Literature and the Barbican

Why is the Barbican so amazing?

Because it is the LARGEST multi-arts and conference venue in Europe.

The huge, towering concrete jungle that looks rigid, militant and BRUTALIST in its architecture is actually home to a cultural flowering of art, music, theatre, dance and film!


Built in London, upon an area desecrated by the Second World War, during the 60s and 70s it began as a residential estate. But it is now so much more than that…

It houses the Barbican Arts Centre, vast libraries, the Museum of London, The City of London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (where one of us got her ‘Grade 8 Performing Arts’, and ‘Shakespeare Award’. Ahem).


In 2001 the Minister for the Arts awarded the Barbican Grade II listed status.

One can see why.

It is colossal in scale – you can easily get lost inside it. Plus it occupies such a cohesive and all-consuming place in the London skyline. The whole complex is so distinct and seamless that it easily sits apart from all the law firms and towering glass banks full of city boys surrounding it (eww).


It is also pretty cool that some of the buildings are named after notable British historical literary figures (we are literature geeks after all…) Examples include:

Defoe House – after Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders)

Johnson House – after Ben Johnson (the playwright behind satirical plays Volpone and Bartholomew Fayre)

Bunyan House – after John Bunyan (writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress)

More House – after Thomas More (Tudor period author of the Latin-Utopia)


AND OBVIOUSLY SHAKESPEARE TOWER…the bard who needs no introduction!


Rating: ****

Anne x


Powder Room – a review


(From left to right – Jaime Winstone, Riann Steele and Sarah Hoare)

We were excited about Powder Room – it’s got a stellar cast, from Sheridan Smith, to Jaime Winstone and Oona Chaplin (who I am personally obsessed with. Her hair! The fact that she’s Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter! Her tantalising performance as a sometimes-escort in Channel 4’s Dates earlier on this year. The list goes on).

Basically, this is a Brit flick for the girls.

And it’s good – but not as good as it maybe could have been.

Sheridan Smith (who is always amazing. In everything) plays Sam. She’s on a night out – with two different sets of mates. One bunch, her ‘true’ friends, are are also the so-called ’embarrassing’ ones – the ones who nick drinks because they’re skint, get so wasted they end up hiding in toilet cubicles whilst wrapped in bog roll, and shamelessly shave their armpits in the ladies’ loos (well, the latter is  just Jaime Winstone as man-eater, Chanel).

9. Oona Chaplin, Sheridan Smith, Kate Nash_Together at the Bar

(Oona Chaplin, Sheridan Smith and Kate Nash)

Sam’s other bunch of mates are played by super-cool Oona Chaplin (Jess), and Kate Nash (Michelle) -yes, really – Miss Nash is an actress now! I didn’t even recognise her without her fringe, to be honest – what a transformation – though not one I’m totally convinced by. But it’s clear from the start they aren’t Sam’s true friends – just a bitchy friend of Sam’s from the past, and her snobby Parisian mate.


(Jaime Winstone and Sheridan Smith)

Sam spends the night flitting between the two gaggles of girls – with increasing tension and unease. Who are her real friends? The ones she’s grown up with – and outgrown a little – or the chic duo that Sam aspires to be like?

As the narrative moves forward, we see that Sam’s life has actually been unravelling in front of her eyes for months.

I liked this film. Sheridan Smith gave a great performance – and I sympathised with her character, as many girls will – skint, upset, confused, heartbroken, stuck, bored, whatever – there’s a quality in Sam that we can all relate to. And probably several if we’re honest.

Jaime Winstone and Oona Chaplin too were fabulous, as always.

And I liked that the film revolved around the toilets at a club – which is, though a bit of a cliche, the place you often spend half your night nattering with your friends.

The bits I didn’t like? The random bursting into song. I guess that was too… jazz hands for me, but that’s just me. Others will like that element – and the film is based on a play.

This is a slick, girly film, and it’s one younger girls especially will like. I can’t see it becoming a cult classic or anything – but it’s definitely worth a watch. If only to see Jaime Winstone shaving her armpits in a club toilet.

Our rating: ***

Powder Room is at cinemas  from 6th December. 

Rosie x

The Bodyguard – first night with Beverley Knight at the Adelphi Theatre

the-bodyguard-original1I’ve always loved The Bodyguard.

Whitney Houston is perfect – not only because of her voice (which is obviously one of the main pulls of the film), but also because of her portrayal of superstar in crisis, Rachel Marron.

And a star in crisis Whitney was in real life too – we all know what happened, and I still can’t really believe that Whitney is gone.

For Whitney/Bodyguard fans, the lines are blurred. Are you watching a story about a singer called Rachel Marron, or are you just watching (and gawping) at Whitney and her amazing voice?

So going to see the stage version of the epic film was always going to be pretty poignant for me.

Rachel’s story is different from Whitney’s – in the film/stage show she’s being stalked, and needs the protection of a bodyguard (Kevin Costner in the film, Tristan Gemmill in the stage show), who she then falls in love with.


Whitney Houston is one of my favourite ever singers, so I was worried that Beverley Knight, though a national treasure with a ridiculously great vocal range of her own, might not be able to emulate Whitney.

But I was wrong – Beverley lends her own twist to Rachel’s story. She hit every note perfectly – and there are a lot of songs in this play! She doesn’t try to emulate Whitney’s voice, but instead sings in her own incredible style.

The Bodyguard Beverly Night

The play has been adapted from the film as a tribute to Whitney, and each of her biggest hits is in it – from I Wanna Dance With Somebody to I Will Always Love You.

The stage show is especially tense when the audience realises that Rachel’s stalker is creeping along the side of the seating.

And it was a huge success – Beverley got the standing ovation she deserved, even before the show was finished.

If you’re into Whitney Houston, and want to celebrate her musical achievments, then this is one musical you will enjoy.

A must-see for Whitney fans.


R.I.P., Whitney Houston – we will always love you!

P.S. As it was Beverley’s first night in the role, there was a good turnout of celebrities, from Emeli Sande to Shingai Shinowa of The Noisettes… and I found myself sitting next to Mel C from the Spice Girls. Which made me feel the ‘girl power’ even more. Perfect.

Our verdict: ****

Rosie x 

Oliver Reed: Wild Thing at St James Theatre Studio

Bounding on stage in a gorilla suit, within seconds there is a drink clasped in Oliver Reed’s (Rob Crouch’s) hand. Crouch seamlessly interacts with the audience, heckling them across the theatre, dragging some on stage, and even casting some as former acquaintances (with re-enacted script reading ensuing). You are unlikely to escape unscathed by his sheer force of personality, or without beer splashing you from across the room. Humour is rife – members of the audience invited on stage are thrown off promptly: “Come on…you’re not the main event!”


Crouch enters the stage to The Troggs’ Wild Thing (a fitting title for the play considering Reed’s infamous antics). For 70 minutes we are taken on a whirlwind recitation of Reed’s life. It is a spoken autobiography enacted solely by Crouch – a nonstop monologue fuelled by drink after drink. How Crouch is able to maintain his focus and imbibe so much shows his determination to embody Reed from start to finish.

The play is set towards the end of Reed’s tumultuous life: he is in Malta for his final scenes (in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and in life). At various points, Crouch shrouds himself in Reed’s former famous appearances. We see brief glimpses of his life as a school boy, his family ties to Peter the Great (Tsar of Russia), Gladiator, the bar brawl that nearly ruined his acting career, Oliver! (accompanied by shrieks of “Bull’s Eye”), and The Three Musketeers.


Comparing himself to a warrior, he proclaims: “Beer and whiskey are my weapons, the press my baying mob.”  Crouch manages to adapt Reed’s distinctive clipped enunciation into that of a drunken slur as the evening progresses. We hear the legendary tales of Soho in the 1950s, of parties with Keith Moon, and of Reed’s misogyny (“most women are happy in the kitchen”), where the audience joyfully boo him as a pantomime villain.

With pride and poignancy, Crouch tells us: “You deny [Reed], you destroy the British film industry,” referring to his steadfast dedication to remaining a stalwart of the British institution of hell-raisers, who die younger than they should. Crouch (alongside Mike Davis) created the play, and his admiration of the humour, charisma and talent of Reed is apparent. As we hear the announcement of Reed’s death ringing through the theatre, Crouch adds: “One more for the road…”

Our rating: *****

Anne x

ThatcherWrite at Theatre503

Following Margaret Thatcher’s death and the resultant national debate, Theatre503 is currently hosting a variety of writers with a series of short plays (semi-educational for those unaware of the history and politics) looking back at Thatcher – the woman, the politics and her legacy.


There is a wonderful symmetry to the short plays in ThatcherWrite. Tales that kick-start the show reappear, like Apples – the story of market sellers who believe in the “equal distribution of wealth for all”. Discord strikes when Tanya (Rachel De-Lahay) aspires to start her own import business. This determination to make something of herself backfires, and she is forced to come crawling back – working longer hours for less money. The actor’s ability to interact with the crowd and their convincing Eastender’s-style gait is admirable.

The plays bring the laughs with satirical takes on the inheritance Thatcher has left us. Suit and Tie makes a mockery of rich city boys, “boshing” Jägerbombs and cocaine in remembrance of “Maggie”. Through intimidation, peer pressure and the desire to be constantly “winning”, we follow two unlikeable self-made men as they traverse the capital reacting in disgust to homosexuals, immigrants (“my suit costs more than your salary, you ape”) and women. Ben Worth and Andrew Sykes confidently act out a script that is fast-paced and extremely funny, yet the pathos is palpable when one character is left crying and bleeding, repeating the mantra “I’ll show him. Be a winner, make money”.

There are three odes performed by young people, entitled I Am Sad You Are Dead Mrs T. The first is performed with childlike sincerity, confused and confounded by her legacy; the second, a young posho filled with political dreams proclaims to Thatcher “you would vote for me!” These two dedications playfully lambast Thatcher’s policies; the last is performed beautifully by Bella Heesom and touchingly handles the subject of dignity in death.

Thatcher herself appears twice, initially wracked with dementia, in exile from political life. Sea noises show her distance from society before her death – stranded on a desert island. Georgina Strawson is excellent, displaying glassy-eyed confusion, in one moment close to tears, at others the strong and determined iron lady.

The last skit of ThatcherWrite is crudely jovial: Thatcher embraces homosexual culture, getting lost in Soho and singing karaoke in G-A-Y. Be prepared for a hilarious cross-dressing Thatcher (Matthew Tedford) to burst on stage dancing and shrieking “We are all Thatcher’s children” as a disco ball whirls to It’s Raining Men. Trying to keep a straight face is near-impossible!


Our rating: ****

Anne x

Even Stillness Breathes Softly against a Brick Wall at The Soho Theatre

Brad Birch, writer of Even Stillness Breathes Softly against a Brick Wall, asks his audience a series of pertinent questions regarding the world we live in. His clarity of observation is so startling that one can really relate to his two world weary characters. The couple are given no names, their anonymity making them one of us, any one of the audience. Throughout the script they are merely referred to as “Him” and “Her”; we are voyeuristically looking at a reflection of ourselves in contemporary society – this society of Twitter, Facebook, hardcore pornography, O2 sales calls, meal deals, daily meetings. It is this mockery of societal norms that brings great humour to the play.

even stillness 3

Birch demands “What happens if you just say no?” – no to modern life, no to the daily grind, no to the rat race, and no to the consumer commodities shoved down our throats. That is exactly what Joe Dempsie (Him) and Lara Rossi (Her) do, what none of us are brave enough to do: they rebel. Smashing, destroying, fucking, tearing apart their lives as they know it. All of this incendiary behaviour is a result of the stultifying lives they have led before: Rossi’s character has had to endure vile workplace sexism, Dempsie (of Skins and Game of Thrones fame) has had to spend his days loaning his father money and trying to prove he is not a “c**t”. Eventually their humdrum lives cause them to ask the question: “Are you happy?” The play is evocative enough that it leaves the audience wondering the very same thing.

even stillness

Yet Birch offers us an alternative, a chance to see what would happen if we cut the chords connecting us to everyday life. The result is pure carnage, exciting and exotic in its infancy but isolating and destructive in the end. Rossi and Dempsie are entirely believable as an affectionately lacklustre couple and become even more watchable as a loved-up “us-against-the-world” duo. Their tornado of desecration rips through the theatre and brings the distant war they are so used to watching through a TV screen into their very living room. Freedom comes at a scrabbling, animalistic price where the protagonists can no longer form fully constructed sentences. Will they weather the storm they have created or will it tear them apart? The play reveals many of the internal wars inside us all, but proves there are no simple answers.

Our rating: *****

Anne x

Wyrd at a secret location in Southwark

Immer City are perfectionists. From the moment you arrive at an undisclosed location in Southwark you are completely swept up in the confusion of who is and who isn’t part of the production. Secrecy and mystery are key. Meeting at the crowded Lord Clyde pub in the depths of old London town, you stroll past the graveyards of outcasts from times gone by. Victoria Johnston is first to arrive as Lilith the witch, bedecked in gypsy-like garments of the occult. Gradually, further leaders of the séance appear and explain to a bemused and slightly nervous crowd that we have gathered here tonight to help Jo Warding (Geraint Hill) find out about the brutal killing of his grandfather in a nearby, disused wine cellar.


Warding’s wife Fiona (Victoria Jane Appleton) is also present in a supporting and convincingly doubtful manner, as well as their drunk, bumbling American friend Ethan (Sam Trueman). Séance leader Dr Isabelle Gowdie (Abi Blears) gives the audience further background information, explaining past horrors of the Southwark area with delight – tales of witches, child prostitution, the bubonic plague and a previous myriad of grisly murders in the very building we are about to be visiting. Last in the motley crew is Amanda (Selma Glasell) who never lets her guise as channeler of the spirits slip – she rarely speaks, greeting you with a fixed stare and mad ramblings. Beware standing next to her for too long, who knows what could happen!

Wyrd-01Entering the disused cellar is a totally immersive experience: every aspect has been controlled to leave you on tenterhooks, with genuine shivers running down your spine. It is dark – there are moments of complete blindness, with the frightful sounds of scratching and screams. There are wonderfully well thought out occult props such as crystals, an altar, sacred oil, candles and wine bottles discarded all over this haunted lair. The rushes of excitement that Immer City have created make it worth skipping a night at the pub or a traditional theatre trip.

Be prepared for jolts of fear as the spirits of the dead enter the cellar, and expect exciting scenes of a sexual and violent nature. If you can cope with these then you are in for a treat! You will leave the creaking haunted house with a thrill that you are unlikely to experience anywhere else…and escape feeling lucky that you got out alive!

Our rating: *****

Anne x

Glenn Chandler discusses his love of theatre


Glenn Chandler is the creator and director of chilling new tale, The Lamplighters, being performed at the Tabard Theatre this month. Having spent years writing for television with his successful crime drama Taggart, he has now turned his hand to fringe theatre. Here he explains to us why he enjoys the freedom that the theatre allows him.


Could you explain what The Lamplighters is about?

It’s an old fashioned murder mystery with a different edge to it. It’s largely about obsession. It is a story about three former detectives who failed to solve a rather sensational murder case, and how their obsession with the case has gradually taken its toll upon their lives and ends up destroying them.

What themes does the play explore?

It’s a tale of revenge, obsession and dark deeds in the wild Cumbrian hills. It’s not really a whodunit as such. It explores miscarriages of justice; it says a few things about the justice system in this country.

Why is the play called The Lamplighters?

It was originally called “The Lamplighter”, but I thought: no, it makes more sense if there are two of them. It is to do with the mysterious legend of two lights seen luring people to their deaths. There are strange tales of lights leading travellers to their deaths across moors. In the play one of the suspects was lured to his death in a dark, cold, mysterious tarn by two lamps that he saw hanging over the water – hence The Lamplighters.

You have focussed on crime fiction a lot in your previous work (Taggart). What are your inspirations?

I have never done anything on crime on the stage before, it was all television. I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to people after a murder case, especially when a murder goes unsolved for years and people start wrestling over who did it and whether the killer will ever be found. I was interested in exploring the obsessions people have with unsolved murders. That’s certainly the angle I wanted to explore with this play.

Do you find it difficult to maintain suspense in your work?

Yes it is always difficult! You find yourself looking back a little bit and thinking: was that too obvious? Even now there are bits that are very obvious to me. But people don’t guess it – I haven’t had anybody yet say they guessed it in the first act. It does play very fair with audiences because the clues are planted along the way if one cares to pick them up!

Do you get nervous watching the show for the first time with an audience?

Yes I do. I get less nervous as it goes along. I get very nervous on press nights, hoping that things go right! I think we had a very good night. The Book of Mormon opened on the same night and we were still packed to the gunnels!

I go to every show in the first week because it’s good to keep an eye on it but there comes a moment when you have to hand it over to the actors. You have to let go of it after a while and move on to other things, which I am doing!

Why did you choose the hills of Cumbria as the setting?

I had a holiday up there and I wandered around the hills and thought this was a good place. It was very misty. All of the places mentioned in the story actually exist!

Have you worked with any of the cast before?

No, the only person I had worked with was Will Hunter, my stage manager. He worked with me on The Custard Boys but the cast were all completely new. It’s nice to work with a new cast! Sometimes it’s too easy to work with old casts.

Do you have a favourite play that you have seen recently?

Yes, I was very impressed with Bully Boy, which was on at the St James Theatre. It had Anthony Andrews playing a soldier accused of crimes committed in Iraq and I was just blown away by it. It just goes to show what you can do in a theatre with two actors, two chairs and a table. It was an amazing production! I’m very impressed by stuff like that.

Do you prefer writing for television or theatre, and why?

I worked on television for many, many years and when you come up with new ideas for television now it takes so much time to get anything off the ground. Television doesn’t take as many risks anymore. It has to be risk-free, whereas with fringe theatre you can take big risks and try new things: that is why I love the theatre!

What do you have planned next?

I have two shows planned: Killers is a one act play about serial killers and has actors playing the parts of Ian Brady, Dennis Nilsen, and Peter Sutcliffe. It’s all to do with the letters that serial killers receive from people out in the world. The play is adapted from the correspondence of Brady, Sutcliffe and Nilsen. I am taking that to the Edinburgh festival this year. I’m also directing Sandel and taking it to Edinburgh. That was a beautiful novel published in 1968. It’s now completely out of print – it costs about £400 to buy a paperback version. It’s set in Oxford in the 60s and about the relationship between a 19 year-old Oxford undergraduate and a young choir boy. It’s a beautiful love story but it will create quite a bit of controversy in the climate of today!

Anne x

A Chorus Line at the London Palladium

The phenomenally successful A Chorus Line hasn’t been seen on the West End since 1976. Fast-forward to 2013 and things have changed with the show’s arrival at the London Palladium.

chorus line

The stage is stripped back to minimalist production values: although A Chorus Line self consciously reflects the world of show business, it’s not about the glitz and glamour of Broadway; it explores the struggle and endurance required behind the scenes.

Innovative storytelling of down and out, washed-up dancers and their plight won the original musical nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Seventeen anonymous auditioning dancers are thrust out of the shadows into the spotlight. Zach, the dictatorial director (John Partridge – famed for his role of Christian in Eastenders), disappears offstage and his commanding voice booms throughout the recesses of the theatre, forcing the dancers to divulge their secrets. The London cast perfectly demonstrate the battle taking place within a performer’s psyche: they squirm, they lie about their ages and when Zach pushes them for answers they show reluctance to divulge their past lives: “Do you wanna know about all the wonderful and exciting things that have happened to me in my life?…Or do you want the truth?”

Characters that begin as mere numbers fill the show with their melancholy, explaining how performing has acted as balm to salve old wounds: “Everyone is beautiful at the ballet”. The audience witness the shattering of the American dream in the cases of Sheila, Cassie and Val. At thirty, Sheila, already world-weary, uses sexuality as a crutch to cope with being past-it; Cassie laments that she has been reduced to a “dancing band aid” instead of a Hollywood starlet; Val sings about the intensive cosmetic procedures she has undergone in order to fit the ideal image in Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.

Fittingly, in today’s media climate of delighting in downfall, Cassie proclaims that the obvious progression of showbiz careers only result in “getting fat and going crazy”.

The staging means that the chorus moves together either in discord or perfect symmetry (such as in the luminous finale One). The manipulation of lights and mirrors adds to the sense of a multitude of homogeneous nobodies, at other times it multiplies one cast member into a multifaceted star, the audience reflected back at them, perhaps showing what could have been. An absolutely amazing production.

Our rating: *****

Anne x

The Lamplighters at The Tabard Theatre

“That’s the reality of murder!” proclaim the cast of Glenn Chandler’s The Lamplighters. Chandler, a veritable fountain of knowledge when it comes to criminal psychology, is the BAFTA award-winning mind behind the longest running TV detective series in history: Taggart.

Entering the creaking Tabard Theatre, located above the 1880’s pub of the same name, he is happily greeting guests filing into the small space to the sound of whistling Cumbrian winds.

The first scene is one of disarray, mirroring the mental state of the former-policeman turned drunk, Frank (Mark Forester-Evans) who convincingly bumbles around his country farm house like a “loose cannon”. Fast paced humour ensues as Frank and his former colleague John (Shane Armstrong) exchange barbed remarks about their shared past – a past about to return and remind them of their misdemeanors.

It’s a testament to the writing and performances that the cast are able to fuse black comedy with moments of genuine fear and obsession. The final member of the trio is Alan (Stewart Marquis). Unlike the other two he’s yet to fall victim to alcohol or anger, however, the catch-line “three strokes and you’re out” hilariously betrays the ill-health and cerebral accidents  that have beset him since the murder of a mother and her two children ten years ago.


Haunted by their failure to solve the case they meet on the anniversary of the family’s deaths to try and solve the mystery. It becomes a tradition, “like Christmas”, as they are drawn back to the scene like moths to a flame. The murders have deeply affected all of their lives.

There are strong performances from everyone, including Tara Howard’s well-calculated movements and condescending looks as the crusader of the play Jo. Praise should be given to Scott Oswald’s quivering demeanor which gradually disappears as his character Billy seizes control.

lamplighters McBurney-and-Jo

The plot’s twists and turns have you guessing until the end, where you are left feeling that the reality of murder is that its effects are widespread and inescapable.

Our rating: *****

Anne x