Barnum! Rolling in to New Victoria Theatre Woking

Phineas T Barnum proclaimed he ran the greatest show on earth and this week brought that to New Victoria Theatre, Woking.

How do you make a musical about a larger than life but nevertheless real man? It seems you make it big and you make it an event that starts before the curtain has even been raised.

On taking seats, the New Victoria Theatre auditorium is filled with show people, juggling amongst and with, the audience, walking on their hands, climbing the seats, leaning over the balconies making shapes in the air with banners and streamers, giving the atmosphere of a bustling busy circus. Usually the only tension inducing activity before any show is apologising as people have to stand up for you to reach your seat while you balance a bag, cup and coats trying not to bash the people on the row in front on the head with your stuff (sharp intake of breath as you balance all that – Human Buckeroo – will that last item be one too many?! CRACKERJACK!) The skill of turning your phone off in time, the decisions (ooooohhh!) as you look at your phone thinking ‘airplane mode or fully off?’ (aaahhhhh!) It’s exhausting before you even sit down and now someone is walking on their hands!! In a theatre!! At the side!! on the steps!! OK everyone JUST CALM DOWN! Actually let’s park the word ‘calm’ for a couple of hours, even if written in block capitals – like shouting.

Brian Conley is a great choice to play P.T Barnum he manages to personalise the role where he interacts in a way that the public know him as himself and yet remain authentic to the part. At the beginning he jokes and speaks to individual audience members making the whole auditorium part of the show as any good circus owner would. He talks of the Humbug – what some would call lies, others call marketing, he says the ‘sucker is born every minute’ and colourfully displays that he is right to the end of the show and yet it isn’t cynical he believes in these shows himself, and the authentic love of the character for the larger than life, the amazing, the incredible shines through.

Linzi Hateley is absolutely brilliant as Chairy Barnum, the dynamic between her and Conley makes them a very believable married couple. The moment when the showman’s wranglers reveal what they consider to be the most fearful and ferocious creature known to man is the only time Barnum quakes and hides behind his ringmaster with good reason as he receives the individual wrath of the said ‘creature’ revealed.

Both play out their relationship in a touching and complementary way. You hope that it was true that she had such an input to his success and that in fact it seems had society been different it would have been her success, her business decisions, that made him a worldwide sensation. The crisis their relationship goes through and the bittersweet way it ends makes it a very human as well as entertaining story.

The skill of all the performers in this show is without a doubt, from the singing by Kimberly Blake as Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale whose attempts at English on arriving in America are very funny as she repeats in a disgusted way Barnum’s attempts to get her pronunciation right and then rises in the air singing like an angel. The amazing acrobatics and singing from all the performers and the balance that Brian Conley displays as he tightropes across the stage, across to Jenny Lind, as his wife Chairy runs on to witness as he crosses a divide that he has never attempted before, knowing what all that means to her.

The set is very cleverly designed to enable the audience to appreciate all the different types and extremes of Barnum’s acts from the massive legs of Jumbo to the oversized chair that makes a normal sized man look like Tom Thumb. The action, movement and colours make you feel that the man who said that life is full of colours and who we are now watching the life of played out in music and dance and acrobatics, certainly was right. He certainly is still colouring the world and this production carries on with that legacy with integrity and just, well, fun.

There really is nothing as good as seeing real life people do stuff like this. It might’ve left the audience with the desire to backflip out of the theatre at the end and face life looking at things through new angles and humbugs or maybe just for that one night and that is no bad thing. Maybe the next day more people were walking across their office on tip toes or balancing on one leg at a blood pressure check up with an extra spring in their step – I hope so – I’m not telling you what I did but I thought the bannister was stronger than that and office chairs aren’t what they used to be, slower and spin less well than they used to it seems. We could all do with the right kind of a bit of circus in our lives and make them the greatest shows we ever take part in.

Barnum is on at New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 24 January 2015 tickets available on


Edward Scissorhands Springs Hope in Woking


Woking saw the iconic Edward Scissorhands being brought to snip away at people’s heart strings at Matthew Bourne’s interpretation taking place at the New Victoria Theatre this week.

First off I need to come clean. This is the first time I have ever been to a ballet. My experience extends to three scenarios.

1. Fuzzy Felt Ballet set – fantastic and impressive, all tutus and black background

2. Being sent to Ballet when young, because the doctor said it would help my poor co-ordination. Ballet, and picking up pencils with my toes. It must have worked because I have no problem lifting a glass to my lips.

3. Accompanying my two girls who chose Ballet as their entry into the world of dance. Sometimes this was quite stressful, they often moaned about the leotards annoying their bums.

I didn’t know ballet etiquette but decided that sitting through in first position would be good. I had the option to change to fifth position if I needed the loo. (Practical applications of Ballet: Tip 1)

Settled in is where the magic then began. The scenery is stunning and the imagery brings to mind magic stories like watching a moving picture box, despite the size of the theatre, in a very intimate way.

Dominic North as Edward is endearing and vulnerable, as his creator dies shortly after his Frankenstein experiment to build a boy born from sadness and before he has the chance to give him hands, it is a very touching scene.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dominic North as Edward Scissorhands. Photo by Johan Persson

The whole production as a light and dark, the surface and depth of how we live, Hope Springs like Stepford and yet Edward’s birthplace reminiscent of the Addam’s Family more honest for it. The set and costumes designed by Lez Brotherston matched with the skill and expressive communication of the Company does this so well. The comic and tragic almost Shakespearean in the metaphysical background mixed with Gormenghast rising behind to Edward’s rise and inclusion in real warm family and village life and shunning again from it. Losing his love and yet, in the end never losing her.EDWARD SCISSORHANDS,

The comic moments were excellent, like I said, I have never been to a ballet and it wasn’t the place I expected to see a woman trembling on a twin tub to make her smile. Similarly I didn’t expect the emotion that emerged on seeing the vulnerable figure of Edward appear at the end as Dominic North came forward to take his applause.EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dominic North as Edward Scissorhands, Madelaine Brennan as Peg Boggs and Tom Davies as Kevin Boggs. Photo by Johan Persson

Woking on a Tuesday in January isn’t the place you’d expect people jumping to their feet so impulsively to applaud a ballet and those that would didn’t look like the people who would applaud a Tim Burton styled production, but it was and  they did and the Company deserved it for a brilliantly moving and uplifting performance.

So I haven’t been to a ballet before but I definitely will be again and if you haven’t then try this one, it has all the classic themes, reminiscent nostalgia from the days of Sharks and Jets, Goth novels and Stepford, a real  mixture of 20th century iconic genres in one go from Caroline Thompson’s original screenplay to stage.

Yours, a ballet virgin aged 48 & 3/4

Edward Scissorhands is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 17 January you can book on 0844 8717645 or

Just Everyday Life

It’s funny when I sit working in the Phoenix Cultural Centre. I’m near the front so people can come in from the Job Centre for advice or passers by can find out what is on or where to go for help but it’s quiet and peaceful in the day when there is no course or training on. Sometimes you’re working and people hurry past, sometimes slow pushing pushchairs or wheelchairs. One man speeds past on his mobility scooter, I think he has modified it. He used to come in for classes, he had no legs and would jump in and out of his chair like a cowboy on and off a horse. When he left we pushed the door as far as it would go, he would put his headphones on and turn his mp3 player up to full volume and speed out the door taking the corner like Lewis Hamilton. He was like Road Runner on that thing.

Other times, people who have been with us before know we are here and go past waving or saying hello poking their head through the door with their news, they sometimes stop but they have moved on and have places to go. That is what we want, but they know they are welcome and we are always interested to hear how life is going for them. It’s not always a smooth journey whatever path they are following but it is theirs. Sometimes they come in all brave and smiley and then burst into tears. What can you do but listen? Sometimes, we all just want our Mums. It’s the same feeling no matter how old we are or how far away they are or, sadly, how dead they are.

People who don’t know us wonder what we are, is it a furniture shop? a charity shop? What exactly are you? It’s just a little venue where everyone is welcome that is all. If you believe in alchemy if you believe in magic then that is what happens. If pure science is your thing the sound made by the music inside makes a resonant vibration with your body and mind and lifts you. You produce endorphins and oxytocin from being surrounded by encouragement and human contact and the live music hasn’t been digitally compressed so the effect is magnified on people especially where there are more to share the experience. Either way. Magic happens. Science was called magic once by the people who thought they owned logic and burnt scientists at the stake as witches. Let’s not build anymore pyres to sacrifice people just trying to make life better for others.

The winter has the heater on and a blanket over my knees. The summer the door is open and the music goes out on to the street, sometimes it’s Northern Soul, sometimes relaxing, often a local band’s CD. Into the Mire by Cardboard Carousel has featured a lot. People going past sniff the air as the incense smoke snakes out. Sometimes they have gone past before they realise and stop puzzled and look back. You don’t mean to watch them. People don’t realise how endearing they are, in the silence of their everyday journey they wouldn’t remark or think they are being fabulous and human and vulnerable and strong just by walking to work, or town. They go past in pairs laughing, walking their dogs, with their headphones on, brows furrowed, on the phone talking about what to have for dinner. All of the stuff we all do but to be accidentally their audience, the humanity that shines out in the everyday makes it essential box set back to back viewing.

Nothing more than when parents go past with their children from babies to teenagers. Toddlers and Primary School skipping ahead older ones being lectured. Lean down and do up a coat in the cold, wipe a tear or pick up a fallen child. A man just did that and when I watched him put his shopping bags down to do his sons coat up in the bitter wind I realised I knew him from years ago. He used to bring his wife and baby to my English classes, they’d missed the enrolment and the creche was full. He was insistent, I explained I had no spaces in English classes but would fit his wife in anyway somehow but couldn’t fit the baby in the Creche because we weren’t allowed to have too many children to staff because of safety. Every week he walked with the buggy and his wife to classes and asked for a Creche space and while we didn’t have one I had to say no. In my head I was dismissive, the baby was fretful and I thought he was just not wanting to be in sole charge of the baby. I assigned him every stereotype of a man. I was wrong.

He was in pain, he didn’t get any sleep because he was helping his wife with the fretful child. His eyes were desperate and he needed help, what he had fled from abroad had crippled him with memories and pain. We couldn’t find a space but if, when they arrived the baby was asleep we could let him stay with his mother in the class. Soon a space became free. I learnt a lesson that day. Since then I had seen them at various points over the years as baby one grew and two came along and then three and realised what a kind and patient man he was, but it had been a while.

Today, he stopped and put his shopping bags down. He fussed at his sons coat, a big boy now, not quite grown but grown enough to think that coats and parents and fussing just gets in the way of fun stuff all brought up as a little British kid thankfully so far away from what his Dad suffered.  But he stood there patiently while his Dad did it and put up with him tucking his hair tenderly under his hood before picking up his bags and moving on. That was the point at which I realised I knew him and the point at which I felt the instinct to open the door and say to the boy ‘ I hope one day you know what a brilliant Dad you have and how lucky you are’. Obviously I didn’t, I might be a sentimental weirdo but I know the line where friendliness ends and injunctions begin.