Arts Richmond New Plays Festival

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, 18 March 2018

Miranda Barratt, Winner New Plays, with mayor

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 by a local amateur group in the round at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. 
Eighteen one-act plays were read by Hannah de Ville, Vivien Heilbron, Grace Vaughan and David and Jane Whitworth who selected four very differing entries:

  • The Open Window by Miranda Barratt
  • Mr Stripeytail by Katie Abbott
  • Tia and the Falcon by Loz Keal
  • Matrexit by Andrew Lawston

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 subsequent difficulties and resolvement in crossing the line between the animal kingdom and man.  In verse throughout with many changes of rhythm and meter and passages for solo speakers and groups, this was exceptionally well written. Music and sound effects were very appropriate. 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 but this is questioned by the newly-arrived Sukky. She leads a campaign to return to the physical world but voting doesn’t necessarily lead to the desired outcome (?Brexit parallels). This was an interesting play, full of imaginative ideas but with dialogue which could possibly have been written more succinctly for maximum theatrical effect.

The judges were Sara Burn Edwards, Kate Edwards, Jerry Gunn and Vivien Heilbron. After an interval for deliberation, Vivian Heilbron speaking for the judges praised the high standard of all the works which had presented the judges with some hard choices.

Plays must be good in performance as well as on the written page and 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 their 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.

Mary Stoakes

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

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

Spoken word poetry performance:
Bob Sheed and Anne Warrington

Adelaide Pub and Restaurant, Teddington
4 June 2017

From 6pm to 8pm in the function room of the Adelaide Pub an open session of poetry, hosted by Bob Sheed, was performed in front of an audience consisting of poets and listeners. The programme consisted mainly of original poems and a few interpretations of two major established poets. The poetry was an eclectic mix of free verse and rhyming poems and was received well by an appreciative and enthusiastic audience.

Contributors included members of The Luther Poets founded by Bob Sheed, Heather Montford from the Magdalene Poetry Group, Keith Wait, and members of other local societies and amateur poets.

This was a good night for poetry. At the end of the session, some members of the audience commented that they felt inspired to write a poem and return next month to present it, which is what these evenings are all about. Another, looking around the function room of the Adelaide reflected on the fact that when the Adelaide Pub was built, there was no television, no radio, people would entertain themselves and “this is what people are doing here today. Great!”

Anne Warrington

The next session of Poetry Performance takes place on Sunday, 2nd July from 6pm – 8pm at the Adelaide situated in Park Road, Teddington. All you need to do is to buy a drink at the bar and make your way upstairs. Cost of entry is £2. Give your name to Tricia and Sue and say whether you want to read or just listen. If you want to eat beforehand, last orders on Sundays are 5pm.


TOPS production at the Hampton Hill Theatre
May 22nd - 27th, 2017

Barnum  tells the life history of the great American impresario and circus owner in terms of musical theatre and in his programme notes, director Ian Stark, mentions the difficulties of staging such a ‘big top’ entertainment in the confines of the Hampton Hill Theatre.

This was a less lavish production than the one which TOPS mounted just 20 years ago but ingenious use of the stage resources and a hardworking cast brought the ’greatest show on earth’ to renewed and exciting  life in Hampton Hill. Stunning back projections were used to delineate the many different locations and the huge elephant’s eye and part head represented the appearance of Jumbo to great effect.  

Parades through the auditorium helped to further the circus illusion, as did the ‘bricklayers’ juggling routines as they built Barnum’s famous Museum. Scene changing was slick and kept to a minimum with the more intimate scenes being delineated with the use of carefully managed drapes and screens.

The musically accomplished band was placed at the rear of the stage, high above the action. This tended to upset the balance with the singers below, who had difficulty in projecting over some rather overpowering accompaniment, especially in the more reflective songs.  With that criticism out of the way, the colourful big production numbers were very successful, played with great energy by the bands, both real and mimed. The brightly costumed chorus worked their socks off with some remarkable juggling and acrobatic skills (there was even a ‘fire eater’!)  There were some exceptional song and dance routines in which all the cast sang, danced and even mimed with great precision, beautifully choreographed by Lacey Creed  - especially effective were Come Follow the Band and the very different Black and White.

PT Barnum, the great impresario, was played with loads of charisma by Ben Roberts.  Many years ago Michael Crawford laid down the bench mark performance but Ben managed to bring something of his own to the role. The ‘humbug’ was put over with just a hint of self-doubt and the more thoughtful aspects of the character were developed very believably throughout the show.  The Colours of my Life was delightful and the patter in some of his other numbers was well delivered.   We speculated as to how Ben would manage the fabled tight rope walking scene. In the event, the illusion was well maintained and Barnum safely negotiated his way along the ‘rope’
Ellie Barrett, a newcomer to TOPS, was the perfect foil for Barnum, as his sensible and hard done by wife, Chairy. This was a well rounded and touching performance, full of character with good singing and excellent interaction with both her husband and the rest of the cast.

Another stand out performance was that of Charlie Booker as ‘General’ Tom Thumb. The illusion of his stature was imaginatively realized by seating him initially on a huge chair and in the solo number which followed Charlie’s delightful personality and song and dance skills shone out. He also made a vibrant contribution to the ensembles.

As Jenny Lind, hired by Barnum to perform in America after her success in Europe, Cate Blackmore with her powerful soprano voice made an instant hit in her opening appearance.   Unfortunately during her solo number she was rather let down by the amplification which tended to distort some of her notes and this reviewer felt the band were less supportive than they should have been!  Nevertheless the singing was great, following the traditions of Twickenham Operatic Society, and she looked and acted delightfully as The Swedish Nightingale

Fiona Stark, reprising her role of 20 years ago, contributed a humorous cameo as Joice Heth, the Oldest Woman Alive, whom it was claimed by Barnum was George Washington’s nurse. Dan Doidge was in good form as the Ringmaster, presiding over the proceedings with great aplomb and doubling as James Bailey, who eventually joined Barnum to mastermind their world renowned circus. The smaller roles were all well characterized by members of the company who showed their versatility by joining the ensemble as tumblers, jugglers, clowns, aerialists, acrobats, dancers, gymnasts, strongmen, bricklayers, passers-by, museum Patrons, beefeaters, Bridgeport Pageant Choir and Bands of every size.

This was the ultimate ‘feel good’ show and once again TOPS loyal and enthusiastic following left Hampton Hill Theatre full of praise for Ian Stark’s most enjoyable production.

Mary Stoakes

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The Seagull

Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham
23-29 April 2017

Located just off The Embankment at Twickenham, you’ll find a hidden gem, The Mary Wallace Theatre, which for the forthcoming week hosts one of Chekhov's great works, The Seagull. As the audience gathers in the auditorium, so too do the cast on stage, a veritable mix of summer guests, assembling for the opening of an avant-garde play set upon an idyllic Russian lake. It is quickly apparent that this is an ensemble of individuals all who are all deeply concerned with their own self happiness, individually vying for attention and each striving for change.

We are introduced to the playwright Konstantin (a strong performance by Liam Hurley) a man clearly consumed with the pursuit of Art, who is not only suffering in his artistic endeavours but too in the field of love – and he is not the only one. The subject of his desire is Nina, the protagonist of his play and Magdalena Jablonska sets the pace and standard with a flawlessly over the top performance of Konstantin’s new work.

Through the dialogue Checkov hints to the complex relationships that link the ensemble. He does not reveal the characters at first encounter, instead the audience must piece together the motives behind each individual’s behaviour. The play is centred around a string of unrequited love - Simon is in love with Masha, who is in love with Konstantin, who is in love with Nina, who falls in love with Trigorin, who eventually reverts to his affair with Arkadina, who really only loves herself. This makes for compelling viewing and it is in the intricacies of the characters that the failings and frailty of the human condition is wonderfully portrayed. Resultantly, the play is as relevant today as when it was written in 1895.

This is in part due to Torben Betts’ adaptation of the classic, which is a startlingly modern and thrusts the language into the 21st century. In this, perhaps some of the subtleties in language of the Chekov original are missing, however this is a fast paced evening which was provocative and captivating from start to finish and every actor should be applauded for portraying the variety of characters with realism and insight.

Despite the narcissistic and negative tendencies, we are able to relate and there are many laughs afforded throughout the course of the evening. Perhaps one of the funniest interactions is between rejected and unheard Simon (Peter Easterbrook) and the brusque and unfulfilled Masha (Rachel Burnham) and yet, despite the comedy we can only feel sympathy as we watch the characters unravel before our eyes.

The play is cleverly staged with the action taking place amongst the aisles, from all angles, and this along with the use of recorded inner thoughts there is a real sense of being an intimate witness to the events unfolding. The set design, whilst simple, is beautifully evocative and effectively translates the passage of time.

The members of the cast work superbly together with the comedic relief ultimately making the finale all the more poignant and tragic. For me, Dorothy Duffy as Arkadina is the star of the show (both as a character and actress!) and she is well supported by the self-obsessed Trigorin (Darren McIlroy) and the quiet discontent of Peter (John Mortley).

Richmond Shakespeare Society have created an engaging and interesting production of The Seagull and I look forward to their upcoming season with anticipation.

Catherine Wilson

Thanks to Essential Surrey.

The Seagull - Chekhov, adapted by Torben Betts

Richmond Shakespeare Society
21st - 30th April 2017

Purists and critics will quibble, as they are wont to do, with the much acclaimed, updated adaptation of The Seagull by Torben Betts which was produced at the Mary Wallace Theatre at the end of April.    In the original version, the play, although designated as a ‘comedy’ by Chekhov, has a  considerable subtext about the meaning of life and through his characters’ personalities and interactions  demonstrates the dilemmas of being an artist and particularly an artist in love.  Despite being a failure on its first performance in 1898 the play was subsequently produced and promoted by Stanislavski , the great Russian theatre director, and has been hailed as ‘one of the greatest new developments in world drama’ – a pioneer of the new realism which was gradually gaining ground in European theatre.

The production at the Mary Wallace Theatre, directed by Susan Conte, was pacey and funny, although in an attempt to keep the action moving, there was a tendency by some of the younger actors in the first act to rush their lines.    There are many ensemble scenes and we were presented with some great groupings especially in the family gatherings and the cast tableau at the final curtain. The positioning of the ‘stage’ in the first act gave Nina ample space in which to perform. However the entrances and exits through the auditorium tended to break the atmosphere on stage and some might have had more impact if from the wings.

The action takes place in the late 19th century on the country estate by a lake in Russia belonging to Peter Sorin, the elderly and ailing brother of a famous actress, Irina.  Unfortunately the set gave little impression of the much praised beauty of the site and the representation of the interior in Act 3 with flimsy white poles, a mimed door and minimal furniture did little to set the time and place.  

Sounds effects were also virtually non- existent with little hint of the storm  and incessant rain  which was alleged to be raging outside in Act 4,  although there were  some storm clouds over the lake. Costumes set the piece firmly in the 1890s.   The men were stylishly clad but, whilst the majority of the women’s clothes were utilitarian and quite suitable, Irina’s dresses were lacking in style for such a flamboyant character, even on holiday in the country, and did little to differentiate her status from the rest of the cast.   

The Seagull depicts two visits by Irina with her lover Boris Trigorin, a famous playwright, to the estate, where her son, himself a frustrated writer, currently lives, with his uncle. Dormant ambitions, passions and anxieties in this small provincial community are awakened by these visitors from a very different world.

Magdalena Jablonska, playing  Nina,  the eponymous Seagull, is a newcomer to RSS.     This young actress showed some insights into this complex character. Understandably she was most successful in the first acts, when naively expressing her hopes for an acting career, demonstrating her skill in amateur theatricals and subsequently her growing infatuation with Boris Trigorin.     In the final act the depths of her despair and madness at losing her child, her career and her lover were not fully captured and the constant circling around Konstantin when delivering her last incoherent speech led to loss of its symbolism and impact. That said, Magdalena shows much promise and we will follow her progress with interest.

Konstantin, in love with Nina, is the only son of Irina, a famous actress.    Liam Hurley succeeded in capturing the frustrations and bitterness which he felt about his lack of success both in his writing and in his relationships with both his mother and Nina.  This was a high energy and sincere performance, veering between despair and anger but perhaps lacking in the moments of quiet reflection needed for a fully rounded and explicable character. Nevertheless this was an impressive debut with RSS – another young actor to watch!

As Irina, Dorothy Duffy didn’t quite fulfil ones ideas of a famous 19th century actress accustomed to starring in grand melodramatic plays in the old Russian tradition. Irina is stubborn, vain, stingy and demanding but in this performance Dorothy wasn’t quite as insensitive or overbearing as the part demands.     However, her scene with Konstantin after his attempted suicide did depict briefly another, more tender, side to her character. Her pleading and flattery of her lover Boris when he threatened to leave vividly portrayed the insecurities of an ageing woman in danger of losing her looks.                 

Boris Trigorin was played by Darren Milroy, a newcomer to RSS.   Boris is often spoken of as the greatest of Chekhov’s male creations, depicted as revered writer and member of the elite Russian intelligentsia.   Unfortunately in this version he was portrayed as a mildly egoistical fool, at the mercy of his amorous and literary obsessions but with no hint of the intelligent, decadent and manipulative character lying beneath the façade. This characterisation, whilst provoking much laughter in the audience, detracted from the bleak mood and outcome of the play.

The four main protagonists are supported by an interesting collection of characters whose lives provide a back story to the main action.  Outstanding amongst these was Rachel Burnham, as Masha, the disillusioned and depressive daughter of the estate manager.  Hard – drinking and snuff taking, her body language emphasised her unhappiness and unrequited passion for Konstantin and the lack of love received from her father. The scene with Eugene, (James Lloyd Pegg) a local doctor, whom it was hinted may be her true father,  was sincerely and movingly played by both actors. 

Eugene acts as a commentator, confidant and witness to the events. His ambivalent position in relation to the household, and his somewhat detached relationship with Paulina (Susan Reoch), was very believable. Paulina’s obvious discontent with her life with Ilia (Jim Trimmer, excellent as the ruthless estate manager) contributed to a credible portrait of a woman who fervently desires nothing more than her daughter’s (and her own) happiness.

As Simon , Masha’s long time suitor and poor local schoolmaster whom she finally  marries to escape from her infatuation and the boredom of life on the estate, Peter Easterbrook gave a moving  portrayal of a man paralysed by his insecurities , financial difficulties and dejected by his situation both before and after his marriage.

John Mortley as Peter, a government official who has retired to the country,  appeared very much at ease as the ailing, older brother of Irina.  With excellent physical and verbal projection, he ruefully reviewed his own unfulfilled life and nevertheless was a wise and supportive confidant to all. John gave a lovely, believable portrayal of an older man with deteriorating health and dreams of what might have been.

Stanislavski is often quoted as saying   There is no such thing as a small role, only small actors.  James MacDonald and Georganna Simpson were on stage for much of the performance as servants and mainly silent observers of the household.  Their body language indicated their involvement in the lives of their masters, particularly from Georganna as the maid whose strong suppressed feelings for Konstantin were vividly unleashed by her scream of anguish at the end of the play.

Torben Betts’ contemporary script emphasises the comedic, even farcical,  elements of the convoluted and ultimately tragic relationships of the main protagonists to such an extent that some of the poetry, symbolism and self-reflective moments in the original are lost, as is the exploration of ideas both about theatre and life.

It is the job of actors to present the play as it is written, anachronisms and all, and the comic elements of this version were well played by an ensemble cast of diverse characters, all of whom ‘loved too well but not wisely’!  ‘Voice overs’ did demonstrate some characters inner thoughts, but  in accentuating the comedy of these complex  lives, much of the tragedy, particularly  in Nina and Konstantin’s relationship,  was lost and the symbolism of the Seagull made a lesser impact.

Mary Stoakes

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Joan Heath

Joan Heath

100th birthday celebration >

Showcoach trip

Great Houses of Derbyshire
Thursday 19 April - Sunday 22 April 2018
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