Front L to R: Rhys Rowlands (Brit), Emma Doyle (Meat), Will Sexton (Galileo) & Rosie Amos (Scaramouche) - with dancersWow! They filled the stage with dancers, they filled the Theatre on the Hill with music and they filled its seats with very enthusiastic audiences.
This was a highly ambitious production by St John's Academy of the school version of the very adult musical We Will Rock You - and it came off with great aplomb and a display of some truly amazing local talents.
Based on the music of Queen, it tells of a time in the future when the biggest of the big multinational technology corporations has taken over the world (renamed here as iPlanet) and for some weird reason has outlawed the making of music - leaving the young to rely on boring old Radio Ga Ga (cue, of course, for another memorable Queen song.)
Enter Galileo Figaro - or Gazza for short - who has in his head a sort of archaeologist's collection of shards of pop music and broken bits of lyrics from times past. And who refuses to conform.
He is played by Will Sexton, who left St John's last year and is spending a year gaining stage experience before going to drama school. For this production he doubled as Acting Director.
He has a wonderful voice, which made the most of both the quieter and the more raucous Queen numbers. And he had great fun with the odd words and phrases from all those barely remembered pop lyrics.
All the rest of the cast - and the 34-strong dance troupe and the nine-strong chorus - are current St John's students. And the director and producer of this triumph was Max Moore, the school's Director of Performance - who had a third role as pianist and conductor of the twelve-strong live band.
Galileo and Scaramouche Galileo gets arrested by the music police led by Khashoggi (Sam Austen in black leather - not Armani but M&S - and shades) under orders from Killer Queen (played on the night I watched by Chrissy Lightowler - a part shared with Tamlin Morgan.)
Arrested with Galileo is another cultural and dress-code refusnik who he names Scaramouche - another name of impeccable Queen ancestry. She was played by Rosie Amos.
This is a part that calls for careful and clever acting and great singing. Well, Ms Amos has great stage presence, confident movement and a grand voice - and she gave her character a depth I am pretty certain was not foreseen when the musical was written. She made the story work - especially her on-off-on-again love affair with Gazza.
Rosie Amos as ScaramoucheGalileo persuades Scaramouche to join the underground Bohemians' movement which is trying to revive the live music they long for. This was the school version, but innuendos and double entendres and some spicy language flew about - all quite in character - and gave Scaramouche some of the evening's best lines.
I did like the way our magazines were seen from the future as 'websites made of paper'. And I loved the repartee about dreams and when love dies: When your partner wakes up and tells you about your dream of a rabbit in a bowler hat cooking an omelette for you.
Ellen Trevaskiss as PopOne highpoint was the Seven Seas of Rhye pub with its bar full of youngsters who have had their brains emptied by the authorities and with barmaid Pop who had escaped, but was nonetheless pretty dippy and hippy.
Pop gave Ellen Trevaskiss a wonderful chance to entertain us and to sing with fine gusto.
There were several other highpoints: Killer Queen, living up to her name and laying waste a large number of young girls to Another One Bites the Dust. The tender duet sung by Will Sexton and Rosie Amos - with those telling lines "There's no place for us, there's no chance for us...Who wants to live for ever." There were also standout performances by Rhys Rowlands as Brit (that's Brit as, apparently, in Britney Spears) and Emma Doyle as Meat.
If anyone ever tells you again that the Theatre on the Hill has too small a stage and no proper wings, just run this production past them. The set design included a well-used raised walkway at the back of the stage. And called for wheel-on scenery of some complexity.
But more than that, the stage was filled from time to time with 24 dancers - sometimes GaGa Girls and sometimes not! (I think it was 24 but it was quite hard to count them as they moved so quickly between groupings and movements) The dancing was of a very high calibre.
You try athletic movements with that many fit young girls on a stage that size - with no one getting poked in the eye! They were brilliant and kept in perfect sync.
The boy dancers were that bit younger and showed their skills with some frenzied break dancing. The direction made the most of the theatre's space with actors tumbling off the stage and exiting through the audience.
The music was excellent and chorus sang clearly with some great Queen harmonies. Max More directed a humdinger of an evening even at one point adding a shouted intervention from his piano - much to the delight of students in the audience.
The Saturday sell-out performance was the last night of a run that was probably short enough for those with exams coming up, but too short for all those of the cast who were obviously enjoying the whole live stage experience so much.
Now the run is over I do not need to give readers a spoiler alert: after the curtain call, after the applause had finally died away and the stage had emptied, an offstage voice (Galileo, I think) suddenly said "We've left something out" - and back they came for the most amazing, spine tingling performance of Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow!
They filled the stage with dancers, lights and music [Photos by Max More] [Click on images to enlarge them]
Chris Graves and Alison RhindThe latest in this popular Brilliant Young Musicians series of concerts was given to a very large audience at St Peter's Church on Sunday (February 21) by Chris Graves (cello) and Alison Rhind (piano).
Alison is a respected ‘collaborative’ pianist working mainly on a repertoire of piano with strings. Having first worked at the Yehudi Menuhin School, she is now coach for the String Department at the Royal College of Music - a post she combines with her freelance recital work.
Chris Graves studied at the Royal College and is developing a successful career both as a soloist and as a chamber musician - he plays with the Castalian String Quartet.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major written between 1812 and 1817. It is the last of a series of sonatas for piano and cello - a combination of instruments then its infancy. The first movement opens with a series of fanfare-like arpeggios, a motif that is repeated by both piano and cello at regular intervals, separated by a plangent melodic line.
Both instrumentalists played with bravura and there was very obvious dialogue between the two instruments.
This was followed by a gentle adagio developed first by the cello and then taken up by the piano. There is a melancholic darkness to the movement created by the piano's steady rich chords. The playing exploited very sensitively the elegiac properties, especially the change of mood in the middle of the work.
The sonata concludes with a fine fugue - the first time that Beethoven had included a full fugue as a final movement. This opens with a tantalising rising scale, repeated by the piano, before the two hurtle away in a dazzling conversation, the fugue subject batted from one player to the other. Wonderful stuff and played with great zest.
The first half was completed with Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke. Three lovely pieces originally scored for clarinet and piano, but ideally suited to the cello. They are warm and rich elegiac pieces; ‘songs without words’ indeed. Here is an outpouring of beauty with long flowing waves rolling from the cello, supported by rippling piano accompaniment. They were played with grace and all the ‘soul’ expected from German Romantic music.
The second half of the concert was devoted to one work, Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor. Begun in 1862 it was the first of Brahms’ duo sonatas. The long first movement begins with a profound theme on the cello around which the piano weaves a glorious halo of sound.
This was real collaboration, neither part dominant, but engaged in a continuous dialogue throughout.
The second movement is a graceful minuet, with a trio forming the central section. Here, unexpectedly, we hear Brahms exploring the vocabulary of his classical predecessors.
The final movement is another allegro. The opening bars for the piano are a quotation from JS Bach’s Art of Fugue, a theme which is richly developed by both instruments at regular intervals. This is a complex and difficult movement for both performers and played here with great confidence.
This was a very rewarding evening. The pieces were well selected and showed off the virtuosity of each of these competent instrumentalists, but also their ability to perform empathetically as a duo.
The next recital in this series of recital features pianist Kausikan Rajeshkumar - on Sunday 10 April 2016 - full details here. The recitals ar sponsored by Hiscox Insurance and raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the St Peter's Church Trust.
Gerald Seymour The White Horse Bookshop brought the internationally respected thriller writer Gerald Seymour to Marlborough Town Hall on Wednesday (January 27) for a well-attended "Evening with..." session.
Interviewed by the bookshop's manager Angus Maclennan, Seymour was in an impish mood: "Thank you all for coming out on a January night - I too didn't think there was anything on television this evening!"
When we got into the story of his journalism with ITN and his books, one thing became obvious: Gerald Seymour simply loves story telling. Whether it's a passing tale about the way he works or one of his complex thrillers, it 's a story - and he tells them all so well.
Seymour described how he joined ITN aged 21 - apparently on the strength of his way with a googly - at £875 a year. In at the deep end - he reported on The Great Train Robbery and The Profumo Affair: both stories meriting a very definite article with capital 'T'.
He told us how he got one of ITN's great scoops of the 1970s. During the long running Nixon-Watergate scandal, none of the main characters would talk much, and certainly not to British television.
Somewhere in the ITN film archives there is a clip of Gerald Seymour walking, hand outstretched, across John Ehrlichman's front lawn. Ehrlichman was Nixon's counsel and chief assistant. The shot is followed by the exclusive interview with this man right at the heart of the Watergate web.
Working at ITN at the time, I promise I have never seen so many dropped jaws - not to mention the alarm expressed by the resident Washington correspondent - when this interview arrived at ITN headquarters. A scoop got by a reporter who was just passing through Washington on his way back from another story - in Hawaii.
Gerald Seymour gave us a hint as to how he got this key member of the Nixon circle to talk. He found out that Ehrlichman had been with American bomber squadrons based in Britain during World War 2 - and Seymour told him how grateful the British people were for his service.
Gerald Seymour's professional writing career has lasted longer than his time at ITN - all thirty-two books and six film versions worth. This session celebrated the publication of his new book No Mortal Thing and the 40th anniversary of the publication of his first book, Harry's Game - set in the Northern Ireland troubles he had been reporting for ITN.
When it was published, Northern Ireland was not considered 'good box office'. The man who bought the film rights asked the head of EMI for some advice on what to do next, he got the reply "See a psychiatrist." To which Seymour commented: "I thought it covered relatively new ground."
Angus Maclennan asked Seymour why he never takes side in his books, but lets readers make up their own minds on characters' moral failings. Gerald Seymour replied with the well known quip: "If you've got a message go to the Western Union."
But he added: "Life is complicated - things are very rarely black and white. It's the shades of grey I try to explore."
He did cite two issues on which he lost his objectivity and became 'partisan' - "I rarely take sides, but...".
One was over the Italian Mafia, which he learnt a lot about when he was based in Rome for ITN: "They are not very nice at all - very horrid people. Yes - I am partisan with them."
The other arose while he was researching a book involving the current Russian secret service. He was introduced to a recent Russian defector and spent an hour learning about the FSB which had taken on the mantle of the KGB. Days later he saw the man's face in the newspapers, dying in his hospital bed: Alexander Litvinenko.
"What they did to him was disgusting - utterly ghastly." And only Porton Down's last minute identification of the polonium unmasked the killers: "They must be so angry they didn't get away with it. I'm not usually partisan - he was a charming man and I liked him."
Describing the kind of people who fire his imagination, Gerald Seymour pictured the person who gets up in the morning, puts his socks on as usual, but by the end of the day has become someone totally new and different - whether hero or villain.
Gerald Seymour, it is clear, gets up in the morning, puts his socks on as usual and starts on his next book - beginning with meticulous research: "I am a journalist - still."
Signed copies of the new book are still available at the White Horse Bookshop.
Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)The sound of laughter is not heard too often in the exhibition rooms at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. But artist Jane Williams' Fibs and Fibulae exhibition at the museum is certainly changing that.
This is a touring exhibition from the Leasingstede Museum - which is a small village museum with its chairman (Lady Alphyn), treasurer, secretary and a long-serving gallery attendant. Or is it?
Try the labels on some of the exhibits: Mould Foxer (Veritas Brand), Runner Blade, Settle Scorer (with replaced blade), Root Master and the Seventeen Counter.
The latter has a label: "A curious measuring device, not only with 17 slots which expose sections of the sliding rod, but with coloured chain links in groups of 17."
Could the Seventeen Counter, perhaps, predate the 10-base or decimal and the 12-base (as in twelve pennies to the shilling) systems of counting?
Do a bit of Googling and you will find that 'leasing' is Old English for 'lying', and 'stede' meant 'place' - so this museum is in the 'Place of Deception'. And it's all a deception - it's an art installation that aims to entertain and raise a few pertinent questions. Like all good spoofs it has a more serious message.
Marlborough News Online asked Jane Williams why she dreamt up the Leasingstede Museum: "There was a double reason really. You go to a museum and you see stuff that's incredibly valuable and rare...yet it doesn't look so - it looks very ordinary and mundane. I was intrigued by that."
"It looks worthless - so why not put something of no value in the cases yet treat it as though it is priceless?"
"I also wanted to draw attention to the importance of little, backwater museums - many of these are closing due to lack of visitors and funding. So while affectionately sending them up, I'm saying 'Please support them'."
The Beaker I did not quite believe Jane when she said that 'initially there was no humour in it'. Take the 2,000 year-old 'Beaker' - surely a piece de resistance in any museum?
"Most unusually", says its label, "it was found intact and has not required restoration." Humph! The label continues explaining that the square hole at the top would have made it difficult to drink out of "...but there's a hole for a straw."
I won't spoil the fun by describing more exhibits. Though it is tempting to tell the secret of the 'Tribasket'. And it is said that one visitor believed the story about the lion that ate a hole in the Dandelion Shield.
Reactions in the visitors' book after the first week give a good idea of the exhibition's success: "Ha Ha - well done!", "Love it" "This is fun", "I'm hooked - totally believable" , "A convincing spoof - it took me ages to realise the fact, as it is so imaginative..." And yes, I really laughed out loud.
The Dandelion ShieldThat there is a more serious side to the exhibition - a questioning of what exhibits mean once they are behind glass - becomes clear from this reaction: "Cause for thought (from an ex-curator.)"
A truly wonderful installation by artist Jane Williams who made all the artefacts on display. And hats off to the Wiltshire Museum for supporting this gentle dig at its own world of museum displays.
The exhibition is at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes until 10 April. On some days you may find Jane Williams at the Museum - acting out her role as Leasingstede Museum's Gallery Attendant.
But she will certainly be at the Museum on Saturday, 12 March for a special Young Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society event: "What's in MY Museum". Jane will be encouraging people to think about what they would put in their own museum. All that and model making too. 10.15am to 12.15pm - booking essential - tickets £4.
And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...