Wilton's

News

Stories and announcements

10Aug. 2017.

“She will never tell this story to anyone, to any other living soul ...

. . . so the audience becomes part of her psyche, part of her . . . they get to peek behind the curtain, peel back the layers of her mind and look inside.” Director, Bruce Guthrie on Ella Gericke, the central character in Manfred Karge’s Man to Man, played by Margaret Ann Bain.


The play was Karge’s first. Born in 1938, he trained as an actor and was talent spotted, persuaded by Brecht’s wife, Helene Weigel, to leave drama school and join the couple’s Berliner Ensemble company – with which he is still closely associated, despite partings along the way. He wrote Jacke Wie Hose for his wife, Lore Brunner, who longed to get her teeth into a lead role after years as an ensemble actor. Karge based his story on what he believed to be an urban myth: a woman is widowed during the depression of the 1920s and takes on her dead husband’s identity and job in order to survive. Years later, he was sent a newspaper report confirming that the story was, in fact, true. The real Ella kept up her deceit for 12 years, whereas his fictional character sees it through many decades to retirement, by which time she has all but lost her own identity, drowned in the macho, cheap liquor-soaked world she has inhabited for so long.


The first English translation as Man to Man, by Anthony Vivis, was directed by Stephen Unwin at Edinburgh’s Traverse in 1987, with a young Tilda Swinton as Ella. She reprised the role at the Royal Court and, again, five years later in the film directed by John Maybury. Since its German premier in 1982, the play has been translated into 30 languages and staged around the world in countless productions. Man to Man is Wales Millennium Centre’s first, full in-house production and began its journey there in March 2015, before selling out at Edinburgh later that year. Now, WMC are bringing this bold and widely-praised version to Wilton’s as part of their landmark first national and international tour, which will take it from Cardiff, via Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Liverpool, to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music. 


Poster for the Royal Court production, Tilda Swinton in John Maybury's film and Manfred Karge

Manfred Karge’s text, which has been compared to Eliot’s The Waste Land, comprises 27 ‘scenes’ or stanzas, each representing an individual memory re-lived by the now ageing Ella. He was always more interested in ordinary folk than heroes and villains so key events in 20th century German history are presented through Ella’s eyes, through the filter of her experience, from within her humble, fear-ridden existence.


Margaret Ann Bain talks about the 2015 production and her role as Ella playing Max

Alexandra Wood’s translation, commissioned for this production, is the first by a woman, offering a female perspective on the plight of a woman whose life depends on successfully passing herself off as a man through the rise and fall of Nazi rule and beyond. Despite this historical context,
Producer Pádraig Cusack, points out that "It oozes with contemporary resonances that could not be more pertinent today, not least the startling reality that women’s inequality remains rampant".  Karge, influenced by the Brothers Grimm, had written the original as a modern German fairy tale but Bruce felt that previous translations had lost touch with that influence. Alexandra’s interpretation re-connects with those more magical elements, as well as tapping into Bruce’s love of German expressionistic cinema, prompting him and the creative team to conjure up a mood of shadowy, spooky beauty. What’s more, Karge deliberately omitted stage directions – a generous gift which, combined with Alexandra’s translation, opened up a wealth of possibilities for set, light, sound and projection; the latter, designed by Andrzej Goulding, was also greatly inspired by Karge’s relatively recent addition of a new section to include the fall of the Berlin Wall.
 

Andrzej Goulding on his projection design for Man to Man

Early in the creative process, Bruce Guthrie explained that “This adaptation will very much be about taking the audience on a sensory journey as opposed to a narrative one, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to evoke different reactions from the audience based on the series of memories that are explored… It’s a fantastic play, and we’ll be trying various different techniques to establish a language and relationship with the audience, to take them on a journey with the character: projection, lighting, the way that we interact with the set, or with the audience, or the physicality of the piece.”

Bruce acknowledges that its episodic nature makes Man to Man very different to anything he has directed before, for stage or screen. His recent work has included The Bridge Project: Richard III with Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey and directing the recent 20th anniversary tour of Rent. Here, in stark contrast, he co-directs a cast of one, who just happens to be his wife. His co-director is Scott Graham, Artistic Director of Frantic Assembly, the renowned physical theatre company responsible for movement in The National Theatre’s multi-Olivier winner The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, to name just one of their highly acclaimed works. The two have collaborated before, including on The Merchant of Venice for Singapore Repertory Theatre, and work together in perfect harmony – fortunately for their outnumbered cast of one.


Scott Graham and Bruce Guthrie discuss co-directing Man to Man

Maggie toured with Frantic Assembly’s uncompromising boxing drama Beautiful Burnout so is no stranger to the rigours of Scott’s approach to physical theatre. She has acted on stage and screen for over 15 years and appeared in Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe last year. Even though she can boast considerable prowess at many demanding sports, from middle distance running to cycling and martial arts, Maggie still has to follow a punishing training regime to prepare for a show in which Scott literally has her climbing the walls of Ella’s decaying apartment. 


As Bruce remarked when the show was in its infancy, “It’s all up for grabs because the text is so rich and the memories are so potent. It’s going to be very exciting.” We know it will be and we can’t wait to share it with our audiences. Despite his advancing age, Manfred Karge makes a point of visiting as many productions of his play as possible. We sincerely hope he will catch this revival as it tours, especially during its run at Wilton’s.



Man to Man runs 12th to 23rd September and you can buy tickets here. We are also delighted to present some special post-show extras:  a Q&A with the creative team on 14th September and a discussion between Alexandra Wood and Bruce Guthrie on their reworking of the play on 18th September.





Read more
27Jul. 2017.

Zigger Zagger, Zigger Zagger, Oi, Oi, Oi!


It’s fifty years since National Youth Theatre made history with Zigger Zagger, the first play to tackle the subject of football hooliganism.


After devoting their first decade to Shakespeare with an occasional nod in the direction of Ben Johnson or George Bernard Shaw, they took a bold step in commissioning this groundbreaking work from Peter Terson. Terson was still a relatively young writer and one of the grittiest, yet still poetic, playwrights of the time. Zigger Zagger was first staged at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre in 1967, screened by the BBC the same year, then enjoyed eight revivals and tours over the next 20 years. The play was the beginning of a long and highly successful collaboration between NYT and the prolific Peter Terson, with the company staging 11 more of his plays in 18 separate productions.  NYT’s founder and first Director, the legendary Michael Croft, always referred to his best times at NYT at The Terson Years. “Peter Terson was the writer I’d been looking for since we started,” Croft told The Stage’s Nick Smurthwaite in his final interview before he died in 1986, “somebody who could write plays for kids without patronising them, someone with a keen and wise eye, and a generosity of spirit towards the more unlikeable aspects of human nature.”

Reactions to the play were far in excess of anything expected and Zigger Zagger drew packed houses, attracted massive critical acclaim and generated a great deal of press and media interest. In his review for The Observer, Ronald Bryden commented “It leaves the back of one's neck in no doubt that something very big and happy indeed, in the person of Peter Terson, is about to happen to the British theatre”; and Benedict Nightingale describes it as “what may be the best football play yet”, claiming that Terson had “surpassed himself with this commission for the National Youth Theatre” when listing Zigger Zagger in The Times Great Moments in Theatre in 2010.


Scenes from the 1967 production featuring Nigel Humphreys as Harry Philton and Tony May as Zigger Zagger


Revivals in London and Barcelona from 1968, 1975 and 1987

Fifty years to the week after it took the theatre world by storm, NYT will revive Zigger Zagger here at Wilton’s as part of its East End Season. Rehearsals begin next week and we’re really looking forward to bringing you  glimpses behind the scenes and sharing the fun with you.

In the meantime, to give you an idea of the zeitgeist of the scene onto which Zigger Zagger exploded, here is a reminder of what was going on in 1967 (in no particular order and far from exhaustive):

It was the Summer of Love
Harold Wilson was in Number Ten
The UK applied for EEC membership
BBC Radio One was launched
So was the QE2
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Marianne Faithful were arrested for drugs offences
The Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalised male homosexuality
Sandie Shaw went barefoot and won the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Puppet on a String’
Manchester United won the Football league First Division
Kings Road and Carnaby Street were hot spots to shop and Biba in Kensington was a Mecca for fashion-lovers
Vidal Sassoon still reigned as Scissor King
Jimi Hendrix recorded ‘Purple Haze’ and first set fire to his guitar on stage at the Finsbury Park Astoria
The breathalyser was introduced
The inquiry into the Aberfan disaster blamed the National Coal Board for the deaths of 164 people, mostly children, the previous year
Playwright Joe Orton was battered to death by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell in their Islington flat; Halliwell then committed suicide
The Forsyte Saga was on the telly (the first time round); so was The Prisoner, Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars
ITV launched News At Ten as Sooty abandoned the BBC to join it
BBC2 carried the first  scheduled colour television broadcast
Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman and Elvis married Priscilla
Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead premiered at the Old Vic and Olivier staged it at the National later that year
The Evening Standard Theatre Awards announced A Day in the Death of Joe Egg as Best Play and Sweet Charity as Best Musical
The Abortion Act was passed
The Queen Elizabeth Hall opened
Blow-Up was in the cinemas, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin plus David Hemmings in a role inspired by Swinging London photographer David Bailey
Meanwhile, the real David Bailey was shooting Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve (then his wife) and Twiggy
Also on at the flicks: The Graduate, Casino Royale, Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie and Clyde and The Jungle Book
The first ATM dispensed cash from a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield
The St Pancras Station and Former Midland Grand Hotel was Grade I listed
Pink Floyd released their debut album and single
Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape was published
Ford started making their super-new car in Dagenham – they named it the Escort
The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and opened their Apple Shop on the corner of Paddington and Baker Streets
The world’s first live satellite broadcast included the Beatles performing ‘All You Need is Love’
Scott Walker recorded his first solo album
Meanwhile, over the water, Aretha Franklin recorded ‘Respect’
Alan Ayckbourn had his first major West End success with Relatively Speaking at the Duke Of York’s Theatre
The Conservatives won the Greater London Council elections
The Kray brothers murdered Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie
Forty nine people died in the Hither Green rail disaster and eighty four were killed when a British Midland Airways plane crashed near Stockport

Read more
13Jul. 2017.

A Very Special Centenary



On 6 April 1917, US President Woodrow Wilson abandoned neutrality to join Britain and its allies at war with Germany. The following day, George M Cohan wrote a song titled ‘Over There’. It took him barely two hours. Despite not being published until June or publicly aired until the autumn of that year, it became the most popular song of the First World War, selling more than 2 million copies. A century later, it will be performed here at Wilton’s and is the title of the London English Song Festival’s annual celebration of words and music through song and poetry.


This year’s festival is the second in LESF’s series commemorating the First World War and follows 2016’s Songs of the Somme. The festival was founded in 2011 by Artistic Director, award-winning pianist and conductor, William Vann. Conscious of the English tendency to be reticent about sounding our own trumpet (sorry, couldn’t resist that), William responded by creating this platform for promoting and celebrating the wide and varied repertoire of English Song in London and throughout the UK. The festivals present lesser known and performed works alongside all-time classics, art songs alongside popular music hall ditties and dramatised performances by marrying the music with readings and images. They have collaborated with organisations such as the Imperial War Museum and attract internationally renowned artists such as James Gilchrist, Dame Ann Murray, Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside. Some of you may recall that Simon Callow took the role of guest reader for Songs of the Somme and may have read his blog post about the show.



The power of popular music, song in particular, is undeniable. Long before people gathered round a radio or television, before computers, the virtual world and social media were dreamt of, families, friends and communities clustered around pianos and they sang together. As a consequence, by the turn of the Twentieth Century, sheet music sales were booming as every front parlour, every pub or bar, every church, village and civic hall rang with the sounds of the latest tunes. Communal singing, especially in times of crisis, helps to forge common bonds and galvanise people into action. No surprise, then, that song lyrics can so accurately reflect social or political trends and can so easily be used for propaganda. This is clearly illustrated by the way that American sheet music  - with over 35,000 songs copyrighted during the war – perfectly maps changing attitudes in the lead up to 1917. Initial anti-war sentiments were expressed in songs such as ‘Uncle Sam won’t go to War’ and ‘I didn’t raise my Boy to be a Soldier’ . As events unfolded which made it clear that America could no longer remain neutral, those sentiments gave way to the likes of ‘When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez-vous Francais’ and ‘Hang the Kaiser to a Sour Apple tree’. Plus, of course, the marvellous (and rather less bellicose) ‘Over There!’.





Meanwhile, in England, a movement christened the ‘English Musical Renaissance’ by music critics had been burgeoning since the turn of the Twentieth Century. Rather than the then dominant style of German Lied, this nurtured a very home-grown song tradition, one which endured through both world wars. In particular, composers such as Hubert Parry, George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney were setting the poetry of writers such as Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and poet of an earlier war, A E Housman. These were poems driven by romanticism, sentimentality and idealisation of the pastoral, rich in rural imagery. This resulted in verse which was overwhelmingly preoccupied with England and redolent of Englishness. Small wonder that this was extremely popular during WW1. These songs may not have had the mass appeal of ‘Over There!’ but there is no doubt that they heightened national feeling and contributed effectively to wartime propaganda. Young Gurney signed up in February 1915. His yearning for the beauty of his native Gloucestershire countryside is a constant theme throughout his wartime works and he often compared the safety of his personal pastoral idyll to the hell of the trenches. He was not alone. Think of Canadian John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields', Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and Edward Thomas’s ‘Lights Out’, to name a few.


Ivor Gurney

Such are the works and themes explored by Over There! through music, song and poetry. And, to really get you in the mood, there will even be a selection of original 1917 recordings of some of the year’s most popular songs, playing before the performance begins.

William Vann will be accompanying an acclaimed group of singers and musicians: mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, tenor Nick Pritchard, bass-baritone Craig Colclough and Louise Williams on viola. They will be joined by a very special guest reader, William K Gorrie. William studied singing, acting and dancing in his youth, before being called for National Service in 1959. He then served a further 17 years as a professional soldier whilst continuing to act and direct in theatre and light entertainment. William now resides at The Royal Hospital Chelsea as one of London’s iconic Chelsea Pensioners. When William Vann directed Britten's Noyes Fludde at the Royal Hospital’s Wren Chapel in 2013, William Gorrie played the Voice of God so they are both thoroughly delighted to be working together again.


William K Gorrie

Education is at the heart of LESF’s work and, with generous support from the Concordia Foundation and The Foyle Foundation, there will be two educational matinées for children, which will include an introduction from William Vann and a Q&A session with the artists; the team describe the 2016 Q&A as one of their greatest educational highlights to date! LESF also run an annual children’s competition  to design the educational progamme cover and the winners will be announced at the matinée shows.

Over There! runs 18 to 20 July with educational matinées on Wednesday and Thursday. You can book tickets here.


Read more
25Jun. 2017.

A Taste of Hong Kong


Think of Hong Kong. What springs to mind? What sights? What sounds? Whether you know the city intimately or have only glimpsed this vibrant, cosmopolitan hub in magazines and on-screen, Hong Kong Episodes will surprise and delight you.


Hong Kong Episodes was created for the 2015 biennial World Cultures Festival, a celebration of the rich and diversified cultures around the world through music, dance and theatre. For their 10th anniversary festival, The Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong felt it was rather incongruous to present artists from many other countries yet none from the host city itself. So they commissioned a work from two of Hong Kong’s foremost native musicians and composers: Fung Lam and Teriver Cheung.

Fung Lam has yet to reach the age of 40, yet has a profile at least as distinguished as many his senior. His works have been performed by internationally renowned orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, London Symphony and Tokyo Philharmonic. In 2007 he became the youngest Chinese composer, and the only one from Hong Kong, to be commissioned by the legendary BBC Concert Orchestra; his Unlocking, inspired by an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was featured in BBC Radio 3’s ‘Discovering Music’. Another work, Endless Forms, was premiered at the 2012 BBC Proms.


Fung Lam

Teriver Cheung is a world-renowned jazz guitarist and composer with a difference. Influenced by classical piano training from the age of five, he has developed a distinctive style of playing and composing, which has won him great acclaim in the highest jazz circles. After studies at home and in the USA, Teriver has toured extensively in Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico and America and appearing at just about every jazz festival in the world. After moving to New York City in 2009, he became an important figure on the jazz scene, as a bandleader as well guesting with influential musicians such as Latin Grammy Award winner Eddie Gomez, Billy Drummond and Jeremy Monteiro. Teriver has guested on many recordings, made his own albums and owns his own record label.


Teriver Cheung

Put the two of them together and what do you get? Fung explains that as soon as they put their creative heads and hearts together, they agreed on the essential elements of Hong Kong Episodes, one of which was the reversal of the usual scenario. “We wanted to include visual elements but in a similar role to the soundtrack to a movie – it should add something to the overall experience but not overtake the main focus of the music. We also wanted to divide the concert into a number of ‘episodes’ to present a virtual 24-hour day in Hong Kong. In the original production, we presented 12 episodes at two-hour intervals, but in this new 2017 touring version, we have eight episodes at three-hour intervals.” They also knew that they did not want to portray the stereotypical view of a city comprised exclusively of high-rise buildings and teeming streets. “We wanted to re-present Hong Kong in a slightly different light.  Familiar places (to locals, at least) would be presented visually from different artistic angles which, when combined with original music, creates an interpretation that is strangely familiar yet refreshingly different.” That refreshingly different view is seen through the eyes of architect Anthony Lai, who adds an extra dimension to the audience's experience.


Snapshots of just a few of Anthony Lai's striking images

Musically, this is very much an equal partnership with half of the pieces written by Fung and half by Teriver. "My music is often more contemplative in nature, leaving space for the jazz musicians to improvise.  Teriver’s music is often more vibrant and uplifting.  I think it makes a nice contrast.”

It most certainly does and you can savour the very special flavours of Hong Kong Episodes on 7 and 8 July.

To keep you in the mood, flamboyant pianist Fingerman (aka Kajeng Wong) will lead an exciting trio of performances from the innovative young Hong Kong musicians of Music Lab on 10 and 11 July. Book for both Hong Kong Episodes and Music Lab to take advantage of our 20% discount offer. Both shows are presented by Hong Kong Arts Development Council and Music Lab is also a co-poduction with Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London.
Read more
25May. 2017.

Food for Thought


‘Been there, seen it, done it’ is an expression that could well have been coined with Elizabeth Pisani in mind.


Born in the US, raised and educated in Europe and Hong Kong, Elizabeth speaks French, Spanish and Indonesian and modestly describes herself as able to 'fake' Mandarin. She has an MA in Classical Chinese from Oxford, an MSc in Medical Demography from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology. She began her career as a foreign correspondent. Her work for Reuters, The Economist and Asia Times thrust her into Tiananmen Square as the troops invaded, into Aceh to cover the civil war and, at less risk to life and limb, into Hong Kong to investigate the impact of the 1986 stock market crash on nightclub hostesses. Her zest and curiosity have prompted her to live, work and travel extensively, particularly throughout the Far East. She has written books, as well as countless essays, research papers and reports and has delivered two TED talks. She swapped one high-level career for another when she became an epidemiologist and insists that the skills are the same: find the right people; ask them the right questions; organise and analyse the information intelligently; communicate it to people who can do something about it. She has advised health ministries and organisations the world over and now runs her own public health consultancy. Here is a woman who has even taken tea with a stranger’s dead granny, for heaven’s sake. But she has never channelled her zeal to spread the word about what really drives decision making in global health, and the mismatch between need and resource, into creating a musical show. Until now.

In the autumn of 2014, Elizabeth dropped in, on a whim, to see Grand Union Orchestra’s spectacular Undream’d Shores at the Hackney Empire. Witnessing the phenomenal energy GUO generated around the weighty subject of migration scratched at an itch she’d been harbouring for a while. After years studying the data, Elizabeth knows that the diseases causing most suffering around the world are rarely those receiving the lion’s share of attention or funding. Yet the health establishment’s answer is to keep throwing ever more technical evidence at the problems, ignoring historical, social and political evidence and solving nothing much in the process.

Elizabeth yearns for a different approach. What about music, for instance? Why not take the statistics around a disease  - geographical spread, demographic, the amount of publicity it gets, how well treatment is funded – and assign musical elements such as rhythm, tempo, volume or specific instruments to each? Could people ‘hear’ the difference between diseases and the way the world treats them? Surely, this might set people thinking more creatively than what she describes as endless "po-faced conferences with power point presentations to an audience that has seen them all before".

So she stuck her neck out and emailed Tony Haynes, GUO’s founder and, for over 30 years, it’s composer and artistic director. Fortunately, Tony (no stranger to Wilton's) is also a great fan of long shots. With support from Wellcome Trust, many brainstorms, workshops, revelations, discussions, dinners and disagreements later, Song of Contagion premiers at Wilton’s in a few weeks. "I was so thrilled when Tony agreed to take on the challenge. I’ve worked with lots of brilliant scientists, but Song of Contagion is my first collaboration with musical genius, and it has been a real education.”



The very first workshop and, after an inspiring brainstorm, Tony Haynes explores the similarity between the didgeridoo and London's drains

Their first task was to decide which diseases to feature and the final work explores five stories. Here’s how Elizabeth describes them:

Cholera: London versus Kolkata: the disease was rife in both during the 1850s but their outcomes differ radically. When The Big Stink drove parliamentarians out of their riverside offices, pure self-interest led them to authorise funding for Bazalgette’s sewers, which happened to halt the water-borne disease in its tracks. In India, where such environmental investment has never been made, cholera continues to cause death and misery.



Zika versus dengue fever: both are spread by the same mosquito, Zika does not kill, yet received huge publicity when it was linked to a few thousand cases of abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development in Brazil in the run up to the Rio Olympics. For decades, dengue has killed 10-20,000 people every single year (many of them children), expensively hospitalising half a million or more, yet few people know of it and it never hits the headlines. Images of deformed babies make front page news but photographically unremarkable dengue shock syndrome never will.


Guilty!

HIV in the US versus Africa and the first case of successful patient activism: faced with the US government’s inaction, the well-connected, media-savvy gay community bravely campaigned for research and drugs, pulling stunts such as closing down the Stock Exchange for the first time in history. Treatment was available far sooner than it would have been without them. Meanwhile, the high cost of those drugs was prohibitive for sufferers in other continents, especially sub-Saharan Africa. But US public support (and George W Bush’s $60 billion in aid) for the campaign for cheaper drugs and treatment for Africa was only won after victims were widely shown to be innocent women and their babies, rather than gay men, drug users and prostitute.


AIDS on a graph and on a stave

Coronary heart disease and ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’: though it may just end up killing you, particularly if corporate lobbyists from the food and sugar industries have their way and block public health measures to reduce consumption.

Post traumatic stress disorder – inequities in diagnosis and treatment:  if you are a soldier with a rich country and a guilty government behind you, you will probably get treatment for the effects of dropping bombs on people. If you’re a civilian and those bombs killed your husband and three children, you will probably just be left to get on with it.

Through traditional music hall songs, African drum beats, Brazilian samba, strings, brass, sitars and the gamelan, plus all-too-human voices from around the world, these stories will colourfully and energetically unfold. And, hopefully, no-one will resist the urge to get on their feet for the Dengue Merengue. “Tony’s brilliance is that he manages to create shows that are simultaneously thought-provoking, moving, and damned good fun."

Elizabeth is keen to stress, however, that there will be no preaching or heavy messaging. "This is a fascinating topic, full of questions and answers with so much yet to learn. It encompasses all of life around the world. Yet what drives it is so embedded in our lives - the way we do business and so on - that we’re not necessarily aware of it. We’ve tried to make more explicit things that we don’t always articulate. We simply want to provoke thought and hope that people will perhaps question for the first time – why am I being sold this drug and not that one? Why have I heard of Zika but not dengue shock syndrome? Then begin to find answers and make connections. And, above all, have fun!"

There will certainly be plenty of opportunities for all that and more as the show will include schools and family matinees plus pre- and post-show presentations and discussions (strictly NOT po-faced). There is even an East End cholera walk ending at Wilton’s in time for the show.


Elizabeth delivering TED talks and with the portable tools of her trade(s): laptop and beer

The irony of all this is that music is one talent Elizabeth Pisani claims to lack in abundance. Aged seven, her piano teacher proclaimed her ‘unteachable’ after one lesson, insisting on refunding the full term’s fees there and then. Who knows, perhaps it was not being constrained by knowledge of musical theory that allowed her to make that creative leap and see (hear?) music as a new way to present these issues?

Song of Contagion runs 13 to 17 June. See our website for full details of all performances and associated events.

If you would like to read more about the fascinating story behind Song of Contagion and read the blog tracking its development, visit the website here.

Portrait of Elizabeth Pisani by Marit Miners.

Read more
27Apr. 2017.

On being Othello and Desdemona



Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Othello opened in Bristol to a barrage of ecstatic reviews. A great deal has already been said about the production so, ahead of its arrival here at Wilton’s, we thought we would bring you a very personal account of what it’s like to get under the skin of one of Shakespeare’s most tragic couples, in conversation with Norah Lopez Holden and Abraham Popoola.


Both Abraham and Norah graduated from RADA in 2016. How does it feel to play such iconic Shakespearean roles in such a high-profile and acclaimed production so early in their careers and how familiar were they with the play beforehand?

A:  I feel privileged, very privileged. I studied the play for my English Literature degree at University of Westminster and used one of Othello’s monologues as my audition piece for drama school. I was then lucky enough to play the role at RADA in an abridged version for secondary schools. Their responses were fascinating, especially an all-boys school where they were really hot, sweaty and bored; all they wanted was action but, during the quieter moments, they were riveted. It was amazing to see how we could grasp their attention, even though some were harder to win over than others. I do believe we were helping to open their eyes to something new.

N: I studied it in the sixth form and loved it. It seemed so different to any other Shakespeare I’d come across before because it’s so economical in terms of its exposition. The story unravels so quickly. We have a joke in the company that it could easily make a Netflix one-part drama! I would once have been scared by a part like this and hadn’t imagined myself, with my Manchester accent, playing Shakespeare. It’s easy to get caught up in what are often perceived as the dos and don’ts of Shakespearean acting. Desdemona has always been dusted over as this very naïve, wishy-washy sort of creature. Like many young actresses, I’m inclined to gravitate more towards women with substance, with meat on their bones, so I was actually more drawn to Emilia. When this audition came through, though, I really looked at the story from Desdemona’s perspective for the first time and realised that she’s a headstrong young woman with the balls to stand up for herself. The first thing we see her do is defy her father.



Norah and Abraham not only studied together at RADA, they are also friends off-stage. Has that made a difference to their experience of playing Othello and Desdemona?

N:  We’re definitely comfortable with each other and, of course, our training together means we’d already broken down all the barriers of discomfort around things like love scenes. There have been plenty of laughs around our difference in height – I’m barely 5’ 6” and Abe’s 6’ 5”. If we need an intimate moment, he has to either pick me up or sit down! Although the physical difference perfectly reflects the changing relationship. In the beginning, he is this big, strapping, sexy man who literally sweeps me off my feet and carries me away. As events unfold, he becomes completely overpowering so that I can’t defend myself against him. Our physicality mirrors the opposition where everything turns from good to bad – the almost erotic heat of Cyprus becomes stifling and oppressive, Othello’s being a muslim lends him an exotic, attractive otherness at first, which then becomes terrifying as she realises “you’re a stranger, I don’t know anything about you”.

A:  I think our friendship and prior knowledge of each other’s acting has definitely helped us to explore the characters further. It also means we’re there to support each other when the play weighs heavy. It’s almost inevitable for me that some residue of the character lingers in me during the run and there are aspects that I’ve been affected by. I may never have killed my wife or led an army but the paranoia Othello feels, fuelled by the racism he encounters every day, that’s something I have felt. It’s close to home in that sense. It’s double-edged – in some ways it's a strength, being able to use my own experience to play the character, but it’s difficult when it reflects negative experience in your life. Whenever I’ve been struggling with that, it’s been good to know I have a friend there who understands me.


In rehearsal

Despite their previous knowledge of the play, there are elements of Director Richard Twyman’s production that are still fresh and unexpected.

N:  It’s really exciting to be in a production that deals with the female voices. They are so often overlooked as Othello is presented very much as about a group of soldiers - a man’s play, set in a man’s world. Yet the three women’s voices are so distinct and have such purpose. The relationship between Emilia and Desdemona has been a revelation. I had always read (and been taught to read) them as dowdy, cynical Emilia and naïve, stupid Desdemona but that does no justice to the characters, and denies all the nuances in-between. Their relationship is particularly sad and illustrates another about-turn as Desdemona becomes increasingly trapped in her marriage and loses her grip on her own strength and the oppressed Emilia gains courage to make a stand. There’s a scene between the two, the only scene with only women present, where the great unspoken truth underlying their conversation is that Desdemona is being abused by her husband. It’s also a play about domestic abuse, which still goes on today; nothing much has changed.

Katy (who plays Emilia) and I often marvel at how Shakespeare could hear both Emilia’s and Iago’s opposing voices so clearly and take an almost feminist approach to the way men treat women. The incredible irony is that those women would have been played by men because women were not allowed to play themselves!

A:  The women’s roles were a revelation for me too. It’s been illuminating to discover that this is not just a play about two alpha males. And that Othello can be - is – young. I always delivered my audition monologue as a man much older than myself because I’ve only ever seen the role portrayed by older actors. A director who saw that I’d played the role at RADA once made a point of telling me that I was far too young and shouldn’t think about it until I was 50! That thought was stuck in my head but Richard was keen to make it clear that he saw Othello as a young man. Also that he is a Muslim in hiding, he’s adopted Christianity in order to survive but his true faith is Islam. That and his youth mean he has no choice but to trust the older, more experienced Iago, who has been moving, manipulating and surviving in that society for longer than Othello has even been alive.

N:  Yes, it’s so important that they are a young couple, deeply in love, and Iago’s jealousy is made even worse by being faced with this young man who has everything he wishes he had. Audience feedback from Bristol shows that we really have portrayed that.

A:  It helps that, instead of just hearing other characters talk about the couple before we see them, we actually witness their wedding at the beginning. That’s a new addition for this production.



The cast are now gearing up to seven performances at Exeter Northcott Theatre before heading to Wilton’s. A prospect at which Norah, who has recently moved to London, and Abraham, who hails from Dalston, were particularly excited when they visited us recently.

A:  I’m absolutely buzzing – I can’t wait for the whole cast to come in! And it’s so significant to be doing this play here in Tower Hamlets where there is such a large Muslim population. We overheard conversations in Bristol that suggested we had managed to communicate something to Muslim audiences that they had never seen before so it’s going to be fascinating to see what responses we get at Wilton’s.

N:  Playing in the round here is going to be amazing. I can’t imagine it any other way now because it creates a stifling claustrophobia and you can feel the gender differences in the audience; you sense the male discomfort listening to speeches about the way men treat women and women are held spellbound with the recognition.


As themselves

We couldn't resist throwing in these snippets of Othello trivia: The first play Abraham ever saw was Ibsen's Ghosts at the Arcola. Which just happened to be Norah's first major role after graduating, at Home Theatre in Manchester. They both have friends who were in the recent version of Othello at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Abraham worked with Kurt Egyiawan, who played the eponymous lead in that production, in Three Migrants at the Royal Court, which was also directed by Richard Twyman. 

Othello runs 16 May to 3 June and you can buy tickets here.

You can also read another very personal account from a member of the cast in this blog post from Hayat Kamille, who plays Bianca.

Read more
13Apr. 2017.

A Truly Revelatory Q&A with Boris & Sergey


It's not often that we get a glimpse into the lives, minds and sordid living conditions of a duo such as Balkan Bad Boys, Boris & Sergey. When we do, we feel it is our duty to reveal their secrets to you in a candid Q&A. You may feel the need to wash your hands after reading this.


How long have you been brothers and does it help or hinder your working relationship?
Sergey: We have been brothers all of our lives, though it certainly feels like much longer. I'm clearly being punished for something I did in a past life. In terms of our working relationship, I tend to be the help whereas Boris has the hindrance covered.
Boris: (proudly) Sergey says I'm the biggest hindrance in his life.

What’s your secret for keeping your skin so smooth and lustrous? Dubbin? Lard? Lenor?
Sergey: I take my skin care and personal hygiene very seriously, it's particularly important with all the disease and pestilence that Boris brings into our dwelling. My day typically starts with a bath in two litres of mountain spring water, followed by a hearty thrashing with Sicilian olive branches, performed by twelve stout men of honest character. At night I have myself vacuum packed to maintain my freshness.
Boris: Whereas I experiment with hot and cold, Sergey scolds me with boiling water, and makes me sleep outside at night. Which gives my skin it's natural onion-skin texture. The doctors say if I keep it up I won't see my next birthday, but Sergey doesn't let me have birthdays so I'm not too concerned.

Any tips for the gentlemen on how to succeed with the ladies?
Boris: A judge has ruled that I am no longer allowed to talk about, or be in the vicinity of anything female. I'll have to pay a heavy fine for answering this question.

Woken up with anyone interesting lately?
Boris: Mr Bumbles. I wake up next to him a lot.
Sergey: Who is Mr Bumbles? Some ridiculous cuddly toy that you need for security?
Boris: No, he's some guy who watches me sleep.

Who is your favourite puppeteer?
Sergey: Like any good parent we treat them with equal disdain, they are all expendable.

What's the worst thing you ever smelled?
Both: Fear.

It seems that Boris has been suffering for his art in rehearsals this week. Shame.



You can witness this kind of spectacle and worse, much worse, in Boris & Sergey's Astonishing Freakatorium 9-13 May.
Read more
31Mar. 2017.

Ida Barr's mix-tape

From music hall to old skool, cockney rhymes to east London grime, Ida Barr shares some of the influences behind her Artificial Hip-Hop sound.


Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair




Solange and Beyonce were all that got me through the misery of 2016.  Lemonade and A Place at the Table were never off my Victrola.  This track got me in trouble with the warden in control of my warden controlled flats.  I was humming it under my breath not aware that the mobile hairdresser had arrived.  She reported that I was being difficult and the warden suspended my rights to a half price perm.  Innit tho!


Noel Coward - There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner



A reminder that there are a lot of people who are very keen on making us feel that things are getting worse.  I’ve lived a long time and it seems to be that things have always been going to hell in a dustcart.  But that’s probably a lot of nonsense.  Noel was a lovely fella.  Light on his feet, and kind to his mother.  He was always very charming to me, and once bought me a Eccles Cake at Crewe Station.  That’s the kind of thing you don’t forget.


Mary J Blige – MJB da MVP



As the Notorious IDA, I appreciate this song by the lovely MJB.  MVP means most valuable player and it’s American slang.  I don’t know a IUD from a IOU which has got me into trouble in the past.  There’s too many acronyms about these days, but this is still a smashing song.


Stormzy – Big For Your Boots



Stormzy used to pop round for a tamazepam for his nan from time to time so when we meet now in the lift at Radio 1Xtra is always a delight.  I’m thrilled by his success.  He’s got a lovely sense of humour and is a tip top rapper, which he credits me for.  Maybe he picked up more than prescription medication on those trips up to my flatlette!  


Nadia Rose – Tight Up



Nadia is a lovely girl, she’s never orff my WhatsApp.  And she is right to bring this menace of tight garments to the forefront of our attention.  Some gals look like they are wearing a bandage rather than a garment, which ain’t nobody’s business but their own, but it looks very distressing to a harmonious and healthy life.


TCTS – Do It Like Me



I put this on to get my home help to speed up whilst she’s doing the dado rails.  She can get very lethargic.  This is like aural caffeine.  Kelis is old pal of mine since I covered her Milkshake number for a Complan advert.  ‘My Complan brings the old boys to the yard’


Jidenna - White Niggas



A snappy dresser and an interesting musician.  Jidenna is on Janelle Monae’s label.  I’ve a lot of time for her and her music.  Lovely gal.  When I first heard of her, I thought she was Jonelle the John Lewis own brand which I found confusing.  I was familiar with their pillowslips but hadn’t expected them to bring out futuristic sci-fi narrative RnB.


Missy Elliott – I’m Better



This is namedropping but Missy wrote this number for me about my nasty bout of flu last October.  Me and Missy go way back.  She always stays at mine when she’s in London.  I say, stay in the suite at the Hilton, Miss and come to mine for high tea.  But she prefers my put-u-up.


Michael  Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World



Lovely lad.  Lovely voice.  Treat yourself and have a listen to this.  And an important sentiment.  It’s a little like being an older female in a world which discounts you entirely.  But this is a playlist – not a discussion of intersectionality and oppression.


Lady Leshurr – Queen’s Speech



Finally I’m representing for my girl Leshurr.  Inventive, creative, funny and headstrong.  She’s like me at her age.  She’s going to go far.  But she does owe me a fiver I leant her at Victoria Bus Station when I saw her onto the Birmingham MegaBus last April.  Fair’s fair, Leshurr.  

Listen to the full playlist and follow us on Spotify here. 

Ida performs here 4th & 5th April, tickets available: http://bit.ly/2kUGlFf


Read more
27Mar. 2017.

How to revive a classic without sacrificing your cynicism



It’s more than 50 years since the last major London production of Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, his second greatest achievement after Guys and Dolls.  Now, the creative team behind The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse and Shock Treatment at the King’s Head are in rehearsal, bringing this Broadway classic to Wilton’s in a stylish revival that is bursting with life, energy and very contemporary, cynical humour.




Director, Benji Sperring, is relishing the opportunity to apply his signature style to such an iconic work from the era of big-band musicals. He admits “It is quite a tricky piece, being very much of its time, particularly in its portrayal of the gender stereotypes and office politics of the 1950s – very un-PC by today’s standards”.  Which is what made this musical such a tempting prospect for a man who believes the greatest source of learning for theatre today is the past and who founded Tarquin Productions in order to put a new spin on works that have rather been consigned to history. It is precisely those potentially dating elements that Benji gleefully picks up and runs off with in his own musical-comedy-with-added-anarchy sort of a way.  For him, this musical is all about the weird wackiness of the often unpleasant yet strangely likeable characters and his vision is very much one of cartoon and caricature. Which is not to say that there is no serious or relevant message for 2017 audiences. “With characters using nepotism and sociopathic tendencies to get to the top, there are definitely parallels with what is going on in the US right now. At the end of the day, we see how capitalism continues to screw all of us over and I believe that British arts and theatre have a duty to comment on that. If you can do it with great characters, great tunes and a tap routine, all the better.”


Marc Pickering takes the lead as J Pierrepont Finch

Which is exactly what Benji does, aided by a cast and creative team laden with awards, nominations and accolades too numerous to mention, several of whom have worked magic together under his direction before - anyone who saw Toxic Avenger will be happy to find Marc Pickering, Hannah Grover and Lizzii Hills reunited on stage with Ben Ferguson this time in the Musical Director’s chair. Suffice to say, there will be a roof-raising nine-piece band on stage to accompany such musical theatre royalty as Andrew C Wadsworth and razor-sharp dance routines choreographed by the inspirational Lucie Pankhurst. Meanwhile, we’re all oohing and aahing over glimpses of Mike Lees’ costume and set designs with colour-coded characters and a fun skewing of gender identity that we won’t spoil for you by revealing here.  Mike has created a heightened, stylised setting, unlike anything seen on Wilton’s stage before and which delights in the disconnect between the fast-talking, chain-smoking world of Mad Men chic and our charmingly distressed Victorian music hall.



 So. Can our hero triumph in the boardroom without becoming an unscrupulous monster? Can he live happily ever after with the girl of his dreams, even though she is, quite frankly, completely off her onion? Can the company glamour-puss keep her big secret and save her (and the Chairman's) reputation? Can anyone truly succeed in business without really trying? Find out between 8th and 22nd April. And don't forget to invite us to your next Big Launch.


Read more
16Mar. 2017.

The truth and magic in storytelling



Undermined was conceived when Danny Mellor was required to write, direct and star in a piece as a final showcase for his MA at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. As the grandson of a South Yorkshire miner, with the 30th anniversary of the end of the miners’ strike looming, he saw the opportunity to create a show about a subject close to his heart.



There’s nothing quite so compelling, thought-provoking or entertaining as storytelling at its best. So Danny becomes Dale, down the pub with a pint, simply telling it like it was. Based on real events and first-hand accounts, stories of ordinary and extraordinary day to day events in the lives of ordinary and extraordinary miners and their families during brutal times. No sensational news reports, no politicians, no rhetoric. Just tales of the day a police superintendent in a range rover tried to mow down a snowman, a tedious drive in search of an elusive Welsh pit, an ingeniously simple but effective prank to make fools of riot police. Stories to make you laugh, cry, rage, or all three.



Undermined
’s first airing in Edinburgh attracted high praise: “If only there could be more one man shows like this at the Fringe” (Stef O’Driscoll, Associate Director Paines Plough & Artistic Director of Inner City Theatre); “Other actors could do with taking a leaf out of Danny Mellor’s book. The book would be called How to do a One Man Show Properly” (Chloe St George, EdFringe Review). Such is Danny's craft and passion in conveying the humanity at the heart of one of this country's most controversial and damaging disputes.

If you have read our History Book by Carole Zeidman, you will know that the Methodist Mission at Wilton’s played an important role during times of hardship caused by another historic strike - the dockers’ strike of 1889. Here’s an extract from Carole’s book:

"In 1889 dockers in the port of London went on strike demanding wages of 6d an hour for a minimum of four hours’ work a day. The strike for ‘the dockers’ tanner’ became a landmark in British labour history. Almost everyone living in and around Cable Street, Ratcliffe Highway and Wellclose Square was affected by the strike. John Jameson, the first minister at The Mahogany Bar reported ‘Here we are in the thick of it. This morning it was piteous to see the people. Some of them had had no food for three days’. Peter Thompson, the first superintendent of the East End Mission encouraged the dockers to hold their union meetings at The Mahogany Bar and set up a soup kitchen there to feed the starving dockers and their families.”

All of which makes us doubly proud and thrilled to welcome Danny, duly equipped with pint and chair, to our stage next week. You can catch Undermined 21 to 25 March and can buy tickets here. Cheers!


Read more
  • HLF 2
Your cart  
Check Out