Red Sparrow – OUT NOW

See Tanya Vital feature in Red Sparrow with Jennifer LawrenceJoel EdgertonJeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling. Showing in cinemas now.

Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. As she comes to terms with her new abilities, Dominika meets a CIA agent who tries to convince her that he is the only person she can trust.


Rita, Sue and Bob too: Yorkshire’s 1st Grooming Scandal

I went to the Royal Court to see my all time favourite, Rita Sue and Bob too. I say my favourite because I grew up watching the film. It was a Bradfordian kid’s rite of passage. It was something you grew up hearing about as a bairn in passing, you know, like Blue Lagoon and 9 ½ weeks? You knew, as soon as it hit the box again, you would be glued to that screen to see what all the fuss was about.

The fuss was; it was a naughty film. The closest thing to a ‘blue’ movie you were ever going to witness at that age (no internet or smart phones then pal). Not only was it a bit ‘blue’, they said “fuck” and “fucking” and “piss off”!!! You have to remember this was the late 80’s, early 90’s. Nobody said “fuck” on TV!

The reason it was our rite of passage: it was written by a Bradford teenager, who once lived 2 minutes from my house and the entire thing was set in our wonderful city, our very own, lovely, rotten swamp pit; Bradford. You know I always say Bradford is a shit hole, but it’s OUR shit hole and we can denigrate the place but, we will not stand for any disrespect from ANY other corner of the earth.

To watch Rita, Sue and Bob too, is to understand how many of us grew up in Bradford. Not just the plot or themes but the essence. This is our world. Because our city is most known for awful things, Rita, Sue and Bob too, was our stamp on the world. It was our best claim to fame and Andrea was our hero but, little did we realise, as curious kids, this was to be Yorkshire first high profile grooming scandal.

Rita Sue and Bob too, was always banded about as a comedy and anyone who’s ever seen the film will know it’s a right fucking laugh. Yorkshire people are funny as fuck mate but; 80’s Yorkshire people! Haaa! Quiffs and hairspray heaven!

However, there’s something that I think most of us Bradfordian’s feel about Andrea’s work and that is, her work is consumed in a salacious way, you know, like poverty porn. We in Bradford heard the uncomfortable stories of how Max S Clark got her to write. We heard how she felt about certain elements being unauthentic when the film was made, (the film was fused with elements of her other plays and the ending was zhuzhed up for screen). Andrea wasn’t sold by the final scene at all.  As with all things artistic, it was harrowingly conceived, painfully carved out, vacuum packed and gorged on by the masses. Everybody wanted a piece of this rough for leisure time titillation but, this was her life. Not necessarily a complete autobiography but, still truthful elements of her actual experience.

Andrea Dunbar’s work was and is still precocious. She was a child who, by all intentions, should have never left Buttershaw estate and never become an icon. She didn’t go to RADA or Oxford but she had something that can’t be taught. She was a working class kid, from one of the ‘shittiest’ estates in Bradford but she was no idiot, she was a star.

Her stories are not special or unique. What she put on paper is simply a way of life for a majority of working class people in Bradford, both then and now. The irony of Thatcher and her Tory Government being so poignant in a teenager’s play; just another thing for rich people to laugh at but, what’s changed? When I say ‘rich’ I mean anyone earning over £25k a year. You can see for yourself how this ‘coalition of chaos’ funds northern counties even now and although we have some extremely wealthy cities in Yorkshire, Gods own country and the UK’s biggest county; Bradford is the land that time and Tories forgot. No, it wasn’t what Andrea said, it was the way she said it that made her special then and special now and we adore and idolise her because she was the one that got out… almost.

You see when we Bradfordian’s laugh at Rita, Sue and Bob too, we laugh at the nuances that y’all don’t get; the significance and gravitas of “Manningham lane”. We laugh at the flat A’s in bath and grass because it’s a massive ‘fuck you’ to everyone who ever told us we don’t speak properly and that our home is a dump. But ‘they’ (the middle class, liberal theatre elite) don’t laugh for those reasons and I felt deep, shameful pang again this evening. I hadn’t realised tonight was press night but, it now makes sense why the audience was a sea of middle class grey.

Photo Credit : The Other Richard

My two friends played a blinding Rita & Sue, nevertheless seeing the stage version as an adult, after watching the film religiously as a kid reinforced something in my mind. Rita and Sue, neither in the film, nor in this production are played by 15 year olds. Normally in theatre it doesn’t matter, trust me, I’m as old as Nosferatu and still play kids on stage. However, there’s something about showing the grooming of young girls that is lost when the audience is able to unconsciously justify the victims being older in their mind. Rita and Sue have always looked 18/19. They were 15. Born in Bradford or not; ready to face any adversity or not; dragged up on Buttershaw or not. They were 15. Bob was (according to him) 27.

George Costigan, the absolute diamond, played Bob in the film. With the formidable Michelle Holmes and Siobhan Finneran playing Sue and Rita; they were 20 and 21 respectively.  The Royal Court’s Rita and Sue are of a similar age (I won’t snitch on my mates). Rita and Sue have always looked older than 15. 15 is a very specific age in a young girl’s development. Their nose is always too big for their face, their body is still developing or over-developed for their size, there’s the shiny glow of hormonal skin, (no? Just me then), but you can still tell they are a child. This factor is important in the telling of Rita, Sue and Bob too. George Costigan, being the dynamo that he is, was so charming in the film, we the audience adored him, which is part of the problem with men that like young girls, or, as we commonly know them now – predators. As a kid, I missed all of this but young Andrea was astute enough to know and convey that like Rita and Sue, Bob was a forlorn Bradfordian, looking for things he lacked in the wrong place.

The overall production was great, I really enjoyed what they did with it, however I still think we are missing a huge plot hole. Something is still missing from the direction of Rita Sue and Bob too productions. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. I still feel the direction is playing for laughs. I still feel the middle class theatre/screen elite are laughing at us rather than with us. I still want to see a version that really grabs what this play is truly about; a 30 year old man grooming underage girls. I still feel like we are missing Andrea’s message.

In her own words

“It weren’t so funny when it were happening”.

By Don Mc Fee

The Shed Crew by Red Ladder Theatre Company


A stage play in verse by Kevin Fegan; adapted from the book URBAN GRIMSHAW AND THE SHED CREW by Bernard Hare

Hark back to the techno thumping, joy riding, glue-sniffing, dragon-chasing 90′s. Pounding beats, dirty streets, swirling haze and squalor – piss stained velour. Ashtrayland.

You weren’t in a gang, you were in a crew, and life was a drug-fuelled helter skelter.

It’s 20 years later, and tonight, fasten your seat belts. Best to travel light. Keep your eyes open and watch your back. But no worries, with this crew you’re one of us, you’re family, we’ll show you what ‘survival’ really means.

We are delighted that Leeds Central Library will be hosting a conversation with Rod Dixon (Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company) and Kevin Fegan (writer of the stage production THE SHED CREW) plus special guests.

“outstanding” – North West End, Five stars

“it swings between highs and lows, leaving you wanting but somehow still managing to energise and uplift, exuding youthful energy and a cheeky rebellion.” – – Ilkley Gazette

“The visceral energy and authentic language of the Crew, together with the unique staging, creates an unforgettable ninety minutes of theatre.” – Culture Vulture

“Striking and Powerful” – The Stage

“a production and performances full of energy, imagination and potential for danger.” – The Reviews Hub – four stars





Photograophy by Anthony Robling

Why This Women’s FEUD made every woman weep

Bob: There’s room for both of you to succeed.
Joan: In this town? Are you nuts?
Bette: Fuck off, Bob!

I’ve just finished binge watching the utterly incomparable series of Feud by FX Networks (the same people that brought you American Horror Story and more). Created by writer Ryan Murphy, the series focuses on the long standing, real life feud believed to have developed between Hollywood giants Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in early Hollywood. A feud that was only exasperated when the two began to work together in 1962 on the critically acclaimed movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

“Feuds are never about hate, they’re about pain”

Without ruining the plot, the story touches on what it was like for women in Hollywood in the early days. What it was like for older women, women with ambition, women with ideas, women who were at the top of their game and also, quite inadvertently, women of colour.


I stan for Jessica Lange at the best of times, I just wanna see her in everything. I find her an incredibly skilled actor, (I say actor rather than actress because as I think either Sigourney Weaver/Susan Sarandon once said – we do not say dancer-ess for a female dancer, or musician-ess etc). I have loved Jessica all the way since Tootsie up until American Horror Story (which, by the way, needs her to survive so….)

As someone in the industry, it is rare that we can just sit and enjoy a movie or episode without analyzing the work. The direction, the lighting, the text, the edit, the soundtrack. We look at everything! I find Jessica to be a wonderfully accomplished technical actor. She has a unique, trademark style. A style some find a little expositional, however we have to look at film history to understand this. Her technique lends itself well to the style and genre of the piece. Feud and AHS are not naturalistic by any means.

Feud, set in old Hollywood, when naturalism and ‘method’ was still in it’s teething stage. then we have American Horror Story with aliens, ghosts, witches and vampires… what about that in particular screams naturalism?

In old Hollywood, actors understood the purpose of ‘pictures’. It was no secret that they were intended to be used as a psychological tool to improve the mindset and morale of the masses. America had gone through the Depression, World War 2 and were just getting into the Civil Rights movement. Heightened drama, heightened glamour, heightened acting was then (and in many ways still today) used as a pain killer for the masses to escape their ordinary lives. Back then it was big everything, Jessica understands this and uses it.

Then we have another acting giant Susan Sarandon who has cleverly realised that branching out from movie to episodic is the future. (By the way can I mention Susan is apparently 70! – like girl! Get ’em). From ‘girl-next-door’ Janet in Rocky Horror Picture Show, to Thelma and Louise, to Grandma Lynn in The Lovely Bones. What an utterly amazing actor and who on earth better to play the razor sharp Bette Davis? Politics aside coz 😌, politics aside, she is truly one of the best actors of her time.


So why the boot lickin? Feud, as Baby Jane, to me was perfect and timely because it shows exactly what happens to women in the industry. How we are made to believe (more so then than now, but it still happens) that there is only room for one of us at the top. Even today men vastly outweigh women in the media 4:1, both in-front of and behind camera and this doesn’t even touch on men and women of colour. Although great efforts and now being made, the ratio is still not representational to our society. Davis in Feud goes on to say that ‘as soon as money was involved in Hollywood, the women were pushed out’.

It touches on the different ways women have tried to advance in their careers. Some using the only tool that was acknowledged – their feminine wiles and others using their sledgehammer talent. It also shows that after a certain age women become invisible and the struggle for women to get their fair share of the pie, especially behind the camera with female directors still being astonishingly low, (nothing to do with talent & black female or male directors or any other race being almost non-existent).  Ryan Murphy makes a habit of casting older stars and using female directors for this exact reason, because the problem still applies today and I for one am glad he had the foresight to do so. Feud has quickly become my favourite FX series and is sure to be an actor’s ‘Acting 101 manual’ for a long time in the future.

I also want to give props to Maidie Norman here too. Maidie most of you may know from American series Good Times but Maidie was another accomplished actor, (with over 100 film credits to her name), whom is often overlooked when talking about Baby Jane but, Honey let me tell you… She acted the SHIT out of Elvira. Her character is the only one who goes toe-to-toe with Jane (Bette Davis) and almost wins. Elvira was omitted from the story in Feud (ironically as many POC often are). She’s not in the film ‘Baby Jane’ much either but, she absolutely shines through.


Go watch Feud, watch Whatever Happened To Baby Jane – watch them both… at the same damn time!


Uncle Sam – Expect Us

Samuel L Jackson broke a few British hearts this week with comments he made about Black British Actors possibly being less equipt to tell historically African American stories. British Actors everywhere were enraged and the discussion has been on-going on social media since.

I think Sam has a point and a right to his opinion. He is not the first to feel this way, it’s not a new phenomenon and this is a conversation we needed to have. Hear me out, whilst I give a little history lesson on Uncle Sam:


In 1966, the height of the civil rights movement, Jackson enrolled at the historically black Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr

In 1968, when MLK Jr. was assassinated, Jackson attended King’s funeral as one of the ushers and then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest.

In 1969, actor Samuel L Jackson was expelled from historically black Morehouse College for holding board of trustees hostage for two days, demanding that changes be made in the curriculum, stating that they wanted more blacks on the governing board of the institution. Included in this group of people who were held hostage was MLK Jr.’s own father MLK Sr. Morehouse eventually gave in and agreed to change but Jackson was expelled for his actions.

That summer he became connected with people in the Black Power movement. “I was in that radical faction.  One day my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.’”

Jackson stayed in LA working in social services for two years and then applied to Morehouse and returning in January of 1971 as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds,” he told Parade.

I say all this to say; Uncle Sam has BEEN in the struggle and working in the trenches since before many of us were born, of course he’d want to play MLK over a Brit, it goes without saying! Though I’m sure his comments didn’t come from a place of malice, he is however wrong.


Britons have not been interracially dating for over 100 years ‘en mass’. Although there is evidence that people of colour have been in the UK since medieval times, this mixed race melting pot he speaks of isn’t true:

“The most recent Census in 2011 highlights that in England and Wales, 80 per cent of the population were white British. South Asian ‘groups’ made up 6.8 per cent of the population; black groups 3.4 per cent; East Asian ‘groups’ 0.7 cent, Arab groups 0.4 per cent and other groups 0.6 per cent”.

Hardly a mixed majority Sam. In fact my Caribbean father came to England in the 50’s  (he’s 72 and still looks not a day over 40). I heard about the things my parent’s went through before I was born in the 80’s. Even as a mixed child, I haven’t been exempt from racism in UK.


Denzel Washington – For Queen & Country

Sam’s argument was ‘not everything is universal’. A trope that’s often told to actors in training is that ‘I don’t have to be a drug addict in real life to understand and play addiction, or have had a sibling die to understand and play loss. As an ex (or current) drug addict, I would have a unique advantage, insight and affinity to the role but, would that make me act better? I dunno.

Because American systematic racism is hyper-visible across global media, it’s easy to say that the rest of the world hasn’t suffered like they have. This still doesn’t stop me knowing, understanding and playing suffering.

As many have mentioned on social media Americans have been playing British and other foreign characters for the longest

  • Denzel Wshinton – Cry Freedom/For Queen & Country (yikes!)
  • Morgan Freeman – Invictus
  • Whoopie Goldberg – Sarafina
  • Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
  • Dennis Haysburt – Goodbye Bafana
  • Derick Luke – Catch  a Fire

The list goes on and even more so when looking at non-black Actors playing other nationalities. Would African Actors have loved those roles? Sure!


No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

He also said we were cheaper, which really got people’s goat, because cheaper read to them as worthless but guess what? In some cases…we are cheaper.

  • Having an unknown British Actor play a lead, rather than a known Black American Actor = Cheaper
  • A ton of productions are filmed in Europe or South Africa. Europe = No Visa issues = Cheaper

Ira Aldridge

Then last but not least; he said that the industry gatekeepers in Hollywood think we are better trained. This is true. I’ve been to Hollywood and had this said to me.

The idea of a quintessential, classically, drama school trained Actor is hot over there. Hollywood doesn’t have the same drama school history we have in UK, they have some top class practitioners but, the schools aren’t the same. Our schools have been around for over 100 years churning out stars. The course/class structure here is also very different.

They also admire UK theatre history and rep training (whether we have done any personally or not). Hollywood has virtually no theatre and Broadway is a closed shop.  “They’re well-trained. They came through on the stage not on a music video or whatever. So their acting’s impeccable and then they go into films.Spike Lee

People have rightly pointed out that Uncle Sam should be mad at the system and not us. I think that’s what he was saying, if not somewhat haphazardly. Non-white British Actors ‘can’t get arrested’ for love nor money in our own country’s industry and Hollywood is the film mecca, so it’s only natural that many of us are migrating.

To even get a US Visa we have to prove we possess “Extraordinary Ability” in our field of work and then we have to prove it in the audition and as I’ve told you  in What is Pilot Season, the US audition system is much more vigorous than the UK system, so those of us who have been cast in US productions have frikken earned it.


I understand Sam. This representation thing is a struggle and we only want to see our fellow artists do well. I can’t count the amount of times ‘posh’ southerners are cast in ‘working class’ northern productions (as northerners). The way we cuss every time!

That’s not to bash the actor at all, but we always wonder what a northern actor, who’s from that background (and is often overlooked) would have brought to the role. Especially when the reverse casting virtually NEVER happens; northern playing southern.  (see Change Your Accent pt 2 & 3).

Uncle Sam you have the work, we are coming – expect the very best of us.


“It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes.”

He added: “We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work.”

He also said of British actors: “I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that.” Samuel L Jackson NME