Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

London Bubble: Something for Now and Something to Look Forward to…

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

London Bubble Theatre’s annual ‘big show in the park’ used to be a high point in the Phantom social whirl. At their real height this wonderful company used to tour the parks of the capital with their trademark promenade performances of everything from Shakespeare to Kurt Vonnegut.  A warm summer evening, a glass of something nice and top-notch performers…fantastic.

I loved the way that you felt you were in an entire world when you watched a Bubble show. Things were happening in your periferal vision, just out of sight, that made you really believe that there were chessboard pieces fighting far away in the forest or that Puck really was putting a girdle around the earth in forty minutes.

Over the years I saw them in Chiswick, Highgate, Sydenham, Ilford… heavens, I saw them a lot...

The company’s changed slightly as the world’s changed, becoming more community-oriented and, as the funding dried up the parks got closer and closer to Bubble’s home in Rotherhithe, which, selfishly, was still just fine for me. One of my favourites was Oxleas Wood, which was one of the last places they played one of the ‘big gigs’ before the Arts Council decided they were far too popular. People actually enjoyed their shows which of course meant they shouldn’t be getting any money for That Kind of Thing.

They reinvented themselves with a ‘fan-made theatre’ production or two – basically crowd-funding before the concept was ‘invented’ by hipsters but more recently they’ve been concentrating on community based projects. They have one this week; more about that later in this post.

But to my exciting news. Jonathan Petherbridge, Bubble’s  Artistic Director, tells me they are planning a Big Park Show in 2016 – sounds like a long way off, but time has a horrible habit of moving on apace.

He hopes to challenge enthusiasts like me to sell at least 10 tickets. Anyone who actually knows my alter ego will know I will be able to do that easily – I have complete faith it will be fantastic. But I’m giving you a heads-up now, to cheer you up on a rather dull Monday morning.

Incidentally, before I move onto Bubble’s stuff going on this week, allow me to recommend a little something in the meanwhile.

If you like good-quality open air theatre, you will do a lot worse than spending a (free, gratis and for absolutely nothing) evening with Steam Industry Theatre up at the Scoop by London Bridge. They create (usually) three linked shows in an evening – the first will be family-friendly; as the evening wears on the content becomes more adult – for example when they did the Oresteia a couple of years ago, they started out with the story of young Oedipus as knockabout farce (no, really), working up to people screaming and covered in blood by the time the tinies were in bed. They’re doing the Ring Cycle this year – I can’t wait.

But back to the Bubble. If you’re free this week – starting this lunchtime (sorry about the late notice) check this lot out:

Creativity and Wellbeing Week

Monday 2nd June
The Start of Something 1-3.30pm
Female artists from London Bubble, young women from a local secondary school and female employees from Norton Rose Fulbright come together to consider their experiences of creativity and well being. During the session they will create an artefact which will be presented for discussion at the ‘theatre as connector’ conversation, later in the afternoon.

Theatre as Connector – a Conversation 4.30 – 6pm
Join representatives from London Bubble, Southwark Youth Offending Service, the Metropolitan Police and other agencies to discuss how we connect and build social wellbeing through theatre. The session will begin with a presentation of the artefact created at the earlier ‘the start of something’ session.

Tuesday 3rd June
‘Story Bubbles’ for young children and their grown up 1.45-3pm
Come along with your child to a Story Bubbles session, have some fun together, make up a story and act it out. Suitable for families with children aged 2-6yrs

Creativity and Wellbeing for children and their adults – a Conversation 4-5.30pm
Join this conversation if you are interested in the enjoyment and importance of intergenerational creativity. Representatives of Children’s Centres, Early Years Educators, Drama Practitioners share some insights and challenges about working creatively with young children and their grownups.

Wednesday 4th June
Theatre-making, Performance and Wellbeing 2.30-3.30
A conversation with Julia Voce about her work as Associate Artist Care and Creativity with London bubble, and the making of Ishbel and I.

Ishbel and I (a free performance of a piece emerging from development) 3.30-4.30pm
A play about ‘going to pieces and going on a bike ride’. A solo performer and two bicycles create the music, characters and worlds that take the audience on a moving, hilarious journey examining the minefield of mental illness and its effect on a large family.

Thursday 5th June
Creativity, wellbeing and the urban playground 6-7.30pm
Join us for a panel led discussion on Creativity, wellbeing and the urban playground, as:
· Paul Heritage, People’s Palace Projects
· Justine Kenyon, Wandsworth Arts Council
· Jocelyn Cunningham, Arts and Society
· Jonathan Petherbridge, London Bubble Theatre
explore how current artistic practice sits in a public or civic context, and its benefits on social and personal wellbeing.
There are many definitions of such work – participatory, community, dialogical…but what difference do such initiatives make and do people appreciate it?
What are the politics and mechanics of it?

Friday 6th June
Making is connecting 2-5pm
Inspired by recent research linking working with our hands to personal and social wellbeing, London Bubble are planning to throw open their workshop to the local community. But should it be a Men’s Shed, or a Community Workspace, or even a Hackspace ?
Join us for some whittling and some wittering as
· Martin Dittus – Hackney Hackspace workspace
· Michael Breakey – Artist/Maker and Workshop Animateur at London Bubble

· And member of the Men’s Shed movement

Discuss and demonstrate the quietly radical effects of coming together to make something.

All events are free to attend but require booking. To book or more details visit or call 02072374434

A New Home for Galleon?

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Okay, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake – this was one of the things that arrived when I had my eye off the ball at the back end of last year. We’d already talked about a new, purpose built theatre for Greenwich but it took a step further when the plans were submitted in December.

It would seem that Telford Homes in seeking to deal with the thorny issue of their having to provide affordable stuff in their Creekside development have gone with affordable workspace and, in a possibly interesting move, the opportunity for Galleon Theatre to move into part of it. You can see the proposals here.

The main proposal is the third document down and it it does have the potential to be interesting, and I’d love Galleon to find a new theatre space after the disgraceful, deceitful behaviour of Bed & bars over their last home at Belushis.

One note of caution though. I see that in the ‘smaller print’ Galleon have a specific amount of time to raise the funds for the fit up and if they don’t manage to do that Telford will sell it off at proper market rates, slapping themselves on the back for having kept their side of the bargain and provided the opportunity for affordable stuff, it was just The Poor People who couldn’t stick to their side. So if this goes ahead, I hope Galleon have a strong campaign in place for fitting-out or we’ll all be in trouble.

I’m sort of surprised I haven’t heard anything about this as if I was part of Galleon I’d already be out with a provisional begging bowl.

But then I’ve been under a stone. Perhaps I’ve missed that too.

The Ups and Downs of Thespis

Monday, November 25th, 2013

This morning got off to a really good start. A press release in my inbox cheered me right up and I was just about to do a jolly piece about it, when I came across this timely and worrying post by 853 Blog that talks of the iminent and very real threat to the Woolwich Grand theatre, next door to the town hall in Woolwich and the more distant but equally serious threat to Greenwich theatre.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here by rehashing what Darryl has to say, but I seriously recommend you read the article and worry. Woolwich Grand may have only been around for a couple of years, but it has been welcomed by Woolwich people and run with passion. There may be a need for housing, but there is also a need for community and if every venue/facility gets turned into micro-apartments then a town stops being a town and starts being a dormitory.

Greenwich Theatre’s closure would not just mean the loss of an important facility but would betray the people of the 1960s and 70s who put everything they had into not just saving but reinventing a hugely important institution. Its glory days may have gone (ironically with the ‘glory’ of the garden…) but it is still hugely, hugely important to Greenwich. Heaven forbid the day comes but if it does, The Phantom will be first to haunt the barricades.

Darryl’s post makes grim reading, but like Pandora’s box, after all the misery, right at the bottom of the feature lingers one little ray of hope – which brings me back to the press release I received this morning. We are to get a new studio theatre, in the bowels of the Cutty Sark.

© National Maritime Museum, London

As you’ll see from the size of it, there’s no way the Cutty Sark Studio Theatre can begin to compete with Greenwich Theatre in size or versatility (though I seem to remember it’s been collaborating with GT) but any new performance space is a plus and I for one am delighted.

They’re starting the season off with some starry names: Alan Davies, Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, Ross Noble, Richard Herring, plus some student and community shows.

The website’s got a glitch at the moment, but they’re promising it’s going to be working by Wednesday.

Why I Don’t Drink at Belushis

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

It wasn’t the greatest pub in the world – well, not for the Phantom demographic, anyway. But I did used to go there on a reasonably regular basis.

This was mainly on the occasions I used to visit the tiny Greenwich Playhouse upstairs. I’d have a drink (or three, if the curtain was late – which sometimes had disastrous results- I still remember the Walk of Shame across the stage when a late-kick off/several drinks resulted in an emergency loo-break in between scenes…) and I was okay with the place.

Belushis was what it was.

And, actually, Galleon Theatre was what it was too. The resident producing company didn’t always hit the mark for me, but I admired their dedication to creating theatre that wasn’t particularly commercial, but never took the easy route. In many ways they reminded me of the sort of work you used to get in the good/bad old days of subsidised theatre, before The Glory of the Garden, the swingeing cuts of the 90s and 2000s and the even more swingeing ‘temporary’ cuts to the arts that paying for the Olympics brought.

I’m not sure that Galleon were/are subsidised at all, but they still managed to keep going. The one thing they couldn’t have dealt with was the other Olympic effect – greed.

When the contract on their little attic theatre above Belushis wasn’t renewed, the excuse they were given at the time was that the landlord, Beds and Bars, wanted to run it as a venue themselves, and I, gullible Phantom as I was, actually believed it. In fact I was almost encouraged by that – I rather liked the idea of an independent venue that would present an even wider range of shows.

Galleon Theatre had much darker suspicions – that Beds and Bars wanted to cram as many bunk beds as possible into the space to cash in on the Olympics as a low-budget backpacker-type hostel.

Of course – the clue was in the name. It wasn’t ‘Beds and Bars and Challenging Contemporary Theatre…’

But I read this article in the Wharf and was mollified. The poor landlord was outraged that he was being so clearly maligned…

I find it hard to believe that I was that naive, but hey, I was. Of course B&B (see what I mean about the name..?) turned it into a flop house, with not so much as an open mic night as a nod to producing shows. And they did it illegally – they didn’t have permission for this change of use.

The council issued a ‘stop’ notice.

It was ignored.

By the time the news was out and the scales fell from Phantom eyes, it was too late, the deed was done, the Games were upon us and the backpackers were bowling up. The letters, emails and petitions were pointless, the cash was already rolling in.

I still had a bit of hope – after all – this was an illegal change of use. Surely the council would stamp all over that?

More letters, more petitions.

On 3rd July 2013, the council voted unanimously to grant retrospective change of use planning permission. There will be no opportunity to take it the Planning Inspectorate, that’s that. Beds & Bars have been rewarded for acting illegally and Galleon Theatre are once again packing their worldly goods into a little spotted hanky on a stick and looking for somewhere to live.*

The councillors who voted for this were (and there are some shockers in here, among others who don’t surprise me):

Cllr. Ray Walker
Cllr. Hadley Fletcher
Cllr. Dick Quibell
Cllr. Miranda Williams
Cllr. Geoffrey Brighty
Cllr. Neil Dickinson
Cllr. Matthew Pennycook
Cllr. Maureen O’Mara

I name them and shame them here because this brings up a much bigger issue. If Beds & Bars can get away with this, we have a precedent. A company has built illegally, been told to stop by the council, ignored that order then been rewarded for flouting rules by being granted planning permission anyway. What message does this send out to other unscrupulous developers?

In many ways I can’t blame B&B for cashing in – after all it was their building and they saw the opportunity for a massive profit. Not everyone values Art over the laughing lettuce of hard cash. What I hate is the way they did it – the outraged innocence, the protests of being unfairly daubed with false accusation.

Which is why I won’t be setting foot in any of B&B’s pubs again – wherever the location.

Hooray for the Greenwich Olympic Legacy – a budget hostel, one less theatre and a licence to build wherever you damn please…

*I have no idea whether the plan to get a brand new studio theatre in the bowels of a new build up the road has come to anything or not.

First Night Jitters

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“Sir, I thought it had been better.”

Sam Johnson’s characteristically honest reason for leaving the room when someone started reading his only play, Irene, at a country house party in 1780.

Today playwrights around the world can take comfort that their fabulous, darling manuscript, perfect in every respect in their own eyes, might not be the collossus they thought it was but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will not turn out to be an incredible writer. Perhaps all they need to do is switch genre…

If you’d nipped backstage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on the 6th February 1749, you might well have witnessed an aspiring playwright pacing backstage, nervously chewing his fingernails as he contemplated what the actors might do with his baby.

He didn’t have much of an opinion of their ability to do it justice. “Players, Sir? I look on them as no better than creatures set upon tables and joint stools to make faces and produce laughter, like dancing dogs.”

Given that Irene was a tragedy, and a big old heavy tragedy at that – one that would have gone down an absolute storm with Shakespeare’s crowd, who loved blood and guts – the idea of ‘dancing dogs’ poking fun at his work, Johnson probably had a point. He was particularly bothered about his leading lady, Hannah Pritchard, who he described as ‘a vulgar idiot.’

Of course, he might have disliked the concept of actors, but that didn’t stop him being mates with them – one of his good friends was David Garrick, whom he’d taught and who now was taking quite a risk in putting on Johnson’s play – it had already been rejected by its 18th Century equivalent of beta-readers. Garrick had insisted on a few changes that would appeal to the lighter moods of modern theatre, that Johnson didn’t approve of, but had to suck up if he wanted his show to see the light of day.

I find myself wondering whether Johnson, as he stood in the wings, awkwardly trussed up in scarlet waistcoat, gold lace and and fancy hat specially acquired for his first night as a luvvie, was rather wishing he was still in Greenwich Park, looking out over the river, sucking the end of his quill, trying to find the exact right words for the big death scene at the end. Whether he rather longed for that special time when the work is in progress, when everything can be changed and all will be fabulous.

We’re not really sure where Johnson lived while he stayed at Greenwich. He says it was at the Golden Hart in Church Street. Julian Watson suggests it could have been in the delightful weatherboarded row on the front cover of his (excellent) book (available at the Visitor Centre, last time I looked)

These houses are long-gone, not least because of the remodelling of Garden Stairs when the foot tunnel was built, but I’m guessing they’d have been approximately opposite the Cutty Sark.

If only his play had been any good. I recently went to a lecture at Johnson’s House where they were re evaluating the work, but although they come to the conclusion that it was not the utter flop History tells us it is, even the ex-curator (whose name escapes me and which I can’t look up because they annoyingly keep their website up to date…) had to admit it wasn’t a play she either recommended reading or ever putting on again.

It just wasn’t what the modern play-going public wanted. Johnson’s prose was dated, his plot clunky and his action heavy. But the thing the audiences hated most was the very thing that 150 years ago they’d have actually queued up for.

Johnson had poor Mrs Pritchard ‘strangled’ on stage, in front of the audience. Instead of lapping up the violence, though, they started hissing whistling and making cat calls that went on so long that in subsequent performances she had to exit and be murdered offstage.

Thing is, the play didn’t do as badly as many modern scholars think it did. True, it only ran for 9 performances between 6th and 20th Feb (there weren’t any shows on Wednesdays, Fridays or Sundays) but that was about average for new plays in those days. There actually weren’t many new plays as everything had to be read and passed by the Lord Chamberlain, so most shows were old classics that actors played in repertory, with the odd modern play squeezed in.

And Johnson made money. The whole idea of putting on plays in those days was to attempt to put them on in batches of three. The first two nights the profits went to the promoter; if the show lasted to a third night it became a benefit performance to pay the author, and after that every third night was the author’s night – another reason to put on plays by dead playwrights.  Johnson made £236 after the house fee, which was pretty decent cash.

Nevertheless, Garrick still needed to tweak the show in order to keep the audiences coming, not least so his mate Sam could make a few more quid. Johnson’s tragedy lasted to the sixth night before Garrick slipped in a nice cheery farce at the end and there is mention of a ‘Scotch Dance’ that would have also been a splendid crowd-pleaser to get people to come so Johnson’s play limped to its ninth performance.

Nowadays Irene is often described as ‘a poem’ and it’s quite hard to come by. It’s not a classic (though some (who haven’t read it; I confess I haven’t either, so I rely on the ex-curator’s opinion) assume it must be because Johnson wrote it, but neither was it the total turkey that other scholars have claimed. And hell, it if is a total turkey, it’s our total turkey.

A New Purpose-Built Theatre for Greenwich

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Blimey – if this comes about Galleon Theatre will have fallen on their feet and no mistake. If you recall, they were booted out of their old home, the Playhouse, last spring by a landlord who told the newspapers he was going to put on shows himself then, as everyone had suspected, just filled it full of bunk beds to cash in on the Olympics.

Well,  the pic at the top of this post is the plan for a new, purpose-built, 110-seater studio theatre in Greenwich. Apparently there are already ‘advanced discussions with a nationwide builder’ going on, as part of a Section 106 agreement.

The Gallion guys don’t say where it’s going to be though they do say “within a few minutes walking distance on Greenwich High Road”, so I’m assuming it will be up the other end, nearer Deptford Bridge DLR, where all the demolition’s going on just now.

I’m told they need two things for this to happen – for Greenwich Council to approve this as a suitable 106 project, and to raise about £250,000 towards the cost (though I thought that was what 106s were all about…) Nick Raynsford (who, as we all know, is Mr Building Trade) thinks it’s doable through one-off capital cost applications. I’m not entirely sure what that is – I’m guessing it’s those things the government tried to tax a couple of months ago and had to U-turn on.

The details are sketchy at the moment – but if it comes off, I think this sounds exciting (and if it’s purpose-built it will be hard to turn into dormitories later…)

I don’t know – first a recital hall in Vanbrugh Hill, now a studio theatre – whatever next – an opera house in Millennium Village? A corps de ballet in Traf Road? Un salon de philosophie at Phantom Towers?


PS. If you lodged a complaint about Beds & Bars turning the Playhouse into a dormitory and your name isn’t here please let Galleon know:

Green-Gowned in Greenwich Park

Friday, September 7th, 2012

At Greenwich lies the Scene, where many a Lass

Has been Green-gown’d upon the tender Grass

If Flamstead’s Stars would make a true Report

Our City’s Breeds much mended by the Court 

& etc.

Back in 1959, while he was still waiting to come up with Oliver! Lionel Bart wrote a musical that is very rarely performed these days. Lock Up Your Daughters! is a parody of Restoration comedy. Ludicrous plotline? Check. Over the top characters whose names give away their roles, such as the romantic Captain Constant or the lascivious Mrs Squeezum? Check. Saucy one-liners and single entendres? Check.

It also had a couple of cracking songs. I particularly remember the splendid – and limpidly insipid - Lovely Lover, the outrageously unsubtle When Does the Ravishing Begin? and the sultry Gentle Art of Seduction, which, if memory serves, bore a remarkable musical similarity to and was probably recycled later as You Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.

But Bart’s piss-take was nothing on the real thing, which, by the time I’m talking about, had already become a parody of itself.

If someone had asked me to write a pastiche of a jaunty Restoration comedy, I don’t think I could have come up with anything as stereotyped, hackneyed or downright fatuous as William Mountfort’s Greenwich Park. When I first heard about it, my ears pricked as a possible suggestion for a revival at Greenwich Theatre. Having read the thing, I’m much less certain, but it’s certainly fun – and pretty rowdy stuff. And let’s face it – that was what 17th century comedy was all about.

It clearly demonstrates what the general population of Britain thought of Greenwich at the time (btw ‘green-gowning, if you hadn’t worked it out already, refers to the side-effects of outdoor ‘entertainment’, something one could – in the popular imagination, at least – get plenty of in Greenwich Park…) See Greenwich Bird for further proof of what people thought of the town…

Let’s take a look at the Dramatis Personae:


Sir Thomas Reveller, an old wicked lewd knight.

Mr Raison, a Grocer

Mr Sassafras, a Drugster, both jolly citizens and companions with Sir Thos.

Lt. Worthy, a Young Nobleman, newly returned from Travel

Young Reveller*, Son to Sir Thomas,  a wild young fellow, kept by Mrs Raison and Courts Florella for a wife

Sir William Thoughtless, a foolish knight

A Beaux

Bully Bounce



Dorinda, a private Mistress, kept by Lord Worthy and in Love with Young Reveller


Violante, daughters to my Lady Hazard. Florella in love with Young Reveller. Violante in love with the Lt. Worthy.

Mrs Raison, in love with Y. Reveller

Lady Hazard, Aunt to Dorinda.

Constable, Watch, Masqueraders &etc

*If you’re thinking that perhaps this ‘Young Reveller’ character was rather popular with the ladies, I should perhaps say that, to save arguments, the role was taken by Mr Moutjoy himself.


All clear? Subtle it ain’t, but it was always meant to be comedy; always supposed to be knockabout, so fair enough.

It took me ages to track down a copy online, but I finally did, and present you the link here but in case you value your time, here’s what I made of it:

The first scene does, admittedly, crackle with good lines . It takes place in a Greenwich Grocer’s shop and consists of the chap’s wife trying to persuade her husband to buy her a carriage, promising not to be extravagant any more if only he gives into this one teeny request. When he refuses she rails against him with a fantastic exit speech:

Well, think on it, Bungler. I long for a Coach, and I will have a Coach, and you may spare it out of Clarret, you Sot, since you can’t get no children to inherit what you have, I’ll spend it and thou shalt never live an easy hour ’til I have a Coach and so Think on’t thou Associate of Drunkards, eternal Tobacco Funker; must I be contented with a Beast that stinks perpetually, sits up till two or three a-Clock in the Morning and knows nothing but his Bottle sometimes a week together? The World shall know what a Bedfellow thou art, that Snores all Night and art Sick in the Morning; thou debilitated Booby, thou Sapless Trunk.  (exit).


It’s a bit of a relief when the scene shifts to Tower Hill and Lt. Worthy, who having just returned from abroad, is thinking of rustling up a few mates and going to Greenwich, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Meanwhile Sir Thomas Reveller has a hangover:

I must leave off this Drinking, it will kill me else; for the Heat of my Body’s so violent it will set the Clarret within me a boiling and will make a hash of my bowels for Satan; yet I look pretty for my age; too. What a Pox, but I’m eight and forty and have lungs as shrill as a Eunuch, fa, la, la, la.

He’s fed up with his son George, (the Reveller, if you recall, played by Mr Moutjoy) for not letting him in on the female action:

“but what a cursed Rogue as keeps all his Whores to himself, he won’t let his none Dad come in for a Snack; I’m forced to lay on my own Maids.”

And so on. Thing is, it’s all roaring stuff, but after several pages of it, it starts to get a bit wearisome. I’d like a bit of actual plot to turn up. As it is, it plods on, slowly, slowly,  eventually unfolding a basic caper story that must have been pretty hackneyed even then, full of double and single entendres which must have been side-splitting in the 1670s but actually rather tedious after a while for me, at least  as is the interchangeability of the words ‘whore’ and ‘woman’ (and I speak as someone who actually seeks out Restoration Comedy when it’s on – I particularly enjoyed the Nash’s She Stoops to Conquer recently). Mountfort was writing at the fag end of the genre, and it feels like it.

I found my eyes glazing over after about four scenes, though every so often there was an entertaining turn of phrase; I particularly liked the answer to the question (of Greenwich Park) ‘what do we do here?’

‘Let’s have some Wine and Cold Chicken, go upon Flamstead’s leads and huzza to the Neighbouring Counties!

I love the idea of a load of mattressed 17th Century toffs climbing on the poor astronomer’s roof and shouting at Kent in the middle of the night. No wonder he was always in a bad mood if that’s what went on all the time…

I was also curious about the scene that takes place in a garden in Debtford-Wells – I don’t recall any wells round there, though naturally I’m no Deptford expert – puts me in mind a little of Peckham Spring…

Ultimately, this is an interesting curiosity, but not something I suspect ever needs to see the light of day again, though you never know, Greenwich Theatre might like (one hell of) a challenge. If they do, frankly, I’d suggest a revival of Lock Up Your Daughters, even if only for a reprise of the rabble-rousing When Does the Ravishing Begin?

A Bookseller’s Preface to the Reader

Thursday, September 6th, 2012


In this Age of Learning, when the Works of the Ingenious are perpetually Collected and sought after by most Curious Persons, we doubt not but the Dramatick Writings of the Famous Mr M——–, will be acceptable to all Encouragers of these Entertainments.

The PLAYS of this Gentleman have most of them pass’d the Test of the Politest Audiences with Applause, and been favourably receiv’d by the greatest Judges of Wit: The Criticks may find Fault with Some Things, but upon the whole, the Impatrial Reader will have a Pleasure, not generally to be met with in Plays that have appear’d Since the Time he wrote…

… King Edward the Third and Henry the Second, which tho’ not wholly composed by him, it is presum’d he had, at least, a Share in fitting them for the Stage, other since it cannot be supposed he would have taken the Liberty of Writing Dedications to them; which we hope is sufficient Authority for this Freedomn, not withstanding* one of them was aftearwards own’d by another Author.

* Henry II by Mr Bancroft.


The Phantom Translation:

The Booksellers to the Sucker

“After the success of a couple of not very good but extremely saucy plays by famous people, every Tom Dick and Harry is buying any old crap publishers care to package up and flog. We reckon we can get away with cobbling together a bunch of the barely-heard-of Mr M’s scribblings and no one will realise it’s rubbish until they’ve all bought it.

One or two of his works weren’t booed off the stage, and even though the critics hated him, the plebs all laughed at the rude bits so up yours. He’ll just about pass muster for the undiscerning, who won’t care a fig if nobody’s bothered to put the shows on since he wrote them fifty-odd years ago…

…Okay, we admit that he might have plagiarised a couple of them, but surely he must have at least shifted scenery or held a spear or something or he wouldn’t have scrawled his name on them and slipped them into the bunch of papers he sold us one night when we’d had a few too many at the tavern, so we take no responsiblity for them whatsoever. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Bancroft, you’ll not get a penny out of us.”


This -well, the top bit at least –  is the real preface, word-for-word of a collection of plays that I’ll be talking about tomorrow – I just couldn’t let it go without comment – it’s just so, well, frank about its motives, and also, somehow, so modern. I’ve wanted to talk about this for ages, but it’s taken me a long while to track it down. More tomorrow…


Bubble Theory

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

You know this time of year always puts me in mind of Bubble Theatre – a company I have followed since the late eighties when they had their own bubble-shaped tent and whose summer promenade productions around the parks of London were a fixture the Phantom Calendar for a good decade – probably longer.

When they first started arts funding wasn’t the shambles it is now and Bubble’s itinerary took them all over the capital from Chiswick Park in the west to Valentines Park in the east, Waterlow Park in the north to Sydenham Park in the south  (and me with them – I used to pick a different place every year and a bunch of us used to travel miles for the experience of seeing a new show in a different venue) but as sundry cuts bit, the Rotherhithe-based company was forced to shrink its reach, though it stayed in South East London to the last – our own Oxleas Wood was one of the last places to go.

I was one of the angry ones when the Arts Council slashed Bubble’s funding. I guess they were just too popular, not wanky and progressive enough for the snobs who want to see ‘innovation’ (read ‘weird stuff by arts graduates. Weird stuff by anyone else not allowed’). I was so very angry because far from being uninnovative, Bubble are one of the bravest companies around – they are masters of reinvention, unafraid to experiment with style and working with the community – something once fashionable but now rather shunned. Yeah, we get art ‘for’ the people but more and more rarely ‘by’ the people (with the honourable exception of Sir Danny Boyle last Friday night).

I can’t say I love everything they do (Not even Sir Danny had that accolade – I mean what was it with that creepy baby? It  looked like something out of Alien…) Occasionally it does come out just a bit too weird for me – or is more fun for the participants than it is for the spectator. Sometimes the intention is there but the execution hits wide of the mark. But that was what was/is exciting about Bubble. Did they say, for example, when The Sirens of Titan was chosen as the summer show ‘come off, it, that novel is un-performable’? No – they went ahead anyway, and much of it was extraordinary. Bizarre, yes, but extraordinary.

You just don’t know what you’re going to get – and when you get a good one (which is usually) it is utterly sublime – an evening of pure joy, energy and dazzling invention (the pictures are from one of my all-time favourites, The Odyssey, but there have been so many.) And that was enough to get me back every year.

They lost their Arts Council Grant several years ago, but reinvented themselves yet again with what’s now known as crowd funding – they called it Fan Made Theatre. But then everything went a bit quiet  for me.

I traditionally found Bubble’s website hard to work out where I wanted to be on it, and if it had the info I needed, I could never find it  so I thought I’d drop Peth, artistic director for the past – what – twenty years? – a line to ask what’s going on with the company.

His reply was very encouraging – they’re still doing exciting stuff – and still working with all sorts of interesting people in loads of interesting ways. Here’s his reply (with my comments interspersed – hey – my blog, my rules…)

It’s been an interesting few years, replacing 65% of your core revenue income isn’t easy, but we’re getting there. From a financial point of view we are no longer dependent on the vagaries of the Arts Council and are working in partnership with a number of trusts and foundations – 3 of which have awarded us 3 year funding.

I can only think that it’s good to be independent of the Arts Council – it’s unlikely that we’ll get another Olympic Games turning up and suddenly pulling the rug from arts funding to pay for it, but I am curious to see whether that funding will be reinstated in 2013 or just quietly forgotten – and by that I mean arts funding for anyone, let alone people like Bubble, who don’t dance to the Arts Council’s tune anyway.

We work quite intensively in Southwark and Lewisham, running year long projects in schools for children referred to our Speech Bubbles programme with communication needs – this programme is now rolling out to North London and Manchester. Our LB Plus project trains teenagers who are not in education, employment or training (NEET is the awful term) to lead workshops and deliver inter-active performances to other teenagers. This is now making links with businesses – mainly in the Shard area, delivering training for employees and LB Plus recently won the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) award for innovation in youth work.

And another award from United for all Ages was won for our intergenerational project Grandchildren of the Blitz, which built a show from interviews conducted by children with elders who had been children themselves during the war. Out of it came Blackbirds a beautiful intergenerational show which we took to the Albany as well as the new Canada Water library and a couple of other Southwark venues.

We’re now running 8 participatory groups – for adults, teens and children and run workshops in two residential homes. It’s all very busy – 900 events last year and each week the company makes theatre with a population equivalent to a primary school.

While money is very tight the last piece of good news is that we have raised the £280,000 needed to make our building (2 old sacking warehouses in Rotherhithe) fully accessible, in order to function as a “creative hub” – used by other companies as well as Bubble.

Congratulations, guys.

This is all very well I can hear the Phantom thinking, but when are we going to see you in Oxleas Woods again?

Ha – you read my mind.

Well I’ve written into our Business Plan the aspiration to bring back the summer show for 2015 – quite possibly people who once brought their children will then be being bringing their grandchildren, but that would be a lovely thing.

Fantastic news. I’m there.

But before then we can be seen in another park – the regenerated Ladywell Fields, when on the 16th September we will be producing an event called Rivers and People. Starting about 7pm and running through to 9pm, it includes formation dog walking, a cycling barn owl and excerpts from our last big piece The Great Outdoors (check out the website for footage).

Okay – count me in. Aw, c’mon folks – Ladywell Fields isn’t that far… And Formation Dog-Walking. That’s like the canine equivalent of Rhythmic Gymnastics. And that’s Bubble for you…

Lastly, It’s our 40th birthday.

Blimey – I had no idea – I thought they started in the 80s.

We’re holding a series of events to mark the occasion and learn more about our history. The next is on the evening of the 29th September, 3 of my predecessors will be talking about the 80′s and the perils that befell the company during that heady era. Do come along, do encourage others to do likewise.

Then the other event that might be of interest is one that will mark the 90′s – a rehearsed reading of one of the pantos. This will take place on Sunday 6th January – and the exact script will be chosen by public vote.

Well, my vote is for Cinderella, merely for the inspired choice of characters. I mean – who else would dare start a panto with a death scene (Cinders’ mother) and have the dame go off to the bar, only to be physically dragged out of it when our heroine needs a fairy godmother, just in time for the slop scene? Brilliant – and not something I’ve ever seen done before or since.

Of course my choice is only Cinders because I wasn’t around the year my gang went to see – actually, I still don’t know what the show was because all they ever talk about is meerkats. If there’s no reprise of the Meerkat Song, there will be a lot of startled heads popping up.

It will feature Simon and Eric and others from our panto ensemble, and will include a ceremonial re-enactment of one of the slop scenes. Perfect for that dark and dead time just after crimble. 

Cinderella it is then.

If you have a moment please consider becoming a member of the company – more and more the Bubble is becoming a shareholding type organisation. That way we widen our support and you get regular information and invites. And exhort your friends to help us build the company back up.

I point you all towards our snazzy but not yet fully completed new website at for more details, and to enjoy the partial but already interesting Bubblepedia.

Delighted to say that the new site is much, much easier to navigate, though I still can’t find out how to book for things and it’s quite hard to find out how to join as a member if you don’t know that they’re called MoBs.

Seriously folks – if you’ve not come across this company before, it’s fantastic – and if you, like me, remember happy evenings in torrential rain (or the odd balmy heat) following strangely-attired people through woods to find a magical world that only Bubble could create, do get involved.

To Be or Not to Be

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

We heard much about the demise of Greenwich Playhouse over the past few months. Apparently Galleon Theatre are looking at the stables at Charlton House as a new home, which could be an interesting proposition (though less convenient for people coming from London – it’s close to Charlton station but we all know what people who don’t come to South East London are like when it comes to not wanting to venture into places they’ve not heard of…)

Which means that now, there is a space free. And, as you can see, it’s very free. All mention of Greenwich Playhouse has been painted out, the posters are gone, there’s nothing to say there was ever a theatre there.

The reason I didn’t go absolutely ballistic over the ending of the lease with Galleon was this article in The Wharf where the landlord of Beds and Bars who own the building says that they are not looking to pack the place full of extra bunks to cash in on the Olympics. In the words of Edmund Passey, Group Operations Director:

“We’re looking at what we can do with it and have made no application to change the space.

“The only difference is we’re now the landowners of the site and we’re not looking to have one theatre company running it.”

I took that as being a multi-theatre company venture, perhaps a theatre space for hire, like so many of the fringe theatres in the centre of London.

So, Edmund Passey, when are we going to see this happen, then? Certainly the first phase, that of obliterating the former occupants of the theatre, seems complete (albeit harsh, they are as much a part of the place’s history as any other). The next few months will show the real colours of Beds and Bars but I have faith.

I look forward to sitting in the front (read ‘only’) row of the next production at the space formerly known as the Greenwich Playhouse as a lovely diversion for all the occupants of other hotels during the Olympics.