woolwich – we absolutely love it. 

“We’re hungry to make more work. This really is a new dawn for Punchdrunk” 

No. There was no Part Four

  • Find out more about Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City via this link
Punchdrunk’s permanent home is at Woolwich Works in Woolwich

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Canary Wharf: How Festival14 will take over the whole estate with five days of events

Theatre, comedy, dance, wellness and live music make up a packed programme over six venues

Festival14 is set to return to Canary Wharf from July 26-30,2023

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Where to even start with Festival14?

Having taken the decision to focus much of its summer arts and events programme into four days last year, Canary Wharf Group (CWG) has extended the 2023 iteration by a day, packing the calendar for July 26-30.

“We’ve really built on our programme from 2022,” said Camilla McGregor of CWG’s arts and events team.

“In addition to Winter Lights in January, Festival14 is an anchor event in our season.

“It’s trying to combine all the things that we do, like outdoor theatre, classical music concerts and dance so that people can come down and experience them on a single visit or over a few days.

“The amazing thing about the format is that everything is happening on the Canary Wharf estate within walking distance.

“Someone coming down might see some Shakespeare, take part in a workshop at the Fandangoe Discoteca then see a performance in Canada Square Park.

“Most of the festival is free because it’s important to make it accessible to the local community and as wide and audience as possible.

“We are charging for some events where there is limited space but the tickets are very reasonably priced.

“In planning the programme it’s also been important for us to create an inclusive festival with artists and acts from a diverse cross section of society in London.

“Whichever genre – theatre, comedy or music, for example – everyone should be represented.”

Buskers will be performing in Jubilee Park throughout the festival

With events and performances taking place from 11am or noon each day, there will be big name acts alongside less well-known attractions spread across six main venues.

“We’re incredibly excited to have Soul II Soul to headline Friday night in Canada Square Park because they are world famous and we’ve wanted to host them for a long time,” said Camilla. 

“On the comedy side we have performers like Mark Watson, Lou Sanders and Shaparak Khorsandi at The Monty Tent in Montgomery Square.

The Comedy Club will run in it for four nights with comedy for kids on the Sunday.

“Personally I’m looking forward to Big Fish, Little Fish Family Rave – a two-hour party designed for parents and kids to celebrate life with bubbles and balloons.

“Then on the main stage there are sets from Craig Charles and Norman Jay who are both household names and have been on the London circuit for years – they’re both amazing.

“Over the years our summer concerts have appealed to the community and we have a strong returning audience so for Festival14 we wanted to create a line-up suitable for our loyal fans and new audiences alike.

Westferry Circus will host a number of plays

“That’s why we have chosen jazz, soul and r’n’b.

“For example, we will have Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra  who are very well established and more contemporary sounds from Laura Misch, both on the Sunday.

“Canary Wharf has a long tradition of engaging with the local community too so we will have theatre programmed by The Space on the Isle Of Dogs and a performance from the Docklands Sinfonia in the mix too as well as artists who grew up in east London.

“There will be loads for kids and families to do too with the Crossrail Place Roof Garden the venue for many of these kinds of events.”

So, diaries out – the festival is only two weeks away but there’s still plenty of time to plan those must-sees.

Don’t forget the street food from Karnival in Montgomery Square, daily from noon, either. 

Click here for the full Festival14 programme

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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

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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

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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

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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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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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