Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Splitters, Remainers, Leavers and Brexit fatigue: All eyes on Eltham

A confluence of unique events has brought us a snap winter election to take place on 12 December 2019. Since the 2019 election was declared at the end of October political parties have been going hard promising to fix health, education and social care, amongst other things, but in truth for many the election is all about the very issue which bought us to this point: Brexit.

The maelstrom of Brexit has been driving us out of our minds since the EU Referendum result on 23 June 2016 (Leave 17,410,742 (51.89%); Remain 16,141,241 (48.11%). We’re now coming up to our second general election and we’re on our third PM and Tory leader.  We’ve also seen the effective demise of UKIP, many Tory and Labour MPs either leave politics or switch parties and the formation of two new parties, the Brexit Party and Change UK.

For the 2019 GE various alliances have been formed and ‘step-asides’ declared – for example the ‘Remain Alliance’ and the Brexit Party not opposing Tory seats.

Despite all this there seems little enthusiasm for this election. Only 74 per cent of those aged 25-34 are correctly registered, falling to 68 per cent among those aged 20-24 and 66 per cent among those aged 18-19. Meanwhile, registration rates are significantly higher for those aged 65 and over, at 94 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission this week. It urges young people to sign up before the registration deadline on 26 November.

Last week candidates for the general election on 12 December 2019 for the Eltham constituency were declared by Royal Greenwich as follows:

Eltham is going to be one to watch because it’s a Leave-voting London constituency (est. Leave 51.8%; Remain 48.2%), with a Labour Remain-supporting MP, but one with no alliances and no ‘stepping aside’.  This means that the Labour candidate, local man Clive Efford, returned as MP each election since 1997, is having to defend his 6,296 majority from 2017 in the face of potential right/left and Remain/Leave splits.

There is also that worn-out group of voters now suffering from total Brexit fatigue, whatever their starting position – they may just want to ‘get it done’ (though, of course, continuing negotiations/arrangements mean it will be far from over…).

The 2017 Eltham general election had only four candidates with the following result:

Variations for Eltham between the 2017 GE and the 2019 GE choices include:

● No UKIP candidate in 2017 (when Labour appeared to mop up those votes) but for 2019 we have a Brexit Party candidate. In the 2015 GE, UKIP managed to attract a whopping 6,481 votes. Will the Brexit Party attract these votes and how many will they take-away from the Tories, or other parties?

● The Greens had stepped aside in 2017 (in the 2015 GE they won 1,275 votes). It is expected this time they will attract more of the centre-left/Remain vote  – where will their votes take-away from?

● the BNP managed to attract 738 votes in 2017 – absent this time, their small deposit-losing number but could be useful, presumably to the Brexit Party.

Only two candidates (Labour’s Clive Efford and the Green’s Matt Stratford) live in the Eltham constituency, the former for decades. The Tory’s Louie French has been a local councillor in neighbouring Bexley while the Brexit Party’s Steve Kelleher and the Lib Dem’s Charley Hasted hail from other parts of London.

Find out more about Eltham’s candidates:

Labour - Clive Efford:            Website  Twitter
Conservative- Louie French:  Website  Twitter
Lib Dem - Charley Hasted:     Website  Twitter
Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher: Website  Twitter
Greens - Matt Stratford:          Website  Twitter

If you want to vote in the general election on 12 December you need to register before midnight on Tuesday 26 November.  Find out how to register to vote.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

A Doll's House: triumphant journey from Denmark to Calcutta

What could a 19th century Norwegian man have to say about the life of a married Bengali woman during the British Raj?

It turns out that playwright Henrik Ibsen's universal themes questioning the traditional roles of men and women provide the opportunity for examining not only gender politics but British colonialism too.

Modern day British-Asian playwright Tanika Gupta's adaptation of Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' is a triumph. Together with the Lyric Theatre's new Artistic Director, Rachel O'Riordan, they re-locate Ibsen's play from a 1879 Norwegian town to Calcutta in the same year, then the capital of the British India.

Ibsen's Nora (wife of Torvald, mother of three, living out the ideal of the 19th-century wife) becomes Niru, a chirpy, husband-pleasing young Bengali wife married to English bureaucrat Tom. The play sees the unravelling of their lives leading Niru to question her situation and her own identity.

The whole cast shines - with Niru played by the dazzling actor Anjana Vasan who has many theatre, television and film credits (from Brexit: The Uncivil War (Channel 4) to Black Mirror (Netflix) and Disney's Cinderella too) and the towering Elliot Cowan as Tom also has a long list of previews credits including the current top BBC hit Peaky Blinders.

The stunning single-scene new setting is the internal courtyard of an Indian town house, complete with tree sprouting up through it's centre. It gave the sense of Niru's claustrophobic and enveloping world, trapped in her own doll's house. It was beautifully lit with the various doors off the courtyard providing useful entry and exit points.

The award-winning multi-instrumentalist composer was Arun Ghosh, who himself hovered above the action on a mezzanine verandah surrounded by the instruments which he delicately played, creating a tense backdrop at apt moments in the psychodrama.

Gupta chose to stick mostly to Ibsen's original script, making only a few alterations for the adaption. It's seems astonishing that in 1879 Ibsen portrayed such scandalous-for-the-time feminist sentiments.

In 2006, the centenary of Ibsen's death, A Doll's House held the distinction of being the world's most performed play that year showing - perhaps sadly, and inevitably - the enduring nature of the play's themes.

The Lyric provide a very useful 'education pack' (pdf) about the play and its adaptation.

A Doll's House, a new adaptation by Tanika Gupta, at the Lyric Theatre, London W6 0QL.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Muse at O2 London

Lots of ear-throbbing fun watching Muse this month. The alt-rock trio from Devon are on a world tour following the release of their latest album, 'Simulation Theory' (2018). Dedicated 'Musers' at the sold out North Greenwich gig enjoyed every minute of the music and trademark excessive style of the band who have been going since the nineties.

Unashamed of seeking mega success – perhaps unlike some of their post-Brit pop contemporaries Radiohead (who reject it) and Coldplay (who affect a modesty about it) – Muse manage to sing about conspiracies, resistance and the second law of thermodynamics complete with balloon drops and ribbon showers.  My short film of some concert concert highlights can be seen here.

Read my review at Greenwich Visitor of Muse's 15 September 2019 gig:

Friday, 12 July 2019

Jealousy, separation and reunion - The Winter's Tale, Changeling Theatre, Woolwich

"On a glorious summer’s evening Changeling Theatre used a stunning outdoor setting in Woolwich  for a production of The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s tale of jealously, grace, reunion and reconciliation.

The evocative bombed-out ruin of St George's Garrison Church and an introductory soundtrack of German electronica set the militaristic tone of the first half of the play as Leontes (Scott Ellis), the jealous king of Sicilia, accuses his loyal pregnant wife Hermione (Jess Nesling) of infidelity with his best friend Polixenes (Nicholas Masters-Waage), king of Bohemia. ..."

Read the rest of my review at The Greenwich Visitor of this 2 July 2019 performance:

A Winter’s Tale by the Changeling Theatre Company went on to be performed at various venues throughout the summer.

See my review of the 2018 outdoor staging of Hamlet at nearby Severndroog Castle in Oxleas Wood, London SE18.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Age Exchange: Blackheath’s community space for a coffee, a read and an activity

Where can you find a library, a café, a bijou shabby-chic garden, enjoy arts and fitness classes and take part in supporting older carers and people with dementia?  The answer is the Age Exchange in Blackheath.

Invited to have a look around, I visited on the last of this February’s ‘mini-Spring’ days, with my long-time friend, Maureen (yes, I’ve known her since I was 19 – she knows things…)

Entering Age Exchange, in Blackheath village’s high street opposite the train station, is like going into a tardis. The outside of the small shop front belies the range of varied well-arranged spaces and activities which open out inside, making the most of the space.

You can browse the community-run library in the basement, jump on the internet, have a coffee and a bite in the not-for-profit café (from a lovely choice – where else on Blackheath can you get a green tea for £1.50?), join one of the many activities on offer from yoga, to stitching to creative caring.

Age Exchange’s mission is to change lives through reminiscence, improving health and wellbeing. The patrons of this community-run charity include Roy Hudd OBE, Glenda Jackson MP, Rt. Hon. Nick Raynsford, Sir Sigmund Sternberg KCSG and JP Baroness Greengross OBE. The Exchange aims to reduce isolation and loneliness, promote intergenerational understanding, improve the quality of life and care for older people and those with dementia and to support carers to maintain their own health and wellbeing.


The inspirational Gemma, volunteer and Community Hub Manager, showed us around some of the centre’s other spaces including The Bakehouse Theatre (beyond the café garden) which is available to hire for meetings, training events, presentations, talks, rehearsals, and small-scale performances.

Clearly enthused by their work, Gemma also told us about the wonderful art displayed which produced by people with dementia.

‘Tree of Love’ created by Wednesday Artful Caring participants.
Age Exchange is a real gem of a place; it’s heartfelt and real - a great find in high streets too often dominated by sterile chains– I think we’ll be back soon.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Mr Cinders: Gender-role reversal fairytale comes to Eltham

You might think that a telling of the story of Cinderella with its gender roles reversed was a thoroughly modern invention. Not so.
The Sidcup Operatic Society's latest production, Mr Cinders, was first performed in the late 1920s and is said to reflect the dying gasps of the 'roaring twenties' before the Great Depression set in. There may be a connection too with the fact that the Representation of the People Act 1928 had just extended the voting franchise in  the UK  to all women over the age of 21, granting women the vote on the same terms as men for the first time.

Yet despite the influence of social change, the show is a fairytale comedy musical and aims to entertain. The story is an inversion of the Cinderella fairy tale with the gender roles reversed - the Prince Charming character has become a modern (1928) young and forceful woman, and Mr. Cinders is a menial.

See the story of Cinderella turned on its head set in the 1920s on 12-14 October at the Bob Hope Theatre, Eltham in south-east London at 7:30pm with Saturday matinee at 2:30pm. Tickets are £13.50 (£11.50 concessions Thurs/ Sat matinee) and are available by calling 020 8301 2681, the web via the Bob Hope Theatre or visiting the White Hart pub in Eltham. If you call the above number, kids can come to the matinee for just £5 and group discounts are available. 

While almost a hundred years later, housework is still overwhelmingly done by women, it will be interesting to see the role reversal re-imagined in those early years of female emancipation. The Sidcup Operatic Society claim to be the only society to perform this show in the entire country in 2017 so it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Play’s the Thing: Changeling Theatre’s Hamlet at Severndroog Castle

"...The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."
(Act II, Scene 2)

A lot of things happened in 1997: Blair brought Labour back from the wilderness, the death of Princess Di unleashed mass hysteria, UK band Radiohead unveiled their iconic OK Computer album and …erm, I started working at Goldsmiths.
But something else happened too. A small Kentish theatre company put on its first ever production, Moliere’s Tartuffe, at Boughton Monchelsea Place, near Maidstone. Now, twenty years later, The Changeling Theatre have begun touring their latest outdoor-theatre production, that most challenging of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet, directed by Rob Forknall who has directed every Changeling show.

In last Wednesday's (19 July) evening open-air staging of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest and most quoted of plays, the backdrop of the towering Severndroog Castle, deep in South-East London’s Oxleas Wood, provided a fitting substitute for Elsinore, the Danish royal castle which quietly broods over the tragic play.
Setting the scene: Oxleas Wood, Severndroog Castle
The woodland setting’s intimacy immersed and enveloped audience members in the play’s action. Similarly, the evening breeze rustled the leaves of the surrounding ancient trees in eerily-timed accompaniment to the wandering Ghost of the late King Hamlet.

The story of the troubled prince struggling to deal with grief and revenge in the Danish court, the Changeling Theatre's production triumphantly succeeds in that most difficult of conundrums – just how do you solve a problem like staging a long philosophical tragedy, with few laughs, in a summer outdoor setting? The answer is… brilliantly.
The plot thickens, audience rapt. (Spot the 10th Royal Eltham Scout Explorers along the railings, who were volunteer helpers.)  [Photo courtesy of @GuyBenJonesSM, Company Stage Manager]
The production features an excellent cast, creative use of music and scene transitions, and a clever combination of period and modern costume. The modern world is also referenced in other witty anachronistic touches – e.g. two characters pausing for a photo ‘selfie’ on their way out of a scene; and the ‘mad’ Hamlet expressing his mock-demented state by gleefully sticking stickers on another character’s back, enlisting the help of a nearby cross-legged child audience member.
Another interesting interpretation was borrowing from cinematic visual techniques (only sparingly though - relax!) in which we had the characters on stage suddenly moving in dramatic slow-motion before casually coming back to ‘normal speed’ again.
The talented young Manchester School of Theatre-trained actor, Alex Phelps, convincingly carried off the famously dense rhetoric and discourse of Hamlet’s many soliloquies including the Bard’s most famous lines:
“To be or not to be – that is the question:
Where 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,”
(Act III, Scene 1)

However the audience, and Hamlet, were enjoyably teased when it came to another set of well-known lines. The supporting characters persisted in throwing around the skull, interrupting Hamlet several times from completing his lines:
“Let me see, Alas…”(*)
and then only later allowing him:
“…poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”
(Act V, Scene 1)
(*sorry, I may have mis-remembered the exact break-point here…)

Despite the play’s serious content, the cast created a charmed and relaxed atmosphere with one of the characters even camply chivvying people back from the interval with, “Come on, come on, hurry up, it’s my big solo!”
And was it my modern feminist imagination or were there some ironic snorts and gasps at the lines?:
“Frailty, thy name is woman!
… a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn’d longer”
(Act I, Scene 2)
when Hamlet is berating his not-long-widowed mother for re-marrying so soon after her husband’s death. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude is played very engagingly by multi-talented LAMDA-trained Sarah Naughton (in action, photo below) who also excellently doubles-up later as a comic bawdy character.
The professional cast also contributed to the excellent ‘soundtrack’ to the production, arranged by Alex Scott, with many of them taking up various stringed instruments and a clarinet too.

It may well have been “madness”, sitting there in a darkened wood at 10pm on an English evening, “yet there is a method in’t” especially for such an engaging, witty and intelligent production.
(Act II, Scene 2)

This highly-recommended production continues at various venues around London and Kent ending in the grand setting of Pembroke Castle, Wales, on 30 August. Tickets obtainable from the Changeling Theatre website.

Hamlet - Alex Phelps
Gertrude - Sarah Naughton
Claudius/Ghost - Michael Palmer
Polonius/Gravedigger - Bryan Torfeh
Ophelia/Priest - Niamh Finlay
Horatio - Bryan Moriarty
Laertes/Player King - Tim Bowie
Rosencrantz/Bernardo - Brandon Plummer
Guildenstern/Francisco/Osric - Khalid Daley
Marcellus/Player Queen - Cary Ryan
Director - Robert Forknall
Design - Clare Southern
Music - Alex Scott
Assistant Director - Charlotte Quinney
Casting Director - Suzy Catliff CDG
Company Stage Manager - Guy Benedict Jones
Assistant Stage Manager - Leonie Jai Hamilton
Administrator - Dawn Archer
Marketing Director - Jill Hogan
Graphic Design- Dan Bull
Photography - Nic Dawkes
Video - Lukasz Jasiukowicz
Movement - Jessica Rose Boyd
Fight Director - Edward Linard

Friday, 9 June 2017

'They got their kippers back...': the GE2017 Eltham result

The Eltham constituency has been held by Labour's Clive Efford, with an increased majority of 6,296, on a 72% turnout.

The 2015 General Election results show the remarkable extent of the 2017 outcome:

Despite the numbers once it was known there would be no UKIP candidate, despite misgivings about an unconventional Labour leader and despite the area having a EU leave majority, the incumbent MP since 1997 nevertheless managed to win over Eltham's voters.

The local campaigns

The 'snap election' having been announced on 18 April, the Conservatives seemed bright-eyed and bushy tailed announcing Matt Hartley, a locally well-engaged Councillor for Eltham South, as their candidate. After the 2015 election, Hartley had replaced Cllr Spencer Drury (also the previous PCC) as Leader of the Conservative opposition on Greenwich Council. The numbers looked good. May was just setting out on her 'strong and stable' shtick. The polls favoured the Tories by a wide margin. Jeremy Corbyn was being trashed by the press, and few insiders, and Labour seemed the less polished and seasoned performers.

However, Efford's team were straight out of the block the morning after the election announcement, leafleting and talking to voters at Eltham Station. Some commented on the 'Labour machine' but the pic and leaflet above is from the week before the election announcement showing the incumbent MP's engagement with local issues. As it went on, the campaign was marked by upbeat numbers of volunteers turning out, many for the first time, including from neighbouring safer constituencies.

The local Conservatives frequently got in their big guns - Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Boris Johnson - and seemed buoyed. The strapline 'Standing with Theresa May' featured heavily on local leaflets by the pro-Brexit candidate.

The tide turns

With the 'Maybot' theme ringing increasingly more true in the face of May's refusal to debate, the scripted repetitive answers and the various u-turns especially on social care, it was also the polls which slowly began to look 'weak and wobbly'. The focus and momentum of campaigning altered with each of the terrorist attacks, moving away from Brexit and on to security.

Locally, a hustings event took place in Eltham on 1 June without the Conservative candidate or a representative, leaving only the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, and the audience, to disagree amongst themselves with Tory policies and proposals without actually hearing from him. It all added to the growing impression, led from the top, that Tories were not willing to show up and debate.  At this meeting and elsewhere, Efford's messages on opposition to education funding cuts, local train service cuts and sale of NHS assets were striking home.

In his acceptance speech during the small hours - opening with, "Well, rumours of my demise were greatly exaggerated" - (well, surely he's allowed that...), he gave a coherent speech about why he thought the results went the way they did. Commenting on his view that the government had taken people for granted, "there is only one set of people who run this country and that is the British electorate." Acknowledging that he had had differences with his party leader, he said that the Labour Party had put forward a truly radical manifesto and set of policies and that people respected the decency that had been put at the heart of British politics.

Efford went on to say that respect was due to the Greens who had stood aside in this constituency and that he would honour that decision. On Brexit he was committed to ensuring that Parliament was sovereign and had a proper say in the final outcome. You can watch the results come in, and the speech here:

I'd ended my post on 30 May with Harold Wilson's oft-quoted observation that a week was a long time in politics. And so it has come to pass.

The national 'hung parliament' result has led, as of today, to May intending to form a government to lead the UK "at a critical time" working with "friends in the DUP." So, as numerous others have pointed out:

2015 election: don't give control to Scotland
2016 ref:         don't give control to Brussels
2017 election: control to...er..DUP?

Who would have guessed the ending of the 'third act' in our bizarre play?

(Thanks to for the 'kippers' line :) )

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Eltham hustings - General Election 2017

In the keenly-contested marginal Eltham constituency, you would think that the sole hustings would pack a crowd and that all the candidates would treat it as a prime opportunity to address potential voters and listen to their concerns.  Yet the key surprise take-away from the event last Thursday, 1 June, was the absence of Matt Hartley, the Conservative candidate seeking to oust Labour’s incumbent Clive Efford.
Despite the good intentions of the organisers,Keep Our NHS Public, and their organisation on the night, of the potential 63k electorate, a small-to-medium-sized group assembled in the Progress Community Hall, Admiral Seymour Rd, in Eltham's historic Progress Estate. As we sweltered in the small hall on that sunny, balmy evening (hard to believe 5 days later with rain and 40mph wind currently lashing outside) I learnt that flyers had been distributed wide and far but there appeared to be little general knowledge of the event. I was emailed a flyer by 'an informant' (ok, my mum-in law) on the Progress Estate before I shared it on Twitter.
The Labour candidate, Clive Efford (above, right), and the Liberal Democrat PCC David Hall-Matthews (above, centre), took their seats. Calling the assembly to order, the Chair (above, left) made the surprise announcement at the outset that the Tory PPC was unable to make the meeting due to a prior business meeting and that no response had been received to an invitation to send a representative. There were a few gasps, some further questioning about the absence and a couple of people (that I saw) got up and left. The absence was all the more significant because it chimed with observations over the previous few days about PM Theresa May’s reluctance to free debate. It was announced that the previous Green candidate, Ann Garrett, who had stood aside, would take the ‘empty chair’ for the evening.

And then we were off. After opening statements from each of the two candidates, there were pre-written and moderated questions from the audience with free debate and follow-ups. Too long to write up properly now I’m afraid, here’s a snapshot of the topics which came up:
funding of the NHS; halting privatisation; mothballing of parts of the new Eltham Community Hospital;  sale of NHS assets under the Naylor Report; housing problems; alternatives to the first-past-the-post voting system; whether coalition govts work/are good; South Eastern Trains proposals and the current consultation; Schools and how they fared in Greenwich under the govt funding formula; all seemed opposed to proliferation of grammar schools at expense of others; ending of free school lunches; the rise and fall of the ‘Dementia’ tax; more resources to tracking tax evasion; need for improved social and elderly care; involving Parliament into the Brexit process; air quality.
There was a lot of agreement on the panel, and amongst the audience, with some differences of emphasis or method. The older age demographic of the audience led to detailed discussion about social and elderly care in particular and some nervous laughter at the grim suggestion that euthanasia be legalised to give people an alternative to the ‘dementia tax’….

Being the incumbent, Clive Efford spoke articulately about local issues and often passionately about how he would tackle the issues of concern. David Hall-Matthews seemed a fair and decent-minded opponent, though losing his way a little when it got too local ie. at one point referring to Eltham as ‘Remainers’ in the EU ref…  It all made for a pretty lop-sided debate. It often felt as though we were just talking amongst ourselves rather than questioning alternative choices.

 Since then Eltham has had a ‘battle of the blondes’ – the Tories had Boris high-fiving all comers in the high-street the day before while Labour did their rounds the next day with comedian Eddie Izzard.

Nationally this extraordinary general election took yet another unexpected and tragic turn – another horrific attack, this time in the London Bridge/Borough Market area on the evening of Saturday 3 June. I think we’ve all been through the whole of range of emotions since then – shock, disbelief, reflection and resolve - but now election has cranked up again in earnest. Until Thursday/Friday morning then.