Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Show and tell - interview with Chris Jarvis

LOVED by pre-schoolers and their mums alike, CHRIS JARVIS has been a stalwart of CBeebies since its launch, alongside current Show Me Show Me co-presenter Pui Fan Lee. CATRIONA REEVES spoke to him about the pair’s live tour, The Chris and Pui Roadshow

CATRIONA REEVES: Show Me Show Me reminds me of the classic Children’s BBC show Playschool - is that intentional?

CHRIS JARVIS: Completely - Show Me Show Me is the direct descendent of Playschool, which led on to Playdays, and then Tikkabilla. It’s the longest show on the channel, and fulfils the remit of presenting a variety of items, giving more time to explore them. When I was a kid, there was only 20 minutes of pre-school programming a day - now they have a whole channel, with the variety that offers. But I still think that there’s a place in there for a show like Show Me Show Me.

Show Me Show Me is about showing, exploring and encouraging children to think about the world; because of course, everything is new to them. It’s a real challenge; it may look simple and daft, but the educationalists involved in the science behind it are amazing. My parents were teachers, and I find that side of things fascinating. CBeebies is truly a centre of excellence in the BBC; it’s chock-full of talent and knowledge.

CR: You and Pui have worked together since CBeebies was launched in 2002, first as the main channel presenters, and now on Show Me Show Me. Why do you think you work so well together?

CJ: Pui comes from a drama school and acting background - she was Po in Teletubbies - while I came from performing at Butlins - a great training ground - , via the Broom Cupboard [Children’s BBC’s tiny presenting studio in the 80s and 90s]. I enjoyed that, but felt that pre-school television was more in my comfort zone than interviewing popstars. I was really lucky to meet Pui, because she’s brilliant, and brings an entirely different set of skills, so it works really well together as a professional partnership.

CR: You’ve written quite a lot of songs for various CBeebies shows over the years. Is that something you particularly enjoy?

CJ: I’ve always liked songwriting, but in the early days of CBeebies it was done out of necessity because the budget was so small. I’m writing this year’s CBeebies panto at the moment, and the BBC Philharmonic are involved, which is really exciting.

I’m not the greatest musician, but I think it’s so important to have music and people playing instruments  and showing how they work, to light that spark in children. What we do on Show Me Show Me in general isn’t necessarily educational or informative, but it creates those poetic attachments to things. I wanted to play the piano in the first place because I saw Jonathan Cohen regularly on Playschool and Playaway when I was young.

CR: Parents might be a bit nervous about taking very small children to the theatre to see your show; is it challenging to create a live experience for that age group?

CJ: We assume that children coming to see us are coming to the theatre for the first time, and it can be quite weird, so we try and create a friendly environment. We keep the house lights up for the first part of the show, and it’s got a slow, gentle start to make them feel comfortable - it can be incredibly quiet in there. After about 20 minutes or so, when the children have seen us and the characters, the penny drops, and by the end the are all joining in.

This is our third proper year of touring a big stage show together, but we’ve had years of panto and live experience before that to learn about what keeps very young audiences interested. They don’t need big sets - they need new stuff to engage them every few moments.

After the first part, the show is very fast moving - we have 100 props, and all the toys from Show Me Show Me - but it’s not really noisy; it’s not a rock concert for toddlers. There are some quite sweet moments. There are things we can do on stage that we can’t do on TV, and vice versa, so it’s very interactive.

Children are very welcome to bring along a teddy or cuddly toy so they can join in as well - as long as they look after them; we don’t want any lost toys left behind!

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 22, 2012

Thursday, September 06, 2012

For whom the bell tolls - review of The Bell by Periplum

The Bell, presented by Periplum, in Newbury Market Place on Friday, August 10

AFTER the uplifting oddity of The Berkshire Giant earlier in the summer, The Corn Exchange’s Outdoor Programme took a darker turn on Friday, when performance theatre company Periplum brought together an international cast and local volunteers to present The Bell, the tale of hope arising from war and death.

Crammed into the Market Place, spectators were fully part of the action as a ragtag band of brothers, speaking in English and Spanish, fought an evil force set on devastating their unnamed land. Fires burned as demonic, inhuman invaders swept their way through the crowd, causing fear and mayhem as they passed.

Hooded torchbearers drove paths through the crowd, splitting it asunder, as fireworks shot into the sky and bloodied bodies hung from scaffolds, while a soloist pronounced her pure song of peace from the Town Hall balcony.

Eventually, a sign of strength arose from the ashes, as flags were thrust into the hands of strong-armed spectators and a massive rocking structure was brought across the Market Place. On it, a fiery bell was forged and raised, representing the resilience and hope of the defeated people.

While The Berkshire Giant was devised specifically to be performed locally, Periplum have been presenting The Bell in international settings for a number of years. However, such thoughtful use of the Market Place setting, excellent lighting and staging and the intensity of being among the action created a unique experience from which everyone present would take their own emotions and sensations.

As thoughts turn to Autumn, the final two events in The Corn Exchange’s Outdoor Programme for 2012 are the anarchic Halloween Hullabaloo on October 28, and the Festival of Light Lantern Procession on December 16.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on August 16, 2012

Hearts and Bones - interview with Sandi Toksvig

WITH her fifth book out on September 6, radio comedy doyenne SANDI TOKSVIG is launching it with a touring show direct from Edinburgh Fringe mixing in stand-up, storytelling and hopefully some hot gossip centred around her career and her love of writing. CATRIONA REEVES spoke to her about her historical novel Valentine Grey, and the live show it has inspired.

CATRIONA REEVES: Your new book, Valentine Grey, is about a girl who dressed as a man to enrol as a soldier in the Boer War. Did you enjoy writing it?

SANDI TOKSVIG: Very much so. It’s taken about four years in total, and has involved a massive amount of research - probably too much, but it helps give a three-dimensional feeling to the book. I became totally immersed in its world; I even broke down in tears because I killed a character.

It’s a very odd feeling now that I’ve finished writing it - I’ve been working on it for such a long time, and I’ve had stuff all over my desk to do with it, which I only finally tidied away yesterday

CR: Part of the story focuses on Valentine’s cousin Reggie. She disguises herself as him to join the fighting, leaving him free to stay with his male lover in Victorian London. Was it important to you to have gay characters in the book?

ST: The gay element to the story wasn’t central to it to begin with - that evolved later on. I started with the central story about Valentine, but then I became interested in the character of Reggie as well, and his own battle developed. I find that happens with character; they take over and create their own story.

CR: Your live show is called My Valentine - is it all about the novel?

ST: The show does involve me talking about the book, but there will also be jokes and silliness; I’ll look at why people write and what they write about, and there will be a bit about silly book titles. It’s a mix of sensible and silly.

There will also be a question and answer session - I’ve got some good gossip if people ask the right questions.

CR: Do you consider yourself to be mainly a writer, performer or comedian?

ST: I like all of it - I get to do so many different things; writing the books,the radio shows [Toksvig is chairman of Radio 4’s The News Quiz] and television [she is a regularly panellist on QI]. I’ve got a play opening soon, and a new quiz show for Channel 4... I like the variety. I do also love writing; in a room on my own, enjoying the peace and quiet.

CR: You pop up quite regularly on the BBC comedy panel show QI, but not many women do - why do you think that is?

ST: I really don’t know - I think they must fear us. I’m good friends with some of the other women who appear on QI, including Jo Brand, but they never put us on together. It’s very rare that there are two women on the same panel. It’s odd, because there’s lots of women who appear on the News Quiz.

CR: You’ve had a long and successful television and radio career, but a lot of people in their 30s or so fondly remember you for your time on No. 73, the 1980s ITV Saturday morning show. Did you enjoy being involved in children’s television?

ST: No 73 was the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on. I was fresh out of uni, straight into a TV job that lasted six years. I didn’t particularly aim to work in children’s television - I never really had a career plan. I’d been in Footlights at Cambridge, and joined The Comedy Store Players [an improvisational comedy group based at London’s Comedy Store club]. Whose Line Is It Anyway? [Channel 4’s long-running improv show] came out of that, and one thing led to another.

My secret is that I never say no to anything. Well, it has to be of a certain standard; I avoid anything with “celebrity” in the title. I was asked to do the dancing one, but I decided that I’ve coped so far without learning how to tango, so I can probably live without it.

Sandi Toksvig will perform My Valentine at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Saturday, September 15.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on August 23, 2012