Half-term Hallowe’en frolics!

The Magic Tea Kettle by Claire Taylor

Heck, I’ve been so busy doing other stuff, I’ve neglected myself! This is getting to be an all-too-common occurrence… Must be more self-absorbed. Or more organised. Or maybe simply more!

So, a quick plug for The Magic Tea Kettle round two!

This zany, bonkers, badger-filled romp for the under 7s (and their grown-ups) which sprang fully-formed from my zany, bonkers, badger-filled mind, is going on a southeast London family-friendly pub crawl for a few days this half-term, ending with a show at The London Theatre as part of the Lewisham Fringe Festival.

That’s this coming week! Zoinks!

Shows start on Thursday 31st Oct (come in your Hallowe’en outfits!) at The Ivy House, the UK’s first co-operatively owned pub. Friday, November 1st, we’re hosted by the lovely folk at newly refurbished Herne Tavern in East Dulwich, while on Saturday 2nd we’re back under the benevolent – and slightly cheeky – gaze of The Old Nun’s Head in, you guessed it, Nunhead! Then, on Sunday, 3rd November, we’re going to do a most peculiar thing and perform a play in a theatre! The London Theatre, no less, in New Cross.

Full details, as always on the Waggly Tales website!

Oh, we’re doing some fun workshops for the under 7s after most of the shows, so there’s yet another reason to come along!

Happy Hallowe’en, Pumpkin Fans!

The Magic Tea Kettle bubbles on

I’ve been neglecting my online presence, but it’s been a bit hectic of late. I’ve been on jury service, which was very much not what I expected. I thought I would enjoy it and find it fascinating. It was fascinating but, blimey, being responsible for making a decision about someone’s life is utterly exhausting. And not helped by the dreadful canteen. And the lack of any sort of  post-show drinks, chat or other form of debriefing or decompression made for a few interesting days once it was all over. However, it now seems quite unreal and long ago – a strange experience in  parentheses.

So, back to the business of getting on with things. Waggly Tales’ first run of The Magic Tea Kettle at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead was a delightful and successful experience.  Super venue, super audiences and super team! We’re now organising more local shows for the coming months and a tour for spring 2014, plus another new show is in the pipeline. In case you missed it, here are a few snapshots of the magic kettle-based frolics:

Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold

Uh-oh, Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold in trouble again

The Moody Fairy

The Moody Fairy about to show Arnold who’s boss

The Moody Fairy, Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold - and a smelly old kettle

The Moody Fairy, Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold – and a smelly old kettle

The Badger Tea Kettle

The Badger Tea Kettle – he’s wise and brave and bold and hundreds of years old!

Time for a Bath!

Bubbly-wubbly, bubbly-wubbly…Time for a Bath!

Prince Arnold and the Narrator

Prince Arnold and the Narrator searching, searching everywhere

Sophie the Witch and the Badger Tea Kettle

Sophie the Witch and the finest Badger Tea Kettle the world will ever see!





When the bustle stops…

I live in the Borough of Greenwich in Plumstead, which is about a 15 minute-walk from Woolwich. It’s an unsung part of London, with acres of open space, woodland, amazing views, steep hills, stunning sunsets and affordable housing.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be part of a preview audience for A High Street Odyssey, a new show from the amazing Inspector Sands. This innovative, hilarious and warm ‘invisible’ promenade show (with headphones for the audience and stunning, highly technical sound play) is touring UK high streets this summer. It was developed and previewed in Woolwich and will be returning there on 28th and 29th June for the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival  – go see! It’s free, but you need to book and it’s ace!

If you stroll down Woolwich’s main shopping streets, you’ll see a pretty much classic example of an urban British town centre – people shopping, harassed office workers having a quick fag, kids pointing at the cakes in the baker’s window, tough guys in vests walking their Staffies, mothers and nannies corralling herds of children, a man helping a lady pick up the onions that have escaped from her string bag, people running for a bus, buskers trying out a new song, a church choir praising creation, elderly ladies pushing their canvas shopping trollies in front of them, teenage boys pretending they’re not looking at girls, couples bickering about the amount of time they spend shopping, couples having a canoodle, toddlers distraught at having let go of their free McDonald’s balloon, a queue at the traditional ice cream stand, parents taking snapshots of their terrified three-year-old riding on a mini big wheel, market traders yelping unintelligibly about fruit or maybe vegetables, religious people tenderly pressing leaflets into your hand, more religious people tenderly expressing concern for your immortal soul, gleeful schoolgirls dashing out of Primark with glints in their eyes and bulges under their coats…

During the preview of the play, people on the high street who weren’t part of the audience were so interested in what was going on; asking what was happening, wondering whether it would be on TV, wanting to join in, wanting to be part of it, loving the weirdness and unexpectedness and gentleness of it. Human reactions from human beings. Who feel safe and comfortable and at home in their neighbourhood and on their bustling high street.

And then sometimes the bustle stops.

The first time I saw Woolwich stop was the day after the 2011 riots.

The second time I saw it stop was yesterday, after the indescribably horrendous murder of the soldier from the barracks.

What can you do?

Carry on.

Carry on shopping. Carry on wanting a cake. Carry on being willing to stop and help people. Carry on running for that bus. Carry on yelping about fruit or maybe vegetables. Carry on caring about strangers’ souls. Carry on picking up onions. Carry on being curious about what’s going on. Carry on shoplifting. Carry on eating traditional ice cream. Carry on doing plays in the streets. Carry on riding miniature Ferris wheels. Carry on having a sneaky fag. Carry on bickering. Carry on canoodling. Carry on. Carry on living. Carry on living in Woolwich.

The Magic Tea Kettle – coming soon to Nunhead



One of my current projects is Waggly Tales, a company making exciting, fun and funny theatre for children and their adults. The Magic Tea Kettle is our new show and you can see it at the end of May in Nunhead. Inspired by a Japanese folktale, the play has words and music by me and is directed by the magnificent Lora Davies. The hilarious and adorable Helen Goward plays Sophie the Witch, the ever-succulent and cheeky Eilidh Beaton portrays Prince Arnold, the debonair and dextrous Martyn Barmby brings the Magic Tea Kettle to life (and also plays the Moody Fairy) and I pop up as the narrator. With gorgeous costumes from the sensational Lois Ireson and a healthy sprinkling of good, old-fashioned magic, we’re hoping this show will be a hit with southeast Londoners aged 3 and up.

We’re giving a local school two free previews tomorrow and the official run is at the end of the month.Come see!



Three cheers!

The Woolwich Grand Theatre is Go!

Having had the planning meeting scheduled for the end of September and then moved to October, it was suddenly brought forward to earlier this evening.

And, earlier this evening,  the arts centre application was passed unanimously by Greenwich Council.

Thank you, Councillors and Planning Officers!

Hurray! Phew! Gosh! Eek! Now the fun really starts.

And something else I wanted to say…

You know how it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind?

Well, I want to change my mind about the council. At least a bit. Recently, I had been feeling  that big business was their major interest, and the people on the Woolwich omnibus were not too high on the agenda, but I was so impressed by their efficiency, pragmatism and good-spiritedness at the planning meeting tonight. There were several applications under consideration and each was dealt with quickly and directly. All questions raised were completely appropriate and, if answered satisfactorily, then the applications were passed with no further ado. I don’t know why, but I expected it to be a much more adversarial process with all sorts of shillyshallying and bluster. There wasn’t any of that. At all. And the councillors even looked quite pleased when we all gave their decision a large round of applause.

Three cheers! Hip hip! Hurrah! Huzzah!

Permission granted!

Permission granted!

The Woolwich Grand Team

The Woolwich Grand Team

Prole’s-eye view

So, a quick update on the Greenwich Ministry of Truth’s progress in shoving recent events in Woolwich down memory holes.

I was at The Woolwich Grand (frustratingly, we’re still not quite able to open as the planning hearing date which was scheduled for later on this month has now been pushed back to October…) yesterday and had a conversation with Mike, the independent filmmaker who had filmed the riots from his balcony. He’d ended up on Australian TV talking about the riots, while broadcasters closer to home displayed far less interest.

Mike and his colleagues at Jellyfielders had been there at the inception of the Woolwich Wall, the outlet for local feeling on the boarded-up, burnt-out Great Harry pub. People of all ages and backgrounds wrote on this wall, expressing feelings from rage to sorrow to hope. And no-one stole the pens that were put there for common use. And Danny Mercer gave a brilliant interview beside it. But, hey, guess what, while Peckham proudly preserves its Post-Its, the Woolwich Wall is whitewashed. Well, wiped out by battleship grey.

You’d think that after a display of societal breakdown, community feeling would be encouraged and celebrated by the powers that be. Out here it seems that Greenwich Council just want to pretend none of it happened – even the good bits. They even pulled out of attending a public meeting about how to move on after the riots, and just held a private one for local businesses.

Hey ho.

Anyway, even if the council is determined to turn a blind eye to efforts of locals to rally round and build something good, the residents of southeast London are, frankly, so used to being ignored that they’ll just get on and do what they’re going to do anyway.

Provided they get the necessary planning permission…

Fingers tightly crossed for The Grand.


This, apparently, is not newsworthy.

Woolwich burns, 8th August, 2011

Woolwich burns, 8th August, 2011

It makes me want to weep.

And this makes me want to cheer –  and weep a little bit at the same time because it’s so gentle and heartfelt after the horror of scenes such as the above. (It’s a video, by the way, of Woolwich youngsters helping to clear up).

Brilliant work, guys – three cheers for you all. I think your work is eminently newsworthy – far more so than Boris with a broom.

*UPDATE* 11/08/011 The Guardian has finally added Woolwich, specifically only the burning of The Great Harry, to their incident map. However, they have omitted the Woolwich incidents from their new map which cross-references rioting with poverty.

Report from the invisible quadrant

I live in the part of London no-one likes to talk about – south east London. I have got used to the fact that this means many people think I don’t exist but, nonetheless, I’ve been furious at the lack of concern or interest shown by the major news outlets at the horrific riots that took place here last night.

I’d been working at The Woolwich Grand Theatre and had wondered aloud to Adrian, the creative director, if the north London riots might be replicated down here. Which they were.

Adrian had dropped me home at about 7pm, and by the time he had driven back into Woolwich, a riot had started and a police car was ablaze. He went back to the theatre and called me through the night with updates as the roiting and looting unfolded. I then timidly posted his information in the comments thread on The Guardian website as there seemed to be no other coverage of Woolwich. As I type this, after a night of fires and looting and a day of cordoned-off streets, The Guardian still hasn’t added Woolwich to their ‘riot map’. I can only imagine this is because they’re categorizing reports from Woolwich as ‘unverified’. I’m not sure how they verify their reports, but maybe sending a reporter across the river on the DLR would do it. Just a thought. It’s been odd watching the news focus change as riots started to happen in west London. Coverage of Clapham* and Ealing has been almost constant and, though the riots there should most certainly be covered, London does actually extend beyond Ealing and Clapham, and Guardian-readers and BBC-watchers do exist across the Prime Meridian.

To be fair, the BBC had a 5 Live producer on the scene in Woolwich last night, but his excellent audio report wasn’t repeated today anywhere as far as I can make out. The BBC chose to have a distressed shop-owner from Ealing and an angry Clapham resident on a loop. I’m not saying that these reports aren’t important – they clearly are – but when all major news outlets seem to be focussing on the same areas and you know that there are other areas being ignored, you do start to wonder what drives their choice of location and story. And whether it has anything to do with the number of journalists and BBC employees living in Ealing and Clapham. Cynical? Moi? No. I think I’m probably bang on.

So, anyway, fury at the newshounds’ ignoring of the area where I live aside, here’s what faced Woolwich residents this morning.

The streets were cordoned off and guarded by police. A burnt-out police car stood opposite the DLR station.

The main shopping street, Powis Street, was like a war zone. A war where glass, rubbish, fire extinguishers, rubble and mannequin body parts were the major weapons. I couldn’t see all the shops as parts of the street were totally blocked off, but this incomplete list will give an idea as to what it was like: Argos – looted; M and S – windows smashed and looted; all the mobile phone shops looted and smashed; all the pawnbrokers in the side streets – CashConverters etc and smaller independent jewellers-cum-pawnbrokers – smashed windows, forced security grilles and looted; New Look – windows smashed and looted (I thought it was really bizarre that all their window mannequins had gone), Burton – windows smashed and looted; Bon Marche – smashed and looted, video game shop – smashed and looted; a now-unidentifiable shop (possibly a mobile phone shop) – burnt to a shell with walls collapsing into the street and firefighters still putting out the flames; Natwest bank – smashed windows and looted.

Adrian had seen the Natwest bank being attacked. Inside, a very diligent cleaner had been vacuum cleaning, iPod earphone firmly in lugholes, completely oblivious of the baying mob smashing the plate glass frontage a few metres away from her. I hope she scarpered sharpish when she looked around.

Adrian and several other people reported a priest standing alone against the rioters, gently telling them all to ‘go home’. There had been some police present, but only a handful and, once the fires started, the police had had to provide an escort for the firefighters to stop them being attacked.

Riot Police in Woolwich, August 8th, 2011

Riot Police in Woolwich, August 8th, 2011

There had been least three major fires and other smaller ones. The new Wilkinson on the bus-stop side of General Gordon Square had been set alight. Wimpy (come on, what has Wimpy ever done to anyone??) had been smashed up and, possibly because it was below a CCTV camera, had been set alight – not all that successfully. Greater success had been had with the Wetherspoons pub on Wellington Street, on the other side of the road from the theatre. The Great Harry, scene of many a Woolwich Grand Theatre painting team lunch and named after a Tudor warship accidentally destroyed by, ahem, fire in 1533, was a burnt-out shell. The traffic lights next to it were melted.

This is the picture Adrian took last night before the flames fully took hold:

The Great Harry on fire, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

The Great Harry, Wellington Street, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

The pub had been set ablaze by rioters starting fires on two tables. Adrian and another man went into the pub to try to put the fires out before they took hold of the whole building. They couldn’t find the fire extinguishers (these may well have been taken by looters to smash windows with) and were forced back out after a few minutes because of the smoke. Firefighters lobbed bricks at the upper windows to smash them before they exploded and the place is now a shattered, ashen husk.

The rioters also did goodness-knows-what damage to the almost-completed, much-anticipated, refurbished General Gordon Square. I say goodness-knows-what damage because the Square was cordoned off today so it wasn’t possible to see what had gone on there. Adrian said he saw some kids trying to smash up the (admittedly horrific) Big Screen, but all this light in this picture looks like someone had turned on some of the workmen’s machines… or is the light fire? And yes, that sign does say ‘Investing in Woolwich’.

General Gordon Square, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

General Gordon Square, Woolwich, 8th August 2011

Today, we good burghers of Woolwich and environs wanted, like many other London residents, to help clear up the damage. Alas, no broom-waving with Boris for us southeastern types. The damaged streets were cordoned off all day, what with buildings still potentially about to collapse and, presumably, evidence to be gathered. Greenwich council also advised the organiser of a clear-up Woolwich facebook group that the cordons might still be up tomorrow and that they had their own team to do the clean-up anyway. If the area’s still dangerous, then fine, but if not, then letting willing locals clear up the mess – or even stand and hold things while official clearer-uppers clear up – would be a bloody good thing for morale. There is a strong community feeling out here (working on setting up the theatre has demonstrated that amply, with all the help we’ve been given and interest and support that’s been show), so why isn’t it being celebrated and encouraged at this dark hour? Maybe community clear-ups are only encouraged if the mayor’s popping down for a photo-opportunity.

And today, all the shops that had managed to open closed early and Woolwich was like a ghost town when we left the theatre at about 6pm. A ghost town with a huge police presence. As we were leaving, we saw 2 policemen on Polytechnic Street dealing with a drunk-seeming chap and dog multiply in a matter of seconds to a massive 18 boys and girls in blue. Possibly two or three times the number on the scene last night. So, fingers crossed for a peaceful night. I can’t smell any burning, so that’s probably a good sign.

Anyway. That’s my rambling report from this invisible quadrant. There’s also been massive pretty-much unreported vandalism and looting in the big shops – Currys, JD Sports ( the looter’s favourite) etc – in Charlton and lower-key trouble in Plumstead (including an unsuccessful attempt on the Tesco Express). I’m sure there are other areas in the UK that also aren’t getting coverage, so I reckon doubling or tripling the incidents reported by news outlets would give a more realistic picture of what’s happening in the UK right now.

Horrendous, non?

Hope that things are safe where you are and that this insane destruction stops soon.

Much love,


* A friend has pointed out that it wasn’t Clapham, but Clapham Junction, which is actually Wandsworth. Apologies. Much of the press has also decided to call the area Clapham for the duration of this event.