Reviews


Derbyshire Showcoach Trip April 2018

On Thursday 19th April we left very early for our tour of the “Great Houses of Derbyshire”. There were 24 of us in total.

Our first stop was at the World of Wedgwood just outside Stoke-on-Trent. Here we were given lunch before having free time to visit both the Museum and the Factory. The Museum showed an insight into the life of Josiah Wedgwood and had an amazing collection of Wedgwood through the ages. The Factory visit was fascinating as we were able to see the whole process of how the china is produced

We then continued on to Buxton where we were to stay for 3 nights in The Old Hall Hotel which dates back to 1573. The “New Hall” as it was known was built by the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury ( the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick) and was where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a time. After a welcome drink in the bar we had a lovely dinner in their restaurant.

On Friday, 20th after a delicious Derbyshire breakfast we left to drive through beautiful countryside in glorious sunshine to spend an entire day at the amazing Chatsworth House . This house is known as “The Palace of the Peak” and is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Here we were given a guided tour of the house. After this we then had free time for lunch and to explore the vast gardens . Late afternoon we returned to our Hotel and once again enjoyed a very good dinner in their restaurant

On Saturday 21st once again we set off after breakfast in sunshine to visit first Haddon Hall and secondly Hardwick Hall. The countryside was a mass of daffodils and lambs everywhere you looked.

At Haddon Hall, which sits on a rocky outcrop above the River Wye near Bakewell,we were given a guided tour around this medieval and Tudor manor house which has changed little since the days of Henry V111! We were told how it is now a very popular film and TV location!

After a quick break for refreshments it was onto Hardwick Hall (near Chesterfield) and is National Trust. This was the house that Bess of Hardwick had built after she left Chatsworth and her initials ES ( Elizabeth Shrewsbury) are everywhere one looks! This 16th C house is full of beautiful tapestries and furnishings from around the world.
The original Old Hall next to it is now a ruin and was where Bess was born. After a full afternoon here we returned to our Hotel where we enjoyed our last night and dinner in the restaurant.

On Sunday 22nd after our final Derbyshire breakfast and checking out there was time to explore some of the town of Buxton. Unfortunately rain shortened this part of our visit! We then drove south to Caulke Abbey at Ticknall ( also National Trust) . Here we visited this baroque mansion in open parkland which has been little restored since its construction in the early 18thC! The NT has chosen to preserve and display the house in the state it was when they acquired it in 1985.
After further refreshments we then left for home.

It was an extremely interesting trip and everyone said how much they enjoyed themselves and are already looking forward to our next one.

Upcoming ShowCoach trips >


Arts Richmond Young Writers’ Festival

The Exchange, Twickenham, 15th April 2018

Arts Richmond Young Writers

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Arts Richmond, as must be well known to readers of these pages, is about promoting the arts in and around the borough. However promoting the arts becomes a niche activity unless you include the younger generation from the start. Happily, we will all be OK, because Arts Richmond has this all sewn up, if the evidence of Sunday’s Young Writer’s Festival is anything to go by. The Young Writers’ Festival is, unsurprisingly, a celebration of young people’s writing, specifically young people between the ages of six and sixteen from a mixture of state and independent schools. Their work is assessed by three judges and then prizes, which include the titles of Young and Senior Poets Laureate, are awarded for outstanding writing.

Keith Wait has been directing this event for five years. He has the services of three professional actors – this year Catherine Forrester, Janna Fox and AJ MacGillivray, all three enthusiastic and skilled - and presents the children’s work as a rehearsed reading. This is inspired: the children see their work professionally executed which increases their confidence, and everything that’s in the work is brought out to entertain an appreciative audience.

The Festival itself is a straightforward event.  Arts Richmond Chair Hilary Dodman introduced the children and explained the arrangement of year groups, and then seventeen pieces of work were performed straight through by the actors. Prizes were awarded by Her Worship the Mayor, Cllr Lisa Blakemore, at the end of the proceedings.

Poetry and creative writing is challenging for some children because unless it flows naturally, which it might not, it’s a thing you have to do with very few instructions and no manual, and that’s frightening.  The children whose work was on show on Sunday however, had all risen to the challenge of expressing feelings, creating images and communicating effectively, a tribute to the children themselves and to those teachers and parents who encouraged and supported them … …

Read Eleanor Lewis’ full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/ywf

Photography by Christina Bulford


Arts Richmond New Plays Festival

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, 18 March 2018

Miranda Barratt, Winner New Plays, with mayor

Review by Mark Stoakes

The Arts Richmond New Plays Festival is a biennial event, originally conceived by Edie Purdue in memory of her husband Roy, an enthusiast for local amateur drama especially for young people, to encourage the writing of short one-act plays. The unique feature of this Festival is that all the plays submitted are read by a distinguished and experienced panel, who then shortlist four,  whose  authors have the opportunity of seeing their work in live performance in the round by a local amateur group at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond.
The Open Window, presented by the Richmond Shakespeare Society, was a tense, dark, psychological thriller which kept the audience guessing right up to the violent ending. Difficult moral choices had to be made and these were translated into good theatre by the taut plotting and economic dialogue. Excellent acting by members of RSS and good use of lighting and sound effects added value to this production.
And now for something different!  Mr Stripeytail was a verse play, written by Katie Abbot for her Performing Arts group of young people and presented by them. The action describes an animal who finds a human voice and his involvement and subsequent difficulties in crossing the line between the animal kingdom and man. In verse throughout, with many changes of rhythm and metre, this was exceptionally well written. This play will make an excellent addition to the repertoire of young people’s drama and deserves a wider audience.

The mysteriously named Tia and the Falcon was presented by two members of Teddington Theatre Club. This two-hander told of two friends reunited after several years and their subsequent exploration of what had gone wrong. The depiction of the characters was very credible, understandable and at times funny and the final resolution was brave and unexpected. Again excellent business, props and music enhanced this play.

Matrexit, presented by Barnes Community Players, another thought-provoking, surreal, sci-fi drama.  Humanity’s minds have been uploaded to a virtual reality Digiscape to build a utopian society. Newly-arrived Sukky leads a campaign to return to the physical world but voting doesn’t necessarily lead to the desired outcome. This was an interesting play, full of imaginative ideas but with dialogue which could possibly have been written more succinctly for maximum theatrical effect.

Vivian Heilbron, speaking for the judges, praised the high standard of all the works which had presented the judges with some hard choices.  She announced that the winner was The Open Window, written by Miranda Barratt, which had given the best theatrical experience of the afternoon. The Deputy Mayor of Richmond, Cllr. Benedict Diaz presented the Roy Purdue trophy to Miranda, who is 18 years of age and studying for A-levels at College: obviously a talent to watch!

Arts Richmond would like to express its appreciation of the Reading Panel and the Judges for their hard work which made this event such a success. Special thanks must also be given to Keith Wait and Johanna Chambers (Production Manager and Assistant Stage Manager), The Orange Tree Theatre and Stuart Burgess (Technical Manager), and Gillian Thorpe who co-ordinated the Festival on behalf of Arts Richmond Drama.

Read Mark Stoakes’ full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/arnpf

Photography by James Bell


I Think We’ve Broken the Fourth Wall - Suff’ring

OSO Barnes, until 20 January 2018

Suff'ring photo

I would have liked to have told you more about StraightUp Productions, who are putting on Suff’ring at the OSO Barnes as I greatly enjoyed the evening. But perhaps it’s appropriate that the company doesn’t supply a programme, and all remain anonymous.

It’s appropriate because, first, it suggests a lack of preparation entirely in keeping with the disorganised fictitious company that is staging the play about suffragettes around which this play takes place. Second, maybe the actual cast feel such sympathy with the pitiful performers they portray and are embarrassed to declare themselves. Oh, and – third – it makes my job easier, as I only have one set of actors to refer to.

If this sounds an unduly complicated way to begin a review, it also reflects the tricky opening of the production itself. The first scene of this play about suffragettes is actually the final scene of a show about the Vietnam War, and it quickly becomes apparent that real action is taking place in a fringe theatre rather than an Edwardian parlour, as you might have expected. Once the marines are offstage, there is a riot of cast and crew, busying themselves in preparation for the director’s magnum opus about the women’s suffrage movement. At this point, anyone who has ever participated in theatre at any level will laugh knowingly at the chaos of lost props and missing actors. Or wince.

However this production is held together by the stage manager – the nervy Kim, who conveys with beautiful precision her increasing desperation as the cast absences mount up. Thrusting herself into the role of Walter, vacated first by a missing miss and then the star’s Spanish husband, Esteban, Kim quickly builds up to gestures ever more dramatic in order to fill the gaps left by her talent, until eventually she is like a snooker player leaning in for a difficult shot. She’s only outdone late in the second act, when a false arm is deployed by another actor who has pulled herself out of a body bag that has been hidden in the wardrobe. You’re not following this? You have to be there. No, really. You have to be there … …

Read on at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/suffring


Vintage Blues - BluesClub

Eel Pie Club, The Cabbage Patch, Twickenham
11th January 2018

A welcome return to the Eel Pie Club to see the first gig of the year featuring BluesClub. I wouldn’t claim to be an aficionado of the genre, but, as a sometime guitar player, I’m well aware of the history of blues music and how it has influenced much of the popular music of western culture, including Jazz, Folk and Country & Western. Apart from all that, I do enjoy the occasional immersion in the baptismal font that is a live blues gig.

On this particular evening, the BluesClub’s stellar nature was demonstrated in the opening number, a cool version of Taj Mahal’s 1968 track She Caught the Katy, probably most famously known for underscoring the introduction to the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

Peter Hope-Evans deserves a mention for staying power on harmonica and Jew’s harp. Always in there with an appropriate musical flourish to underpin the number and ready to step forward as required. I also liked drummer Paul Beavis’s work: crisp, enthusiastic and, again, ever ready with a tasteful fill to drive matters forward. But, overall, it feels churlish to critique musicians of this standard and experience in detail. Suffice it to say that this is a band that admirably demonstrates what professional standard live playing should be.

Of the numbers, the standouts for me were the trance like, Latin-influenced Meet Me at the Clubhouse, the whacky, cross-rhythmed I’m Drunk and the very tasty lap steel work from Guy Fletcher on Bring It to Jerome.

I don’t know if I imagined this, but I felt there was a further nod to the area’s illustrious blues past in William Topley’s vocals. I thought he sounded a bit like Long John Baldry - and I intend that as a compliment. Baldry and his Hoochie Coochie Men band were regulars at the Eel Pie Island Hotel in the 60s and the legend goes that Baldry provided the launch pad for Rod Stewart’s career, having heard him busking at Twickenham Station. There is a fairly healthy scene at the moment, with some brilliant young players, such as John Mayer coming through. I hope they continue to acknowledge the roots – of the music, that is.

Read more of Vince Francis’ review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/bluesclub

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