Kirsty Oswald (Desdemona) & Mark Ebulue (Othello) in Frantic Assembly's Othello. Credit Manuel Harlan. 74

Stage Review: OTHELLO at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre

There are never many layers to a Shakespeare tragedy: OTHELLO features characters that have tyrannical tendencies, the plot escalates at astonishing speed, there is room allowed for a ripple or two of comedy in the madness of it all, and main characters experience demise at the end.

Have no qualms, this adaptation hits the mark. This retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy is a pool room setting in a rough pub within a rough neighbourhood. Anarchy and aggression is advocated in the electronic dance music and in the behaviour of the young men. The girls are either hanging out or giving chase. The movement is vigorous, the pool cues are used in rhythmic terms, with choreographed moves where these items are handled and hand and arm locked by players in time with the music.

Characters are true enough in this modern setting, Othello’s passion for Desdomona remains the key. Desdomona is best described as vivacious and popular under Scott Graham’s (Frantic Assembly) direction and Emilia is her loyal friend with a listening ear. Cassio is still handsome, and Iago is, of course, the main antagonist. Othello is as deluded as anyone could possibly be to trust Iago’s word.

The main plot is the creation of a devious scheme by Iago to implicate to Othello that a sexual association is happening between Desdomona and Cassio, and so to betray the trust of the openly jealous, Othello in the horrible web of lies he is weaving.

The subjects’ sex and lust is ever present, much is merely suggestive, with the table top love scene, (later the murder scene) being artfully executed.

The music builds dramatic effect throughout and the performances are energetic. Othello and Iago, are both seen to grow in being more and more edgy and stressed. Iago is a nasty tormentor. All in all this production is a trifle unsettling, and, of course, hugely theatrical and delivered with attitude.

The students in the audience, that had arrived at The Rep in large coach parties, stood up to applaud and whistle loudly to show their appreciation and enjoyment of a piece of stage work which obviously reflects very well the subject(s) falling within their routes of study.

The performance is 1hr 40 minutes long – no interval.


Mark Ebulue as Othello, recently of the RSC and a former kickboxer
Steven Miller as Iago – known as Lenny Lyons in Casualty (BBC TV)
Kirsty Oswald as Desdemona – (The Judas Kiss, The Winter’s Tale)
Barry Aird in the roles of Brabantio and Ludovico – (Peaky Blinders BBC, The Shawshank Redemption, West End)
Ryan Fletcher as Cassio, who has previously performed with Frantic Assembly in Beautiful Burnout (2010)
Leila Crerar – Emilia, reprising her role from the original 2008 production
Richard James Neale – Roderigo, reprising his role from the original 2008 production

Featured Image: Kirsty Oswald (Desdemona) & Mark Ebulue (Othello) in Frantic Assembly’s Othello. Photograph by Manuel Harlan

Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall who attended press night of OTHELLO at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Wednesday 12 November

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DESIGN BY IKEA (A cultural History) by Sara Kristoffersson


ISBN 9780857858146
Design by IKEA by Sara Kristoffersson

Translated by William Jewson
Bloomsbury (published October 2014)
Price £19.99


list of illustrations


Chapters 1-6: Configuring IKEA, Once Upon a Time, Swedish Stories and Design, Sweden designed by IKEA, Counter-narratives, Democracy of State




Essay style writing, which, rather deftly deals, in six information packed chapters, with the background and reasons behind the phenomenal global success of IKEA, and how a European country, namely Sweden, has obtained a cultural identity for itself largely because of this one giant of a brand. Delving deeper, Sara Kristofferrsson (the author) acknowledges that in the modern world Swedish and Scandinavian design has always influenced the industry and IKEA has never been slow to make reference to, and to be advocators of that very point. Yet, on the flip side, the author is able to state as a result of her research the following ‘That IKEA functions as Sweden’s face in the world as well as a symbol of Sweden is not just a role that the company has assumed voluntarily’.

The author is reflective of the political, historical and social landscape of Sweden (the country) and makes a round about link and comparison with IKEA (the company) in specific terms. How is it the country is seemingly quite satisfied about the company being a National symbol for it? Has the company always been masterful in business terms? Has the company always been innovative; a design leader rather than being design led? If there are cracks to be found in the business of making and selling competitively priced furniture then the author is revealing of them.

Comment and Guide

The author intelligently discusses a subject I would have loved to have had the idea first to discuss; it is a fascinating read. The translation by William Jewson is expertly executed. Not all of it is plain fact, and you need to allow time to ponder on information and perhaps argue with it (in your mind).

Overhearing a conversation recently one youth said to another ‘Everything is made in China these days’, then announces as his example, ‘like IKEA!’ After reading this book, this young man’s assumption may not be as far wrong as you may first think.





Review by TSS Editor Debra Hall, a professional theatre critic and experienced reviewer

Go Ahead - Copy

Go Ahead biscuit products – Review

The Go Ahead range from United Biscuits (UB) are promoted as being healthy snack items, rather than being meal replacement bars. No direct substitute, nutritionally speaking, for having pieces of fruit (fresh or dried); a pot of low-fat yoghurt, or a slice of plain toast, but obviously much more convenient to pack up and to consume while ‘On The Go’, so the idea is a good one.

The product samples supplied for reviewing purposes did not have to travel too far from the Midlands Distribution Centre based in Ashby-De-La-Zouch; us being situated on a boundary with NW Leicestershire (just 10 minutes from the McVities site). Yet Go Ahead slices and break bars have been selling for a while in supermarkets and retail outlets countrywide, so this a range of fruity filled biscuits (some with toppings) that have earned their stripes for long enough, and as many consumers have either tried them, or are regularly buying, there is not much we can tell you in terms of quality and price that is not known already.


figure 1 – Go Ahead Crispy Slice – APPLE (5 pack) (each pack containing 3 crispy slices – 15 slices altogether)

Go slices individual

figure 2 – Go Ahead Crispy Slice (pack of 3) 5 in a pack (see figure 1 above)

The fact there are 10 slices (5 packs of 2 slices) in one square box of Go Ahead yogurt topped breaks,


even better

the Go Ahead crispy slices having 15 to a pack – 5 packs of 3 slices inside See  figures 1 and 2 , has a near on psychological effect for the consumer who seemingly benefits for having a 3 for 1 advantage.

Whether it is true or not, the feeling that registers is of receiving value for money, of gaining an extra treat for oneself, and brings on a willingness to share the food around.

Nevertheless, this post is not only meant to serve as a reminder of the exterior and interior food packs, but to pass on the news that UB have been actively reducing saturated fat and salt from biscuits (and the cakes) they produce, and have been removing additives, sweeteners, colours and artificial flavours over the last nine years or so. In the case of Go Ahead we can verify that all these aims have been reached.

Recently however, it is the sugar content found within processed food that is under growing scrutiny, so we thought, as a matter of interest, that we would compare overall nutritional information in regard to a Go Ahead crispy slice (Apple) and Go Ahead (Forest Fruit) with an undisclosed wheat based product, (traditionally eaten at breakfast time) that contains a fruity filling; 100 g for 100 g.

Interestingly our shredded wheat biscuits have a calorific value that is markedly lower than the Go Ahead slices, are a better source of fibre and are lower in fat, sugar and salt. Our product (that we have now revealed in all but name) being a fruit filled, whole grain item, is, admittedly, not a like for like comparison, even so, could be easily portioned up and bagged and transported in a lunch box for snacking purposes, and, although, more drier to eat than the Go Ahead crispy slices (themselves a little dry), is a good product match to Go Ahead all things considered.

It seems then that UB still has a way to ‘GO’ to be a viable contender in the real healthy eating stakes despite the claims.

Taste wise, the Go Ahead Yogurt breaks (forest fruit) turned out to be the the unanimous favourite among TSS testers, as the yogurt topping provides more moisture to the overall texture than that experienced when eating any one of the Go Ahead Crispy slices.

Go Ahead Crispy Slices are also available in Orange, Raspberry, Red Cherry. Blueberry and Strawberry.

Go Ahead Yogurt breaks also available in Strawberry, Raspberry and Red Cherry.

Go Ahead 4 - Copy

Figure 3 : Go Ahead yogurt breaks – FOREST FRUIT – 1 pack illustrated containing 2 slices – 5 of these packs in a box

Northern Tea - featured image

TSS Business of the Month for November 2014 is Northern Tea Merchants

Back in 2011 we partnered with this featured business to overview its long history of repute and to put a small leaf tea, a tea blend (in tea bags) and a ground coffee product to the test. We rounded all our findings in one dedicated post. Read it by clicking on the link here

Recently it came to my attention (as Editor at tss) that Northern Tea Merchants had recently acquired a new website for itself, one with a functionality that is much improved overall and which now presents the quality of teas and coffees from many different origins, expert blends; herbal infusions and hot beverage making machinery, kits, accessory and gift items to better effect.

James Pogson

James Pogson

The online purchasing experience is straightforward. Once registered, buyers can choose a specific pack size, quantity, or weight (whichever applies), and select the preferred grind in regard to the coffee selecting. The pricing is clear cut, item(s) can be added to the basket (or removed), and then one can move on through the secure checkout, using a debit or credit card payment, in the usual way.

I was in touch again recently with Director, James Pogson (pictured above) acknowledging the new changes to the website and expressing a wish to make Northern Tea the TSS Business of the Month for November 2014. I had intended, for a long time, to drive from my home in South Derbyshire to the North of the county to visit this place of business; one of Chesterfield’s most established and respected. I was treating the opportunity for James to play host, as a way of gathering a bit more background information to that I had previously acquired, and to snap at the chance of photographing for use in the compilation of this post dedicated to the company.

On arrival I was welcomed in with a brew of green tea and received an informative presentation in which James was hugely educative and generous with his information sharing in regard to origin, leaf, tea workers; processes; production, trading and pricing, and so on, and really willing to fill in the gaps when I fired him a question or two.

We then moved away from the high tech for a while, to the deliciously low tech world of tea tasting. You will see by the image immediately above that James had arranged in a row on a long, tall table examples of the broad range of black and green teas supplied from those extensive tea plantations I had seen from James’s own photography taken on his visits abroad. James’s instruction to arrive at a fair test for all was to dip the spoon, and then sip each tea strongly and loudly from it, then to allow the infusion to friction wash against the taste buds under the tongue. Took a while for me to master, if I did at all!

If you are a reader who likes and appreciates a good quality beverage you will enjoy reading that detailed about the tea tasting in the next paragraph or two:

infusion timing

infusion timing

First, from Taiwan, a Formosa Jade Oolong tea, the leaves are tight little rolled balls that when they free fall from the pack into the brewing cup and are infused for four minutes in hot water of 85 degrees centigrade (that is the requirement), they are then separated from the brew into the drinking vessel through a strainer. The leaves, which have now softened and have unrolled and are suddenly very large, are tipped out and set upon the upside tops of china lids for the benefit of further inspection and performance noting as part of the testing process.

Tippy Orthodox Assam

Tippy Orthodox Assam

Other teas sampled in the same way included Japenese Houjicha – a roasted green tea, that was discovered in the 1920s when a Taiwanese merchant roasted some Sencha which he’d had for a long time and which was starting to deteriorate. It is unique in that there are no other teas processed this way as far as James is aware. Houjicha is about 10 times the price of small-leaf Assam tea (a black tea), widely used, and I tasted this too, a Tippy Orthodox Assam version in fact (pictured right).

Two flower teas came in the form of the popular, Rose Congou and the exquisite Jasmine Yin Hao Lotus blend, the latter having an aroma from nose diving into the open pack that sends your senses into a spin. James included a Rooibos and explained it was not actually tea, and that it was a plant native to Africa which has an extremely long root. I particularly enjoyed the Moroccan Mint and have been brewing this a lot at home since.

The inclusion of a Chocolate Tea demonstrated to me that James is not failing short in the popular call for cocoa editions of various food and drink concoctions and guises that are not usually synonymous to chocolate and people like these kinds of products, especially for gift buying. While on the subject of gifts … Gift hampers can be made to order. The tea version (shown below) includes the eye catching gold foil packs of such beautiful tea products and a China Tea-Set. Contact James on 01246 232 600 or email , he has a wonderful working ethic and is extremely customer focused. James will offer his expert advice, not only on leaf grades, manufacturing queries, and many aspects of Tea and its health benefits, but he can put together any kind of bespoke order especially for you.

tea hamper from Northern Tea Merchants

The ex salt works building on the Chatsworth Road (S40 2BA) houses twenty-three employees all in all, and a popular cafe is situated to the front. Trade Customers of The Northern Tea Merchants include vast and varied members of the hospitality industry and the public sector.

Northern Tea Merchants is a business that has been a favourite of tss, since the year we started the online publicizing of prestigious reviews of consumer products.

Next time, James, let’s do coffee, but in the meantime congratulations on being a deserving Business of the Month.

By Debra Hall Feature/Product Writer – (Editor of

Stage Review – Dangerous Corner

We quickly learn that a man called Martin had died some months previous. A set of family and business related people spend an evening together, and while smoking and drinking they are slowly revealing bitter secrets and connections they had made in and around the knowing, and, in some cases, the loving of, Martin.

Not long in we are suddenly keen to realise the circumstances surrounding Martin’s death, and the interest and intrigue, on the part of the audience, is to see how characters fit around this sad fact. This is the thing that grabs you early on. Nevertheless, this is not a revengeful crime thriller in a traditional sense. The revelations that come about are not Detective led. The play is fairly slow paced and tension does not really feature. Comedy is allowed to rise up, and, yes, it is most definitely a mystery, but it is the superb structure of the piece, by Priestley, that is the thing to applaud, because, at the play’s end, it has reverted to the point where it first began and we can’t quite imagine how the playwright has achieved it.

I often wonder why it is that the chat between people engaging in drawing room conversation is always in turn and talk is never interrupted or ruled by one or two over-bearing individuals. While others are never seen to almost be bursting out of themselves or their seats to have their say. I wish there was a little less of this kind of staged interaction and reaction when setting social scenes of those sharing decadent lifestyles between the wars. Nevertheless, this is indeed an intelligent, professional exercising of the genre and I acknowledge this style is very popular with audiences still, and although the storyline builds and builds from the first mention that Martin had killed himself to arrive almost full circle by the end; the play is simplistic in many respects. I have never seen, however, a ‘time play’ to work and wheedle its way through its plot so tenuously and cleverly as this one does.

Betty Whitehouse – LAUREN DRUMMOND
Olwen Peel – KIM THOMSON
Charles Stanton – MICHAEL PRAED
Robert Caplan – COLIN BUCHANAN
Gordon Whitehouse – MATT MILNE
Miss Mockridge – ROSIE ARMSTRONG

Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall, who attended press night at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, on Monday 03 November.

Photography by Robert Day

Review of Slim Fruits (Fruit Flavoured Pastilles)


Our guest blogger at TSS on this occasion is Adele S from Surrey. Adele expresses honesty in her writing and as she likes to try new things we are very happy to receive her review of Slim Fruits. Over to you, Adele: “I’m going to start by saying these are the best pastilles I have ever found! There is only a matter of a couple of calories per pastille so you don’t feel guilty at all! They come in two flavours: peach melba and rhubarb and strawberry, both of which are delicious and I couldn’t pick a favourite out of the two!

You may think that the calories are the highlight of slim fruits but really it’s only the beginning. They have the same fibre content as SIX slices of wholemeal bread, yes you heard that right! They are a sweet that is actually beneficial to you, who would have ever thought there would be such a thing.

The benefits of having soluble fibre in the pastilles works when they combine with water in the stomach and swell to suppress hunger pangs and satisfies your sweet-craving.

Not only that but the fibre is 100% natural and comes from Acacia Tree gum which is renowned for its health benefits and fibre content that slows digestion and lowers ‘bad’ blood cholesterol.

Like the sound of them? They are available in Boots and Holland & Barrett stores nationwide for only £1.89 a pack.”

The images above were supplied by Adele and accompanied her review


We also hope you will enjoy reading this second review of Slim Fruits by Janis M from Dunfermline. Janis is an expert food blogger:

“I’m the first to admit that I can be a bit of a snacker. There’s a certain point in the working day where I crave biscuits. So the idea of a snack that contains no sugar, no fat but packed with fibre to fill you up sounds like a winner to me. That’s where “Slim Fruits” come in. They are designed to “Fill you up, not out”. What’s not to like?

For little sweets they are pretty tasty they come in two flavours Peach Melba and Rhubarb and Strawberry. Personally I prefer the rhubarb one it reminds me of the rhubarb and custard sweets I used to have when I was younger. I would say they are more of a fruit gum type product than a pastille but that’s just me being pedantic.

They come in a nice wee packet which is really handy if you want to stash it away in your handbag for a convenient snack when necessary. Although the picture might put you off as they are a bit luminous and not what the actual sweets look like.

I wouldn’t say they filled me up though. They were definitely a better snack to have than a cake or a biscuit so maybe that’s more of the point they stopped me having a biscuit and instead I ate the slim fruits. If you are on a diet , as I have been many times, they would be a good option to give you a little touch of something sweet to get you through the day!”

Liking very much the turn of phrase and the independent thought about the product, Janis!


Evelyn Hoskins (Photograph by Johan Persson)

Stage Review – This is my Family at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

If timing really is the key, never was it more crucial to get the timing right than in this case. Such clever writing from Tim Firth, who ignores the rule of punctuation so that the song lyrics staccato and andante away, so to make subtle exchanges with the dialogue; allowing the story to unfold and roll along nicely.

No arguing that Director, Daniel Evans achieves so much here, but the musical direction of Caroline Humphris provides the centre pinning. Cast members, perfect in their individual roles as members of one family, exercise great memory work and vocal skills. Combine these talents with that of the musicians, plus an expert production team, and you have the makings of a great show.

This Is My Family, Clare Burt as 'Yvonne', Evelyn Hoskins as 'Nicky',  Photograph by  Johan Persson

This Is My Family, Clare Burt as ‘Yvonne’, Evelyn Hoskins as ‘Nicky’,
Photograph by Johan Persson

We meet family members through the wide eyes and sprightly song of a young schoolgirl called Nicky. This is Nicky’s family. I am a sucker for family and for exploring peoples’ positioning within, and this new musical does just that. It is insightful, respectful, funny and poignant. It is all those things and often at the same time. Sentimentality turns a little schmaltzy in Act II, and I was trying to fight back tears because I recognised this was happening. I wasn’t crying because I was particularly sad; it is just that I connected with the storylines on many levels.

The laughs are the smiley kind of affirmations one makes to oneself, and there is plenty of smiling to be had. The humour is truly British. Nicky’s well meaning dad, Steve, tries but he botches things and he has that kind of rabbit in the headlight about him. His mother, May, has dementia creeping on and Steve is burying his fears deep within. Wife, Yvonne, is loyal and protective of the nuclear family so she has her own internal battle, especially when it comes to May. Basically Steve and Yvonne are worrying over those concerning matters that come from being members of the sandwich generation.

A favourite scene features Steve when he is remonstrating about sister-in-law, Sian’s latest squeeze, Dave (Dave never actually appears). But overall, my hand clapping is at its most exuberant for Terence Keeley, who plays the Matt character. When Matt is not withdrawn and mumbling, he is displaying other teenage stereotypical behaviour. Keeley has attention grabbing qualities.

This new musical is definitely a mainstay for main stage.

At The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 01 November

Reviewer, Debra Hall attended Press Night showing at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Tuesday 28 October 7.45 pm

Review is also published at Remotegoat here

Cast List
Nicky – Evelyn Hoskins
Steve – Bill Champion
May – Marjorie Yates
Yvonne – Clare Burt
Sian – Rachel Lumberg
Matt – Terence Keeley

Marjorie Yates, Clare Burt and Evelyn Hoskins (Photograph by Johan Persson)

Marjorie Yates, Clare Burt and Evelyn Hoskins (Photograph by Johan Persson)