Live from Cairo: Hannah Elsisi on the Egyptian crisis

I spoke to Hannah Elsisi, who is in Cairo, about the sources and repercussions of Egypt's unfolding tragedy. You can read the full interview in Ceasefire magazine here

Financial Times: China's special brews

For hundreds of years, the historic Tea Horse Road between China and Tibet was one of the region’s most important thoroughfares. The route is still in use – a testament to China’s traditional trading past and the strength of its rapidly developing market. Read the full article here.

Financial Times: Construction - not your usual run of the mill

Tony Hackney is not your typical entrepreneur. He deals in timber, not technology, and, far from being a budding start-up, presides over a company with history that stretches back 164 years. Read the full article here.

Financial Times: Small businesses slam lending scheme

Business leaders have reacted sceptically to claims that banks are reducing lending rates for smaller companies, claiming the vast majority of the funds drawn down from the government’s Funding for Lending Scheme will not make their way to “those who need it most”. Read the full article here .

Huffington Post: London ranked second best student city

London has been named the second best city in the world in which to study, according to research released on Tuesday, writes editor of London Student Hesham Zakai. Read the full article here.

Huffington Post: Sweeney Todd and the Figuring of London

From the heap of slain corpses deep in the cellar of a pie shop, Jonathan Kent breathes fresh life into the latest production of this timeless classic,Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The narrative has been relocated from the Victorian epoch to the 1930s and the production's transferral from Chichester to the Adelphi theatre on the Strand positions it a mere two or three hundred years from the infamous Fleet Street where the legendary demon barber carried out his gruesome acts. This is just the beginning of its vivid realist touch.

In framing the action inside the borders of a derelict factory, Kent enfranchises the traditionally neglected urban poor whilst making a scathing social critique; London is figured as an enduring bastion of misery and strife for its proletariat dwellers. "The history of the world", Todd sings wonderfully, "is those below serving those up above!"

To accentuate the point, the workers are tasked with the chorus and in ones or twos remain on set throughout the play in the margins, elevated and completely motionless, like the ghosts of the characters of the original Victorian setting - frozen in time and social circumstance.

For the audience, however, sitting motionless was not an option: they were taken through a range of emotions as the scenes turned from comedy, to excitement, to gore - and often all three at once. 

The casting was superb. With his slender, one-sided forelock and his ashen face starkly punctuated by his dark, fixated eyes, the brooding Michael Ball was absolutely fascinating, if barely recognisable, as the eponymous antihero. Yet if his demeanour was pallid, his musical performance was anything but; Ball was even less recognisable theatrically than he was physically. Little wonder that even the Daily Mail failed to grasp a hyperbole when it described the show as "the performance of his life".

Imelda Staunton, too, as Mrs Lovett was at her absolute best and a sideways glance at her repertoire of rave reviews is enough to inform one that that is an impressive zenith. She controlled the audience's emotions, triggering humour at will, in the way a conductor controls his orchestra, and continuously left them more ravenous than a cannibal customer waiting for one of her human pies. What seems to go eerily unnoticed throughout the play is that Lovett is the real villain of the piece - she is more Machiavellian in her scheming from start to finish and less just in her motivation. Unlike Sweeney, she is not trying to avenge wrongful incarceration and the destruction of her family, but instead trying to profit - financially and emotionally - from another man's tragedy. "Business needs a lift; think of it as thrift", she appeals to the by now more deranged and less rational Sweeney.

The exceptional synergy of Sweeney and Lovett was supported ably by the rest of the cast, particularly the great interplay in the quartet of Judge Turpin (John Bowe), Beadle (Peter Polycarpou), Anthony (Luke Brady) and Joanna (Lucy May). The romantic plot of the latter two is given a fairytale gloss, with Joanna appearing reminiscent of Rapunzel as she looks down on her saviour with her wavy locks through the window of her chamber, where she is kept.

In often having one number begin as the preceding one was ending, the director ensures not only a seamless transition between scenes, but also subtly interlocks narratives.

On the negative side, perhaps the social critique is paradoxically made more pronounced and ironically undercut by the cost of the show's tickets, with prices ranging up to nearly £100. And the first interval is marginally less exceptional than the second, which homes Ball's brilliant rendition of 'Joanna'. 'Epiphany' and 'My Friends' were the other standout songs, as well as the more tender moment of Staunton singing 'By the Sea'.

In sum it is an excellent revival of an enduring masterpiece and the best piece of theatre I have witnessed for a long while. If one can, one should certainly attend the tale of Sweeney Todd

London Student: Review - The Bee

The Bee is a strangely entrancing piece of Japanese theatre about the transformation of a businessman, Ido, who returns home from work one day to discover that his wife and son have been taken hostage by escaped murderous convict, Ogoro.

Hounded by an intrusive media and disregarded by an insensitive police, Ido is left with no choice but to take matters into his own hands. Played brilliantly by Kathryn Hunter, the play charts his gradual decline into a dark labyrinth of violence, rape and revenge.

Without an aptitude for victimhood, Ido attempts to utilise the skills of his profession – he is a businessman – to negotiate his way out of the lamentable situation he finds himself in. When that fails, he disarms a highly comical police officer, Anchoku, and decides his chances of rescuing his family are best served by taking hostage Ogoro’s own family.

The play’s primary feat is its ability to blend humour into such a dark scenario, manifested through the satirical look at the role of the media and the police in society, as well as its manga comic strip form. It is a form which has taken on a growing significance in Japan, as the authorities have relied on its successful exportation to ease their economic woes.

It is ironic, then, that Ido and his family are failed miserably by the state, and the two fugitives descend into a desperate battle of attrition that draws on real yakuza – Japanese organised crime syndicates – traditions. The humour comes in tempering the spectacle of the punishments: rather than mimicking the cutting off of a finger, The Beesees pencils held between fingers snapped in a series of scenes of escalating tension. The tension is partially broken when the kidnapped child volunteers his finger in anticipation, prompting a wave of unsettled laughter in the audience.

The acting, prop selection and mise-en-scène add hugely to the humour of the evening, with highlights including the use of elastic bands for noodles, a cylinder wearing a cap for a child, indelibly tangled wires depicting channels of communication and a mirror backdrop that spontaneously, then sporadically, becomes transparent.

Beneath the facetiousness and the depravity, there is a damning social critique: of the immorality of the press; of the ruthlessness of the capitalist attitudes that drive the businessman to revenge; of the eye for an eye mentality that drives a sane individual insane; essentially, of the ultimate price the bee pays for protecting itself using its sting.

London Student: Review - Bloody Poetry

The summer of 1816 holds a treasured place in the annals of English literary history. It marked the coming together of two of the nation’s foremost poets in Lake Geneva: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord George Byron, once famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb, in what has become his seductive sobriquet, as Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know.

Bloody Poetry is revived at the wonderfully charming Jermyn Street theatre; a small venue that represents much of what is captivating about London’s blossoming fringe theatre circuit. It is no surprise, then, that the venue was named Fringe Theatre of The Year at The Stage 100 awards.

As well as Byron and Shelley, the play features Claire Clairemont (a lover of both the poets) and Mary Shelley, who finds the inspiration to write her classic horror novel Frankenstein whilst in Lake Geneva. The quartet become ever more entangled in each other’s lives until finally they are acrimoniously dispersed.

Directed by Tom Littler, the play was written by Howard Brenton in 1984 and blends humour with an intimate insight into the lives of the Romantics. This fusion comes to a facetious climax when Byron irately rejects suggestions that he is ‘Europe’s greatest romantic poet’.

Byron – played brilliantly by David Sturzaker – is raffish and depraved, leaving the audience in no doubt as to the veracity of Lady Caroline Lamb’s description. His decadence traverses time and place, as the play moves from 1816, to 1818, and finally to 1822, taking the scene from Switzerland to Italy via England.

There is a tension throughout the play between Byron’s apathetic cynicism and Shelley’s fervent radicalism, the latter being chided by the former, his hero. It is not all humour, however, as tragedies afflict the group and the play shows that romanticism itself is not flawless and sometimes, to the contrary, flawed to tragic effect.

When he wrote it in 1984, Brenton said it was against a backdrop of an overwhelming electoral victory for the Conservatives “when Margaret Thatcher set about shredding what was left of England’s radical, republican tradition”. Eighteen months into this Conservative-led coalition’s term in power, this is a timely and well-done revival that has much to say on the role of the radical in contemporary society.