Tag Archives: interview

Sushi Girls – preview and Q&A

Sushi Girls, a new play by British-Ukranian playwright Tony Leliw opens at the Theatro Technis next month from 25-27 July.

It features a company of four actors: Mark Keegan (Anton), Kate Winder (Anna), Shina Shihoko Nagai (Ichika) and Rina Saito (Shizuko). It also features songs and sounds as if it will be an intriguing addition to this summer’s fringe theatre scene.

YouTube trailer for Sushi Girls

The play is based around Leliw’s experience of over two decades as a host family welcoming foreign students to London, who have come here to study English.

The play is “a rollercoaster of linguistic and cultural mishaps” and a tug-of-war between one student, Ichika who wants to study and stay in London, and the other, Shizuko, who does everything to sabotage the trip to be back with her boyfriend in Tokyo.

Sushi Girls poster

I asked Tony to tell me a bit about Sushi Girls, which I will be reviewing on the 27 July.

What should an audience expect when they come to see Sushi Girls? How would you describe the show?

It’s not very often when you go to the theatre, that you see two native Japanese actresses land major roles in a British stage play. So for this reason, our play is more out of the ordinary than others.

Being professionals, Shina and Rina speak with Japanese accents when talking English. When they converse with the host family they have a heavy accent, full of grammatical mistakes and mis-pronounciations, while when chatting amongst themselves, they speak clearly and properly, except when they do cockney, which is a whole new ball game.

Without giving too much away, our audience will be blown away when they hear the girls speak with a cockney accent, picking words up from Anton the host father, and host mother Anna getting annoyed, ‘when they rabbit and pork’ and don’t speak ‘proper’..

I am hoping our audience will be partially made up of foreign students, who will in a subtle and fun way learn about British culture, while our domestic audience will pick up on a few Japanese habits and traditions.

For those coming to our opening night (Thursday, July 25, 7pm), the first 50 will be offered a free shot of sake from Tom and Lucy, who run the Kanpai London Craft Sake Brewery. They will also get a chance to meet a Pearly King and Queen. Other Japanese beverages may be on offer from theatre barman Leo.

Why did you decide on the Theatro Technis as a venue? What do you particularly like about it?

I grew up in Islington, and as Camden is a neighbouring borough, I believe you should support your local nstitutions, otherwise they will fade and disappear. I did my first play You What? He’s Ukrainian at Theatro Technis, so it feels a bit nostalgic coming back.

Theatro Technis is on the doorstep of central London, so is easily accessible. It has a good bar, decent dressing rooms and an amphitheatre atmosphere with 120 seats. The theatre is run by a Greek family, George and Aris Eugeniou and his team of volunteers. As the Greeks invented drama, it seemed the perfect venue for my play.

Playwright Tony Leliw outside the Theatro Technis with the poster for Sushi Girls
Playwright Tony Leliw outside the Theatro Technis with the poster for Sushi Girls

Who are you aiming at with your publicity, social media, trailer etc. How can interested potential audiences spread the word further?

People who have studied abroad, been away from home, experienced a foreign language or culture, or are from a different country now living here, will relate to this play.

I specifically put this play on during the holiday season to attract tourists and foreign students. Equally, in this country is a whole group of host families who will be able to share in some of the experiences featured in the play.

I have targeted English language schools. Those that have been receptive so far include: Lemy School in Harrow, International House London in Covent Garden; and Tti School of English in Camden, who have made students aware of our play. I have also promoted my play through a Sushi Girls page on Facebook, created a dedicated website, Twitter account and shared information with the APL – UK Host Family Support Group.

I am hopeful we will attract a large Japanese following. The Japanese Embassy in UK has included our play in its Japan-UK Season of Culture and our play has been listed by The Japan Society of the UK. Nestle Japan have allowed us to use their Matcha KitKat logo on our poster.

Doki Japanese Tableware in Harrow, my local dry cleaners and Chinese take-away Ming Sing, have put our posters up. Sophie’s Japan Blog interviewed me and our director Antti Hakala. During our last rehearsal we put up a promotional video on YouTube called ‘Sushi Girls coming to London’.

I hope that those that can’t make it will tell their family and friends and share any information we put into the public domain through various social media channels.

Sounds as if you have covered all the bases! What’s next for you after Sushi Girls?

I would like to revisit my last play UktheNuke. It’s a political satire on recent and current political events in Ukraine. It’s about a super hero, set in the future, who liberates his country after it gives up its nuclear weapons and is invaded.

UktheNuke reclaims his country’s territory by making his enemies nuclear weapons redundant with his army of hackers.

Thanks to Tony for sending through his answers!

You can follow the social media accounts associated with Sushi Girls on Facebook, Twitter, and the show also has a dedicated website.

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Fringe Focus – The Playground Theatre

Welcome to a new, occasional, feature showcasing and celebrating the most interesting fringe venues I have visited across London. If you would like your theatre represented here, please let me know, and if I haven’t already been to see you, I will make it my mission to do so.

The first of my Fringe Focus features takes me to Latimer Road in West London and to The Playground Theatre. I asked artistic directors Anthony Biggs and Peter Tate to answer some questions on this small and flexible space, which I visited earlier this year to see My Brother’s Keeper.

Interior of The Playground Theatre, via spacehive.com
Interior of The Playground Theatre, via spacehive.com

Interview with Anthony Biggs (AB) and Peter Tate (PT)

The Playground started life as a bus garage on an industrial estate. What made you see its potential?

AB: The building has a really wonderful atmosphere. Simon McBurney from Complicite commented on this when he worked here. The space is so unexpected and inviting. It is a place where artists instantly feel at home. There is no other theatre in the immediate area, and there is a large local audience base.

PT: I literally had a gut feeling when I walked into the empty space. I felt that the space was already creative and had a very good energy.

The programming has been very eclectic and challenging, yet accessible. What plans do you have to reach both the discerning and adventurous theatre-goer, and the North Kensington locals?

AB: We are positioned in a very diverse area, surrounded by expensive residential properties, large housing estates including Grenfell, commercial developments such as White City Place and Westfield, the Imperial College campus, Wormwood Scrubs prison. We have a huge potential audience on our doorstep and reaching out to them is our first priority as a local theatre.

PT: As you say our programming is eclectic. There are local issues that are a very strong thread through our community like the appalling Grenfell fire that brought our community together and wiped away whatever social divides existed. Last year we did two projects that were around this issue – Shirleymander based on Shirley Porter, the Tesco heiress, who undertook social cleansing when she was leader of Westminster Council; and Dictating to the Estate, a verbatim piece based on the transcripts between residents of Grenfell and the council. We intend to bring the latter back next year in a fuller production.

What is the USP of The Playground Theatre?

AB: We aim to be the heart of our community, where artists and audiences can celebrate bold and imaginative storytelling from around the world.

PT: Work that challenges both the artists and consequently the audience, and that has a deep resonance to the world we live in now.

You have playing cards instead of traditional theatre tickets. Does this mean a trip to The Playground is a game of chance and adventure?

AB: Every time you step through the doors of The Playground, the space will be different. We actively programme work that will transform our space and give our audiences a new experience.

PT: One can never hope to please everyone, or even should attempt to. One has to commit to the work and do it fully, leaving no stone unturned.

The Paradise Circus at The Playground Theatre
The Paradise Circus at The Playground Theatre

What is in store for audiences over the next few years? Where do you see The Playground fitting into a crowded and diverse London fringe scene?

AB: We love collaborating, so expect to see shows mixing a range of art forms, from rap music to fine art, that defy traditional description. International stars will rub shoulders with local artists and members of our community to create exciting and diverse theatre. Expect stories that reflect all areas of our community, that celebrate our culture and tackle the big issues. However crowded the Fringe is, The Playground is unique because our local community is unique. We welcome all artists who want to create work with us, and we look forward to building relationships with friends in other theatres.

PT: Personally, as an audience member, I come to a place that has great possibility to transform, to challenge, to make people think. I believe we have a few productions in the next year that will do this.

The theatre doubles as rehearsal space – have your creatives and actors found the stage and room a fertile ground for inspiration and innovation?

AB: Many leading companies and artists have created work at The Playground. It feels like an engine room for creativity. The more open we are to innovation, the more exciting the theatre we create.

PT: I have had the building for twenty years and set it up as a creative hub for artists to explore the unique voice within each and every one of us. The space has inspired artists such as Simon McBurney, Rufus Norris, the Polish director Henryk Branowski, the Japanese director Hideki Noda, plus countless other artists both known and emerging.

As an audience member, you notice the frequent train sound as an additional aspect of The Playground sound space. Have you been able to utilise this as a positive force?

AB: It gives the space another dimension and seems to add rather than distract from performances. Unlike some theatres which have the trains running overhead, the tracks run behind The Playground so we get the sound without the vibration. It’s part of our lives and it is part of our community’s lives.

PT: I don’t think that we have consciously incorporated it, but accepted it for what it is – another ambient sound that exists in so many theatres that can’t afford total sound proofing.

What are the future plans for the cafe? It’s a really friendly place with free wi-fi and an interesting food and drink menu. What will make this a must for a foodie in the area?

AB: Our daily menu is created by The Grocer on Elgin, and the delicious cakes and brownies are made by Sally Clarke, both of whom are local businesses. We want to celebrate the rich and diverse culture of the area, and over the next few months we will be adding new dishes created by some of our wonderful local chefs. As a theatre café we often have play readings, discussions, parties etc happening in the space.

PT: It is an evolving process and we now manage it. The level of food has improved over the last few months by incorporating Sally Clarke’s cakes and quiches, and the food from The Grocer on Elgin. This has led to more customers, certainly during the day.

Finally, the theatre currently seeks financial support to keep evolving. What can audiences and creatives do to put this fab new theatre firmly on the map?

AB: The best way to support us is to come to The Playground, and encourage your friends and family too. You can engage with us on social media: we love to hear from you. If you have any spare time you can help us by volunteering as part of our front of house team, or perhaps on one of our many outreach projects with local community groups. Running a theatre is expensive and donations of any amount are always welcome. You can do this in person or via our website. We also run a membership scheme which gives you priority booking and access to special events. We are always keen to develop other ways of engaging with our community, and if you have an idea of how you can support us then please let us know.

PT: We are now garnering support for a lot of the outreach work that we do (which is led by my co-Artistic Director Anthony Biggs). By supporting us, as a theatre, the very important work that we are doing in our community will help us expand our current programmes in those areas – like the work we do with the survivors of Grenfell and the Well Read programme at St Charles Hospital’s psychiatric department.

Soldier On at The Playground Theatre
Soldier On at The Playground Theatre

My own observations on The Playground

I found The Playground an interesting and friendly space.

To find it from Latimer Road tube station, you have to walk past all the Grenfell memorials, and clearly this is an event which has had a major impact on the local community. Latimer Road itself is part residential, part industrial, and it is very exciting to find such a hub of creativity in an area which has traditionally lacked performance spaces.

The cafe itself is spacious, and as well as offering a range of food and drink options, also has free wifi and both indoor and outdoor seating. I could imagine this as a good local place to study, chat, or collaborate over a coffee or a glass of wine.

The theatre is an appealing room, which had seating in an L-shape configuration when I visited. Sightlines are generally very good, with well-raked rows, and seats are unreserved and fairly comfortable. Sound and lighting is excellent and the space is interesting and intimate for audiences.

As a new fringe theatre – it opened in autumn 2017, with a capacity of between 150 and 200 – it joins over 200 other theatre venues within Greater London and has been slowly building up its own niche over the last eighteen months. At the time of its opening, Anthony Biggs stated it “has the potential to be the Almeida of West London … where our audiences are challenged and entertained”.

It has a monthly community reading group, The Playground Readers, in the cafe. It hosts scratch nights and play readings, and has showcased work by Jonathan Lewis, Nina Conti, Jane Austen, Josie Spencer, and many more: plays, comedies, and musicals.

The next major production, from the 2 July, is a new version of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

I hope to be able to visit again in the near future to tell you more about The Playground’s adventurous programming.

You can reach The Playground Theatre in a variety of ways: https://theplaygroundtheatre.london is their website; they are on Twitter (@playgroundW10), Facebook (theplaygroundtheatre), Instagram (theplaygroundtheatre), and traditional email.

Doors into the performance space at The Playground Theatre. Via London Unattached.
Doors into the performance space at The Playground Theatre. Via London Unattached.
Exterior of The Playground Theatre.
Exterior of The Playground Theatre.

Beats on Pointe: interview with creator Jennifer Masters

Known for pushing conventional dance boundaries, Masters of Choreography is back with their worldwide sell out show Beats on Pointe, a dynamic modern story of two opposing dance worlds; street vs ballet.

The Peacock Theatre in Holborn is the venue for Australian’s hit dance fusion show, Beats on Pointe, which returns from 21 May to 16 June 2019. You can expect dance, beat boxing, break dancing, and much more as ballet and street dance comes together, and it looks to be a very exciting show for theatre, dance and ballet fans alike.

Jennifer Masters, producer, writer and director of choreography on Beats on Pointe
Jennifer Masters, producer, writer and director of choreography on Beats on Pointe

I asked Jennifer Masters, the show’s director, producer, writer and director of choreography, to tell me a bit more about the show in advance of its opening.

The advance publicity promises a ballet and street mash-up where “opposing worlds clash”. Is this particularly exciting for you as the main creator and choreographer of the show, and where did the original idea come from?

I am extremely excited to be able to see my vision come to life on stage. Ballet is the foundation of all dance and my personal passion lies within street dance so creating this fusion as a commercial dance theatre production is something that has been whirling around in my mind for a very long time.

I have always loved fusing genres in my choreography as I feel that it makes for exciting and dynamic entertainment, so to take this methodology to the stage in the manner that I have presented in Beats on Pointe is absolutely magnificent!   

There are comic moments amongst the classic and contemporary dance moves – what can an audience for Beats on Pointe expect for entertainment?

Beats on Pointe is more than just a dance show, it is a dance theatre extravaganza. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to ensure that I presented elements outside of choreography that would entertain the audience and keep them fixed on what was happening on the stage.

Comedic moments are displayed throughout the entire show, as well as live percussion, singing, beatboxing and audience participation. When I merge all these elements along with an upbeat killer soundtrack, it makes for a fantastic, feel-good experience that is unquestionably breath-taking! 

It must be interesting for the dancers to explore different facets of their profession. How has the fusion of styles and backgrounds impacted on the creative process?

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my dancers train outside their comfort zones and beyond their usual genres of dance and performance. My vision and creative process is thorough and encompassing whereby I ensure that I am able to extract the best artistry out of each of my performers.

I enjoy finding talents beyond their dance training so that I can bring their unique variety of skills to my stage. In this regard, the various backgrounds of training and experience from my cast has definitely impacted on the creative process.

Where possible and keeping in line with my creative vision, I utilise the additional skillsets that these performers bring with them, many times pushing the boundaries of my vision and the abilities of the dancers. I will never compromise my show nor my dancers, but I will push the limits to create brilliance!

The poster advertising the show is so vibrant, colourful and evocative. How important is it that the technical side of the production complements the different dance styles, or have creative choices been made which will surprise us?

I like to think that our show poster along with the Beats on Pointe stylistic lettering, with its vibrancy, colour and energy, portrays exactly what I want to convey to anyone considering to see this show – that it will be modern, edgy and electric entertainment.

As with any stage show, it goes without saying that the technical side of the production needs to complement the various dance styles and performances on stage, however, I have ensured that what happens on my stage can stand on its own merits, that the creativity, energy and performance value is always exciting and memorable.

Each component of the show has a ‘WOW’ factor. I wanted to ensure that if an audience member walks into my show at any given time, that they will not be able to take their eyes off the stage. 

What have been your influences in ballet, street and hip-hop? Do you like to pay homage to any of the ground-breaking artists of the past?

The influences on this show and my creative process are many and eclectic with both music artists and dancers inspiring my creative process. I can immediately name artists such as Mikhail Baryshnikov whom I also had the pleasure of seeing perform live on stage and whom has always inspired me; there is also Janet and Michael Jackson who impacted my dance career immensely and others such as the dancers from movies like  Breakdance and Beat Street which were released throughout my youth and that had a huge impact on the dance scene. I do pay homage to some of my influences in this show but you will need to see Beats on Pointe to see what I have created for your entertainment.  

Tell me a bit about the musical choices for Beats on Pointe. Will anything particularly shock or move audiences?

I am extremely proud of the music selection for Beats on Pointe. Each choice of music was made with the thought that it had to portray the energy and positivity of the show, without taking away the fun and feel-good factor I wanted our show to provide to our audience.

The show will not shock anyone because of its music content or lyrics but what may shock is the choice of music made for the piece that is being performed, such as a ballerina performing to an Eminem track. There are also numerous moments that the music and the performance of our dancers will move our audience with a mixture of emotions ranging from joy to a calming awe.

Overall, the response to my musical selection has been outstanding and due to the audience demand, I am proud to say that you can now order the Beats on Pointe soundtrack!

What is coming up next for Masters of Choreography?

London is an exciting part of the global tour we have planned for our Beats on Pointe show. We have dates locked in throughout the world over the next couple of years and are very excited with this tour.

Beats on Pointe has a sister show called Raise the Barre which we will be bringing to the international stage in 2020 as well. In addition to our yearly showcases and events, we also have other shows in the development stage and are also focused on a few new avenues of entertainment that we will announce over the next year. We are proud of our achievements and look forward to taking our shows and events throughout the world. As we like to say – All for the love of dance!

My thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to talk to us. Look out for my thoughts on the show later this month. You can book at
http://peacocktheatre.com/whats-on/beats-on-pointe/.

Beats on Pointe cast
Beats on Pointe cast
Beats on Pointe cast.
Beats on Pointe cast.












Stacy: interview with director Caoimhe Blair

Over at the Etcetera Theatre on Camden High Street, a new revival of Jack Thorne’s Stacy has just opened, produced by Inkwell.

Stacy is a sexually explicit confessional monologue for one male performer and a slide projector. It was first performed at the Arcola Theatre in 2007, and ran at the Edinburgh Festival and in London in 2012.

I wanted to know more about the revival and the contemporary relevance of this play, so put some questions to director Caoimhe Blair.

It’s been twelve years since Stacy was first written and performed. Why is the time right to revive it now?

I read Stacy for the first time about a year and a half ago, and it crawled under my skin and nestled there. Its disturbing and highly complex protagonist constantly popped up in my head when talking to friends about issues usually relating to the #MeToo movement and its lack of spotlighting women without a platform, and women most vulnerable to abuse.

I then came across a copy of Stacy that had the original blurb on it (as my copy was within an anthology) and I was struck by how dated it seemed in comparison to the play text itself. The blurb described the protagonist as finding life ‘confusing’ and spoke of him as being misguided and unlucky. I wasn’t sure if the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of the blurb was to trick the audience into believing they would be seeing an entirely different, almost jovial show, or if it was sincere and a product of its time (2007).

Either way, it lead me to reread the play, and consider deeply if someone could read that blurb, see the play, and connect the two as being one and the same now in 2019, and putting on a production of it seems the best way to find an answer to that. 

What is your vision of how to present Rob to an audience? Should observers feel engaged with him, repelled, sympathetic, or something else?

I want Rob to cause the audience a headache. He is a wonderfully layered character to explore, full of contradictions, instabilities and deep seated issues and his shocking lack of self awareness can pivot so suddenly into absolute clarity making him one hell of a story teller.

The journey he takes us on is hugely engaging but Rob can be frustratingly erratic when he chooses to tell or drop his story, and what he chooses to tell us. Remembered events sometimes flows out of him easily, and at other times seems to spurt out of him involuntarily and cause him tremendous pain.

The power of Stacy is that it doesn’t necessarily paint Rob as an irredeemable monster, he is so very human and his desperate need to connect to the audience and make us understand him shows at least at some level that he understands what he has done and now has no idea how to come to terms with it.

Rob is defined by his relationship with power, isolation and the sense of entitlement that comes with growing up pretty, and receiving attention and praise with ease as a result, but what makes him dangerous is his recognisability. Rob is disturbed, definitely, but he lives a normal life, has normal issues and fears, and he is in no way a one off case. 

Some productions of the play have chosen to utilise the set to make its own comment on Rob’s state of mind.  Without giving too much away, what should audiences expect on stage at the Etcetera?

In terms of staging, we have kept things very simple for our rendition of Stacy, in order to keep the story as focused and as aware of its surroundings as possible. Our Rob knows that he is in a theatre, and that he is presenting himself and his story to the audience.

As a result, it is an actor, a stool and over 700 cued projections, many of which give faces to the people he speaks of. With such a simple set, Rob is free to fill the space with his stories and he paints pictures of people and places wherever he chooses as he takes us on the harrowing presentation of the previous few days of his life. 

Tell me something about the company putting on this production.  I know you are recent graduates, and I’d like to hear a bit more.

Originally based in the small town of Felixstowe, Suffolk, Inkwell was formed by a trio of theatre makers: Sean Bennett, Ruby Lambert and Keelan Swift-Stalley. The company then began running productions at the University of East Anglia, recruiting fellow student Ned Caderni as a director, and I got involved as an actor having worked with Ned on previous productions. I acted in their 4 star Camden People Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya and during that time pitched to them my vision for this production.

Several months later, after Ned and I graduated, Inkwell got in touch with me and said they were holding a slot for me to direct and have financially backed me throughout, giving me full creative reign, which has been a fantastic and informative experience.

What is particularly appealing as a director about putting together a one-person show?

A one person show means intense rehearsals. There is absolute focus on one performer which gives us the luxury of working through tiny details and nuances as well as lengthy character discussions. Peter Hardingham is excellent at multi-roling but rather than just finding character quirks we were able to hot seat him as each character and find depth to them, regardless of their importance or amount of time being enacted.

Doing a show that focuses on such a sensitive topic with such a complex, unreliable central character, means that Peter and I have been able to work collaboratively to find the humanity in Rob, and safely test boundaries and interpretations of the text until we settle on a version that fet truest to the both of us.

Finally, how does Stacy fit into the recent climate of #Metoo and gender fluid debating?

I was asked a lot during the audition process if my reasoning behind doing Stacy now in 2019 was because of the #MeToo movement but I feel strongly that that isn’t the case. The widespread accounts of sexual abuse were a surprise to no one that has listened to and believed women over centuries of abuse. The notion that a high profile protects you from power dynamics being abused and used against you has been truly dismantled by the movement, which makes it clear that women who have no media influence are even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Stacy puts a spotlight on that.

More often than not, perpetrators are known by and close to the victim, and violent crimes are committed in places that the victims should only associate with comfort and safety. Those that have committed the crime can live their entire lives not believing to have done anything wrong, which is truly terrifying.

By placing the narrative in Rob’s hands, the audience must follow a story affected hugely by his perspective, and battle with the self excusing and unloading of trauma he delivers whilst trying to make himself understood. Forcing an audience to listen to and possibly even relate to a character who explains amongst so many other things that he has violated someone that trusted him, makes it harder to dismiss all rapists as monstrous bogeymen that only exist in shadowy streets, and instead opens up the conversation of consent, assault and the effects of toxic masculinity in our society.

The effects of the #MeToo movement may bring in a more critical and open minded audience, and an audience that sadly, may be less shocked by what unfolds, but Stacy was just as relevant when it was written in 2007, as it is now. 

My thanks to Caoimhe for her detailed and thoughtful answers, and to Ned for facilitating our interview.

You can book tickets for Stacy (which runs until the 10th March) at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/details.php?show_id=2891


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