You can watch Sky Arts for free from today

Sky Arts, the TV channel dedicated to culture, arts and music, becomes available on Freeview and Freesat from today, September 17th.

Sky Arts was created in 2000 and was previously only available for paying subscribers to Sky and other pay-TV companies. 

The 24 hour- a -day channel includes in its programming documentaries, movies, operas and more – all related to culture and the arts. They also have a number of shows based around competitions, which may or may not be your “bag”. Not being a Sky customer, I have not experienced the channel before, but I must say that I am naturally suspicious of / resistant to anything which has emanated from the diseased empire of the Murdoch clan.

The channel also has a large library of on-demand content, however this will remain exclusive to NOW TV and Sky subscribers.

On Freeview, you can find SkyArts on channel 11, and on Freesat, on channel 147.


Theatre FootNotes for September 2019 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

SHAPING DUST – A work in progress from company Fancy Another? at the Tristan Bates Theatre (John Thaw Studio) at the start of September. Part of the theatre’s John Thaw Initiative Graduate Season 2019.

Are we still ourselves without our memories? Emma explores her past on her final day in her childhood home.

We open in the present day on Emma’s final day in her childhood home. Searching for a very important tea cup Emma is led through her house, discovering more and more of her memories until she enters an upstairs bedroom and encounters a memory that shakes her sense of self. Described as ‘magical realism on stage’, Fancy Another? uses puppetry, movement and hard-hitting naturalism to explore how identity is formed by memory and how our sense of self changes if we lose our memories. 

Currently only 30 minutes long, this is an early incarnation of a work which focuses on Alzheimer’s and makes some interesting points about the specifics of memory loss, including a brilliant analogy about memories being books in a bookcase and dementia being an earthquake which causes the bookcase to shake.

There was a lot of good work in the show that we saw, with some interesting use of visuals. I think that once they have doubled the length of the show and further developed some of their ideas, then they will have a show I would be pleased to see again.


EITHER – a new play by Ruby Thomas and directed by Guy Jones, at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

As we all know (or remember), our twentysomething years are a time of discovering who we are, what we are and what we want. And often we discover that those we thought we knew are more complex than we might have originally thought.

EITHER introduces itself as “a play about one couple …. who can be of any gender”.

EITHER is a story about two twentysomethings looking for love. Or sex. Or something. The two characters who seem to be in some developing, loose kind of relationship, are tested by the proliferation of opportunities for experimentation. As one character says, “Having an opportunity doesn’t mean that you should take it”

The two characters are played by a total of six actors, who weave in and out of the two main characters, in a sort of acting relay race. It’s intriguing for a while, and it certainly keeps you on your toes, but it reaps diminishing returns. Further, it does also have the downside of fragmenting character and making us rely more heavily on what is said rather than a deeper understanding of the two characters involved. In that sense it is rather unsatisfying.

The play weaves its way around lots of ideas asking more questions than providing answers. And it seems that an abundance of easy opportunities via technological distractions (dating apps, etc) makes it harder for these characters to define what they actually want from their relationships. The feeling from the play is that they are looking for answers from outside themselves, rather than looking inwards.

It’s undoubtedly an interesting take on sex and sexuality, commitment, liberation and labels. Gender-fluid and narrative-fluid as well as actor-fluid, this is a show which keeps moving the goalposts to enable us to see things from different perspectives and to encourage us to ask questions and challenge our assumptions. A late focus on a discovery by one of the character’s fathers who has dementia reminds us that every generation has their fallibilities.

Ruby Thomas’ well-observed dialogue (in her first full-length play) is very twenty-something, self-conscious and a little wince-inducing at times, but it fits the characters and their ongoing development. Guy Jones directs smartly on Bethany Wells’ clever minimal set design.

The two characters age several years though the play, finally returning to a similar conversation that opened the show, which perhaps signifies that they haven’t really got very far. Which sort of sums up how I felt about the play; although the journey was interesting and I am glad to have made time to see it.


Review: ANNA BELLA EEMA

ANNA BELLA EEMA plays at Arcola until 12 October. Details and tickets here

IN BRIEF Compassionate, urban fable highlights the many human costs of change and loss

“The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end” says reclusive Irene to her ten year old daughter Annabella. Holed up in their immobile trailer, the last one standing in a deserted trailer park, the outside world is a hostile place for them, as the approaching new interstate highway threatens their imminent eviction.

Annabella is a spirited girl, but is utterly left to her own devices. So she creates a friend out of the mud, who lives but does not speak. Anna Bella Eema, as Annabella calls her, is more than a playmate, she seems to be a harbinger of change, a volatile mix of threat and comfort. Annabella begins to experience bodily changes which preface her maturing and cause her much anxiety. During the girl’s dream-infested five-day sleep the outside forces surround the trailer and the showdown is a violent affair, leaving Annabella with a potent legacy.

Beverly Rudd’s hair-trigger Irene is fearsomely intense, at times deadpan-quirkily amusing and at others as savage as the wild animals that she relates to. She drifts in and out of fantasy and reality until their boundaries are blurred and then lost.

Gabrielle Brooks gives an engrossing performance as little Annabella, feisty but lonely and very much her mother’s child, shouldering the burden of being caught in the middle of opposing factions while dealing with massive life changes of her own; our hearts go out to her for her courage and determination. Both she and Rudd carry long passages of narration and monologue with skill and great assurance.

Natasha Cottriall plays well all the supporting characters of the outside world, as well as the Golem-like mud-girl, Anna Bella Eema, whose blankly smiling face and strange song-chants arouse our curiosity.

Lisa D’Amour’s script is highly descriptive, with long passages of narration punctuated by sound, song and small pieces of business. Investing the machinery of threat with animalistic predatory qualities, she vividly brings to life the ever-present fear of change and loss by circumstances beyond one’s control, and the primal power of mother-love. Dreams and visions are woven into the fabric of fear and unstoppable change, both in lifecycles and environment, to substantial effect. Having said this, the unreal and fantastical elements of the writing may lead to a variety of different takeaways from this show, which is a useful reminder that fables can have many different interpretations according to who tells them, and how they are told.

The eerie and sometimes siren-like songs are intriguing to an extent, but I did feel that the actual sound design (which was mostly very good) could have been further developed to support one or two of the long passages of text rather more than they did, to give it more texture.

ANNA BELLA EEMA is a slow-burning piece of storytelling which takes time to build but to its credit, it does not sag at all; as directed in Jessica Lazar’s production, it held the audience throughout its 100-minute running time.


ANNA BELLA EEMA plays at Arcola until 12 October. Details and tickets here


Heritage Open Days, now until 22 September

Until 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you. Remember, this may be your only chance this year to see inside a building which interests you. Take advantage of the good weather now!

Shows to look forward to in September 2019

Welcome to September’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.

So, after a rash of festivals in Edinburgh and London, there’s just a moment to catch our breath before the next wave of great shows kicks off in early September. Fasten your seatbelts!

Off-West End

PRELUDES sounds fascinating. Based on a true story of the composer genius Rachmaninoff’s sessions of hypnotherapy, PRELUDES is an intriguing new musical by three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Ghost Quartet). It examines the crippling debilitation and harm the world can do to people, and how the dramatic and musical process can be used as therapy to restore them back into the fullest of creative lives. PRELUDES runs from September 6th until October 12th at Southwark Playhouse.


FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY In a run-down community hall on the edge of town, a woman has been cooking lunch for those in need. A choir is starting up, run by a volunteer who’s looking for a new beginning. A mother is seeking help in her fight to keep her young daughter from being taken into care. An older man sits silently in the corner, the first to arrive, the last to leave. Outside the rain is falling.

FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY is the culmination of a trilogy that began with BEYOND CARING – ‘Unforgettable’ (The Times) – and followed by LOVE – ‘the National’s play of the year, and then some’ (Evening Standard). Alexander Zeldin’s new play promises to be another uncompromising theatrical experience that goes to the heart of our uncertain times. Playing at the National’s Dorfman Theatre from September 9th to October 12th.


Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is an undisputed treasure trove of new writing, and this looks set to continue with EITHER . Running from September 19th to October 26th, Ruby Thomas’ funny, smart and sexy debut play probes our romantic choices in life and explores the human need to connect and be loved – regardless of the ramifications.

A young, loved-up couple are surrounded by life’s infinite possibilities and temptations. And at a time in their lives where they have little responsibility, they’re determined to live this chapter as fully and spontaneously as possible. But in their pursuit to enjoy all that life has to offer, should every opportunity that comes their way be taken?


FALSETTOS , the double Tony Award winning musical from James Lapine and William Finn finally gets its London premiere (courtesy of Selladoor Productions) at the Other Palace from August 30th until November 23rd. Featuring a brilliant cast including Laura Pitt-Pulford (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), Natasha J Barnes (WASTED) and Daniel Boys (AVENUE Q) amongst others.

An hilarious and poignant look at a modern family, FALSETTOS revolves around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbian neighbours, Originally created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion, which reminds us that love is all that really matters.


ANNA BELLA EEMA  “Something is coming. It’s either the interstate or the end of the world”. Precocious child Annabella lives in a deserted trailer park. Schooled by her eccentric mother Irene, she learns to co-exist with the vampires, werewolves and monsters that lurk in the world outside. Desperate to ward off the new highway that threatens the demolition of their home, Annabella steps outside to build a girl out of mud. The girl comes to life. The girl is Anna Bella Eema.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour’s (Detroit, National Theatre) part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy, ANNA BELLA EEMA is a dazzling burst of storytelling from the dark heart of American Gothic. Playing at the Arcola from September 11th to October 12th.


TORCH SONG, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning play about the life and loves of a drag artist in 1970s New York runs from September 6th to October 13th at the Turbine Theatre in Battersea, next to the Power Station. This inaugural production at the venue is directed by Olivier-winner Drew McOnie


FOR SERVICES RENDERED A warm September afternoon in an idyllic English village. Tea is served on the terrace. Sounds of a tennis party float across the lawn. But this England has no place for the heroes of the First World War. No jobs to sustain them, no mantelpieces for their medals, and no money for their debts. Against the odds, three sisters must carve new paths in an uncertain world.

Somerset Maugham’s sharply observed and passionate play is a Chekhovian examination of desire, frustration and hope.

FOR SERVICES RENDERED runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 4th to October 5th. Directed by JST’s Artistic Director, Tom Littler.


HOW LOVE IS SPELT “She wanted spontaneity, adventure… I said I can be spontaneous… I just need a little bit of time to plan.” Peta is new in town and ready for whatever London has to throw at her. She’s looking for romance, for friendship, for exciting people to lead her on big adventures. But being an independent woman in the new millennium isn’t easy, especially when there’s a constant reminder of the life you’re trying to escape. With each new encounter, Peta flirts with what might have been, but has the journey to London put enough distance between her and her past?

This is the first major revival of this fascinating and funny play from Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning playwright Chloe Moss (This Wide Night, Soho Theatre; Dickensian, BBC) which was first produced at Bush Theatre in 2004. How Love Is Spelt is directed by Charlotte Peters (Associate Director War Horse, UK Tour and An Inspector Calls, West End). Playing at Southwark Playhouse from September 4th to 28th.


At the Royal Court from September 3rd to 21st, TOTAL IMMEDIATE COLLECTIVE IMMINENT TERRESTRIAL SALVATION by experimental theatre maker Tim Crouch arrives in London after a controversial season at the Edinburgh Festival.

“You should all have a book.  Does everyone have a book? This book is part of the play. 
In a minute, we’ll all open this book and we’ll invite you to turn the pages.”

The writer manipulates a group of people to sit together and believe in something that isn’t true. The book he’s written predicts it all: the equations, the black hole and all the words we’ll speak until the end.

On this last day, at this last hour, a defector finds her voice and returns.

In this new play, presented through stage action and illustrated text, audience and actors turn the book’s pages together, they study the images and they sometimes share the words out loud.


ALL OF ME is an intimate and absurd exploration of wanting to live, wanting to die and what can happen if we sit together with the dark. Olivier Award nominee Caroline Horton reunites with director Alex Swift (★★★★ How to Win Against History, Young Vic) to bring you the show that happens after the curtain call, when the lights have gone down but the mess remains. Playing at the Yard in East London from September 10th to 28th


Until September 7th at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn, the Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT is in its first major London revival in 30 years. Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Death of A Salesman, Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a steamy compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more.


West End Opening

Well, we have had quite a slew of film to stage adaptations in the last few years, haven’t we? Whilst it’s true that they will never have the same qualities as the originals, they are often worth seeing for the talent involved. A case in point is the restyling of the classic 1951 Ealing comedy THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT which originally starred Alec Guinness. All about a scientist who creates a miracle fibre which doesn’t wear out, the discovery is seized upon by both the mill owners and the trades unions who all want to suppress it. It will be intriguing to see how Sean Foley (adaptor and director) works with the fifties nature of the story and manages to bring his own quirky eye to the story details. Reuniting Foley with Stephen Mangan, (they worked together on JEEVES AND WOOSTER to great success in 2016), this will be an interesting experiment in itself.


Outside London

Manchester is in for a treat. After 50 years Jerry Herman’s classic musical MAME is back! When young Patrick goes to stay with his Auntie Mame, he walks into a fast-living world of fun and and joy. It will be a real treat to see two-time Olivier-winner Tracie Bennett (Follies) (pictured above, top right) as Mame, with the great Tim Flavin and Harriet Thorpe (Absolutely Fabulous) (pictured above, centre) as Mame’s “old, old, old friend” Vera Charles. Get set for some high-octane musical fun! The celebrated score includes the rousing title number, plus “Open a New Window,” “If He Walked into My Life,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Bosom Buddies” and “That’s How Young I Feel.” A tour must follow. Previews from September 28th and playing till November 9th.


Touring the UK

C’est Magnifique! Achieving the near-impossible task of translating a unique French movie to the stage, and doing so in some style, this UK tour of AMELIE will bring a smile to your lips and warmth to your heart, as we follow our heroine helping others but finding it hardest to help herself. With a tuneful score and dynamic Audrey Brisson as Amelie, this is your passport to joie de vivre. See it in September at Eastbourne, Inverness and Southampton . Read my review of the show here


If you love the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan you will enjoy ON YOUR FEET! It has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show. It looks good and sounds just great, with a brilliant band (worth the price of admission alone) who never let the energy flag.

Featuring 26 hits, this Tony Award nominated show ran on Broadway for two years, for over 750 performances. ON YOUR FEET! is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and charts their journey from Cuba to the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “1-2-3” and many more.

ON YOUR FEET! is directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). See it in September at Birmingham, Plymouth, Nottingham and Sunderland. Read my review of the show here


James Lapine and William Finn’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is a musical adaptation of the hit 2006 quirky road movie. It’s touring the UK and is worth a visit. See it in September at Leicester, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Liverpool, where the tour closes. Read my review of the show here


Also….

From 13 to 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you.


Every September since 1992, London Open House has enabled public access to 800+ buildings, many of which are inaccessible at any other time of the year, with associated walks, talks and tours over one very busy weekend, now attracting over a quarter of a million people annually.

22 theatres and 5 cinemas are listed in this year’s offerings, ranging from the grandeur of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s freshly-refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre to the Victorian charms of Hoxton Hall and Wilton’s Music Hall, to more modern offerings such as the National Theatre. All will be open for exploration via tours and/or talks on-site. Tucked away in the “entertainment” category is the first cinema to be Grade-I listed, the incredible Tooting Granada (now rather cheesily-titled Buzz Bingo, but inside still an awe-inspiring and richly-detailed movie palace)

Please note that some sites require advance booking while others do not. Do check with the Open House website on each venue’s individual listing page for full details. Also, a lot of venues will open on just one day of the weekend, not both, so do please check before you travel.

Find out more at the Open House website which you can find here


NT Live Broadcasts

September brings two NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. On September 12th Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings her hit show FLEABAG to UK-wide audiences from the stage of Wyndham’s Theatre.

Then on September 26th (and later dates) it’s the welcome return of one of the National’s biggest successes of recent years, Richard Bean’s ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS starring James Corden in a career-boosting role for him.

To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


London Shows closing

September 7th- BLUES IN THE NIGHT closes at The Kiln Theatre

September 8th- JOSEPH closes at the London Palladium

September 9th- EQUUS closes at Trafalgar Studios

September 14th – THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY closes at the Menier Chocolate Factory

September 21st – EVITA closes at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park

September 28th – THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at the Noel Coward Theatre