“Male relations in this period were generally more physical. For warmth as well as protection, powerful men would routinely share a bed with their underlings.” – Author Benjamin Woolley discusses The King’s Assasin

“George’s political vision has generally been underestimated. I think Dumas has something to do with this, fixing a not entirely undeserved image of him as a dandy and libertine.”

The rise of George Villiers from regional obscurity to the heart of the Jacobean court defied logic. A meteoric royal favourite, the young gallant enraptured James VI & I. Britain’s first Stuart king even declared that he wanted the beloved courtier to become his ‘wife’. For a decade, Villiers was at the king’s side – at court, on state occasions and in bed, right up to James’ death in March 1625.

As Charles I’s reign dawned Villiers’ star was reaching its zenith. Villiers had groomed the shy and awkward Charles to don the very public mantle of monarchy. Villiers’ tempestuous relationship with the late king, his closeness to Charles, and their not-so-private clashes with the old King over Britain’s place in Europe led many tounges to wag. Was George Villiers more than a spectator at James’ deathbed? Almost immediately a parliamentary investigation was launched. Scurrilous pamphlets and ballads circulated London’s streets. But the charges came to nothing, and have since been relegated to a historical footnote.

In The King’s Assasin Benjamin Woolley reexamines the evidence and plots a course through the murky Jacobean interplay of hubris and vulnerability with that flare for historical narrative, intricate detail, and big personalities familiar both in print and on television. Woolley is the author of the bestselling The Queen’s Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr John Dee. His first book, Virtual Worlds was shortlisted for the Rhone-Poulenc Prize and has been translated into eight languages. His second, The Bride of Science, examined the life of Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter.

He has written and presented documentaries for the BBC on subjects ranging from the fight for liberty during the English Civil War to the end of the Space Age. He has won the Arts Journalist of the Year award and an Emmy for his commentary for Discovery’’s Three Minutes to Impact. He lives in London.

The King’s Assassin: The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James I was published in August 2017 by Macmillan. To find out more click here.

Why George Villiers?

I first encountered George many years ago, researching another story. I found a long-forgotten transcript of a notebook written by a member of parliament. It was one of very few eye-witness records of a secret trial of this extraordinary figure who had become a favourite of King James. The notes were fragmentary and difficult to piece together, but despite this I caught glimpses of a character so beguiling, so mischievous, so charismatic, so besotted by his friends and despised by his enemies that I could not resist.

How accurate is Alexandre Dumas’s portrait of George Villiers in The Three Musketeers?

Of George, Dumas wrote: ‘At thirty-five…he passed, with just title, for the handsomest gentleman and the most elegant cavalier of France or England. The favourite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a kingdom which he disordered at his fancy and calmed again at his caprice’. That is a pretty accurate summary (though he was not exactly a favourite of Louis XIII – indeed, he made several passes at the French king’s his wife, which did not go unnoticed). Dumas also noted that he ‘lived one of those fabulous existences which survive, in the course of centuries, to astonish posterity’.

Did James VI & I and George Villiers have a physical or a platonic relationship? Does it matter either way?

Male relations in this period were generally more physical. For warmth as well as protection, powerful men would routinely share a bed with their underlings. But I believe James and George’s relationship to have been carnal. This is a complicated issue, as the boundary between physical intimacy and sex has shifted over the centuries. James undoubtedly doted on George, and wrote of his ‘dog’ with deep affection. The intensity of their relationship was revealed by their frequent bust-ups. After one, James fantasised about George becoming his ‘wife’. Following another, George recalled their first night together at Farnham Castle, ‘where the bed’s head could not be found between the master and his dog’.

Can George Villiers role in government be thought of as that of a proto-Prime Minister, a signpost to later first ministers managing both parliament and the executive?

One point of comparison certainly holds. Parliament became his political nemesis. Despite being a dominant figure in government, parliament proved impossible to manage. For a while, he was a favourite of MPs, hailed as ‘St George on Horseback’ for standing up to the Spanish. But leading up to James’s death in 1625 and following a series of military disasters, they turned against him. It led to the charges that he had murdered the king, as well as abused his office. Efforts by James’s heir Charles to defend George led to the antagonisms between crown and parliament that culminated with the Civil War.

Did George Villiers have a vision or public policy agenda beyond his own ambition?

George’s political vision has generally been underestimated. I think Dumas has something to do with this, fixing a not entirely undeserved image of him as a dandy and libertine. But as he matured, he developed a strong vision of national renewal, culminating with ambitious (and ultimately disastrous) efforts to put Britain at the heart of a new global order, built around an alliance with Europe’s Protestant states that would challenge the dominance of the Spanish and Holy Roman empires. It was this vision that led to him falling out with James, who was much more cautious and conciliatory when it came to foreign affairs.

Did James VI & I die unaided?

Big question. In 1625, while the king lay on his sickbed, apparently recovering from a bout of malaria (common in England at the time), George administered a ‘potion and plaster’ which led to a sudden and catastrophic deterioration in the king’s condition. No one knew what was in the medicine, and the only person who claimed to have tasted it before it was administered (the standard method of checking for safety in the era before phase 3 drug trials) was the man who had mixed it on George’s behalf. That much we know from the royal doctors who treated the king during his final illness and (reluctantly) testified before the secret House of Commons committee set up to investigate the episode. A toxicologist I consulted was fairly certain that the potion was a poison—he even identified the toxin. Others are sceptical, and there is certainly room for doubt. What we do know is that George interfered at a vital moment, and the outcome was one that enabled him to put into place the policies James had been so fiercely resisting in his final months.

How seriously should high Anglicans, such as The Society of King Charles the Martyr, take the accusation that Charles I was a patricidal regicide?

After George had given James the unauthorised ‘potion and plaster’, a delegation of royal doctors had gone to Charles to protest, begging him to intervene. He refused. Following his succession, Charles also issued pardons and pensions to the doctors who had turned a blind eye. It was certainly a suspicion among MPs that Charles was involved. Two were arrested and had their houses searched for implying it might be the case, precipitating a parliamentary crisis.

Did Francis Bacon have any genuine esteem for George Villiers, or were his motivations simply venal?

More sexual than venal. Accused throughout his career of being a ‘sodomite’ (then a capital crime) and a ‘pederast’, Bacon was certainly infatuated by George. But he had to tread carefully to avoid upsetting the king, who was notoriously jealous. He nevertheless became devoted to George, becoming a loyal mentor and advocate, and offering advice on statecraft at a crucial moment in the favourite’s rise. He also cut a pathetic figure when George spurned him.

Was the Royal College of Physicians a force for good in the early modern period about which you write?

No. Another of my books, The Herbalist, about the radical medic Nicholas Culpeper, shows how corrupt the College had become by this time. Medical practice was based on the notion that health was determined by a balance of four bodily ‘humours’, a theory formalised by the Roman medic Galen in the second century AD. One of the leading members of the College, William Harvey (who was at James’s bedside in his final moments and became close to Charles following the king’s death) is rightly hailed as one of the greatest figures in medical science. He performed a series of experiments disproving the prevailing assumption that blood seeped through the body like sap in a tree by showing its circulation, pumped by the heart. His discovery made a nonsense of the notion of humours, yet Harvey was one of the College ‘censors’ who expelled any physician who questioned Galen’s theories.

The College also enjoyed a monopoly over medical practice throughout London and the suburbs, which they used to restrict the number of doctors who could practice. This ensured demand and fees for their services were kept well beyond the reach of most ordinary people. In 1625, London was hit by one of the worst epidemics of the plague in recorded history. Nevertheless, while James lay sick at his country retreat, more Fellows of the College were at his bedside than in all of London.

What are you currently working on?

A history of Black Bile – the ‘humour’ associated melancholy.


Interview: All About My Mother (21 – 24 Nov ’18)

“I still find it breath-taking that Almodovar was talking about gender, identity and sexuality in the totally commonplace way he did nearly 20 years ago.”

WHO: Ross Hope, Director

WHAT: “Spain, 1999.

In Barcelona, Manuela makes a new life for herself after the death of her son, working on a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire. She is reunited with an old transgender friend, Agrado, who she finds working as a prostitute, and makes new friends in the shape of Rosa, a terminally ill young nun, and Huma Rojo, the famous and formidable grand dame stage actress whom her late son idolised.As Manuela rebuilds her life in a new city with a new job and new friends, her son’s estranged father returns to her life with tragic and life-changing consequences for them all.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy 

DATES: 21 – 24 November

TIMES: 19:30

MORE: Click Here!

Why All About My Mother?

Honestly, it’s quite a simple reason. I read the script after seeing the film and enjoyed it so much I knew wanted to direct it. I buy and read a lot (and I mean a lot) of play scripts and I bought this one only because as I was curious about how they would adapt the film into a play. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. The last time I reacted to a script like this was when I read ‘Jerusalem’ by Jez Butterworth, which I was also lucky enough to direct, I knew if I felt the same way as I did about Jerusalem I wanted to direct this too.

You first saw the movie version at the Filmhouse in 2000. Has the story aged well?

I think it has, although you would expect me to say that wouldn’t you? At its heart, this is a story about family, not necessarily the family you are born into but the family you create for yourself; friendship and acceptance. These themes are still important, interesting and relevant nearly 20 years later. So this story of these characters creating families, forming friendships and gaining acceptance has aged perfectly well as far as I am concerned.

The film on which the play is based was a critical success (an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA) can audiences expect to see anything new in this adaptation?

The play is actually slightly different to the film. It is longer for one thing and the tale is told in a different, as you’d expect more theatrical and not cinematic way, and not all the characters in the film are present in this production. If you are an Almodovar aficionado and are wanting to compare the two you’ll just have to come to the Assembly Roxy in November and see where the differences are for yourself!

Art tends to imitate life, but do you think All About My Mother has played a part in developing and progressing our attitudes over the last couple of decades?

I still find it breath-taking that Almodovar was talking about gender, identity and sexuality in the totally commonplace way he did nearly 20 years ago. I am not sure I realised myself then how progressive it was for the late 1990’s as I was a lot younger then because it truly was and still is. Maybe art does imitate life, as you say, but I also think art gives life the kick starts it needs to get to where we are. A lot of the attitudes that are being challenged in the play still need to be challenged today and as much as we have come so far as a progressive society, we still have a long way to go.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals?

I wish I had remembered what an undertaking rehearsing in a small rehearsal space was like. It might have stopped me telling the cast, night after night, “you’ll have more room in the venue!”



“I’d have to go to the Ordovician, about 470 million years ago, to see giant straight-shelled cephalopods–the planet’s very first monsters, who ruled the seas long before dinosaurs evolved!” – Author Danna Staaf discusses Squid Empire

“Cephalopods are not aliens from outer space, but they are the closest we’ve got. They’ve been on an independent evolutionary path from ours for over five hundred million years.”

Before there were mammals on land, there were dinosaurs. And before there were fish in the sea, there were cephalopods―the ancestors of modern squid and Earth’s first truly substantial animals. Cephalopods became the first creatures to rise from the seafloor, essentially inventing the act of swimming. With dozens of tentacles and formidable shells, they presided over an undersea empire for millions of years. But when fish evolved jaws, the ocean’s former top predator became its most delicious snack. Cephalopods had to step up their game.

Many species streamlined their shells and added defensive spines, but these enhancements only provided a brief advantage. Some cephalopods then abandoned the shell entirely, which opened the gates to a flood of evolutionary innovations: masterful camouflage, fin-supplemented jet propulsion, perhaps even dolphin-like intelligence.

Squid Empire is an epic adventure spanning hundreds of millions of years, from the marine life of the primordial ocean to the calamari on tonight’s menu. Anyone who enjoys the undersea world―along with all those obsessed with things prehistoric―will be interested in the sometimes enormous, often bizarre creatures that ruled the seas long before the first dinosaurs.

Danna Staaf is a freelance writer and science communicator with special expertise in cephalopods. Her writing has appeared in ScienceKQEDEarther, and io9, and her first book, Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, was named one of the best science books of 2017 by NPR. She holds a PhD in biology from Stanford University and has spoken at dozens of venues, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the main Google campus in Mountain View, public libraries, universities and schools at every grade level. She lives in San Jose with her husband and an unruly collection of kids, cats, and plants.

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods was published in November 2017 by University Press of New England. To find out more click here.

Why cephalopods?

Seriously, you have to ask? All right, fine: Cephalopods are not aliens from outer space, but they are the closest we’ve got. They’ve been on an independent evolutionary path from ours for over five hundred million years. They’ve arrived in the modern world with features that seem incredibly weird to us–elastic tentacles, color-changing skin, suction cups and ink sacs–as well as features that are astonishingly convergent. An octopus eye, for example, has an iris, a lens, and a retina just like yours. Unlike yours, it has no blind spot, no color vision, and it can detect the polarization of light.

Without cephalopods, we would have just one kind of nervous system to study. A mouse, a frog, and even a fish are all so closely related to humans that you could say we all have the same kind of brain. Comparing our brain to an octopus’ brain, however, illuminates a great deal more about how nervous systems work, helping us ask new questions and look for new answers. If you’re at all interested in weird stuff, nothing beats cephalopods for raw coolness. If you’re just interested in humans and how we got to be the way we are–still, nothing beats cephalopods for a truly comparative system.

Cephalopods are remarkably intelligent. Should we feel bad about eating them?

My first impulse is to say “yes.” But that’s too glib, and I’m not into making people feel bad. I am a vegetarian, and I don’t eat cephalopods for the same reason I don’t eat cows or chickens or tuna. I don’t think they need to be considered separately from other animals in that regard. For a lucid and compassionate take on this topic, check out Barbara J. King’s “Calling Team Cephalopod: Why Octopuses Could Never Disappoint.” (link: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2018/03/08/591530441/calling-team-cephalopod-why-octopuses-could-never-disappoint)

What advice would you give to a James Bond supervillain wanting to know which deadly cephalopod species they should restock their lair’s plunge pool trap with?

Blue-ringed octopuses. Despite their small size, these are the only cephalopods that have caused documented human deaths. Their venom contains a potent neurotoxin that can kill a grown human. But then I’d also say to this hypothetical supervillain: don’t bother. Don’t bother yourself, and don’t bother the poor blue-ringed octopuses. They only bite people when they feel really threatened–they’d much rather camouflage themselves and hide–and it’s shoddy supervillainy to make a bunch of innocent octopuses feel threatened all the time. Anyway, you know what’s more deadly than even a blue-ringed octopus? Water. Yeah, all the water that’s already in your plunge pool, because people can’t breathe it. Way more people die by drowning every year than by bites from any kind of wild animal. And with all the time you save by not trying to maintain a finicky venomous animal in a salt-water aquarium, you can get on with some really super supervillainy.

Why is it a big deal that nautiluses are being added to the endangered list?

Nautiluses are the only living cephalopods that still have external shells, and people have been collecting these shells and turning them into jewelry or simply displaying them for hundreds of years (at least). But eventually demand outstripped supply and now many populations of nautiluses are nearly gone. At one location in the Philippines, fishers have to set out a hundred traps to catch a single nautilus, in the same place where their grandparents would catch several nautiluses in each trap. The 2017 inclusion of nautiluses in CITES, the treaty that protects high-profile animals like elephants, is the first legal protection these strange, beautiful cephalopods have ever had. Keeping nautiluses around gives us a living window into 500 million years of evolutionary history–and also preserves the most laughably awkward yet astonishingly efficient swimmers on the planet.

If you could vacation in and around a prehistoric sea, when and where would you go?

I’d have to go to the Ordovician, about 470 million years ago, to see giant straight-shelled cephalopods–the planet’s very first monsters, who ruled the seas long before dinosaurs evolved! The arrangement of the continents was so dramatically different back then that it’s hard to describe exactly “where” I would go. This was pre-Pangaea; most land was glommed together in the southern hemisphere so I guess I’d plop myself somewhere in the watery northern hemisphere and hope for the best.

To be clear, “best” means that I would get to see Cameroceras, a horizonal ice-cream cone over twenty feet long, close enough to count its tentacles, look it in the eye, and find out whether or not it had a beak. Does that mean my vacation would be cut short by entering the digestive system of the earliest giant cephalopod? Maybe, but time machines are notoriously unreliable, and death by Cameroceras could be a better end than trying to make it back home.

If you could Jurrasic Park an extinct species of cephalopod which would you bring back to life?

Nice verbing! I’d bring back one of the heteromorph ammonites for sure. The heteromorphs were a bizarre and diverse group of cephalopods with external shells that lived in the Cretaceous. Most ammonites had spiral shells that looked superficially similar to modern nautilus shells, but heteromorphs broke all the rules. There were heteromorphs with corkscrew shells and totally straight shells, with shells bent like paper clips and shells twisted into knots. No one really knows how or why their shells grew in such strange shapes. I’d probably pick Nipponites, because seriously, friend, what are you doing with a shell like that? (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nipponites)

You’re an expert writing for a lay audience. What’s the biggest tip you have for someone attempting to persuade others of the value of their particular field of specialist study?

Let your enthusiasm show.

You write about the individual scientists who inspired you in your early career. Who are you most excited by today? What are they working on?

Last summer I visited Robyn Crook’s lab at San Francisco State University and was completely captivated. (link: http://crooklab.org/) She and her students study pain in cephalopods, which might sound awful, like poking squid with sticks. But in fact, they were able to use noninvasive techniques to find the first evidence that cephalopod anesthesia actually cuts off sensation, instead of simply immobilizing the animals–a pretty important thing to know for ethical research! Crook is the one who turned me on to the idea of cephalopods as the only truly comparative systems for vertebrates. Since the perception of pain evolved separately in cephalopods, they provide an opportunity to study the evolutionary roots of this sensation, the ways in which it’s useful and the ways in which it can be problematic.

I’m also fascinated by the work of Bret Grasse and his team at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. (link: http://www.mbl.edu/cephalopod-program/) Grasse pioneered the aquaculture of pajama squid and flamboyant cuttlefish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and now he’s working with a tremendous array of cephalopod species at Woods Hole to make them available for all kinds of research. I admire his team’s focus on the welfare of the animals, and I can’t wait to see what unexpected discoveries will come from scientists being able to work with so many cephalopods that were considered too finicky to handle before. It may seem weird to make such a big deal out of these “niche” animals, but we should remember that modern neuroscience grew almost entirely from breakthrough research on the giant axon of squid. Cephalopods really do offer unique research opportunities, not just in neuroscience but in robotics (all those flexible arms!), medicine (all those arms can regenerate!) and more.

Where is the best place to go diving with cephalopods?

One of my fellow squid scientists once saw six different cephalopod species while snorkeling off Okinawa–so that’s now on my dream dive list! I’ve always wanted to see the giant cuttlefish matting off Southern Australia, too, and then there are the sites off Seattle where you can see giant Pacific octopus (just don’t try to hunt them, link: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/magazine/the-octopus-that-almost-ate-seattle.html). One of my favorite cephalopods to watch underwater is the Caribbean reef squid, which can be seen in many places throughout the Caribbean, even just snorkeling. They’re relatively easy to find and follow around, so scientists use them for a lot of the most interesting research on cephalopod communication and social behavior.

Whats next for you?

I wrote a couple of essays for an anthology coming out in October called Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres (link: https://pages.e2ma.net/pages/1887808/9576). It’ll have lots more useful information for that Bond supervillain! I’m also finishing up a novel set in a post-sea level rise future where squid racing has replaced horse racing as a high-stakes, high-adrenaline jockey sport. And of course, I’m always writing short science stories here, there, and everywhere.


+3 Interview: Little Shop of Horrors

“I feel privileged to haven been given this opportunity to perform with Delicious Theatre at this year’s Fringe Festival alongside such talented, lovely and sometimes human-hungry people.”

WHO: Morgan Meredith, Audrey

WHAT: “‘I’ve given you sunlight, I’ve given you rain. Looks like you’re not happy unless I open a vein!’ Delicious Theatre invites you into the New York City underworld, where a young florist named Seymour is attempting to grow a mysterious-looking plant. The plant will only grow in exchange for one thing: human blood. Stumbling across it after a solar eclipse, he names the plant after his crush and co-worker, Audrey. As he discovers the true cost of keeping the plant alive, a series of moral dilemmas make him realise his own capability for true human monstrosity.”

WHERE: theSpace @ Venue45 – theSpace @ Venue 45 (Venue 45) 

WHEN: 11:10 (100 min)

MORE: Click Here!

Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

Yes, it is which is simultaneously exciting and daunting but I feel so lucky to be performing alongside such a brilliant cast! Although this is my first time at Fringe, the company are returning this year after their successful run of “The Best Play Ever” in 2017. After 5-star ratings and excellent audience reviews, “The Best Play Ever” returns to the festival this year alongside the musical, which the entire company are buzzing about.

What’s the biggest thing to have happened to you since Festivals ’17?

From a personal stance, the biggest (and scariest) thing that has happened to me since last year’s fringe is graduating from the University of Manchester, obtaining a degree in Drama. My undergrad allowed me to establish both personal and professional relationships that I’m sure will last despite my return home to the South Wales Valleys. I feel privileged to haven been given this opportunity to perform with Delicious Theatre at this year’s Fringe Festival alongside such talented, lovely and sometimes human-hungry people.

Tell us about your show.

Little Shop of Horrors is such a weird, wonderful and witty little show. Although the original performance is set during the 1960’s, Delicious Theatre’s production reimagines a world of terrifying impact of temptation in our current capitalist civilization. The satirical musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is both ridiculously silly and tragically poignant and has a talking sassy plant; what more could you want from a musical?! Delicious Theatre is a company set up in 2017 by University of Manchester graduates (and one Durham graduate!). The aim of the company is to contribute bizarre and comical work to cities’ fringe scenes that pushes the boundaries of convention and showcases young adults’ interpretations of the world around us. We want to reflect the hilariously ironic and messy planet we’re making theatre on. For Little Shop of Horrors, the cast are under the direction of Emily Oulton and the musical direction of Charlie Perry.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Delicious Theatre’s sister show ‘The Best Play Ever’ of course (20-25 August, TheSpace on the Mile, V39)!! There’s a great deal of shows going to fringe this year that have originated from the University of Manchester such as new musical “The Fear” which is brilliant, alongside the drama societies productions of “Duck Gutters” and “Pomona” by Alistair McDowall. “Man Presents: Woman” is a girl power cabaret comedy has had great reviews AND has been produced by our very own Sophie Graci. (Co-founder of Delicious Theatre) “Flushed” by Catherine Cranfield was brilliant at the Manchester preview so everyone should go see that too! No Door Theatre Company are taking up “Bitter” this year after the success of “The Voices in Annie’s Head” at last years fringe, again, brilliant at the Manchester preview. “Living with a Dark Lord” by sisters Cait and Meave O’Sullivan had a fantastic audience response so I’m excited to see it at Edinburgh. Spies Like Us Theatre are taking both “Our Man in Havana” and “Woyzeck” this year and as I’ve seen work by the director Ollie Norton-Smith, it’s going to be super interesting! Physical theatre play “Action Man”, produced by Plaster Cast Theatre was fantastic in Manchester so I can not wait to see it again. Festivus Collective’s “The Henriad” looks like a must see as its a collaborative project with the University of Edinburgh and Manchester and retells shakespearean tragedies and comedies within a contemporary setting. Our other co-founder Katie O’Toole has produced a mint production of Sarah Kane’s ‘Crave’ from Durham University, and one of Emily and Katie’s friends Dan Richardson is in an amazing play called ‘Eat Me’ about people suffering from and surviving through the horrible mental illness that is anorexia.

We cannot recommend all these shows enough – from working with these people over the last three years I’m sure you’ll be in for a treat.



+3 Interview: Joe Sutherland: Toxic

“It’s me doing my funny talking words for 55 minutes. It’s about gender, masculinity, my grandma, the Midlands and the Spice Girls.”

WHO: Joe Sutherland, Star

WHAT: “Masculinity – isn’t it, like, over? Or are there new ways to model manliness? Growing up Joe felt less like a boy, more like a Spice Girl. Now he’s sort of grown up, and technically a man. This is a show about embracing girl power to create your own brand of manhood. ‘Richly entertaining’ **** (ScotsGay.co.uk). ‘An engaging hour of stand-up with an important message and many laughs to be had’ **** (Edinburgh Festivals Magazine). ‘So much originality’ **** (VoiceMag.uk). ‘Oozing star power from every pore’ (Mirror). ‘Edgy and unpredictable’ (ToDoList.org.uk). ‘Definitely one to watch’ (Chortle.co.uk).”

WHERE: Underbelly, Bristo Square – Dexter (Venue 302) 

WHEN: 20:10 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!

Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

No, this is my second solo show, and I’ve been coming to the Fringe for pretty much my whole life, so a good 59 years now. I know, I look good. I’ll have to show you the painting in my attic at some point.

What’s the biggest thing to have happened to you since Festivals ’17?

I decided to consider veganism which means I’ve had to cut out Frazzles, so I’d appreciate some privacy at this difficult time of transition in my life.

Tell us about your show.

It’s me doing my funny talking words for 55 minutes. It’s about gender, masculinity, my grandma, the Midlands and the Spice Girls.

I was very lucky this year to have direction from the fab Jess Fostekew and production support from the top lads that are United Agents.

You see what I’ve done here is used ‘lads’ ironically because the team is, in fact, entirely female. How edgy of me.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Their own reflection in a toilet mirror in a portacabin as they take a deep breath and ask themselves, “what now? How could it possibly get any better?”

Oh and Sarah Keyworth, Harriet Kemsley, Sophie Duker & Lulu Popplewell (Duke Pop) and Mawaan Rizwan. Top lads.



+3 Interview: Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast

“I had the idea for MARGO in my head for about six years as her story is quite compelling.”

WHO: Melinda Hughes, writer and performer

WHAT: “Margo Lion, celebrated Weimar Berlin cabaret star and lover of Marlene Dietrich, is gripped by the decadence and debauchery of 1930s Berlin. This is the story of her tragic relationship with the lyricist Marcellus Schiffer, fuelled by alcohol, cocaine and jealousy set within a world of political unrest. Margo is packed with iconic Weimar cabaret songs by Kurt Weill, Mischa Spoliansky, Friedrich Hollaender and original songs by Melinda Hughes and Jeremy Limb who received four and five-star reviews from The Times and Musical Theatre Review for their satirical cabaret. Margo is directed by Sarah Sigal.”

WHERE: Assembly Rooms – Drawing Room (Venue 20) 

WHEN: 17:55 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!

Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

This is actually my third time to Edinburgh and the experience gets better and better. I first came here in 2013 and did a one week run at Space Venues with a cute cabaret show called French Kiss. I returned in 2014 with ‘Cocktails with the Diva’ at Assembly Rooms. This was another satirical cabaret show packed with newly written songs and a jazz trio. We had a lot of fun!

What’s the biggest thing to have happened to you since Festivals ’17?

I’ve done a lot of travelling and have performed twice in Barbados at a small festival which was amazing. I sang a Mahler 4th with orchestra in London which was a wonderful experience and I’ve also completed researching and writing and Margo which was a lot of work!

Tell us about your show.

Margo Lion was a celebrated Weimar Berlin cabaret star and lover of Marlene Dietrich. She’s gripped by the decadence and debauchery of 1920’s Berlin and has a tragic relationship with her husband the Jewish lyricist Marcellus Schiffer. Their relationship is fuelled by alcohol, cocaine and jealousy set within a world of political unrest. Marcellus who suffers from bouts of depression, sees no way out of rise of fascism and overdoses and Margo flees Berlin for Paris in 1933. The show is packed with iconic cabaret songs of the day and is a rollercoaster.

I wrote the show myself. I had the idea for MARGO in my head for about six years as her story is quite compelling. I’m also producing it as I have a small company which produces cabaret, classical concerts and curates seasons.

We had two previews in London at JW3 which were well reviewed. It was quite emotional to see something I had worked on for so long to finally make it to the stage. I would love to take this show to small theatres and particularly to America.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

They should go and see FRAU WELT also on at The Blue Room. Assembly Rooms for a double dose of Weimar. The show is so clever and he is an amazing actor. Its more of a Weimar fantasy but it is extraordinary and compelling!

I’ve only just started seeing shows but I recommend Rachel Parris – (she’s top of my list), Jess Robinson – an astounding singer, Flo & Jo, Dusty Limits, Adele Anderson and Austentatious. Ali McGregor’s show is always amazing. I also love stand up too and there’s just so much to choose from. So far only seen Robin Morgan who was great but will see Christian Talbot tomorrow (another favourite) For drama I recommend Diary of an expat which was clever, De Profundis with Simon Callow which was very moving and Song of Lunch with Robert Bathurst.



Finding Peter (Gilded Balloon Teviot – Wine Bar: 12, 14-27 Aug: 10:00: 45 mins)

“The pacing is perfect. Just as one starts to wonder if the energy is ebbing, a fresh riptide of song and participation rolls in.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

Wendy, John, and Michael are all in pajamas, but the siblings aren’t going to bed. Not just yet. They’re telling stories to one another on familiar themes. Pirates, native folk, the Lost Boys, sword fights, and (of course) Peter Pan. Enter the fairy Tinkerbell, so small we can only detect her presence via the sound effect of a bell ringing. Peter’s in trouble, held prisoner by a mutinous deserter from The Jolly Roger, and her captain, James Hook. Wendy announces that she will go alone to save the day, despite the brothers’ whines and protests.

Upstage centre is a mess of boxes and fabric behind which costume changes and bell ringing occur. The height is perfectly judged, forcing the players to come down to the level of the wide eyes gazing back at them. The costumes are basic, student night attire occasionally highlighted with something from the dressing up box. I wanted more, but the show isn’t for me as Granny / Mother-Out-Law censoriously reminds me afterwards.

While the set, lighting, and sound are minimal (perhaps even too minimal), the performances are turbocharged and ultra engaging. From the moment we enter, the smiles are set to max. If bubbly cheeriness were a communicable ailment, we’d all be in quarantine for a month. Jenny Witford, as Wendy, leads the trio. She’s the voice of reason and authority, the Atlas holding up worlds within worlds. Think Graham Chapman in a Monty Python classic, surrounded by an unending pageant of colourful minor characters. Jessica Arden and James Tobin take turns inhabiting (with varying levels of success) each of the personalities Wendy encounters on her journey to find Peter.

The pacing is perfect. Just as one starts to wonder if the energy is ebbing, a fresh riptide of song and participation rolls in. Frankie Meredith jam packs the hour like one of these Facebook videos explaining how if you roll up all your clothes and put your toothbrush in an old water bottle you’ll only need carry on for your 6-8 month around the world adventure. Pace and performance – they’ve got to be done right and Finding Peter gives a masterclass on how to get them right.

Meredith’s script seems to exist on three dramatic planes. The first is the siblings’ collective imagination, their dressing up and acting out. The second is the actors’ interactions through the fourth wall, audience interaction and knowing winks – “Well of course I want you two to come too” Wendy tells her brothers, “but then who would play all the other characters?” The third dramatic plane is Neverland, where most of the action occurs. Perhaps the lines between the planes could have been sharper, the internal logic more rigorous – but, again, who am I to argue when Daughter 1.0 (3 years old) is having such a blast?

This show is for her and it delivers. JM Barry’s familiar themes are delivered even without the “Art budget? Was there an art budget? I thought we had an unending ocean of cash.” advantage of the 2003 movie. Daughter 1.0 comes out of the show buzzing as though she really has been sprinkled with fairy dust. She could fly off at any moment her thoughts are that happy.

The Teviot Wine Bar is a tough space to convincingly fill, especially as this show isn’t getting the audiences it deserves, half a dozen in when we were there. You can do this very talented company and yourself a favour by getting out, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, to see this rollickingly gentle tribute to a classic family favourite.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 9 August 2018)

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