Popular reads in 2016


Interview with the X factor heartthrobs performing at The X Factor Live Tour 2017, Bournemouth International Centre on 6th March


The top eight acts taking to the stage on this year’s live arena tour are: 5 After Midnight, Emily Middlemas, Four of Diamonds, Matt Terry, Ryan Lawrie, Saara Aalto, Sam Lavery and Honey G!

Sign up to be part of the luck draw for 2 tickets to The X Factor 2017 Live Tour performance at Bournemouth International Centre on 6th March’17


Matt Terry

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

My experience on this show, has been the best of my entire life. It’s something I have always wanted to do ever since I can remember but I never felt ready for it until now. I’m so glad I was brave enough to go ahead and audition.. my entire world has changed!!

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt?

Nicole and my vocal coach Iain both taught me so much when it comes to music. I learnt how to feel and mean what I was singing about. Singing is fun and makes you feel incredible but I’ve learnt it’s so much more than that. I’ve have learnt how to tell a story through music.

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

I really miss Nicole, she’s my big sis! We speak often and I can’t wait to be reunited with her!!

What have you been up to since the show finished?

I have been spending time with my friends and family and … I can’t believe I’m saying this.. WRITING MY ALBUM!

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

Definitely being reunited with my X Factor family, we all grew very close over our journey together, I know we are in for a whole lot of fun!!!

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

All of the stand out performances from all of us! It’s gonna be a brilliant show!

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

Studio studio studio!


Saara Alto

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

I loved the X Factor so much. I was able to do shows I had wanted to do my whole life. The whole team were the best in the world and I was honoured to work with them. I felt like I could really show who I was as a performer and I enjoyed the big production numbers. It was also life changing in other ways, I moved to Britain, learnt about British culture and also I immediately felt like this was my home. I’m so grateful I was brave enough to take a chance and audition for the X Factor.

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt?

The best advice was from Sharon Osbourne “Don’t be polite on stage” .I was also told from the music team “You have to always show everything you have inside of you, don’t be only half of what you are, be what you truly are”

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

I’ve been sending some text messages with Sharon and she has asked me how I’ve been doing after the show. She also sent me a beautiful “Happy New Year” e-card 😀

What have you been up to since the show finished?

I’ve been super busy and haven’t had a day off! I went to Finland for Christmas and had so many concerts, interviews and meetings there. The whole of Finland watched the X Factor and everybody wanted to see me after the show which was amazing. I’ve now moved to London and I’m in the studio writing songs and also performing all over the country.

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

I can’t wait to do big shows again and perform in front of thousands of people! It’s going to be so much fun to sing without the fear of leaving the show!  I can just be together with the other contestants and enjoy performing.

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

They are definitely going to see a lot from me! Big performances but also stripped down ballads. There will be amazing outfits and good energy.

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

After the tour has finished I’m concentrating on my own arena concert in Finland in April. It’s already sold out with 13,000 people attending! It’s going to be so exciting and needs lots of work and planning! After this I will be back in the studio working on new songs 🙂


5 After Midnight

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

Kieran – It was incredible! Such a big learning curve for me and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to do it!

Nathan – Unlike anything I’ve ever done before, it was intense work but immensely fun!

Jordan – It was a crazy but amazing experience – it made me especially happy knowing that I was making my family proud

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt?

Kieran – Be true to who you are! That was the best piece of advice given to me because so many people in the world will try to be something they’re not.

Nathan – I think the best advice was to always “be yourself” and to “have fun” with every performance.

Jordan – I’ve learnt that not everyone can do everything in a group; you all have different qualities about you that come together and make the group what it is.

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

Kieran – Yes I had so many jokes with Louis I miss that, I’ve spoken to him a few times over the holiday 🙂

Nathan – Yeah I definitely miss Louis, there’s no one like him – we’ve been messaging here and there for sure.

Jordan – Yeah 100 percent miss my mentor! I have been in touch with him, he told me he’s living the life in Dublin!!

What have you been up to since the show finished?

Kieran – I’ve been getting tour ready… I’ve been going to the gym, working on vocals, dance moves and tricks! And seeing family too.

Nathan – Catching up with friends & family, and working on some new music!

Jordan – We’ve been signed to Syco and been performing gigs around the UK!

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

Kieran – Just going around the country seeing everyone that has supported through the show and proving why they were right to support us.

Nathan – Performing live & catching up with all the other contestants.

Jordan – Just seeing everyone, being with them again and doing what I love to do best – sing, dance and perform

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

Kieran – They will see what we were on the show but enhanced so fun, upbeat and smiles x2

Nathan – Well, not giving too much away…but all the venues are arenas so we’ve got a lot of space to work with. We’re gunna do something huge.

Jordan – We will be giving it our heart and soul – they can expect to see a unique group made with passion for what we do.  They’ll be dancing, singing and maybe some explosions too!

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

Kieran – Working on getting into the music industry properly and dropping our first single.

Nathan – Focus on our recently announced forthcoming album!

Jordan – Working hard with 5 After Midnight and the label, focusing on our debut single/album.


Emily Middlemass

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

It was crazy. It’s everything you could ever imagine and more. Looking back on it all is just so surreal. I still question myself like, did I actually do that? Has this all just happened? My head is STILL in the clouds….The first day I moved into The X Factor house was my 18th birthday and it’s a birthday I will never forget. I will be honest, it was hard at some points, I really had to put my absolute everything into it and work harder than I had ever worked in my life. But, anything blood sweat and tears was worth it, the outcome of performing on that stage every Saturday night is honestly THE BEST feeling I have ever experienced. There is nothing that beats the feeling of being on a stage and performing to people. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone some weeks and then discovering things I didn’t know I was capable of. I found myself.


What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt?

The best, yet the most simple piece of advice I had was from my dad. He wrote it on a little bit of paper I put up in my room and he told me this every single day and it is to ‘never give up’. 3 simple but the most effective words. DO NOT give up on your dreams.


Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

I actually do miss Simon. We had this bond that was special- I think it’s because we think so alike. Simon said I can give him a call anytime I like, in my own time.

What have you been up to since the show finished?

I have been writing lots and been in the studio recording some of my music. I have been rehearsing for the tour lots, its going to be an amazing show, I am super super excited about it.

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

It has got to be performing in front of and meeting the people who voted for me and made my dreams come true. I can’t wait to see everyone personally and thank them for supporting me throughout this crazy journey.

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?


There is going to be lots of surprises on the tour. I can’t give too many clues away BUT I am super excited for especially one of them! I will have more of a chance to connect and talk to the audience more. I love getting to know the crowd and getting them all on their feet to sing along. I LOVE live performances, they give me goosebumps listening to the crowd!

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

I am hoping to be releasing a single after tour. I want my single to be something that people can connect with. And then an album following with lots of different types of songs with lots of personal experiences in them, just to let the people who support me get to know me better.


Ryan Lawrie

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

I found my experience on The X Factor special. It was exciting, nerve wracking, stressful, but overall fun. One of the best experiences of my life.

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt? 

The best thing I’ve learned from my experience is to take risks. To do things that are out of your comfort zone.

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

Nicole was a great mentor, she looked after me on the show. I’m sure we will cross paths again.

What have you been up to since the show finished?

Since the show has finished I have been in the studio a lot writing as that is what I am focused on at the moment.

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

The thing I am looking forward to most about the tour is getting to perform to thousands of people in the best music venues in the UK.

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

Fans can expect amazing lights, crazy moves, possibly some hair flicks! Just lots of rocking out and having fun!

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

When the tour is over I will return to the studio to write as usual. Song writing is my priority.


Honey G

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

Completely life changing and amazing. I loved every minute of it and now feel like I was born to perform as a Rapper.

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt?

“nothing is impossible”. I proved this by coming back as a wild card in the competition and then going through to the live shows and coming 5th in the competition.

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

Sharon Osbourne and I are very good friends, yes I do miss her a lot. We text each other frequently and I just think she’s an incredible woman. If it wasn’t for her I would not be where I am now.

What have you been up to since the show finished?

I’ve been very busy touring the UK and Ireland doing loads of gigs which are going really well, they love me everywhere I go I’ve had a very encouraging reception. I’ve also released my own single, The Honey G show which I’ve also been promoting. I’ve also been to a couple of premieres.

 What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

I really can’t wait to get up on those stages and perform in front of thousands of people. I’m in my element when I’m up there.

 What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

A mega production and Honey G growing as a real Global Rap Star performing some big numbers.

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

I’ll be continuing to perform and tour the UK and Ireland. I’m hoping to do some high profile performances at festivals in the summer. I’m hoping to take Honey G global ASAP. Then hopefully release an album and hopefully sell millions of records!!!


Sam Lavery

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

Appearing on The X Factor has always been a massive dream of mine and the fact I got to experience the incredible journey was amazing. The X Factor is such a life changing experience, whilst getting to meet and work with the most incredible team who help you grow as an individual artist.

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt? 

Straight away I learnt with the show to always be yourself. Don’t be afraid to show the real you and always makes sure you are happy and confident with the choices being made around you. The whole team you work with want to hear your opinions and want you to enjoy every second of the experience.

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

Having Simon as a mentor was incredible as he really made me feel confident and spent a lot of time with us over the whole period. He made sure we were comfortable and confident and over all happy with everything going on. I am now working and using all the comments and advice he gave to me to keep building myself as an artist.

What have you been up to since the show finished?

Since the show has finished for me it’s being a whirlwind. I’ve done so many shows and performed all over the country, I performed at my hometown arena alongside John Legend, James Arthur, Craig David etc… I’ve done shows with Ronan Keating, special guest on the Matt Goss tour, Fleur East.

Some of these artists whilst I was on the X Factor show came and gave me advice.

I’ve been practically living in the studio writing and recording original songs with some incredible writers and producers to prepare songs that have my exact sound and style for everyone to hear soon.

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

For me I’m so looking forward to reuniting with the other contestants and travelling together performing in arenas all over the country.

I haven’t visited some of the places the tour goes to so it’ll be incredible that the first time I’m going is to perform at their home town arena. I am so excited for the Newcastle Date on the tour as it’s my home town arena and I know all my family and friends will be in the crowd, plus i can show the other contestants around Newcastle before the show!

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

I am so excited to perform my songs on tour and I’m going to have fun with it and enjoy every second. I want to involve the audience as much as possible and just have the most incredible time with everyone! I can’t wait to see everyone who has supported me and hopefully I’ll get to say hi to them especially in the meet and greets.

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

When I come off the show I’m straight away back to performing at shows and festivals whilst also working with more writers and producers in the studio co-writing original songs.

Four of Diamonds

How did you find your experience appearing on The X Factor?

We found our experience on the Xfactor truly amazing! It was so fun, everything was non-stop! The experience really helped us grow together as band and our bond has become much stronger! It was an experience we’ll never forget.

What was the best piece of advice given to you whilst doing the show/What have you learnt?

The best piece of advice that we were given on the show was actually from Simon Cowell himself, he sat us down after week 3 and said “Girls, this is such a big opportunity for you, you have the talent, so make sure you make bold decisions about everything you do, from the way you dress to the song you sing”.

Do you miss your mentor/have you been in touch with them?

We really miss Lou Lou and his bear hugs. He used to give us the best advice and was always totally honest with us. We’ve exchanged a few texts since the end of the show, he’s always so lovely!

What have you been up to since the show finished?

We have really enjoyed doing lots of gigs since the show finished, its been amazing meeting lots of people who supported us whilst on the show. We have also been resting and spending time with our families before all the tour madness starts!

What are you looking forward to most about The X Factor Live Tour?

We’re looking forward to being back with all the other Xfactor contestants, of course! But also looking forward to performing on such massive stages all over the UK! We feel like since the show we’ve improved our performance skills loads through gigging and we’ve learnt how to make the most of being up there and enjoy every minute, so bring it on!

What can fans expect to see from you on the tour?

More than anything we’re going to enjoy every moment of being on stage and want all our fans to just have loads of fun with us!

What will you be doing once the tour has finished?

After the tour, we’re looking forward to getting in the studio together and working on our own material. We’re so excited for the future of Four Of Diamonds.



Top 5 Shows of the Year (according to me)

Seiriol Davies

This year’s Top 5 Shows Of The Year list was really hard to put together.

Firstly, the standard was extraordinarily high. There was not enough room for amazing stuff by more people. Too much good theatre – not a disaster, but annoying when it comes to a list.

N.B. This was going to be a Top 10 list but I haven’t really done any Christmas shopping so a Top 5 seemed more achievable. Apols.

How to Win Against History

  1. Much as I liked The Grinning Man (see below) it was How To Win Against History that hit the spot in 2016. It’s no coincidence that this show was the highest reviewed show of the year at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s all about HTWAH really. A feverishly amusing biographical musical about Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey. This is musical theatre at its most adventurous: a pensive, glorious extravaganza that redefines the term “ripped-up musical”. It is an astounding melodious creation by the gifted Seiriol Davies.
Seiriol Davies

Seiriol Davies

Here is what Seiriol had to say on being number one: Oh my stars and garters, what a thing. I’m really delighted it went down so well – from a hot, dark little box by a park in Edinburgh it now looks like the show’s going to go far. We’ve some very exciting plans for it in 2017, they’re gonna take us all over the UK (subtly pressure your beloved local venues for news), including a lovely transfer to the capital (currently London) and it’s a bloody amazing feeling that Henry and his bizarre, spangly, preposterous, feels-making story are going to get in front of ever more people. See, I told you it was mainstream.

You can read my chat with Seiriol  here 



The Grinning Man

Tom Morris

Tom Morris

  1. Now that is how you do a musical. The Grinning Man is a brand-new musical from Bristol Old Vic, in its bold 250th anniversary year, directed by Tom Morris (War Horse) and based on the Victor Hugo novel and cult silent movie ‘The Man Who Laughs’. This macabre musical fairytale featured ingenious puppetry and a perfect marriage of the alternative and the discordant mainstream. As well as being expertly written the majority of the songs are skilfully structured: Seriously, well done everyone.

You can read my chat with Tom Morris  here 




This House

James Graham

  1. This House transferred to the Garrick Theatre, following its run at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. Having originally played two sell-out seasons at the National Theatre, directed remarkably by Headlong Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin. ‘FYI’ James Graham may just be the brightest playwright that Britain has to offer. Does he occupy that space by accident? Does he bollocks. Nothing about this play or Graham’s career seems left to chance. That’s not to say this play feels stilted. On the contrary, he seems to have fun with the space he’s in. This House is by turns hilarious, poignant and thrilling.

You can read my recent chat with James Graham here 


The Children by Lucy Kirkwood

Lucy Kirkwood

Lucy Kirkwood

  1. As the Royal Court entered its 60th anniversary season The Children was a welcome entry to the dynamic and eclectic season. A Kirkwood play is a gift from the Theatre Gods. The premise is simple: Two retired nuclear scientists in an isolated cottage in a post-apocalyptic world by the sea. Anyway, what really made this new play so wonderful were the harmonious performances from Francesca Annis, Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay. Whatever the frame of reference, a huge proportion of this slow-burning play situates itself outside the realms that dominate commercial theatre. Bloody brilliant etc, etc and so on. The Children runs at The Court until 14 January




  1. Set during a hostage drama in a school in Beslan the greatest of evils, terrorists, chose the greatest good – a group of children as their victims. There was a feeling of relaxed charm this production, and it’s a feeling many artists find hard to engineer. BRONKS Theatre pulled it off. This is not a perfect show, but it does contain enough perfect moments to make it the best Belgium import of 2016, not to mention the best piece of dance-theatre of Edinburgh Fringe Festival. After a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and winning The Scotsman Fringe First Award, Us/Them is coming to the National Theatre in early 2017, so book now to avoid disappointment. Book now – you know it makes sense. <<You can read my review of Us/Them here>>


(I feel a bit bad about ‘Funny Girl’ not being on the list – it probably should have been. OH WELL.)

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Interview with Bryony Kimmings: “Be yourself. Right now I’m in joggers. And I don’t give two fucks.”

Bryony Kimmings
Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings is a performance artist and maker of experimental theatre. Her recent collaboration with Complicite, ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ saw dancing tumours in the Dorfman Theatre: An all-singing show that followed the stories of a group of cancer patients.
Her piece ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ was also excellent actually.
Here is chat with La Kimmings about some things. You’re welcome.

Bryony Kimmings, what sort of woman are you? 
The kind who doesn’t gender herself. And the kind that gets angry at this slightly misogynistic question. What sort of human am I? Head strong, loud, shy, caring, cunty, arty, safe, stupid and did I mention loud?!

Wow. Congratulations on A Pacifists Guide, what has been the best thing about directing that show?
Ahhhh I think working with the amazing creative team and learning from them all. The choreographer, set designer, costume, the music bods, dramaturgs. I honestly feel like it was a public baptism of fire but I finished it knowing SO MUCH. It’s kind of fast tracked me into feeling ready to do it again… Better

Does your self-image impact how you interact with other people?
Hmmm I’m not sure what the means. Do you mean does me being vaguely in the public eye affect my relationship. Nah. God no. But it means more people want to be your friend. Which often I like. I’m a social butterfly unless I’m on my period, then I’m a quivering and anxious wreck.

Can you describe your state of mind when you were making A Pacifists Guide?
Erm. Fuck it was a long process. First year: excited. Writing period: frustrated by my own incompetence. March-June 2016: completely consumed with my baby being very very ill. Directing period: manic and doubtful. Press night: proud

I get the impression that you read a lot about other artists and that your own interviews can be a lot more self-aware as a result… Is this incorrect
Nope. I don’t engage much with artists in terms of reading, in fact I rarely read. I engage with artists as piers. But to be honest I’ve been doing interviews for a decade and I know who I am and that includes not having a filter.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Don’t sweat the funding, the websites, the branding…. All that matters is that you get good at making art and quick.

How long have you got off for Christmas?
Two weeks. Myself and my ex partner Tim are splitting time with baby Frank so I have a week to get totally wrecked and a week to literally snuggle for England.

What ten emojis would you use to describe 2016?

What would your personalised number plate of choice be?

What is your favourite theatre and why?
I fucking love the Purcell Room. It’s grand and great acoustically and so nice to perform to and watch in. I also have a special place in my heart for soho!

Do you have a message for the  readers who have never seen a Bryony Kimmings show?
Stop being a dick and get onboard the art train of truth, desire and pleasure.

Finally, do you think the word ‘hipster’ is just used by people who don’t understand youth culture or are they genuinely a bunch of pricks with questionable facial hair?
Hipster as a term is old. It basically means young and cool. Let people alone… But for me  I like individuality and creativity so the current hipster uniform is the opposite of that. Be yourself. Right now I’m in joggers. And I don’t give two fucks.

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Interview with Director Gary Condes: “In an age of calculated self-aware subtle comedy, LUV will provide a belly laugh.”

Gary Condes

As he directs LUV at Park90 with Park Theatre, director Gary Condes reflects on rehearsals, the Emma Rice fiasco and his favourite old wives tale.

LUV is a 1960s riotous celebration of the absurd lengths we go to when struck down with the terrible affliction known as love. After reuniting one fateful night, old school pals Milt and Harry uncover each other’s miserable life stories before hatching a plan to find their happily-ever-afters. I decided to chat to Gary about a whole manner of things.

Gary Condes

Gary Condes

Hey Gary! You previously directed Miss Julie and Some Girl(s) with Buckland Theatre Company and are back at Park90 with LUV. What do you like the most about working with Buckland?

I love Buckland’s desire to produce work that examines the nature of human behaviour through plays that focus on relationships and to put them in intimate studio spaces so that audiences experience immediate and affecting theatre full of emotional truth.


Luv. Click on the image to book your tickets

How are LUV rehearsals going? 
Great! We are spending the early stages mining the script and improvising to work out what the characters are really doing in each scene and why they are doing it. As a result we are acquiring a deep and specific understanding of the characters behaviour which will help to build nuanced and fuller performances.

What attracted you to direct LUV?
It’s a charming, unique play with heartfelt humour that gets us to face those existential questions that arise when examining the very nature of ‘Love’, how we define it and we measure it. It’s strengths lie in its colourful characters, extreme circumstances, laugh out loud dialogue, physical comedy, social and philosophical commentary and it’s infectious energy. The attraction for me was the mix of absurd humour and touching moments and the opportunity to make audiences feel happy, sad, joyful and full of despair all in the same show.

Are you sad about Emma Rice stepping down from The Globe? 
From the outside there seems to have been a misunderstanding about the style of work The Globe thought they were going to get from Emma Rice and what they ended-up getting from her. The glove didn’t seem to fit. Emma will find another platform for her work easily enough and The Globe will find someone else who best supports their philosophy. Can’t blame them both for trying.

What can audiences expect from LUV
In an age of calculated self-aware subtle comedy this production will provide audiences with a good old cathartic belly laugh at how self-indulgent humans can be with their own suffering. Expect a delicious high energy romp through a multitude of matters: marriage, relationships, loneliness, lost identity, desires, ambitions, failures, suicide. The performances will be bold but grounded in emotional truth so that audiences can connect to the characters suffering through laughter. A mix of absurdist humour and Broadway comedy: Mel Brooks and Neil Simon give birth to Eugene Ionesco.

What’s your favourite old wives’ tale?
If you are unable to fall asleep you are awake in someone else’s dreams.

What is your best advice for actors at auditions?
Don’t look at it as a job you have to get. See it as an opportunity to present your work. Prepare fully, deeply and make specific choices about your scene or monologue and then go to the audition to show them your work. Treat it as a presentation of what you’ve created, but you’ve got to do the homework beforehand.

Who is your favourite director?
Rimas Tuminas, Artistic Director of Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre Company. He manages to create an audacious mix of heightened and symbolic theatre which is underpinned by performances of deep and full emotional truth. His Uncle Vanya being a perfect example of this. It is theatre as art which illuminates & elevates.

Say in 1,500 years they discovered something you had directed on film what would you like them to find? 
It would be a film I haven’t made yet but is in development. It’s an autobiographical piece about family and takes place between the family run restaurant and the family home. I would like them to find it in 1,500 years and hope it helps people to understand something about human nature and its capacity for both deep suffering and great joy and that it’s the ‘experience’ of living that is important.

Why do you think Park Theatre is so successful? 
I think it’s due to the combination of seeing quality productions of interesting plays, thought provoking subject matter and fine acting in intimate and involving spaces.

Anything you’d like to add? 
If you want an alternative Christmas show to come and see LUV, this is it!

Luv in on at Park Theatre from 8 December  2016 – 7 January 2017



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Interview with producer of This Place We Know, Sophie Watson: “I’d just like to put on record that I’m not advocating putting Billie Piper in a time capsule.”

Sophie Watson
Bush Theatre has taken over the Uxbridge Road while the venue is undergoing a year-long redevelopment project. This Place We Know is a bold series of six commissioned short plays performed in spaces on and around Shepherd’s Bush.
This Place We Know has seen six world premieres of specially commissioned plays; this is a unique example of a theatre redefining what new-writing might do and how it might correspond to the local community. I thought it would be a good idea to chat to the producer behind it all: Sophie Watson.
Watson talks about Arts Council imposing ‘quantitative measures of arts quality’, Billie Piper in Yerma and more.
Sophie Watson

Sophie Watson

Hello! What are you working on at the moment?
The Bush Theatre is currently undergoing some changes that will make us more accessible and more sustainable, in the meantime, we’re out and about producing theatre in West London. We’re in our last week of ‘This Place We Know’ a series of short plays commissioned as a love letter to the Uxbridge Road and next up we’re remounting ‘The Royale’ by Marco Ramirez at the Tabernacle.

What is your most treasured possession?
In my theatre life, my playtext of ‘Many Moons’ by Alice Birch – the first play I ever produced.

Who or what is your biggest influence?
I don’t think I could pick one, I’ve always been so inspired by my colleagues; the team at the Bush are heroes.

The best kind of theatre often breaks the mould, how do you juggle risk-taking with sustainability?
When producing for an organisation you can’t look at a play in isolation, at the Bush we’re constantly looking at a season as a whole and asking ourselves whether we are offering our audiences a balanced programme. An example of that would be working with a playwright that audiences know and love and following that up with someone they may never have heard of, and hopefully there’s enough trust for audiences to come on a journey with us and a new playwright.

This Place We Know brings together a series of specially-commissioned plays in and around Shepherd’s Bush.  How have you prepared for this logistically?
I have been working on this project for many months. We commissioned the writers at the end of 2015 and then my first task was to introduce myself to almost every business on the Uxbridge Road to see whether there might be an opportunity to work together. It’s been important to think outside of the box, we ended up producing a play in a karaoke bar which I didn’t approach at first as I couldn’t imagine pulling it off but there’s a lot of good will in Shepherds Bush.

Gender inequality is a huge problem in the arts, however, there’s no shortage of women working in the arts, have you ever faced obstacles in your career?
This is a challenging industry to find your way in to regardless of gender, but I have to say that broadly I haven’t faced any obstacles that I would attribute to my being a woman. I hope I can use my position to support more women coming up through the industry as well as to profile female artists.

What are your thoughts on Arts Council imposing ‘quantitative measures of arts quality’?
I am sceptical about the introduction of these measures as an accurate way of measuring success. I’m also concerned about the additional administrative burden for organisations. I have read of concerns lately that organisations are carrying too much administrative resource, with some suggesting that this is to the detriment of the art/artists, but I find that a difficult argument to balance when looking at the demands placed on us all.

What would you bury in a time capsule to represent theatre in 2016?
Billie Piper. Is that weird? I can’t stop thinking about her performance in Yerma at the Young Vic this year. Plus, she’d have loads of other interesting stories about pop stardom.

Do you think we’ve become too obsessed with ourselves?
I think that we have always been obsessed with ourselves and with other people; particularly how we look, think and feel in relation to those other people. The difference now is the level of insecurity created by the various modes of presentation available to each and everyone of us. It continues to be the role of theatre to help us answer those questions.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Christmas at Marks and Spencer.  Don’t ask.

What is the best job you’ve ever had?
Producer at the Bush Theatre of course.

Anything you’d like to add?
I’d just like to put on record that I’m not advocating putting Billie Piper in a time capsule.

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Interview, Amy Shindler: “I have three strands to my career: I’m a writer, actress and voiceover artist. Okay, I’m clearly a wheeler-dealer.”

Amy Shindler’s writing is mainly in television: she co-created the ITV 1 series, Pat and Cabbage, and has written for the long-running BBC comedy, My Family. Other credits include: Trollied (Sky 1)Threesome (Comedy Central) and Horrible Histories (CBBC). As an actress she has played the role of ‘Brenda Tucker’ on Radio 4’s The Archers since 1999.
Amy’s first ever playBurning Bridges’ opens at Theatre 503 this week and the run includes several relaxed performances that are specifically designed to welcome people who will benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including audiences with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory and communication disorders, or a learning disability.
It’s wonderful to see minor adjustments being made to make topical new writing truly accessible.
I caught up with Amy to ask about the inspirations for the play, rewriting history and the enduring popularity of The Archers.
Amy Shindler

Amy Shindler

Amy! Where are you and what are you doing currently?
Carl! I’m currently sitting in my study in my house in West Dulwich and I’m answering your questions. In a broader sense I’m working on a couple of original  television comedies for ABC in the States and for the BBC over here; storylining a new TV drama, still in early stages; and waiting nervously for my play, BURNING BRIDGES to preview tomorrow night. I’m also trying to digest a homemade green smoothie which is turning out to be less than enjoyable.

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan

Simon Bubb and Rae Brogan in Burning Bridges  © Sam Taylor. Click on the image to book you tickets now.

What can you tell us about Burning Bridges? Is it good?
Burning Bridges is a play about an American woman, Kate, and an English man, Dan, living together in London, they’re professional colleagues and also newlyweds. They invite Kate’s younger sister, Sarah, who has Asperger’s syndrome, over from the States for a two week visit. However Sarah has some major surprises for them and things quickly spin out of control. It’s a bit dark and it’s intense, but there’s lots of humour in it too because I can’t seem not to put comedy in everything. It explores issues surrounding Asperger’s such as sensory overload, obsession and difficulty forming relationships, but also questions that come up when you’re living with someone with AS: how far do you go to protect them? Is that even the right thing to do? It also looks at issues outside autism, like gender politics at work and home and how do you prioritise childcare if you and your partner are equally professionally committed?
I can tell you that it is very good, because it’s being performed by three very talented actors: Rae Brogan, Anne Adams and Simon Bubb, with the ace Sally Knyvette directing. Also Theatre503 is just a brilliant place.

It’s fair to say that you have quite an eclectic CV isn’t it?
Yes I guess I do, although that does make me sound like a bit of a wheeler-dealer! I have three strands to my career: I’m a writer, actress and voiceover artist. I spend most of my days doing the former, mainly writing comedy and, more recently, drama for TV. I’ve also played the character of Brenda Tucker in the Radio 4 soap, ‘The Archers for 18 years, I was in the movie, ‘Everest’, last year and I’m the voice at the end of the phone if you call National Rail. Okay, I’m clearly a wheeler-dealer.

Theatre 503 has produced some outstanding work Rotterdam, The Girl in The Yellow Dress etc. What have been some of your favourite shows there?
Yes it’s a really good theatre, they’ve produced so many excellent shows over the years. I particularly liked Stephen Brown’s Future Me, Sam Ellis’s Starlore for Beginners and the brilliant The Mountaintop by Katori Hall.

What hopes and aspirations do you have for your play Burning Bridges?
Each of my characters makes flawed decisions but I really wanted to keep the audience’s sympathy shifting as I explore the humanity behind their actions. I hope it resonates on some level with audiences and gives them something to debate in the bar afterwards, it would also be great to make them laugh. Above all though, I really hope this play raises awareness of Asperger’s in women which is hugely, often dangerously, under-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed. It’s also sadly under-represented in the arts.


You play Brenda Tucker on the soap opera ‘The Archers’. Why do you think the show has such enduring popularity?
It really does have the most loyal following. I’ve been told by many fans of  ‘The Archers’ that it’s been in their lives for so long that listening to it has become almost ritualistic. Like brushing your teeth or making dinner. They will talk to me like the characters are real people, sometimes friends, sometimes annoying neighbours. Recently, I’ve had so many fans come up to me, almost apoplectic over the evil doings of Rob Titchener. I sometimes have to gently remind them that it’s a drama and the characters are played by actors. This isn’t a popular line of thought though.

Are artists quite difficult people to be friends with?
Yes we’re awful. I personally only befriend people in the construction industry. They do useful things like putting up buildings.

If you could change one major historical event, what would it be?
Well I don’t know if this is entirely historically accurate but apparently due to a mix up over what time exactly it was in Berlin, Lloyd George declared war before Kasier Wilhelm had been given the final ultimatum asking Germany if they’d care to pull out of Belgium. When the mistake was detected in London, a nervous young civil servant was dispatched urgently to the German embassy to ask for the ultimatum back, as there was still technically 20 minutes left before the agreed deadline. However the Ambassador’s butler refused to let him in because it was “bed-time”. I like to think the whole first world war could have been averted if someone had read their watch correctly or the butler hadn’t
been a jobsworthy pedant.

Are you looking forward to one day being 50?
Only if there is a party involved. Otherwise it’s not worth it.

What are your top tips for an aspiring writer?
I’d say what my dad said to me at the start of my writing career – it’s a quote from PG Wodehouse: “the art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”. Best advice I ever got and amazingly difficult to do

How good out of 10 is Burning Bridges?
Carl, this is not Strictly Come Dancing.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
I’d like to add that these are really fun questions to answer. Apart from the previous one which is ridiculous.


Tune into Amy Shindler talking about Burning Bridges in the next two videos



Actor Gavin Spokes on his favourite professional experience, love for live theatre and more

Gavin Spokes
Gavin Spokes

Gavin Spokes © Nick James

Gavin Spokes talks about Guys and Dolls, London Pride – and Nineteen Eighty Four Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse’s spin on George Orwell. Dunstable gets a mention.

Hi Gavin! You are currently in rehearsals. What/Who/When/Where?
We are currently in rehearsals at the Phoenix theatre with our new Nathan and Adelaide, played by Simon Lipkin and Rebel Wilson

You have appeared in some pretty big shows including One Man Two Guvnors and appeared on TV and Film. What has been your favourite professional experience?
I’ve been very lucky to do some really lovely work. I’d say that playing Francis in One Man Two Guvnors in the west end was a real highlight

Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls

Is Guys and Dolls the greatest musical of all time? 
I’d say that Guys and Dolls is definitely in the top 3 musicals ever written. The book is as strong as the score, which is very rare.

Can you describe the house you grew up in?
I grew up in 3 bed semidetached house in Dunstable. Nothing fancy in the slightest but my mum was/is one of the most house proud people on the planet. A lovely place to grow up in.

You have expressed your personal love for live theatre as opposed to acting in TV and film. What are your thoughts on Cinema screenings of plays? 
I’m in favour of screenings in general. It’s generally only done with productions that are running in London. Most of the country can’t get/afford to see a production in London. It gives a chance for to those in the furthest corners of the country (or internationally) to witness the very best of British theatre.

What is the greatest Ale that you have ever supped? 
The greatest ale I’ve probably ever supped is a pint of London Pride which I had after I’d moved into my first house that I bought with my wife after 14 years of renting together!

You starred in one of my all time favourite shows Nineteen Eighty Four. Well done. Did you know it was going to be a huge success?
We (the cast) had no idea of how successful 1984 would be. When we opened in Nottingham, the audience didn’t clap at the end of the show for about 10-15 secs. We couldn’t tell if they hated it or not. It wasn’t until we got the reviews in, that we had a sense of what the feelings towards the production were. The rest is history. However Rob Icke & Duncan McMillan always had a clear idea of what they were trying to achieve.

Is Boris Johnson a fictional character?
Do not get me started on Boris Johnson.

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?
I won’t say Macbeth. In fact I often get into routines during a run. I guess I’m very superstitious, when I go back to my dressing room etc.

And what else do you have coming up?
I’ve started auditioning for things but nothing that’s definite yet.



Belinda Wollaston talks about her role as Judy Garland in Through the Mill, what made her the woman she is today and more

Belinda Wollaston
Belinda Wollaston

Belinda Wollaston

10 years after working with Sondheim on Broadway, the musical theatre chanteuse is preparing to take on Judy Garland at Southwark Playhouse.  She considers the circumstances of her own death  – and wants  us to never stop trying to save the world.

Hello! You are an Australian Musical theatre actor. How do the UK and AUS Theatre scenes vary and which is the best? 

The best bit is that they both have an incredibly strong community, just as vibrant as one another. The scene is obviously much bigger in London, which creates more opportunities week to week than in Australia, but that doesn’t make it either one any better or worse, they’re just different.

In early 2006 you travelled to New York where you worked with some of the theatre world’s biggest names, including Stephen Sondheim. What does Stephen Sondheim smell like?


What are you up to these days? 

I am currently rehearsing for Through the Mill, which is due to open at the Southwark Playhouse on the 8th of July. I will be playing Judy Garland during her Palace Years, from 1951-1952.

Belinda Wollaston as Judy Garland and Harry Anton as Sidney Luft

Belinda Wollaston as Judy Garland and Harry Anton as Sidney Luft in Through the Mill. Click the image to book your tickets now!

Do you think current musical theatre artists would benefit from a short spell in the marines? 

That’s an interesting question… A few years ago I was in South Korea doing Jekyl and Hyde, and I was told that a lot of the local performing artists have previous military experience. Needless to say, it was the slickest show I have ever worked on!

Do you ever consider the circumstances of your own death?

Sure, I think we all do from time to time. All I can hope is that when the time does come, I fall asleep after drinking a lot of expensive champagne, surrounded by my loved ones.

What’s the best song in MAMMA MIA

The Winner Takes It All for sure!

Which one event in your life made you the woman you are today?

It’s hard to pinpoint one event, but I certainly remember a time when I felt 100% certain that I wanted to go into musical theatre. I was 11 years old, living in a small town in rural Australia, when I went to see a performance of Les Mis. I sat in the second row and I remember never wanting to leave the theatre again; I was completely mesmerised.

Do you think actors should stop trying to save the world and get on with their jobs?

I don’t think anyone should ever stop trying to save the world.

Have you ever set fire to anything you shouldn’t have?

The only things I ever set fire to are the coals on my barbecue, or some candles for a bit of mood lighting.

Is there anything else we need to discuss?

Aside from your choice in questions? 😉 Only to ask when you are going to come and see Through the Mill??


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Director Adam Penford talks about Watership Down, The Boys in The Band featuring Mark Gatiss and more

Ahead of directing Mark Gatiss in ‘The Boys in the Band’ at Park Theatre, Adam Penford is taking on Watership Down at The Watermill. The talented director talks about the value of regional theatre and reveals that he is always dropping egg cups.

Adam Penworth

Adam Penford

You’re in rehearsals currently for Watership Down. How’s it looking?

We’re nearing the end of rehearsals and I’m having the best time. It’s an epic narrative for such an intimate venue, but I have a generous and talented company of actors and creative team, and we’re working together to find inventive and fun ways to tell the story. And the Watermill Theatre is so idyllic. Rona Munro (James Plays, NTS) wrote this adaptation for the Lyric Hammersmith 10 years ago, but Richard Adams, who wrote the novel, lives down the road and all the places referred to in the book are nearby – so it feels like we’re bringing the story home.

You are due to direct The Boys in The Band featuring Mark Gatiss at Park Theatre later this year. Will it be any good?

It’s a fascinating play and well overdue a British revival as most younger theatregoers don’t know it. It was one of the first overtly gay plays and was a controversial smash hit when it premiered off-Broadway in 1968. The premise is simple; a group of gay friends gather for a birthday party and after a lot of booze things unravel. A surprise visit by the host’s old college roommate – a straight man with a secret – tips things over the edge. Think WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, but camper. It was far ahead of its time so it’s dated very little, and yet it also looks back and plays tribute to the classic American voices of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill. It always divided the gay community as some felt it reinforced gay stereotypes, whereas others adored it for being simply honest, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out with a contemporary audience. It’s very witty, dramatic and entertaining – packed full of zingy one-liners.

What was the last show that you watched and enjoyed?
Showboat was terrific. It was exciting seeing Gina Beck and Rebecca Trehearn nailing those strong female roles. I’ve admired all the musicals Daniel Evans has directed and produced at Sheffield and can’t wait to see how he programmes both spaces at Chichester. It’s a pity the show didn’t find a London audience, but it’s a tough sell.

What is the best musical of all time?
Probably a Rodgers and Hammerstein, or a Sondheim, or GYPSY, or GUYS AND DOLLS. But everyone always says that. So one of my favourite shows is LEGALLY BLONDE. I directed a production a couple of years ago and there is not an ounce of fat on the bones of that show. Every lyric, musical phrase, and line of dialogue is driving the narrative and character development. All the tunes are hummable, the music perfectly captures the world of the story, and it’s genuinely funny and moving.

What was the last item of crockery you broke?

I always drop egg cups.

As well as working extensively at the National Theatre, what opportunities have you been afforded in the regions? [DEATHTRAP]

I directed a production of Deathtrap earlier this year at Salisbury Playhouse which we’re hoping to tour next year. I’d previously directed Stepping Out there and it’s a lovely venue with a loyal audience. Gareth Machin, (the Playhouse’s Artistic Director), has always been supportive, we met when he was working at National Theatre Studio and he gave me my first staff directing opportunity there. Growing up in the East Midlands, my first theatre experiences were all regional (Nottingham Playhouse, Derby Playhouse, Leicester Haymarket) so I feel very passionate about the value of local theatre and would like to do more.

What makes a good Director?

I don’t think there’s a single approach to directing. It’s such a personal thing and attempting to imitate another director’s method leads to confused work. My own approach is combining an instinct for the material with a lot of research, and this leads to a vision of how to best serve the play/story. I think being able to clearly articulate that vision, whilst remaining open to collaboration, has led to the work that I’d deem my most successful.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

When I’m worrying about whether I should take on a project or not, Nick Hytner always tells me to just do it. His advice is to do as much of your own work as possible in the early stages of your career because it’ll make you a better director, and not to worry about trying to forge a particular career path, or how your choices and the resulting productions may be judged by the industry or press. It’s very liberating.

Can you tell us something SCANDALOUS?
Well I could tell you many things, but I’m obviously not going to.

What’s your favourite emoji?
The classic smiley. Although I still type it out laboriously like a computer illiterate fool : )



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Playwright Brad Birch talks about dealing with rejection, Brexit, En Folkfiende, learning on the job and more.

Brad Birch

Have you read many Brad Birch interviews before? He’s good at interviews. The recipient of The Harold Pinter Commission 2016 has a chat with me about dealing with rejection, Brexit, En Folkefiende, learning on the job and more.

Brad Birch

Brad Birch

Hi Brad, what did you do yesterday?
Hello Carl. Yesterday I was in tech rehearsals for En Folkefiende. It’s a very technical show so everyone’s very busy; sound, lighting, video, stage management, everyone, I suppose, apart from me. My role in techs often seem to be as an extra eye and ear for the director (this show is directed by Andrew Whyment) and I also like to check in with the actors and crew and drink a lot of coffee. I’ve been in techs in the past where I’ve had to be more hands on, having a more active role in the room, but these instances tend to only come about if there’s text work still to be done. At this late stage in the process it’s obviously less ideal to still be working on the text. Now that’s not to say I’m 100% happy with the text, there’s some stuff that’s still up in the air, but this process is slightly unique in that the production is going up to Edinburgh in the summer too and we have time to rehearse and rewrite again in the coming month or so. I’m looking forward to rewriting in response to this run in Cardiff and the audience’s reaction to it.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in?
I think everyone has moments of feeling as though they don’t fit in and some have more moments than others. In a way school was where I felt I fit in the most, but I left at 15 while doing my GCSEs. School for me was a social thing and I’ve always learnt and thought better on my own. It has meant that life took a slightly circuitous route but I’ve my own reference points and process. For a long time I didn’t feel as though I fit in in theatre as I didn’t come to it through drama school or university. I developed through working with individual mentors rather than groups or institutions and it took a while to find my feet in the broader ecology.

What are your thoughts on Brexit?
I’m fearful of what the right wing will do to this country without certain safeguards provided by the EU. Just look at what they’re trying to do to the Human Rights Act, for example. There’s a left wing argument against TTIP and what have you, but can you imagine we’d end up with anything better under an isolated Conservative government? Just look at the food industry, for example, and the kinds of preservative crap that goes into food in the USA; it’s the EU that prevents that kind of stuff from going into our food. I worry about the general trend of isolationism and nationalism that’s currently festering in the right and left. I don’t buy the SNP, I don’t buy Plaid, I don’t buy a devolved north (George Osborne has a northern constituency so this idea that everyone in the north is crying out for a socialist utopia feels to me unlikely). I’ve never felt my identity particularly tethered to a nation, I don’t feel fundamentally more this side of the street rather than the other side of the street. I get more excited about the potential for international left wing answers to global capitalism rather than parochial left wing answers to global capitalism.

How has your writing developed over the past two years?
I think my writing has become more controlled and considered. I’m harder on myself. And I think that comes from going from production to production. You develop a muscle and a rigour and you learn what works and what doesn’t. As I say, I didn’t have a university drama society to practice on, so I’ve been learning on the job. There’s work I’ve not been proud of because of this but I can feel my writing maturing and I’m excited about the next couple of years of shows. I teach now as well and this certainly makes me a sharper writer.

You are the writer in residence at Undeb Theatre and on attachment at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Can you talk us through an average week in the life of Brad Birch?
An average week at the moment is a bit hectic, balancing a few projects at once. I enjoy writing but days whereby I’m having to look at more than one thing can sometimes be a struggle. I am quite strict on my routine and at the moment I have little time for anything else other than typing but usually I try to read about two books a week, go for a lot of walks and talk a lot in pubs. Meeting with people for an afternoon pint and a chat is one of the most joyous things I can think of doing. Zoe and I have also recently had a baby boy called Woody, so life is currently full of concentrated meaning.

How do you deal with rejection?
You just have to not care.

In March 2016, you were announced as the recipient of this year’s Harold Pinter Commission. Tell us something really exciting and top secret about the commission at the Royal Court that is ‘in development’.
This play feels like the culmination of a long relationship with one of the most important buildings of my life. I’ve been in and around the Court for about six years. However the play I’m writing is just like any other play currently on my slate – it’s about a question I can’t answer.

Let’s talk quickly about what put this current business in motion — how did you start out on your career path?
So as I mentioned above I left school early and for about three or four years I just bummed around doing terrible jobs and doing a lot of thinking and reading. When I started writing I wanted to write books. I didn’t grow up with theatre. I fell into it and a bit like a spider in a bath, now I’m in, I can’t get out. I’m fascinated by people and for me theatre is the best medium to explore what people do to each other.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jeremy Herrin once told us in a group at the Court to always see yourself writing more than one play. And it’s that perspective that prevents you from throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the current draft of your current play. I’ve still got fragments and set pieces and lines that I wrote in 2009/2010 that will one day make it into something.

The Brink was quite good *well done* were you happy with it?
I was very happy with it, thank you. It was such a talented room. I want to make it a life maxim to only work with people who are better at their jobs than I am at my job.

Your next show is EN FOLKEFIENDE. Is it any good?
I really like it. The students we’re working with at Welsh College are, again, brilliant. I don’t know what it is about this school, there must be something in the water in Cardiff. In terms of the play, it’s been a delight to get under the bonnet of one of Ibsen’s most fascinating plays. People talk about the politics of An Enemy of the People but for me it’s a play about brothers.

Can you write a Haiku for our readers (plural)
I try not to write
In cafes or pubs or clubs
And yet here I am