Category Archives: Arts

Bette and Joan by Anton Burge

Bette and Joan charts the relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford while they make the film ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ The film is a psychological thriller about a bitter, lifelong rivalry between two sisters, both actors. This play, Bette and Joan is set in their Hollywood dressing rooms in the sixties, while they are shooting the film, and is an intensely personal look into the hidden lives of the two stars. Both women are now in their fifties and suffice it to say, they are not best friends.

Bette Davis
Photo with kind permission of Miles Davis photography.

Emmie Spencer gives a masterful performance as Bette Davis in Bette and Joan and it’s excellent to see her in a leading role. She has real presence: she is a seasoned actor in the Brighton Little Theatre company and starred humorously as the Nurse in Shakespeare in Love. In Bette and Joan she is always in command, only speaks when necessary, has the best lines, she’s occasionally acerbic and hard pressed on every side. Bette often plays strong women, sometimes villains, and chooses her friends very carefully.

Bridget Ane Lawrence, educated in Chicago and New York, gives a compelling performance as the beautiful and, at times, hysterical Joan Crawford. Both Lawrence and Spencer often perform at the New Venture Theatre in Brighton.

Joan is proud of her appearance and lacks the strong, core stability of Bette Davis. If Bette Davis resembles a contemporary Adele, strong, private and uncompromising, Joan Crawford is highly-strung: a pleaser, more akin to a brunette Marilyn Monroe with slightly less talent.

In the first half of Bette and Joan, Bette Davis has the upper hand. Joan Crawford’s strength becomes more apparent after the interval, revealing a metal beneath her fragile presentation. The mood becomes more reflective, both stars looking back on men they have loved and lost, not least Clark Gable. There is a sense that loneliness is the price of fame for these pre-eminent women.

Joan Crawford
With kind permission of Miles Davies Photography.

Direction by Ann Atkins is excellent, as are the costumes put together by a team of three including Glenys Stuart. Steven Adams designed the set which represents an intimate look inside Hollywood.

Anton Burge wrote the script which is littered with references to Bette and Joan’s shows. I would have liked to see more of a resolution at the end and more context into how the film was received. Burge specialises in writing about famous women. He directed Mrs. Pat starring Dame Penelope Keith at Chichester Festival Theatre. In 2011, Bette and Joan opened in the West End starring Greta Scacchi and Anita Dobson.

I recommend this play, Bette and Joan, the audience loved it – it may be set in the sixties, but the themes of friendship, rivalry, aging, love and loss are timeless.

Brighton Little Theatre
Tuesday 05 to Saturday 09 March 2024
Photos by Miles Davies Photography

This article was first published on Brighton Source, the going out Bible.

Shakespeare in Love by Lee Hall

Shakespeare in Love is a play about William Shakespeare meeting his muse, finding his voice and writing Romeo and Juliet. One hundred pairs of eyes are eagerly await every word that flows from his pen. At the start the sense of expectation is acute, as we meet young Shakespeare who carries the responsibility of being a playwright magnificently and battles writer’s block and self-doubt.

In Elizabethan England there are two eminent playwrights: William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe; and two rival theatre-companies owned by entrepreneurs, Philip Henslowe and Richard Burbage. Shakespeare in Love sparkles with wit and exuberance and transports you effortlessly back into the chaos of Elizabethan England, the shambles of most theatre-companies and the financially precarious life of theatre-owners.

Particularly in the first half, the script is complex, jumping from one Shakespearean play or sonnet to another. If you know your Shakespeare, it’s a delight. The play is based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. The rivalry between Shakespeare and Marlowe is an interesting conceit – think Cyrano de Bergerac and look out for conspiracy theories.

Lewis Todhunter is compelling as William Shakespeare, in his second major role as the male protagonist this year. (He was Bertie in the King’s Speech during the Fringe.) He is self-assured and has great presence. His muse is Viola de Lesseps acted by Melissa Paris, she loves acting in Shakespearean plays, and is vivacious and diffident in equal measure. Emmie Spencer, who is cast as the Nurse in the most comic part in the play, performs superbly well and gets the most laughs.

Arlo Giles-Buabasah is the youngest member of the cast of Shakespeare in Love. He is on set a lot of the time and overlooked, as children often are, but he saves the day. I look forward to seeing Arlo in another production at Brighton Little Theatre (BLT.) I think he is only upstaged by Mollie, the dog called Spot.

Mike Skinner is affable and astute as Mr Henslowe and keeps his financial pressures to himself. Richard Fisher has piercing eyes, fit for any villain and not unlike those of Nikki Dunsford who plays Queen Elizabeth I. She is commanding with natural authority. Oliver Russell is the controlling suitor, Lord Wessex. Andrew Bird does not have many lines but he delivers them with aplomb.

The character of Burbage could be better developed in the script.  After his death, a consortium of the Lord Chamberlain’s men, including Shakespeare, built the Globe theatre in 1598 where almost all of his later plays were performed. You can still visit the Globe today to watch Shakespeare in a reconstructed theatre on the Southbank of the River Thames in London

Organising a cast of 23 is not easy, it was popular among the BLT company, of course, because it’s a play about the theatre. Direction of the play by Claire Lewis and Howard Abbott is excellent. The set is imaginative and compact.

Shakespeare in Love is an exhilarating romp through the playwright’s most famous scenes and offers a window into the mirth and magic of the theatre. It’s a timeless play about the private life of a writer whose unparalleled ability to write about the human condition is unmatched. I recommend this play as a celebration of life, love and loss.

Four stars ****

When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell

‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ is an intergenerational play about family, betrayal, abandonment, forgiveness and love. It is set across continents in London, Adelaide, Alice Springs and the Coorong on the Southern coast of Australia and Uluru near Ayer’s Rock. It is also set over a series of time scales from 1959 into the future in 2039.

Henry Law is a very interesting character acted by Brighton Little Theatre veteran, Leigh Ward. Everything seems to be in place in his life in London until his wife makes a very devastating discovery. In the opening scene of ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ he is in Australia and the question for the audience is why. How did he get there and why is he so far away from his family? Charlotte Atkinson provides some sparkling conversation and the scene, initially, is of domestic contentment. They have a son unexpectedly, later in life called Gabriel.

Gabriel Law is a young charmer on a road trip when he meets Gabrielle York acted by Holly Everett. This couple embody some of the fluidity of modern relationships as they try to work out what they want. It is good to see Daniel Carr take on a bigger part. He is convincing and at ease throughout the performance. A lot of the warmth in the play arises as we observe these young lovers.

Gabriel makes a flying visit to see his mother and we encounter Suzanne Heritage (Elizabeth Law older) who makes some tough decisions to protect her son that he does not understand.

One of the themes of ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ is the need to let go of the past. The implication is that ghosts will haunt you, if you let them.

There is a lot of drama in the second half of the play. Tess Gill acts as Gabrielle York older and is very convincing. She is reaching the end of her life which could have turned out differently. Tragically, even as a youngster she did not feel, that lasting happiness was in her grasp.

Shocking revelations about Henry Law bring the play to a climax. His despair is palpable. The final scene is very clever with the whole cast on stage for lunch and much, as ever, remains unsaid.

Bovell’s play, ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ is very realistic, containing awkward silences and mundane conversation as well as moments of connection and insight. It’s a depiction of everyday life where secrets are buried deep in the depths of a man’s soul. I recommend it, be warned, it contains adult themes.

Four stars ****

James and the giant peach

Roald Dahl’s books draw us into a land full of magic and talking animals. James and the Giant Peach is no exception, he takes his friends on an adventure in a giant peach to Central Park in New York. This Christmas play sizzles with fun for the whole family – after several pitiful years in the care (if you can call it that) of his two aunts, James manages to escape and his adventure begins.

Dahl’s characterisation is excellent in James and the Giant Peach with each insect having a distinctive personality and none of this is lost in David Wood’s abridged adaptation for the stage. Special mention must be made of Patti Griffiths who organised the make-up and wigs, as well as overseeing the movement of the creatures on stage – sparkling faces abound smiling throughout and drawing the audience into James’ world. Costumes are very well developed which is not easy – how exactly does one dress insects?! Laura Johnston and Christine Fox show they are up to the task.

Samuel Masters is welcomed back to the company to play James, the main protagonist, in James and the Giant Peach. He has energy and builds a team, rallying the spirits of his friends in times of trouble. Look out for Samuel, he’s a scriptwriter and director as well as an actor.

Aunt Spiker, Frankie Knight, is glamorous and knows it but her face is warped by large purple boils – an indicator of her nasty nature. Her interaction with Sponge, acted by Phaedra Danelli, and the incessant bickering never ceases to entertain.

Neil Turk-Thompson is very convincing as Old-Green-Grasshopper. His facial expressions, including his eyebrows and movements provide endless entertainment and place him in a class of his own. He is James’ greatest champion.

James and the Giant Peach

Oliver Russell makes his debut performance at BLT as the rather arrogant centipede. Russell is a seasoned actor but new to Brighton and a good addition to the company. Ladybird acted by Ellie Mason is a lovely character.

Olivia Jeffrey is elegant as Miss Spider and Kirrily Long can be applauded for taking up the part of Earthworm late in the day. Earthworm is a very funny portent of doom who heroically saves the day when the peach is in trouble.

James and the Giant Peach runs for about two hours excluding the interval which makes it perfect for children who can still be tucked up in bed by 10pm. Rapturous applause at the end was evidence of how much the audience enjoyed the show.

It is no mean feat to have 12 actors and a complex set on a stage as small as Brighton Little Theatre. Joseph Bentley clearly had a lot of fun as director. He writes of James and the Giant Peach: “I remember the joy of childhood and the promise Dahl made to us all that anything is possible if you believe in yourself, the love you find around you the family you build, and the adventure.”

I recommend this energetic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book. The show engages, excites and entertains, it’s great fun for the whole family.

Three Stars ***

Stones in his pockets

Stones in his pockets is about two lads who are taken on as extras for a Hollywood film. The action takes place in the Blasket Islands of County Kerry in Ireland. The play is a good humoured exploration of how you start out in the film industry and exposes the precarious nature of life as an artist. Charlie Conlon tries desperately to get the lead actor and directors to read his script throughout the play with limited success.

Ciaran O’Connor acts as Jake Quinn, newly returned from America. He is native to Blasket Islands and related to half of the community. Jake is straight talking, compassionate and a deep thinker. He doesn’t run away from reality, even in his darkest moments and he takes everything to heart.

In the course of the play, Ciaran plays six other cameo parts and the character of Mickey, the professional extra, deserves special mention. Ciaran has been with the theatre company for twenty years and should continue to seek leading roles. In Stones in his Pockets, he is very understated as Jake and a delight to watch.

Ben Hayward, cast primarily as Charlie Conlon also has credits to his name and is making his debut at Brighton Little Theatre Company. He moved down to Brighton during the pandemic and works hard as a junior doctor in his spare time. He plays a lot of the cameos involving the film crew, particularly the part of Caroline Giovanni, an alluring American film star. Charlie Conlon is a young man trying to find himself. His video shop folds and he arrives in Blasket Islands in pursuit of dreams and may be running away from some ghosts.

At the heart of Stones in his pockets is a clash of cultures between the film crew who are restless and ruthless, always pushing forward and the sleepy, close-knit Irish community that cherishes family, friendship and their cows. Tragedy strikes at the end of the first half and then Jake and Charlie have to come to terms with what has happened. There is a whisper of romance.

Direction by Harry Atkinson is excellent and the set works well. Characters change in a matter of seconds which is a great achievement. Ciaran O’Connor and Ben Hayward are on stage throughout the full length of the production which takes stamina and grit – their acting is outstanding. The script was written by Marie Jones and is a little slow to get going in the first half but mention of lemon meringue pie makes the audience laugh from the outset.

I thoroughly recommend Stones in his pockets brilliantly executed by Brighton Little Theatre. Expect a lot of laughs underpinned by poignancy as an Irish community comes to terms with loss. A twist at the end brings hope, purpose and fulfilment.

Four stars ****

Warning: This play includes themes of suicide.

The Railway Children

Are the kids at a loose end this summer? Why not pop along to Brighton’s Open Air Theatre (BOAT) to see Mike Kenny’s adaptation of the Railway Children? It’s a heart-warming story of a middle-class family who strike hard times when father, who is the breadwinner, is suddenly taken away in the dead of night.

Joanna Ackroyd is convincing as hard-pressed mother who needs to keep the family running and the money coming in when father is taken away. However, the shining stars of the performance are the children. Sophie Davis is the eldest, Bobbie, Chris Church (whom we have seen in Blink and Anne Boleyn) is Peter and Chantelle Winder is excellent as the youngest child, Phyllis.

The children are on the stage for most of the play in two acts and Chantelle is building up the credits, having acted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer and in the Twits. Chantelle has great presence as Phyllis and generates at least half the humour in the play, rivalled only by her brother, Peter and Perks.

Chris Church excels at humorous characters and often steals the attention when on stage. He is a very versatile actor and works hard in the Brighton Little Company. Sophie Davies is the eldest child, Bobbie (short for Roberta.) Bobbie is the responsible eldest child who holds the key to finding her father. Acts of heroism distinguish her although she is a little too old to be cute like Phyllis.

The Railway Children

Bobbie’s character was acted by Jenny Agutter in the 1968 BBC production and 1970 film, (Agutter acts as Sister Julienne in Call the Midwife) and you can watch The Railway Children Return at the Odeon at the moment starring Agutter. However, you will miss the charm of Brighton’s outdoor theatre which is one of my summer delights and the intimacy that only the theatre brings.

Direction is excellent. Tess Gill and Steven Adams team up to co-direct the play and bring out the banter between the children beautifully. At the theatre, you really do put aside the day and enter into the lives of the characters, never more so than in the Railway Children. Tess is a seasoned director at Brighton Little Theatre as well as an actress.

Steven Adams makes a brief appearance on set in a critical role. Look out for him. This play has a cast of 13 and many of the actors double up to help with production when they are not on stage. Brighton Little Theatre company is a lean machine and is actively recruiting back stage helpers at the moment.

Leigh Ward deserves a mention as Perks, the train conductor. I saw him acting as Henry VIII in Anne Boleyn and he was commanding. In this play he is still in charge but in a comic role and his wife, played by Nettie Sheridan has a small and very funny role. They bring warmth to the play and straddle the class divide much more evident in society in 1906 when the book was written, than in modern times.

E S Nesbit wrote the book at the turn of the last century and it has been a classic family favourite ever since. Mike Kenny’s adaptation is excellent, sticking closely to Nesbitt’s plot while writing colourful dialogue throughout to add pace to the stage production.

Railway children audience

I think the Railway Children is charming and very close to the book. Adults will enjoy the play as much as children. At its heart, it’s a play about a family ripped apart and making the best of difficult circumstances: the children show great resilience, as kids always do. Chantelle stands out as the youngest actress and I think she is easily as good as the rest of the company.

On a summer’s evening, I can think of nothing better than to pop along to Brighton Open Air Theatre and put your feet up over a glass of wine. The play runs until 13 August at BOAT and then in the equally charming Brighton Little Theatre from 16 to 20 August.

Four stars ****

‘Invisible People’ at Worthing Museum

Worthing Museum has thrown open its doors to a very different type of exhibition. It’s called ‘Invisible People’ and features work by Guardian cartoonist, Henny Beaumont and young people with learning disabilities.

Lily the dog
‘Lily the Dog’ by Beth Beaumont

This is part of a larger campaign towards celebrating the successes of young artists with learning disabilities in collaboration with Superstar Arts and Rocket Artists. Henny’s daughter, Beth Beaumont, who has Downs Syndrome, learning disabilities and a fantastic sense of colour has contributed a painting, ‘Lily the dog.’

Henny said that only 5% of adults with learning disabilities in the general population are in paid employment. She said: “In Beth’s college 65% of students’ progress to paid employment, it shows what can be done with the right training.”

When talking about challenging perceptions about people with learning disabilities and autistic people, she said: “There is still huge ignorance. As a parent, you feel invisible and your children’s needs are invisible. The young artist who painted the Harry Styles painting came along to Worthing to see it displayed. It was wonderful to see how pleased she was – I can’t say it was validation for her – but that is my hope, that it helps people to feel validated and seen.”

Betsy King is a young woman with autism who came along to the exhibition with her Mum, Kathleen King. She is studying drama and was not diagnosed with autism until she was 16. This is not uncommon with girls. She said the assessments were “quite exposing” but she really benefits now from group therapy and the support network as well as access to 1:1 therapy.

Betsy’s favourite painting by Henny is of the court system, showing a judge surrounded by books that are toppling off a pile and crushing young people with learning disabilities underneath.

Trauma experienced by people with learning disabilities

Additional support for learners with learning disabilities can transform their time in education and greatly improve their chances of progression into employment. It is tragic that for many parents there is such a battle to access the support.

Henny was commissioned by Bild to explore the social care world – the barriers facing young people with learning disabilities and the system that sometimes makes it very difficult for families to get help.

Ben Higgins, Bild Chief Executive, said: “We have been privileged to have Henny Beaumont working with Bild and Respond on our recent trauma-focussed project and webinars. All the images have been co-produced through listening to professionals and people with lived experience. Henny has created incredibly impactful images, providing a powerful visual representation of people’s experiences of trauma.

Henny Beaumont with her art
Henny Beaumont with her art

“Far too many people with learning disabilities and autistic people have experienced complex trauma.

“This project and the accompanying images have helped deepen awareness of understanding of trauma across education, health and social care.”

A lot of Henny’s work emphasises the trauma experienced by young people with learning disabilities and the multiple barriers they face to inclusion.

Henny also teamed up with Brigit Connolly to produce the ceramics (plates and mugs) during workshops. They can be made to order for a limited time while the exhibition is underway.

Beth Beaumont

Henny has worked tirelessly in Stoke Newington with Kate Revere and Stoke Newington Business Association on ‘Invisible people N16,’ an exhibition in over 90 shops, where art work by people with learning disabilities, autistic people  and people from marginalised communities was displayed in shop windows.

Look out for Henny’s book; “Hole in the heart. Bringing up Beth.” Henny will be doing a book signing at the museum in the autumn.

‘Invisible People’ exhibition will run until 30 October at Worthing Museum.



Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton

King Henry VIII steals Anne Boleyn’s heart, having seduced her sister, and then has to work out how to marry Anne. Expect intrigue as the politics of love unfolds in the royal court. Anne is feisty and different. She was sent to the French court when she was fifteen and is therefore more streetwise and less naive than your average courtly young lady. Thrown into the spotlight by Henry’s affection, rumours about Anne Boleyn abound. Thomas Cromwell knows them all, arch Machiavellian schemer that he is.

Kemi Greene acts as Anne Boleyn and has great presence although she is still relatively new to the Brighton Little Theatre Company. Whenever she is on stage she makes sure to capture the audience’s attention. Her characterisation in the script is very good and she delivers her lines with alacrity: she oozes complexity, dancing a dalliance with Henry and flirting zealously with William Tyndale.

The context of this love story is the English Reformation triggered by Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. William Tyndale, acted by Daniel Carr, wrote the first English Bible in the vernacular, previously they were all written in Latin and owned by monks, priests and scholars only – the elite.

Expect some time travel (an artist’s licence) to the reign of James I who was also James VI of Scotland. He is a totally different character, irreverent with acerbic wit – I wouldn’t want to cross James I. I have seen Chris Church before in Blink. He is great fun and acts a range of quite different roles with the same passion, attention to detail and humour. Look out for Chris Church and Kemi Greene, they are both very talented.

I feel the best lines in the script are reserved by Howard Brenton for Cardinal Wolsey masterfully acted by Peter Jukes. In what felt like an effortless performance, Wolsey’s intellect (as well as his love of food) is evident for all to see. Some of his lines are poetic and all of them have substance. I really enjoyed the script and particularly the large number of actors in the cast, demonstrating theatre at its best. It’s good to see some new faces too.

I don’t have the space to mention every actor and direction is faultless. I did enjoy Kez Price’s performance as Thomas Cromwell whose eyes and ears are in every nook and cranny of the court. Like Kemi (as Anne Boelyn), Kez has great presence, submitting only to Cardinal Wolsey and manipulating Henry as craftily and poignantly as all his subjects. Kez is part of the fabric of Brighton Little Theatre and clearly a great asset to the company.

I enjoyed Leigh Ward’s sympathetic presentation of Henry VIII, it feels very natural. Howard Brenton is kind to Henry in his characterisation, arguably at Anne Boleyn’s expense. It is often thus, particularly and not exclusively in period dramas, where men are lifted up and women cast aside or denigrated.

Finally, I must mention Chloe McEwan who plays Lady Rochford. Among the women, Lady Rochford is all-powerful and yet is putty in Thomas Cromwell’s hands on more than one occasion. The politics and misogyny of the court are exposed by Lady Rochford’s plight and fatally Anne Boleyn’s, revealing the powerlessness of being a sixteenth century woman.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and highly recommend it for its authenticity and humour. It’s not easy to bring to life sixteenth century court in the 21st century and Brighton Little Theatre has done it superbly well. I like the fact that as the audience we know who each character is and there is not too much hat-changing and doubling up. I like Neil Fitzgerald and look forward to seeing more of his work.

As a post-pandemic play, it could hardly have been better to bring the company together, including a significant number of new members. I look forward to seeing more of them in future.

***** Five stars

Blink by Phil Porter

Blink is a very touching tale of two quirky young people who find themselves unexpectedly alone in the world. Jonah acted by Chris Church comes from a repressive religious community in the country and is a bit of a geek. He comes to London upon the advice of his mother and is befriended by Sophie, Kez Price, who lives downstairs.

Their friendship begins in an unusual way by sharing space through a screen. The couple eventually go on dates without speaking. They do not speak for a long time. They get to know each other in other ways. Surveillance does not feel menacing in Blink because there is consent, unlike the mendacious witch hunt I have experienced at the hands of the media. I did not consent.

When disaster engulfs Sophie, Jonah is there by her side. Over attentive at times, faithful and loyal. As with many friendships, there are highs and lows. Characterisation is excellent and charming. Jonah’s character is more eccentric and therefore easier to define – there are stereotypes of people who live in the country and of strict religious communities. Sophie is a Londoner: we all know Londoners and perhaps we don’t notice their eccentricities.  She is no less credible, just more normal if such a phenomenon exists.

Blink’s central question could be: How do introverts meet and how do they interact? Sophie is told at work that she “lacks visibility” and this statement haunts her. She is criticised because she did not go drinking in the pub after work, which is probably the only issue; but as introverts do, she worries that she is actually becoming invisible. Words hurt and people do not forget how criticisms make them feel, long after the words themselves and details have been erased from memory.

Masterfully directed by Nettie Sheridan, Blink is making her debut at Brighton Little Theatre and I very much hope they will invite her back. Kez Price and Chris Church work hard – they are on stage together throughout the play for one hour and fifteen minutes. Kez Price was part of the BLT production of The Mill on the Floss which won the Minack Trophy Award in 2019. Like Nettie Sheridan, Chris Church is making his debut at BLT after five years with Seaford’s Synergy theatre. Phil Porter, who wrote the script, has written adaptations of Shakespeare, Opera and libretti for children demonstrating his considerable range as a playwright. Blink was first performed at the Soho Theatre in London.

Blink is thought-provoking and needed in our time. How many of us have been hidden away during the pandemic? Isolated and alone, some of us have found new ways to connect. Above all, the play is about friendship and love between two people of the same age. If you would like to find out how their friendship develops, you must go and see the play.

**** Four Stars

Brighton Little Theatre has a policy of wearing masks throughout the production at the moment and only allows drinks in the bar which is ventilated. They are taking the pandemic more seriously than many institutions including churches and should be commended for it. The theatre seats 75 and it felt like a safe and thoroughly enjoyable night out.

The 39 Steps by John Buchan adapted by Patrick Barlow

The 39 Steps is a timeless spy story written by John Buchan in 1915: it’s the forerunner to the “man on the run” genre that is with us to this day. Alfred Hitchcock turned the 39 steps into a famous film in 1935 and the BBC last broadcast it in 2008.

Slightly at a loose end, Richard Hannay, our protagonist, aged 37 with, I am told, a very fetching moustache, finds himself at the theatre.  He is inadvertently drawn into a web of spies by a member of the audience who seeks shelter in his flat. He becomes a target for the Germans because they think he holds sensitive information about the Luftwaffe.

Philip Keane offers us a stirling and very natural performance as he sprints through a Scottish moor, seduces a woman on a train to hide from the Police and addresses a political rally. He is always falling in love and always on the run.

His love interest in three different guises is Lou Humphries. From the original spy to a young woman trapped with a bad tempered man in a Scottish croft, many of the characters are humorous caricatures.

Patrick Barlow is responsible for this tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the adventure story that may otherwise, appear quite dated. I laughed through every scene of this play.

Special mention must be given to Suzanne Heritage who among other roles, plays the arch villain, Professor Jordan. After a fair amount of hype and a reputation which precedes her, we eventually meet the Professor in a remote part of Scotland. Like all good spies, she has embedded herself in her community.

It’s up to Richard Hannay to prove her villainous intent and his innocence. The odds are stacked against him. His photograph is on the front page of every paper and his love interest, Pamela Edwards proves a prickly target.

You can see why Hitchcock needed a big cast for the 39 steps. There are three clowns who between them portray 30 different characters from paper boys to mock detectives and actors. The play is action packed with 33 scenes masterfully captured by a cast of five.

Direction was excellent and complex. The actors brought the props on and off themselves and rearranged a sparse set scene by scene – remember there were 33 of them.

For a small theatre company, I think this play is a triumph. It’s very funny, makes great use of irony, flashing blue lights to symbolise the Police and a digital screen acting as the main set. The production was innovative and fresh.

If you can get to the Brighton Little Theatre this week, go. It’s a small theatre of 75, ventilated where possible, with a charming bar. You won’t regret seeing this very humorous adaptation of the 39 steps.

***** Five stars

Absent Friends (a tea party) by Alan Ayckbourn

Set in a cosy 70’s living room, Absent Friends centres around a tea party at Paul and Diana’s house. It’s a domestic comedy that Ayckbourn is known for, where secrets unfold and relationships hang in the balance. Ayckbourn invites the audience into the lives of six individuals and their two absent friends. There are moments of dramatic tension leading up to disclosures, defused by comedy throughout.

Direction by Ann Atkins is good with symmetry between the actors enhancing the comedy at times. Diana is played by Frankie Night who is a born communicator and sits at the centre of the drama. She is a Brighton Little Theatre veteran: this production is her eleventh with the theatre company. She is very witty and her tea party falls apart when she withdraws.

Paul Morley who plays Paul is married to Diana. He is the ‘bad boy’, frustrated and stifled in his marriage. He injects a fair amount of humour into proceedings and generates quite a lot of sympathy along the way.

Holly Everett is Evelyn and her facial expressions from the moment she arrives on stage are priceless. She is a disinterested young Mum who according to her partner, John, never laughs.

Ciaran O’Connor acts as John and has been a member of BLT since 2004. He is generally happy-go-lucky but watch out for his phobias – they’ll have you in stitches.

Marge played by Kate McGann, is very down-to-earth and quite frankly, a godsend at a dysfunctional tea party. The odd faux pas aside, she looks after people, including Diana and tries to bring secrets into the open.

Daniel Carr acts as the enigmatic Colin – the guest of honour at this tea party. Recently bereaved, he is in much better shape than may be expected. He dominates the audience’s attention, oblivious to the undercurrents and tensions that unfold.

A lot of the actors have acted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream showing their skills and versatility.

Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn is quite simply feel good fun – a production that invites a lot of laughter. Characterisation is very good, the set is excellent and the intimacy of Brighton Little Theatre enhances the audience’s involvement in the tea party.

Four stars ****

STEAM by Ella Turk-Thompson

If you have missed theatre during the pandemic, you will find STEAM is worth the wait.

Steam opens with a silent tug of war between mother and daughter. The play is an intimate portrayal of family life, enhanced by the setting at Brighton Little Theatre (BLT) which oozes familiarity, charm and sophistication.

Ray, shortened for Rachel, is a qualified nurse and carer to her terminally ill mother. Kate Purnell acts as Ray in a BLT debut, offering the audience a masterful range of emotions that make us both laugh and cry in turn. Her sister, Sylvia, performed by Ellie Mason, plays a musician, arrives from a glittering career in Paris to disturb the peace. Ray asks herself whether her sister’s visit is motivated by duty or is it an act of love?

Suffused with emotion from the outset, age old family dynamics play out between the absent daughter and the one who never left home in this intimate family drama. Indifference, not anger, is the opposite of love and this play overflows with feeling – rage, bitterness, resentment and compassion. It’s about belonging or not belonging, family, life, loss, grief and the pain of letting go.

As the family gather around the dinner table, Anya who is ‘mother’, acted by Abigail Smith, offers us moments of self-deprecating humour. In spite of her illness, she is fully herself.

There is a fourth character in Ella Turk-Thompson’s masterly play – Callum acted by Joseph Bentley, a slightly diffident, yet loyal, Englishman. Both loved and hated, he supports Ray through the storm and effortlessly introduces sexual tension and humour to the drama.

STEAM is a story of love and loss, resilience, endings and the struggle to carry on.  Each daughter has to battle grief and triumph over it. Ms Turk-Thompson said: “It’s about family and when you can’t hold onto them.”

Physical theatre recurs throughout, offering the audience the chance to reflect. For a moment, Ray stops being a nurse and becomes a REAL woman again. In this moment the audience can empathise with her situation of being the sacrificial carer. All three of the women, experience moments of heightened emotion and they portray this effectively through dance. Dialogue throughout the play is excellent, as is casting, the script, direction and choreography.

Within minutes, we are immersed in the lives of Ray and Sylvia, observing first-hand the way only siblings really can push you to your limits.

STEAM had me totally absorbed from the start, I identified with the emotions and it caused me to reflect on my own family relationships. The play is both provocative and soothing, broaching several difficult subjects head on with humility.

I thoroughly recommend STEAM and will look out for further work by Ella Turk-Thompson.

**** Four Stars

You can read the lowdown from Fringe Review here but beware, there are spoilers.

Jolomo’s high key colour puts him in a class of his own

Colour bursts forth onto the easel of John Lowrie Morrison , Jolomo, with the painting of ‘Wet Winter Croftscape South Uist.’ The deep, iridescent, blue sky of a wet, Scottish day at dusk, merging into an orange sunset. But there is much more to this story.

As Mr Morrison explained: “In January 2005 a young family drowned in a storm that was the worst in living memory on the Islands of Benbecula & South Uist. The storm had built up a few days before as a shallow depression off America’s Easter seaboard. However it developed into a monster.

“A young family were stuck in their croft house for many hours but decided to flee. They left in two cars but as they crossed a single track road causeway the sea swallowed them up.

“A BBC Director, Neil Campbell, was reporting on the storm, not knowing his father, his wife and three children had drowned on the Benbecula – South Uist Causeway.

“I know this place well, I had to paint this tragedy at Lochdar South Uist that shocked Scotland on that stormy night – a memorial of that lovely family.”

Jolomo: Wet Winter Croftscape South Uist
Wet Winter Croftscape South Uist

Mr Morrison, who uses the pen name ‘Jolomo’, expresses feeling through colour. He doesn’t make photographic paintings of the West Coast of Scotland with her often drab, overcast skies and dark rainclouds. He has a catalogue of photographs and sketches that inspire him and then he paints his interpretation of the scenes – therein lies his magic.

Expressionism for Jolomo

When asked about expressionism, he said: “Impressionism is more realistic, you paint an impression of the snow or the trees. For an expressionist, you can have a red or yellow tree or snow.

“I paint my world, rather than the world the way it is. Picasso creates his own universe. I guess I do the same, really strong colour. I do try to get things looking like the place, it draws people in, not the colours. ‘Archie the Jura’ has gold and purple on the road, purple and gold in the sky, cerise green, colour brings out feelings and a sense of place.

“I hate grey paintings,” he said, “to me paintings should be about colour. First marks by cavemen who mixed red earth, spit water and spray around their horse. They always used strong colour. Their colour is still there, and it’s quite wonderful.”

Jolomo conveys mood and the beauty of Scotland in all its glorious technicolour inspired from a very young age by Soutine, Marc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka and Andrew Wyeth.

Jolomo’s High Key Colour

As a young man, he was inspired by oil paintings in L’Abri, a theological centre in Switzerland, with high key colour and sharp, clean air. He said: “The keys got higher and brighter. High key colour got better and better. I layer colours. I’m still learning even although I’m in my 70s. Even today I found out new techniques that I will use again.”

Jolomo’s trademark is high key colour which means you paint at the lighter end of a value scale which is a continuum from pure white to pure black. He paints the scene lighter than it is and his dark colours (blue and orange for example in the South Uist storm) become more vibrant because most colours reach a peak saturation around the mid-tone range. The skill is to compress the colour range and ensure the values on the scale still relate the same way to each other.

Impressionists used high key colour to great effect but it’s what Morrison does with the mid-range and darker colours like his blue that sets him apart.

He carries this control over colour into his more recent work and introduces ever higher keys, a taste of heaven perhaps. The deep, dark colours of his early days and the associated heaviness have to some extent receded.  They have been replaced by lighter blues, purples and lavender, suggesting that he has found his peace with the world.

Jolomo and Faith

Asked to explain why he paints, Mr Morrison said: “Painting is breathing, that’s it, it’s there inside me, it’s the gift that God has given to me.”

“For me, as a Christian, I believe we create because God created. God’s spirit is with me. I don’t always find painting easy.

“I invite the Holy Spirit to help me, every time I paint. You have to tune in. The Holy Spirit is always around us but you have to connect with it or it won’t connect with you.

Jolomo was converted while at Glasgow School of Art when he was 21, after seeing the ‘Life of Christ’ enacted. He said: “I gave my life to God. That’s when the bright colour came in: a spiritual expression.”

He painted ‘A meeting with Christ’ which was inspired by a photograph a friend sent him a few years ago. The photo was of very large and gnarled olive trees, the trees were well over 2000 years old and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He said: “My immediate thought when seeing the photos was that my Lord must have walked under these trees or sat below them or even prayed there. I quickly made sketches and executed a painting later.

“The images I painted are of Christ meeting a woman. She could be anyone – you or I. We could meet Christ anywhere but although He is always looking for us, we need to be looking for Him.”

The result: An array of colour and the landscape resplendent with light, hope and joy.

Jolomo: A meeting with Christ
A meeting with Christ

For 25 years, Mr Morrison taught art regionally in Argyll and became the art adviser to the Scottish Office. Now he dedicates himself almost entirely to his painting from his two studios in Tayvallich and Ardnamurchan.

In the 1980s he became a lay preacher after deputising for the local minister. He enjoys travelling the length and breadth of the Western Isles, speaking of God’s love as a supply minister for the Church of Scotland.

Jolomo said art is very therapeutic, it gives people confidence – kids struggling with maths or French would come to art class and gain confidence to tackle the subjects they found difficult.

He is inspired by Phineas Taylor Barnham who said: “The greatest thing you can do is make people happy.” Jolomo said: “I try to lift people’s spirits. I give loads of prints to hospitals.

“There was a man sitting in a waiting room. Twenty years ago he moved to the Cairngorms from Tayvallich, to work with huskies. I knew him. His Dad was dying.

“He sent me a lovely email saying, ‘I saw you in the Coop: it made me think of your paintings. The prints really lifted my spirits, then I was in hospital with my Dad and I saw one of your prints, I felt an inner peace.’ That’s worth more than money.”

Jolomo Award

His legacy might be the Jolomo Awards and Foundation created to highlight the painting of the Scottish Landscape in the 1990s when he felt conceptual art was taking over. He feels the award has reversed this trend and there is now a “massive” number of landscape painters in Scotland.

Mr Morrison’s earnings are significant because he is prolific and he wants his art to be accessible – you can buy one of his canvases for between £2000 and £2500 and his prints for much less. He paints to bring joy.

His high key colour opens people’s eyes to Scotland at her magnificent best. Few would question the fact that John Lowrie Morrison has become a national treasure.

You can see Jolomo exhibiting throughout July and August in a retrospective exhibition at the MacLaurin Gallery & Museum in Ayr. You can also find him at the Archway Gallery in Lochgilphead on 14 August, the Torrance Gallery in Edinburgh on 25 September and he will exhibit at the Glasgow Gallery on 13 November.

This article was first published in the November edition of Scottish Field magazine 2021.

Prevent suicide by working together says Brighton charity

When asked how to prevent suicide, Roz said: “Sometimes it’s very hard to know how to carry on. But if you talk to someone, you may just manage to turn a corner.”

World Suicide Prevention Day is an annual event on Monday 10 September led by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation. The emphasis this year is on the role that communities and individuals can play in helping to prevent deaths by suicide in their communities and the theme is ‘Working Together to prevent suicide.’


Grassroots Chief Executive Stella Comber said: “Many people fear talking about suicide in case they get it wrong or even put the idea in a person’s head. Talking about suicide needn’t be confronting, it can be gentle and reassuring but more importantly it could help save a life. Our Real talk workshops are designed for everyone, they use clear and simple language to help reach out and support a person who might be struggling.

“It’s important that we understand how common these thoughts are, so that we start to break down the stigma and the fear of talking. We need to get right away from the belief that somehow talking makes it worse. Talking about suicide is OK. Yes, it takes courage but its courage that we all have

Most deaths by suicide in Brighton and Hove and across the UK take place in the community not in mental health settings. So it’s down to us to start that conversation. That’s why we want more people to get involved, it’s essential that we pass on the skills and confidence needed to save lives. By working together, supporting each other we really can make a difference”.

Changemaker Tiff said: “I am open to talking about suicide because the thought of losing someone I love is catastrophic. If I can talk about suicide, you can.”

Brighton & Hove City Council’s Public Health team support the work of Grassroots Suicide Prevention, a Brighton-based charity, through their public health programme. Grassroots will be marking World Suicide Prevention Day with a range of awareness raising activities across the city. These include a number of public stalls, a photography exhibition at Brighton Station, and delivering a Real Talk workshop with the simple aim to get people talking about suicide in an open, safe and honest way.

Grassroots invite members of the public to come and find out more about how they can get involved and mark suicide prevention day on Monday (10 September:)

  • An evening ‘Real Talk’ workshop in Brighton followed by a screening of a short film about Grassroots’ volunteer Change Makers – 6.30-8pm at 68 Middle St. Brighton, BN1 1AL Click here to book your place.
  • An information stall at Jubilee Library to support starting conversations about suicide prevention work in the city, and encouraging engagement through a variety of means, such as, downloading the appattending training and taking the ‘Tell Me’ pledge. You can read more about the stay alive app here. It gives local contact details for concerned residents and a gallery to put photos that give you a reason to stay alive.
  • An information stall at Brighton Station with a similar focus to the library stall
  • A photography exhibition at Brighton Station, running September 9th – 18th, using the long wall along the wooden walkway at the back entrance. Following the theme of ‘Working Together’ this will include portraits of local people who care about suicide in the community and are taking action to prevent it.

Grassroots Suicide Prevention was established in 2006, to use education and innovation to help make communities safer from suicide. They provide mental health and suicide prevention training courses and expertise to large and small organisations both locally and nationally.

Grassroots is not a crisis service, it trains people to talk about suicide and seek help. If you’re feeling like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone. Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. You can call the Samaritans at any time, day or night, Tel: 116123 or email

Further resources are available here.

An edited version of this article was first published by Brighton and Hove News.

Family pantomime returns to Brighton this Christmas

Singer and actor David Essex is the virtual star of a family pantomime playing in Brighton over Christmas this year.

The 1970s pop star will appear on an LED video wall as Baron Hardup in Cinderella at the Hilton Brighton Metropole from Friday 22 December to Wednesday 27 December.

And he will be joined by a string of West End performers including Joseph Peters and Alasdair Buchan.

The cast also includes a number of Brighton personalities. They include David Hill as one of the ugly sisters, Lou Nash and Alex Baker from Juice 107.2 and Dean Kilford from Latest TV and BBC Sussex playing Buttons. Keris Lea will play the Fairy Godmother.

David Hill with Keris Lea, the Fairy Godmother

Cinderella is the brainchild of Mr Hill who “fell into” pantomime in 2001 while sharing a flat with the comedian and novelist Julian Clary.

He said that his travel business was in difficulty after the 9/11 terror attack because people were afraid to fly.

Mr Clary suggested that he audition and Mr Hill found a second career as a pantomime dame.

A countywide search for Cinders was mounted a month ago resulting in 300 applicants.

The show’s writer and co-producer Tim Newman said: “Hannah Bailey, who will be playing Cinderella, offers us everything we were hoping for in this part and I know that every young girl in the audience will fall in love with her.

“I’m not sure what Hannah is more excited about, playing Cinders or having David Essex as her father in the show!”

Cinderella is being produced by Brighton Premiere which is a collaboration of event company E3 and the Brighton Academy of Performing Arts.

The show will be directed by Mr Newman and Stuart Dawes from the academy.

Mr Newman said: “It is so important to have children in mind. Like Pixar, the pantomime should be enjoyable for kids and parents.”

Ticket holders will enjoy free entry to a Christmas Fayre with food, dodgems, face painting, charity stalls and a chance to meet Santa.

Each performance will raise money for the three biggest children’s charities in Sussex – the Chailey Heritage Foundation, Chestnut Tree House and Rockinghorse.

Juice 107.2 is the pantomime’s headline sponsor. Others include Sussex Life, Visit Brighton, Hilton Brighton Metropole, Oliver and Graimes, Donatello, City Cabs, Glencairn Consulting, E3, Brighton Academy and McKenzie Associates.

Cinderella will run twice daily from Friday 22 December until Wednesday 27 December with no shows on Christmas Day.

Tickets cost from £10 (restricted view) to £22.50 (premiere) and are available online at

This article was first published in Brighton and Hove News on 19 October.

Hong Dam and “the Butterfly’s Dream”

Another overcrowded dinghy drifts off Europe’s coastline. Another group of faceless migrants. Are we becoming immune to the suffering felt by those with little choice but to leave their homeland? Hong Dam asked.

In this context Hove artist and sculptor Hong’s work is a timely reminder of the emotional reality of living in exile.

Hong left Vietnam for Hong Kong on a junk in 1978, and did not return until 2012, 34 years later.

She studied fine art sculpture in 1994 but found she was naturally good at visualising in three dimensions.

Hong said: “I found the art world of the West too pretentious and too intangible for me; especially in the 1990s for a refugee girl. I needed to earn a living. Without money you have no status and no pride. I don’t see money as the answer to everything, but we all need it.”

Hong therefore took a masters in computer animation and visualisation at Bournemouth University before working in the special effects section of the film industry. She has been accredited for her work in the films Gladiator, Babe 2 and 10,000 BC.

However, it is since having her children that Hong has documented her own childhood in Vietnam and contrasted it with western industrialisation, using digital imaging techniques.

She said: “Having my own children brought me back to my own childhood. I start to feel that my daughters and I live in two parallel worlds – the contrasts and conflicts of East and West – the wants and needs are so different. I decided to document a visual diary for my two daughters and hopefully they will understand why I am saying no to gadgets and material things.”

Hong’s personal work is a journey of self-discovery, exploring the universal themes of love, loss, separation and hope. She said: “I have tried not to do art, but I always find myself going back to it. The passing of my father last year has made me realise that life is impermanent and intangible, perhaps what I am doing is documenting a small part of history, of many unsung heroes who sacrificed for their loved ones unconditionally in times of adversity.”

She has produced a painting called the “Promised Land” where she superimposes images on top of each other in layers. The painting has a turbulent skyscape, a dragon, a combination of the ramparts from the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall with the rushes of Vietnam.

In the foreground is London, the Gherkin and BT Tower are clearly visible but Hong has superimposed one of her sculptures and an image from Earnest Haeckel. She has added an alien dimension because this is how she feels. She said: “As a refugee, I am always searching for the promised land.” Hong’s late father was Chinese, making the dragon an important symbol in her art: she is a child of the dragon.

Hong layers digital images to create her art

She left Vietnam in 1978 and did not return until 2012, 34 years later. Hong spoke of the iconic image of the girl running naked and without clothes along the road during the Vietnam War. She said: “I recognise it and it made me shiver.”

Some of her art contains explosions and bombs but she said: “When there is destruction, there is new life. People had to start again. There is always a positive among even negative events.” In January 2013 Hong Dam wrote a visual diary called “Dreaming of Home.”

Scenes of the West are often dark and polluted, contrasting with the lush purity of nature in Vietnam, particularly in the painting “Childhood Memories.” Yet Vietnam has also now developed and is no longer the place of Hong’s childhood.

In her own words Hong describes her most recent work: “Trapped between the invisible glass of a fragile, expensive bottle; wanting to break free. The sea, the sky merged into one; a big crash of explosion forces the migration of 1000s of butterflies. A message in a bottle drifting across derelict lands in search of a new life. Change, adapt I will – in order to survive.”

“The Butterfly’s Dream is about a little girl living in a fragile world, that is, the glass bottle, the changes and adaptations she has to make after migrating. The fragile beauty of the perfume bottle versus the ordinary lives of another world: two parallel worlds of East and West.”

A woman is cocooned in a perfume bottle but an explosion shows it is not safe

The perfume bottle is significant because Hong said: “In the West women are conditioned to feel less capable. Some women feel fragile. In poor countries women do everything. There is a limitation here.” She said that in the film industry in 1990 men and women would do the same job but they would not get the same pay.

She thinks the conditioning is ingrained and asked: “Was it really worth the price?” Hong said there is a perception of worth and a vanity about being beautiful and elegant among western women. She thinks women use this to their advantage.

Hong’s mother blew up rocks and then shovelled them onto a truck in Vietnam. The rocks were then made into tarmac. Conditioning means that western women put limitations on themselves.

To conclude Hong said: “I always see the sky as the limit. It is how determined you are that matters, even if you don’t get there, you get further than you would if you didn’t have that dream. We should continue to dream, be content with the love, do not be afraid to dream but understand the present, the people you love where you are.”