Archive for October, 2010


Lingua Franca heads overseas

Wednesday, 27 October, 2010

Chris New and Nathalie Walker in the Finborough production of Lingua Franca

Peter Nichols’s Lingua Franca, last seen at West London’s Finborough Theatre, is heading to New York as a part of the Brits Off Broadway season at 59E59, November 9-28, 2010. Cast at the Finborough included Chris New, Rula Lenska, Charlotte Randle and Nathalie Walker.

Not sure how the Americans will take to this tale of hapless English teachers in Florence during the 50’s. The fact that it is a sequel to Nichols’ successful Privates on Parade might give it a bit of credibility, but the play’s key idea (which seemed to be that the Americans are taking over the world) hasn’t really come true and despite some good performances, it remains a production characterised by energy rather than excellence.

(c) Brent Crude 2010


Momma Holmes’ Stuffing and Gravy Mince

Friday, 22 October, 2010

A pre-show feast

My mum used to make this for me and my three brothers as a quick and nutritious dinner during the winter. The smell reminds me of being back at home all those years ago when the family still existed as a single unit, all under the same roof. Cooking this recipe always makes me smile.

This recipe is also perfect for pre-show feasting! Its mix of veggie mince and wholemeal spaghetti provides energy enhancing carbs whilst not lying too heavy on the stomach!


A handful of veggie mince (frozen Quorn mince is my recommendation)
Half a tin of marrowfat peas
Sage and Onion dry stuffing mix
Veggie gravy – Bisto is a good choice
Garlic pepper
Wholemeal spaghetti


  • Boil the water for the spaghetti, add a pinch of salt and place the spaghetti into the pan – leave this to cook whilst you make the mince mixture
  • Heat a pan with a touch of water and add the veggie mince, leaving for a couple of minutes to start to cook
  • Add a small cup of warm water and stir in 2 large spoonfuls of the gravy mix – keep stirring until there are no lumps (apart from the mince and the peas of course!)
  • Add a large sprinkle of stuffing mix, some garlic pepper (to taste) and the peas and leave to heat for 7-10 minutes
  • Drain the spaghetti, and place on the plate. Pour the mince mixture on top and serve! Voila!

This recipe is great as a winter warmer and because there’s no dairy (so your voice won’t be affected) and the ingredients aren’t too heavy it’s a great meal for scoffing just before a high energy musical performance or audition.

Add a few dashes of Worcester sauce or Tabasco for an extra kick.

(c) Vicki Holmes 21 10 2010

Photo (c) Thejase 2010


Beef & Bean Burritos With Re-Fried Beans

Friday, 22 October, 2010

Claire Lyons likes it hot

Serves 4

500g lean mince meat (organic/free range)
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 250g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 250g tin of mixed beans (berlotti/kidney, any kind you like)
1/2 tsp of cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tbsp tomato purée
250g of medium cheddar cheese, grated
8 tortilla wraps (or 4 large ones)
1 250g berlotti beans
2oz (1/4 cup) milk
Salt and pepper

Claire Lyons (c) Andrew Brucker 2010

Heat the oil in a skillet or heavy frying pan, add the shallots, garlic and chilli and cook until shallots are golden • Meanwhile empty the tomatoes and their juices into a saucepan and heat gently. When shallots are golden add half the mixture from the skillet to the tomatoes. Also add the cumin, chilli powder, tomato purée and mixed beans, simmer for 10-12 minutes while meat cooks • Cook the beef at med/high heat on the skillet with remaining shallots, garlic and chilli for about 12 minutes or until meat is thoroughly cooked through. Heat tortillas in the microwave for 1 minute (or in the oven at 150 degrees centegrade) to soften them • Meanwhile taste the sauce if you’d like it hotter add another 1/2 tsp of chilli powder and season with salt and pepper. Add the meat mixture to the sauce and stir to combine • Place 3 tbsp of the meat/sauce onto the first tortilla. Then top with the cherry tomatos and a tbsp of cheese and tighlty wrap into a burrito (a rectangular parcel, closed on all sides). To ensure the cheese melts put the burritos into a pre-heated oven of 150 degrees for 5 minutes. Make the re-fried whilst they’re in the oven

For the re-fried beans
Empty drained berlotti beans into a separate pan and mash them with a potato masher. Cook at a med heat for about 3 mins, constantly stirring them to a paste. Season with plenty of salt and a little pepper and gradually add milk. Stir vigorously and continue to cook for 2 more minutes

Serve Burritos with refried beans, fresh guacamole and a salad of gem lettuce and sliced tomato.

(c) Claire Lyons 21 October 2010


Tomboy versus Princess

Monday, 18 October, 2010

An Actor’s Confession


Vicki Holmes, actor. (c) Diego Indraccollo 2010


I’m your typical tomboy. A good old fashioned Lincolnshire lass with a passion for the beautiful game I spent many a Saturday afternoon at Blundell Park watching the Mariners with my Dad, my brothers, my father’s close friends, and their sons.  Aged 7, I climbed my first tree and by the time I started secondary school my wardrobe was packed full of football shirts (various seasons and teams) and cargo pants.  I only attended my own parents wedding ceremony on the agreement that I could wear my DM boots. I was blissfully happy with life – my clothes were there to keep me warm and comfortable and not much else.

Cue curves. Quickly and with absolutely no warning (rather rude, I think you’ll agree!) a teenage body emerged. Hips. Breasts. An actual waist! Boys stared and I stared back. This wasn’t the plan! How could I become a famous footballer when the mere thought of running, jumping and diving made me blush? The t-shirts got baggier and the frustration grew. This wasn’t good enough anymore. For the first time in my life I wasn’t content with my looks – I wanted to look pretty but I couldn’t bear flashing the flesh. My sporty wardrobe was gradually replaced with mismatched and rather random articles of clothing that could quite frankly be described as bloody awful.  Needless to say my heart jumps into my mouth every time the old family album is produced. What this time? The days of the dodgy perm? The “gothic” phase? How about the time I dyed my hair orange? That’s always good for a laugh! I needed to find my new identity – and fast.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen as quickly as I’d have hoped. I longed to look like a girl but had no idea how. Such a huge male influence in my life had made me strong, confident and individual but it also made me unsure and uneducated when it came to things like hair, make-up and clothes. This continued into my late teens and even into my early twenties with many a scathing comment about my mismatched outfits and my unexplainable adoration of the colour brown. Yes, brown. Brown boots, brown tights, a brown dress, and on a cold day a brown hat. I loved brown. My hair was brown so surely the colour must suit me- right?! A flat mate of mine once begged me to let her give me a makeover and one hour, three costume changes and a nasty burn from a set of GHD hair straighteners later, I politely thanked her for her hard work and proceeded to shower and change back into my regular wash of brown comfort before daring to take a step out of the front door.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be feminine. I longed to be feminine. I wanted to wear pretty dresses and talk to boys. I wanted to be the girl in the bar with the perfect hair. I was a slim size 8 with a young and feminine face but I felt an allegiance to my sport, to my boyish energy and to that little Lincolnshire tomboy who knew exactly who she was and what she wanted to be. If she saw me stood there, as this arkward twenty year old who refused to pull her hair out of her face she’d laugh. Giggle at me for caring so much and urge me to go back – slip on the old Spurs shirt, Grimsby Town shorts (you need to represent your local team AND your Premiership team) and Adidas jacket. Don’t wear high heels, they hurt! And definitely don’t waste an hour every morning choosing outfits and applying make-up! She’d think I’d gone mad. She’d have had me committed, wouldn’t she?

Heading off to drama school certainly didn’t help matters. Suddenly I found myself on the funky streets of London – everyone knew how to style themselves to perfection. The outfits draped over the bodies of Carnaby Street and Covent Garden were perfectly put together… and if they weren’t, they clashed boldly with an almost arrogant confidence – “This is me, whether you like it or not”. All of my time was spent with trainee actors who oozed confidence and style. Nights out were painful with each and every female member of my year group offering me advice which I was too embarrassed and stubborn to take. Cue the reoccurrence of the brown dress and boots combo for every party.

I tried to find my inner fashionista during my first few years in London. I bought outrageous clothes and took a pair of scissors to them all. I cut, I sewed (albeit not very well!) and I even glued but there was no heart in it. The outfits turned into half-arsed, tacky looking Blue Peter projects and this, for a short while, was what I thought made me “individual”. Of course it didn’t, it just made me look like a crazy student with a distinct lack of style and an obvious lack of funds. It may seem like I’m being hard on myself but I can assure you I’m not. I was confused, young and dumb and it shows all too prominently in our old family photos. Friends and even boyfriends have guffawed with laughter at outfits my early twenties and I turn beetroot red every single time the old photo albums are pulled out. Cringe.

For casting purposes whilst studying at Drama School we were constantly asked to define ourselves, to pin point who we were and be proud of it, but I had no idea who I was. I’d long since given up playing football after a barrage of lesbian jibes and I hadn’t ran or swam for months so even my “sporty spice” persona had become void. This had also led to a recent bit of weight gain which brought on a further drop in confidence. Great stuff! We had every type of girl in my year – the hippy girl, the model, the princess (oh, how I longed to be the Princess!), the diva, the boob-job, the girl with the eating disorder and the sporty chick. I was none of these. I was possibly the least memorable member of Italia Conti’s class of 2008 and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. And in June 2008 I did.

There it was. My identity epiphany! I’d spent years considering how I was labelled and viewed by others and because of that I’d been terrified to take risks. I was scared of other peoples comments and preconceptions and most of all, I was scared of standing out and scared of blending in. I was a young woman in one of the most competitive professions in the whole universe and I was scared of being different! Ridiculous. What sense did that make? So I started my slow search for Vicki. I avoided meeting up with any members of Italia Conti face to face for a few months and I met new friends who didn’t know me as arkward, shy Vicki. I started running again and cycled to and from work every day, gradually slimming down to the size I had been pre-Conti. I also met Troy – A confident Australian with an open heart and an open mind who pushed me when I needed pushing and was my shoulder when I needed support.

I started to buy clothes because I liked them and banned the sentence “that wont suit me” from my vocabulary. My new mantra became “if I like it, then it’s my style”. In Australia, early 2009, I discovered the maxi dress which covered enough skin to make me feel comfortable but with a feminine and floaty edge. And now I live in them, with flip flops and a flower in my hair in Summer and cute ankle boots and a woolly hat in Winter. Christmas 2009 and a role in Dick Whittington at the Gala Theatre was my first introduction to a real costume designer. Tony was there to make me look good on stage and that’s exactly what he did. He told me which colours suited my hair type and skin tone most (blues and purples) and which didn’t (yellows and – you’ve guessed it – brown!). I learnt that spending an extra forty minutes putting an outfit together was okay… it didn’t make you a diva and it gave me a chance to mix and match my wardrobe on a trial and error basis. My outfit choices became more bold and most of the time more feminine and soon picking a set of clothes for the day became second nature. I became confident in how I looked and confident in who I am and it turns out I’m still quite sporty. When how to dress stopped being my main concern I began to take up more of the hobbies I’d left behind. I joined a local ladies football team and bought a new bike as well as registering for the marathon and starting training. These things were me through and through! It turns out my little tomboy was still inside, kicking and screaming and dying to get out but now she was older, she wore pretty dresses and got a kick out of scoring goals AND wearing that perfect pair of heels (but not at the same time). She loved running on the treadmill and running to the shops. Who’d have thought? My tomboy and my Princess weren’t enemies, they were best friends. In fact they’re actually the same person; they’re me. Me when I’m happy and relaxed and all grown up.

As I sit here right now as a twenty-four year old actress, writing this piece I realise that I’m not playing to any kind of stereotype and maybe not having a label has been, and is, a good thing. I’m simply Vicki and none of my fashion alter ego’s (the tomboy, the princess, the sporty one, the rocker) could exist without each other. So I guess what I’m saying is this mish-mash of personas is just me and if you don’t like it… well…. I’m afraid I don’t really care.

(c) Vicki Holmes, 15 October 2010


Floating, by Hugh Hughes

Friday, 15 October, 2010

Child-like energy

Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival 2010 – Smock Alley Studio, Exchange St Lower, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 – 6.00pm on October 14, 1.00pm matinee on October 16-17 (all shows 90 minutes)


This zany and whimsical, yet highly entertaining and engaging show consists of the unflappable Hugh Hughes – and his able assistant, Sioned Rowlands – telling the magical story of how Hughes’ native island of Anglesey floated away from its ancient mooring off Wales into the Atlantic Ocean.

Hughes’ exuberant manner is reminiscent of a show for children, but somehow avoids being patronising, even though most of the audience are adults.  Perhaps this is because of a certain wicked wit that sparks occasionally through the joyful and overwhelming positive style of both performers.  Hughes’ style is not unlike that of a standup comic, interacting fearlessly with his audience – although he doesn’t fall into the standard format of buildup and punchline but adopts a storytelling approach.

The show makes fun of theatre’s pretensions at subtlety, by explaining everything up front, even to the extent of listing the sections of the show on a board, setting out all the backstage mechanics and at one point discussing a trip to the dressing-room for a lost prop!

While this lack of pretension is refreshing at first, at one stage in earlier part of the show it feels as if he is ‘overexplaining’ and he should simply get on with the story of Anglesey’s extraordinary voyage, which is a strong enough storyline on its own.

Once the main story begins, the full gamut of multimedia presentations and special effects are used to delightful effect, animated by the boundless energy of both performers.

The rural innocence of Hughes’ Anglesey origins permeate the show.  However, his attempt to leave the island is the immediate cause of its departure from the Irish Sea, to prevent him from escaping.

This brings us to the central theme of the show, which is the paradox of being connected to one’s birthplace, but also disconnected from it once one’s own identity is established – a conclusion that Hughes characteristically sets out in a matter-of-fact manner at the end of the show.

Cast Credits: Performers – Hugh Hughes, Sioned Rowlands.

Company Credits: Created by – Hugh Hughes and friends; Artistic Associates – Shôn Dale-Jones, Jill Norman, David Pagan, Stefanie Müller, Richard Couldrey, Alex Byrne, Guy Myhill, David Ralfe, Rich Rusk & Dante Rendle Traynor; Production and Technical Manager – Tom Cotterill; (following names for Hoipolloi): Artistic Director – Shôn Dale-Jones; Associate Director – Stefanie Müller; Producer – Simon Bedford; Finance Manager – Sylvia O’Dell; Development Associate – Rachel Parslew; Theatre Producers – Emma Dunton, Roger Nelson; Intern – Richard Watson; Press Agent – Nancy Poole; Production Photography – John Baucher, Geraint Lewis & Jaimie Gramston.

(c) Colman Higgins 2010

Reviewed 14 October 2010


L’effet du Serge

Thursday, 14 October, 2010

Communicating through eccentricity

Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival 2010 – Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College, Dublin 2 – 7.30pm (75 minutes) 3pm matinee only on October 17 – October 13-17


Serge, the central character (played by Gaetan Vourc’h), is an eccentric man living alone, for whom the highlight of the week is a visit by one or more of his friends on Sunday, when he performs a short and bizarre show (often involving special effects of some kind) for ‘one to three minutes’, after which the person gives a brief opinion of the show and leaves.

Serge’s very bland existence outside of his shows makes his quirky sense of creativity all the more fascinating, once it emerges.  Quesne is able to hold the attention with very ordinary moments, using silence effectively.  Vourc’h’s performance is close to clowning, as Serge calmly accepts the strange creations of his mind.

Serge’s character is highly ritualistic before and after his shows – always the same three drinks on offer, always bringing people in through the door rather than the patio, always offering to take his visitors’ jackets and offer them a seat.  His life is quite controlled, almost obsessively so.

It is almost as if his only way of communicating with other people or expressing himself is through his short shows each week.  At one point, there is a wonderful moment of frisson between him and a young female visitor, but his limited communication skills let him down.

His ‘audience’ of friends are almost as fascinating, as their reaction to his shows moves from astonishment to mild amusement.  At times it has the immediacy of reality TV, watching the reactions of ordinary people to strange stimuli.  There are strong elements of the ‘comedy of embarrassment’ in their reactions – without being cringe-inducing.

Quesne’s practice as this show tours is to combine both his regular performers and local volunteers among Serge’s ‘audience’.  This is a wise choice, as each nationality reacts in different ways to the same stimuli, making it easier for the real ‘off-stage’ audience to relate to the ‘on-stage’ audience’s reaction.  It appeared as if the local volunteers did not know the content of each of Serge’s little shows in advance, so spontaneous were their reactions.

Cast Credits: Serge – Gaetan Vourc’h; Other performers – Isabelle Angotti, Rodolphe Auté, Fiona Curry, Christine Kostick, Juno Kostick, Jeremy Robert Kemp, Mick O’Rourke, Emilie Rousset.

Company Credits: Conceived, directed and designed – Philippe Quesne.

(c) Colman Higgins 2010

Reviewed 13 October 2010


Parkour – L’art du déplacement

Thursday, 14 October, 2010

The art of movement

Getting from A to B

Parkour, l’art du déplacement (the art of movement) started in France.  The basic principle is to get from A to B by the quickest route possible – whether by jumping a gap or vaulting a wall.  I became interested when a friend asked if I wanted to go to a freestyle adult gymnastics session.  Some guys there were doing Parkour.  I had never done anything like this before and one of the guys taught me some of the basic moves – the different types of vaults and precisions.  By the end of the session I was worn out, but I really wanted to be able to do what they were doing.  So I went back to the next session – and from then on I haven’t stopped.

When I moved to London I found a Parkour club and continued to train.  After a while I started to train outside, and very quickly found out that it’s completely different to training indoors.  Everything is harder and rougher, and if you fall it hurts more.  You find yourself holding back; your mind takes over.  When I train outside, I’m always thinking that everything is concrete: if I don’t make a jump, there’s going to be pain.

Through Parkour training my strength, balance and confidence has greatly improved.  Balancing may sound easy, but once you get on a rail that is rounded or smaller than width of your foot – and there is a 4-metre drop on one side – everything changes.  There are different kinds of moves.  Precisions are moves by which you jump from wall-to-wall or rail-to-rail.  Kongs are basically vaults; you go over the obstacle.  Precisions teach you to control your body when you land.  You have to have quite good co-ordination.  Kongs are great – sometimes you feel for a split second as if you are flying.  Palm spins and wall runs are fun too.

There’s always a rush of adrenaline between taking off and landing.  Once you have taken off, there is no going back – so you need to land the move.  Whereas indoors you can move the distance of the jumps to your level of ability, outdoors you can’t move a wall or rail.  When you stick a landing or successfully do a move it’s a great feeling of achievement.  You feel happy, especially if it was a first attempt.

When you fail and fall, the best – and hardest – thing to do is get up and try it again until you can do it.  Once you can do something, it’s good to repeat it 10 times.  This makes the move stick in your mind.  That way, your muscles get used to what’s required – a kind of muscle memory.

Parkour can be dangerous, particularly if you fail at a Kong, palm spin or precision which is beyond your ability.  To try things you need to be confident – in yourself and that you will be able to do it –  and commit 100 percent.  So far, I’ve not had a serious injury.  My foot slipped on a wall once – it wasn’t a very high wall, maybe just smaller than waist-height.  I fell backwards and landed on the floor; I came down hard on my hand and cut it.  I got up and attempted the move again, but afterwards all the bad scenarios went through my mind.

The best clothes to wear are loose, things which let you move freely.  The best shoes are generally running trainers – they have the best grip, and grip is crucial for a good landing.  Shoe soles wear down quite quickly – all that running, jumping and landing – so you end up buying new trainers often.

Parkour is becoming more popular with all age groups, young and old, round the world.  It features in many TV programmes and films – particularly in the opening scene of James Bond Casino Royale.  I’d love to be able to be a take Parkour to the next level and be a stunt double.  That would be the most amazing thing to do!

(c) Lauren Bettyes 14 October 2010



Thursday, 14 October, 2010

Travels in India

The Temple at Rishikesh

Annie and I had been in India for about two weeks, when our travels took us to Rishikesh. We had so far taken in a very small amount of Delhi before making our escape to Simla and on to the Himalayas, where we had hoped to get some trekking in, but were prevented from doing very much of it by our useless guide and a perverted local. I won’t go into detail.

We had found India quite a challenging destination to travel in, both of us having travelled before, extensively in Europe and South America, and a little in South East Asia, sometimes alone. But it is very hard not to be affected by the dirt, the noise, the heat and the hassle that hits you in Delhi. I have been to cities equally as busy (Lima), equally as noisy (Marrakesh), equally as hot (Perth), and with just as much hassle (Kuta) but never have I had to deal with the extremes of each of these in one place. And the dirt! Wading through piss, splashing mud as you walk, face coated in blackness by the end of the day. No matter how bright and breezy we tried to be, Delhi was many things, but it wasn’t fun.

So from Delhi we headed to Simla, as I have a penchant for train travel and had fancied the winding journey out of the city in the so-called ‘Toy Train’. I also love mountains, having spent a few months in the Andes and then the Alps, and I had been told that the Himalayas are something to behold. I also interested in the tortured Tibetan culture. The train journey was delightful, full of excited families on their holidays. We stuck our heads out of the window, taking pictures of the view, the end of the train as it wiggled its way upwards through the trees, of passengers on passing transport, and of ourselves.

Simla turned out to be the reprieve we were hoping for, offering cooler air, richer people and therefore less hassle, and monkeys a-plenty to keep us entertained. After a day or so, we booked an onward tour from Simla, being advised that it is very unwise to travel unguided in these parts, and the next few days were spent exploring remote Tibetan villages high in the Himalayas. Unfortunately, as my travelling companion was struck by sickness, any trekking I did was accompanied only by the guide, which was a little disconcerting, partly because it occurred to me that I might have been safer alone, and partly because he was pretty lazy and did not want to walk very far. The beauty of the mountains is unquestionable, but sadly, the magic I so desired evaded me.

On our return to Simla we felt torn between an energy for adventure, and an apathy brought on by our disappointing mountain experience. Annie wanted to go to Rishikesh for yoga, and as I had taken us to the mountains in search of the spiritualism I yearned, it was her turn to decide. So onwards, and what a journey!

Enduring a winding six hours back down the mountains from Simla to Chandigarh, this time by coach, we left our bags at the bus station and went to check out the incredible Rock Gardens. Chandigarh has a reputation for being India’s cleanest city, and Nek Chand created the Rock Gardens out of rubbish he collected. At over 40 acres of waterfalls, sculptures and bangled menageries overlooking the sweltering tourists – most of them Indian, it is a very special place.

The same day we headed back to the bus station and decided to save money on the onward journey to Haridwar by choosing the local bus over the tourist one. No air conditioning or comfy seats for us, we were bashed around with the dust blowing in our faces, bums pinched and stared at, as we melted in the heat. Although we were far from comfortable, comfort was not our major concern on this journey. That was for our safety. The driver seemed to be racing his way towards his destination with little regard for his passengers or fellow road users. We were right to be worried, as horror struck when we heard an almighty crack and looked behind to see a rickshaw split in two, a woman passenger getting up off the ground and the driver cradling his bloody leg. Despite protests from the passengers on the bus the driver carried on, leaving the devastation behind us. We arrived in Haridwar subdued, upset, and confused, as darkness was setting over another strange city. We got off the bus and tried to work out how to get to Rishikesh, when help arrived from nowhere in the form of a handsome boy dressed in white – our Disney prince. He got us on the right bus and twenty rupees saw us to Rishikesh, an hour’s ride away.

The evening to follow was one of those times when I realised that actually, sometimes I should think before going ahead and trying to achieve everything I fancy. So far on our travels, every time we’d arrived anywhere we had been ambushed by rickshaw wallahs, desperate for our business. But this time there was one. The scope for haggling was small, and we ended up agreeing on a whopping 80 rupees to get us into town, where we had a couple of hotels in mind.

Then our frazzled brains got the better of us, and Annie had a sudden, scary thought. Halfway into town, on a quiet, dark road, she turned to me and whispered that this was probably a plot. We had not previously noticed, but there were two men in the front of our rickshaw, who could easily overcome two tired young women. We worked out our options. Run, ask to get out, or confront them. I chose the latter. When questioned about the intention for bringing him along, we were assured that the driver’s mate simply needed a lift. We asked if he would mind giving him a lift in his own time, as we would feel more comfortable with only one driver. After a short argument, and some hasty sign language between Annie and I, I suggested to the driver that he stop, as we would rather just get out. And so his mate was unceremoniously chucked out onto the empty street, and we breathed a sigh of relief, feeling we might have narrowly missed an escapade. Then he stopped, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and pointed in the distance. ‘You have to walk from here’, he said.

We found that we were at the end of a bridge, not wide enough for a rickshaw, and that the hotels were at the other side. Anxiously, we loaded ourselves with our backpacks, and headed into the darkness, traversing a long and rickety bridge across the Ganges. We weren’t keen to get out our Rough Guide whilst carrying all our possessions and wandering through a new town in the middle of the night. That seemed a little too much like an invitation to be robbed.  So we snatched a swift glance at the book and headed in the general direction of the hotels. We followed a path beside the river, as fast as our laden, weary legs could take us, heeding the warnings of barking dogs not to get too close, until eventually we decided we were going in the wrong direction. And that’s when Annie noticed the sleeping bodies all along the banks of the river. She whispered to me our next predicament. We were going to be jumped on by a gang of homeless Indians, who would steal everything we had come away with, so it was very important to be quiet and look confident.

After another twenty minutes or so in the opposite direction, we were heartened to find an entrance to the town, and dodging cow pats, dogs, sleeping bodies and the odd wandering cow, began the next hour or two of circling the dark streets. With every minute and every wrong turn, I felt more on edge, until eventually we came across an Ashram, with bodies lying around the courtyard and one man awake. We asked him the way to the hotel we were aiming for, and he was happy to point us in the right direction. Ahead we saw the sign for the Rajdeep. We had made it! But it was shut. Pounding on the gates, trying the back entrance, we were, by now, exhausted and desperate for a bed. But luck was not on our side. We got out our mobiles and resigned ourselves to the fact that this night could be an expensive one, as we tried to book a room in another hotel. But no-one was answering, and as more yapping dogs approached, I made another decision. We would have to jump over the gate and sleep in the hotel courtyard until someone woke up. So over we went. And that’s when they opened the door. Safety, at last!

We booked ourselves into the Rajdeep in Swarg Ashram, and had never felt so lucky to be in a basic, dirty room. Our faces caked in mud, our feet encrusted with cowpats, and soaked in sweat, we showered ourselves blissfully clean and fell into bed.

When we awoke, the daylight revealed the true squalor of our surroundings, and we decided to spend some time getting to know Rishikesh and finding somewhere nicer to stay. We emerged once again onto the winding streets of Rishikesh, and were greeted by smiling people, wandering cows who ruled the streets, colourful stalls and shop displays, and temple after temple lining the banks of the Ganges. We quickly came to realise the error of our ways the previous night. The danger we had perceived was all in our heads, and as the days passed we found that we had stumbled upon the gentlest place on earth. We learned, through our interactions with some local boys who took a shine to us, our yoga and cookery teachers, that there was no way that any of the people on the streets of Rishikesh were plotting on our demise. People come here as it is, to them, an incredibly spiritual place. A place of river, mountain, cow, yoga, and peace.

We checked into our new hotel in Laksman Jula, the part of town frequented by tourists, and spent the next few days wandering, eating and shopping. We also climbed to the top of a nearby waterfall, once with the two boys we could not shake off, and who prevented us from swimming at the top as we thought they would enjoy that too much, and once alone, which was glorious.

The time came to move on, and we reluctantly left Rishikesh and all its wonders behind us, heading for the Taj Mahal on another exciting train journey. India had been an experience, not a holiday. I had expected so much, been shocked by the way people were treated, in many cases worse than animals, and lived the scariest night of my life, only to discover that I should have more trust in people. I would love to stay longer next time, visiting the South, with its superior cuisine, more forward thinking, and fantastic coastal train journeys, so that I can say that India is a good place to visit. At the moment, the magic of the Andes cannot be beaten for me, but our stay in Rishikesh taught me that peace and spirituality come in many forms. I discovered that sometimes it is the life around you and people who you share it with that makes a place peaceful, or an experience enlightening. Through the dirt, hassle, heat and noise, I found light in Rishikesh.

(c) Claire Higgins 2010


The Company Man, by Torben Betts

Monday, 11 October, 2010

The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, 19:45, 6th October- 6th November 2010 (2hrs 25 with interval)

This two-act play explores the history and future of a dysfunctional family and a troubled marriage with impressive impact.  At the same time, the production remains compellingly true to life.  Torben Betts’s touchingly humorous yet tragic script is handled subtly and maturely by all cast members.  Special mention must go to Bruce Alexander and Isla Blair. The one for his carefully paced, necessarily painfully slow, character progression, and the other for her brilliant adaptability – from energetic, bright-eyed, middle class and unable to make herself heard, to trapped in a wheelchair, struggling to speak but finally the centre of attention.

The Orange Tree Theatre boasts a reputation for being ‘the only permanent In the Round Theatre in London.’  This is all very well, but staging such an intimate production this way requires especial sensitivity of both direction and design.  To their credit, Adam Bernard (Director), Sam Dowsen (Designer) and notably William Reynolds (Lighting Designer), understand their space completely.  A Victorian chintz sofa with perfectly matching cushions, a small coffee table and pearl-peach light create the living room. Spin round and you enter the garden, remarkably it becomes impossible not to imagine the French door that separates them.  Dark green metal patio furniture, a soft limelight, speckled with yellow and the twitter of birds.  The final space is the Jane’s (Isla Blair’s) sick room. Cut off in a far corner, this white lit square, home only to a small night-stand bedecked with medicines and a CD player and digital video camera with its small hanging nightlight, is both disconcerting and strangely tranquil.

The play opens with a celestial shaft of light as Jane (Isla Blair) is wheeled in by her adult daughter Cathy (Beatrice Curnew).  William Reynolds’ lightscape provides a stark premonition of the play’s finally scene.  Quickly this light flashes out with the wave of brightness caused as a car passes under a bay window at night.  We hear the car.  Moments later James (Jack Sandle) confronts his sister Cathy in the opposite corner of the stage.

This first scene gets the play off to a slow start.  Beatrice Curnew’s acting is rather forced.  Her forward-jutting head and world-weary voice force her into a fixed state.  Her actions lack the presence that comes more naturally to the other cast members.  But then, Cathy is a hard character to play.  She (the character) excites an unpleasant and unremitting sense of pity in the audience which risks becoming tedious. To Beatrice Curnew’s credit she has created a character who is not really present to portray a coping mechanism.  Sadly this is a-dramatic.  Jack Sandle’s initial performance also feels a little stifled.  The pace is slow, the dialogue tired and James’ alcoholism (represented by him removing a bottle of wine and glass from his hold-all and lounging on the floor like a tipsy cat) is rather contrived.  The audience is left anxious that this is going to a very clichéd two hours indeed. The next scene, in which Jane is introduced, does little to relieve the worry. Isla Blair’s grating voice and paralysed left side are an expert portrayal of her illness but do slow the play’s pace horribly in this opening sequence and it is hard to care for the rather two-dimensional characters being set up.

However, the human encyclopaedia that is William (Bruce Alexander) brings an entirely new energy and life to the stage. He is a dangerous ball of brewing anger.  Bruce Alexander’s portrayal is flawless.  His rigid posture to his gormless mouth and slightly popping eyes, his northern twang and his contorted facial expressions all come together to create a perfect caricature.  Yet what make his performance special are the touches of softness that are undeniably there.  The play builds momentum wonderfully as it intertwines past and present action, clearly delineated through Isla Blair’s faultlessly swift changes from immobility to sparkling life. From the demonic father with a bloodied face and a belt in his hand, shouting his son out of his house, to a smiling ball of tense humour, perched on the sofa offering to take his wife to London for a show, “you can’t fault a Lloyd Webber!” Bruce Alexander’s William keeps the play alive while like a puppet, Isla Blair is heart-breakingly trampled by her husband in her days of good health, and in the present, carried by her daughter to her prison-like chair.

In act two, credit, while remaining with all the cast, must go to Jack Sandle. Faced with the impossible task of making James, an aging and manic-depressive selfish brat with a drink problem, human and subtle he succeeds.  “If you’re gonna scream at me” he shouts into his iphone, his rant interjected seamlessly with snippets of his father ranting about the benefits of capitalism from the garden, “then you’re gonna have to scream at me in English!”  His marriage to his “little Thai bride” is falling apart.  Jack Sandle’s comic timing is impeccable.  His childish grief, however, is unnervingly believable, “I don’t want her to die.” He repeats again and again when talking about his mother.  His wide mouth, his trembling lower lip and his loose hanging arms perfectly capture the sense that he is a lost little boy, turning to alcohol because he never really learnt how to “be a man.”

This is a tear jerker of a play.  It is a striking impression of domestic life gone sour.  William is the self-made ‘Company Man,’ whose own business, drive and success have demolished his personal life and the lives of those he most loves. Precise direction and some fantastic performances make this production well worth seeing.

Company Credits: Director – Adam Barnard. Designer – Sam Dowson. Lighting Designer– William Reynolds.  Assistant Director – Teunkie van der Sluijs.  Fight Director – Philip D’Orleans.  Stage Manager – Stuart Burgess.  Deputy Stage Manager – Sophie Acreman.  Assistant Stage Manager – Becky Fisher.  Production Technicians – Michael ‘Gadget’ Sowby, Hilary Williamson.  Assistant Design – Katy Mills.  Production Photographer – Robert Day.  Rehearsal Photographer – Teunkie van der Sluijs.

Cast Credits: Bruce Alexander – William.  Isla Blair– Jane.  Beatrice Curnew – Cathy.  Nicholas Lumley– Richard.  Jack Sandle – James.

(c) Rebecca Gibson 2010

Reviewed Friday 8th October 2010



Thursday, 7 October, 2010

Duty and Temptation

Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival 2010 – Project Arts Centre, East Essex St, Dublin 2 (Cube space) – 9.30pm (75 minutes) – October 6-10 (October 10 is 4pm matinee only)

This play for three actors is set in Chile of the near future, which is at war with its northern neighbours.  Two twin sisters – each of them pregnant – entertain their solider brother, who is home from the front for 24 hours.  One sister, a pacifist, wants him to desert, but the other wants him to return to do his patriotic duty.

With all the action set around a single table on a single evening, the choice is starkly laid out for Jorge, the soldier.  His ex-girlfriend and aunt also have walk-in parts, trying to tempt him to desert the army.

Since the twin sisters spend most of the time talking about the war and/or Jorge’s decision, their characters veer towards the allegorical, while the main ambiguity seems to reside in Jorge himself, who is an engaging mystery until the end – and maybe after that.

While ostensibly the dramatic focus is one the Great Decision that Jorge must take, the real theme that comes through is how war changes the people who are caught up in it.

All are angered, but in different ways: the warmonger by the deeds of the enemy, the pacifist by the injustice of war; and the soldier by the realities that he alone has to face.  Here the script very effectively tackles the multifaceted effects of war.

Humour – albeit of a black wartime sort – is not lacking, and is needed to balance the highly political content.  Passion is not lacking either, but as the story reaches its climax, a sequence of three tirades from each of the three main characters, almost one after the other in turn, is somewhat exhausting and the tone could be more varied at this point.  The concluding sequence is arresting and intriguingly ambiguous.

The acting is highly convincing, without being overstated, performed in Spanish with English surtitles.  One technical point was that a set of coloured light bulbs, part of the set, lay just below the surtitles, making them difficult to read at times.

Cast Credits: Mariana Munoz, Trinidad González, Jorge Bécker.

Company Credits: Playwright/Director – Guillermo Felipe Calderón Labra. Company: Teatro en el banco

(c) Colman Higgins 2010