Blooming on stage


We meet Ben Faulks, the star of Mr Bloom’s Nursery.

The idea of Mr Bloom evolved from a street theatre production you created which you then pitched to the BBC. How successful did you think it would be as a television show? What do you think makes it so popular – even five years and five series on?
You can never bank on people liking your work. You can certainly hope they do, but once it’s finished and out in the public domain, there’s nothing more you can do. For my part, I could see the concept, clear as day, working as a TV show. Thankfully, the BBC could too. As for the success it has enjoyed, that’s down to everyone else, not us. In terms of what makes it popular it’s impossible to say but obviously, it’s all a sum of its parts put together by a lot of hard graft and a lot of luck, being the right thing at the right time.

You’re loved not only by the kids – it’s no secret you’re a big hit with the mums too. What do you make to all that? Some of your ‘admirers’ say some pretty fruity things! What do your friends and wife, Mimi make of the attention?
We have a giggle about it, as we’d no idea a tank top and wellies could be so attractive. But to be honest, given that I’m not on social media I don’t encounter a great deal of what goes on.

You have three children of your own, how does life as Mr Bloom work around having a young family? What do they make of having a famous dad?
They’ve grown up with me dressing up as different characters, so they’ve always got their head around it. Everyone’s dad does something different. As for Mr Bloom, it was admittedly very special when they we’re younger and in the CBeebies age group, as it was of specific relevance to them. However, it is tough being away from home for extended periods of time, be it on tour or location but that’s the life we lead and it’s important to us as a family to make it work.

So, Mr Bloom’s Nursery is going on tour! Tell us more…
Yes! Mighty exciting times ahead. It’s the first theatre tour we’ve undertaken. It’ll feature Mr Bloom & the Veggies.

How will it differ from the television show?
There will be familiar sights, sounds and activities from the TV show BUT this is a completely new story line and adventure. Also, the audience are imperative to the action, so unlike the TV show, they’ve going to need to get involved.

Mr Bloom’s Nursery: Sunday 2 April. Book here.

Lighting up the stage


One of Gilbert & Sullivan’s lesser-known works, Patience, is being given a much deserved revival by English Touring Opera, and will be arriving at our theatre this spring. We look at the background of this nineteenth century comic gem.

Although it might be a lesser-known gem now, at the time it as written, Patience was one of Arthur Sullivan and WS Gilbert’s more popular works. The sixth of their fourteen collaborations, it ran for 578 performances after its opening, more than the now better-known earlier Gilbert and Sullivan work HMS Pinafore.

It was first performed in April 1881, at the Opera Comique in London, before transferring to the Savoy Theatre, opening on 10 October that year. This opening performance at the Savoy was the first theatrical production to be lit entirely by electric light.

The titular character of Patience is a simple milkmaid, with whom the aristocratic poet Bunthorne is in love, despite the many noble maidens sighing for him. Bunthorne has a rival for Patience’s affection, in the shape of another poet, Archibald Grosvenor. There are many romantic twists and turns before the romantic fates of the three main characters (and the sighing noble maidens) are resolved.

As well as the romantic plot, the opera also contains a satire of the late nineteenth century aesthetic movement. This was a Europe-wide movement, whose unofficial motto was ‘Art for Art’s sake’. Its name came from its adherents’ belief that aesthetic vales were more important than moral or social concerns to literature, art, and interior design. Famous followers of aestheticism include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne. The latter two have both been suggested as models for the poet Bunthorne in Patience.

The part played in the plot of Patience by the aesthetic movement may explain why it hasn’t become as widely known as other Gilbert & Sullivan works, despite its huge popularity at the time (its initial run was the second longest by a Gilbert & Sullivan work, eclipsed only by The Mikado). On its first London revival Gilbert had been concerned about how the work would be received by a modern audience. However, as Gilbert wrote to Sullivan after the premiere of this revival (which the composer was too ill to attend), “The old opera woke up splendidly.”

Now, English Touring Opera’s new production of this neglected classic looks set to wake it from its slumber once more. While aestheticism may be no more, a satire on a celebrity-led fad surely still has relevance. Add in some highly whistle-able Gilbert & Sullivan tunes, and it will surely be a winner.

Patience:  Friday 12 May. Book here.

See My Friends


With Sunny Afternoon, the Olivier Award-winning musical inspired by their music coming to us soon, we take a look at the story of The Kinks.

While they may never have achieved the same level of fame as The Beatles, The Kinks are widely regarded as one of the most influential and most-loved groups of the 1960s, going on to influence bands such as Blur and Oasis in the 1990s and beyond. They were formed in 1963 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies and two of their friends, in the probably not very rock’n’roll London suburb of Muswell Hill. The group began its life under the name The Ravens. Within a year they had secured  a record deal, re-naming themselves The Kinks along the way. (Although Ray Davies has since claimed that he never liked the name).

Their third single, You Really Got Me, became their break-out hit, storming to the top of the UK charts in September 1964. The song, which has been cited as inspiration for punk, garage rock and heavy metal, was written by Ray in his mother’s front room. Further hits, on both sides of the Atlantic, followed in quick succession.

But, as recorded in Sunny Afternoon (the show, rather than the original song of the same name), it wasn’t all plain sailing. Tensions within the band began to surface in 1965, a year in which they toured extensively. During one gig in Cardiff, Dave Davies insulted drummer Mick Avory, and kicked over his drum kit. Avory retaliated by hitting Davies with his hi-hat stand, knocking him out.


It wasn’t an entirely isolated incident, with tensions among the band – especially between brothers Ray and Dave – frequently leading to rowdy on stage behaviour. After a brief tour in 1965, the band were effectively banned from touring America until 1969 by the American Federation Of Musicians. Although no official reason was ever given for the ban, articles from the time suggest that it was due to the band’s rowdy behaviour, both off stage and on. Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 1969, the year they were allowed to return to the States, Ray Davies said: “It wasn’t that we didn’t want to come back. We weren’t allowed to come back. There were permit problems. We did want to come back a few months after the last tour… I’d like to tell you about what happened but there are some things I don’t want to talk about. It’s very difficult and we’re lucky to come back.”

The touring ban wasn’t the only cloud on the horizon. In 1966, the strains of constant touring, and the wrangles within the band, led to Ray Davies having a nervous breakdown. Despite all this, musically, the period between 1965 and 1970 was The Kinks ‘golden age’, during which they released songs like Dead End Street, Sunny Afternoon, See My Friends, Waterloo Sunset, Lola, and Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.

See My Friends, with its sitar-imitating guitar and raga feel is cited as the first crossover single, and is credited with inspiring The Beatles later use of an actual sitar. Barry Fantoni, a 1960s celebrity and a friend of both bands, remembered: “I was with the Beatles the evening that they actually sat around listening to it on a gramophone, saying ‘You know this guitar thing sounds like a sitar. We must get one of those.’ “.

They saw a brief return to commercial success is the late 70s and early 80s, when the singles Come Dancing and Don’t Forget To Dance both charted on both sides of the Atlantic, but the band’s star waned from the early 70s. But their legacy lives on – they returned to prominence during the 1990s, when many of the stars of the Britpop era, including Blur, Oasis and Pulp declared that they had been influenced by The Kinks. Waterloo Sunset attained iconic enough status to be featured (with Ray Davies performing it) in the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, introducing a new generation to The Kinks music. With Sunny Afternoon (the musical) now touring after a successful West End run, The Kinks legacy continues!

Sunny Afternoon: Tuesday 4 to Saturday 8 April. Book here.

Meet the veggies!


CBeebies’ Mr Bloom is coming to our theatre with his family of Veggies in a new stage show which is sure to delight the whole family.

Mr Bloom’s Nursery does what many parents might have thought impossible – gets children excited about vegetables! Set in the allotment of the lovable gardener, and featuring a supporting cast of animated veggies, the award-winning CBeebies series has been teaching children about vegetables and where they come from, as well as wider lessons on nurture and growth.

Key to the show’s appeal are the characters of the Veggies. For the uninitiated they are:
Margaret the Cabbage: sensitive with a zest for adventure and is fascinated by space, and especially the moon.                                                                                                                                 Joan the Fennel: a fusspot who loves dressing up in a variety of costumes. She likes to be the centre of attention and is the self-appointed leader of the pack.                             Raymond the Butternut Squash: he may not be the brightest but he is very thoughtful and has a big heart.                                                                                                                                 Sebastian the Aubergine: French and suave with a passion for the arts and loves to sing.     The Wee MacGregors: the Radishes, a law unto themselves – cheeky, mischievous, observant and attentive.                                                                                                                         Colin the Runnerbean: the youngest of the pack, a typical little boy who loves adventure and is full of energy.

The show evolved from an interactive street theatre piece called The Vegetable Nannies, created by actor Ben Faulks – who plays Mr Bloom. In 2009 Faulks approached the BBC – with three young children of his own, Faulks regularly watched CBeebies and realised his show would work well on television.

Faulks admits he isn’t a keen gardener himself, although he loves the outdoors. He’s not sure where the inspiration for the character of Mr Bloom came from: “He was always going to be a happy Northern gardener but I haven’t based him on anyone.”

Now, Mr Bloom is heading out on tour. In this all-new show, the allotment is awaiting the arrival of a very special guest. It will feature the Veggies, Compo the Compostarium machine and of course the Tiddlers (as children are known in the Mr Bloom universe) will be involved with songs and games. Ben Faulks says: “We are all really excited because this is the first time we have appeared in a traditional theatre setting –  but the show will still retain its intimacy and heavily involve the audience, especially the Tiddlers.”

Mr Bloom’s Nursery: Sunday 2 April. Book here.

Tackling the beautiful game


Women’s football did not begin with Bend It Like Beckham, however awareness raising that film may have been. As Offside, coming soon to our studio, shows, the history of women’s football goes back a lot further than you might think.

Women’s football goes back as far as the men’s game. In the nineteenth century, as football developed from an unofficial village game into a codified sport with an agreed set of rules (although, of course, arguments about the off side rule are also as old as the game itself), women’s teams developed alongside men’s. Some based themselves in the same grounds as their male counterparts, while others, like British Ladies Football Club, toured the country, playing local teams. This was not a fringe sport either – a game played in 1895 at the home of Reading and featuring the British Ladies Football Club managed to draw a crowd higher than the previous highest attendance for the Reading men’s team.

It wasn’t always easy however. Although the British Ladies Football Club could boast aristocratic support, in the shape of its president Lady Florence Dixie, daughter of the 8th Marquess of Queensberry, the women actually on the pitch still faced prejudice, with most opting to play under assumed names to avoid scandal.

The golden age of women’s football came during the First World War. As men went to fight abroad, men’s teams were no longer sustainable, leading to the development of women’s teams as an alternative. The most famous and successful team of this era was Dick Kerr’s Ladies, which took its name from the Preston munitions factory where most of its players worked during the First World War. They became the first ladies team to play in shorts, and the first to go on a an overseas tour.

Their star player was winger Lily Parr, one of the first professional female footballers – although as a smoker, part of her wage was paid in Woodbine cigarettes! In 2002, Lily was the first female player to be inducted into the football hall of fame.

Even after the end of the war, when men returned from fighting, the women’s game continued to be hugely popular, regularly attracting more spectators than men’s games. On Boxing Day 1920, a match between Dick Kerr’s Ladies and St Helens Ladies at Everton’s Goodson Park ground was watched by 53,000 people, with thousands outside who failed to get tickets. To put that into context, the best crowd the (male) Everton team could muster at the same ground in the 2014/15 season was 39,000.

So, what went wrong? Why didn’t the women’s game continue to thrive? In 1921, the Football Association banned female teams from playing at FA associated grounds. At a stroke, the more than 150 ladies teams playing at that point were excluded from grounds with facilities for spectators. The reason given by the FA at the time was: “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” It’s unclear whether they were worried about the female game overshadowing the male one, or reflecting a wider backlash against women’s war-time independence. Either way, the effect on the women’s game was devastating.

That ban remained in place until 1971. Women’s football has developed gradually since then, with regular television coverage beginning in 1989, and the inauguration of the Women’s Super League in 2011.

One milestone was in November 2014, when 55,000 people watched the England women’s team play Germany at Wembley – beating the crowd of 40,181 who watched the previous men’s team friendly.

With both Sport England and the FA committed to developing the women’s game, it looks as if women’s football might finally have a level playing field.

Offside: The Marlowe Studio, Tuesday 11 April. Book here.

Not out of laughs


Drama doesn’t have to mean serious, comedy doesn’t have to mean stand-up… we take a look at some comedy-dramas coming to our theatre this season.

It probably started as a bit of mischief… Mischief Theatre that is, the creators of the all-conquering The Play That Goes Wrong. The comedy that started as a very small scale production by a group of drama school graduates, performed in a room over a pub, grew into an Olivier Award-winning, West End conquering phenomenon. They followed it up with the equally successful Peter Pan Goes Wrong (televised over Christmas) and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

Now, Mischief’s first success, The Play That Goes Wrong, is once again touring the UK (it’s also heading to Broadway) giving audiences the chance to laugh themselves silly all over again. It’s with us in August, but you don’t have to wait until then for a funny night out at the theatre. Inspired by Mischief Theatre’s success (and also that of plays like the National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guv’nors, producers are showing more interest in comedy-drama, meaning we have some very funny things to offer you in the coming months.

First up is Out Of Order, which comes to us at the end of March. This is a tale of confusion and misbehaviour in the corridors of power (surely not! ), which begins when a junior government minister begins a relationship with a young lady working for the Opposition… The play, which is written and directed by Ray Cooney, ‘the king of comedy’ was first performed under the title Whose Wife Is It Anyway? before being revived under its current name in 1990. This revival will star Shaun Williamson, best known for playing Barry in EastEnders, but who recently showed off his comedy chops during a guest appearance in our Marlowe 5 Gala Performance. He’ll be joined by Susie Amy (Footballers’ Wives) and Sue Holderness (Only Fools And Horses, Green Green Grass).

As if this wasn’t enough, we’ll also be bringing you Don’t Dress For Dinner, a side-splitting comedy of duplicity, which stars Marlowe pantomime favourite Ben Roddy – not as ‘a fat bloke in a dress’ as we’re used to seeing him, but in his ‘day job’ as a proper actor. He’s taking on the lead role of  Bernard, who is looking forward to a weekend with his Parisian mistress while his wife is away (men behaving badly is a theme of comedy drama). He’s invited his best friend along as an alibi. What could possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything, which is of course where the fun begins…

So if you need a laugh in these troubled times, you know where we are…

 Out Of Order: Monday 27 March to Saturday 1 April. Book here.

Don’t Dress For Dinner: Monday 8 & Tuesday 9 May. Book here.

The Play That Goes Wrong: Monday 31 July to Saturday 5 August. Book here.

Curious: meet the director

Marianne Elliott

Marianne Elliott on the set of Curious

We speak to Marianne Elliott, the director of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, about the process of bringing the novel to the screen.

Were you a fan of Mark Haddon’s book before you started working on The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time?
Yes I was a real fan of the book. I read it when it first came out and absolutely loved it. I never thought in a million years that it would be adapted for the stage. In fact I thought it was a book you couldn’t really adapt.

How did you feel when you got the script from Simon Stephens?
Simon asked me to read a script that he’d spent some time on as a favour. I realised it was an adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. I had absolutely no expectation and thought it’s really impossible to adapt. I had no idea that he was asking me to direct it, although he’s just told me recently that it was his secret plan. It was quite good actually because I read it with an open mind. I wasn’t worried about how I was going to stage it or thinking ‘is this ever going to work?’ You often read scripts you think you’re going to direct and think what on earth is going to happen? I saw it as a film at first. I read it a couple of times and I knew I loved it. I thought it was very visceral and incredibly emotional. I had no idea how you’d do it, absolutely none. At that time there wasn’t much help in the stage directions for things like Christopher’s journey London. I just thought it’s an amazing story and he’s found a way to make it work, with lots of voices rather than just Christopher.

How did you come up with the idea that the whole stage was Christopher’s mind?
That was a long, long process. For a long time, we were going along the route of it being a play within a play and if it was that, who are the performers? Are they his teachers? Are they his school friends? If they’re his teachers – where are they doing the play? Then we thought it could be in a school hall. So the play was going to be set in a school hall for a really long time. Eventually through lots of conversations, lots of meetings and lots of playing with the model box Bunny said she thought it should be more magical than that. I was really keen that it shouldn’t be too high tech; that it wasn’t some great big illusion; that it had to look like it was all created by people on stage – humans making the story. But between us we eventually came to a happy place that it should be his brain and that it should be a box, and that in the box there are lots of magic tricks. But the magic tricks aren’t down to incredible moving digital scenery, it’s to do with seeing how the humans create the magic.

Do you think the role of Christopher is a challenging one to play for the actor?
It’s a really, really difficult role and difficult to cast actually because he has to be young but, inevitably, young usually means inexperienced and the actor has to be on stage the whole time. He has to drive every scene and he’s always the focal point. There are a lot of words to say and on top of that he has to understand what it is to be this kid. He has to understand what it is to feel emotions and to feel them very intensely but not be able to identify or channel or articulate them. He’s got to be highly traumatised on the journey to London and he’s got to be quite obstreperous as a character but yet you’ve got to like him. He’s got to be really very adept physically. High demands on all levels and therefore a very difficult part to play.

That’s why there are two Christophers – it’s too physically demanding to do eight shows a week because it is such an incredibly demanding role.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time has received many awards and plaudits, and has played to hundreds of thousands of people world-wide. What do you think it is about the play that resonates with audiences?
Lots of people relate to having a really inspirational teacher who, amongst the midst of disappointment that every other adult gives you, can see potential in a child. Also, it’s about parenting and about families – parents who are flawed but desperately trying to do their best. They’re really trying to put Christopher first in everything, they just get it wrong. It’s also about Christopher – he’s highly vulnerable and highly limited in some ways yet manages to triumph and succeed in a way that’s beyond even his dreams.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time: Monday 6 to Saturday 11 March. Book here.