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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

One piano and four hands make 'a very successful' recital to aid the Mayor's fund raising for The Brain Tumour Charity

On Sunday (September 13), at St Peter's Church, in a concert organisedd by the Mayor of Marlborough, Councillor Margaret Rose, The Cook and Stanley Piano Duet provided a large audience with a varied range of works.  

Berendina Cook and Matthew Stanley had met in 1984 whilst they were music students at the Royal Holloway College, University of London and have continued to play together ever since. They have become established as one of the leading specialists in Piano Duet work, and have played in venues all over the world. International recognition came when in 1996 they won no less than three prizes at the International Piano Duet Competition in Tokyo

The recital began with Mozart's Sonata in C (which may have originally been intended for two pianos.) A spirited allegro opens the piece, contrasting with a gentle andante, before launching into a jaunty allegretto, the main theme returning time and time again.  

Schubert was a very able pianist and wrote extensively for the duet. His lovely Rondo in A may well have been written for him to play alongside one of his gifted pupils, probably one of the daughters of his patron, Prince Esterhazy. The work is based on a gentle, poignant theme around which the four hands interweave in a series of atmospheric and intimate variations. Such beauty, from a composer close to death from a terminal illness!

What a contrast this made to the bombastic and extrovert Valses Bourgeois by the larger-than-life Lord Berners.   Berners was one of the flamboyant figures of Britain in the 1920’s. A gifted musician, poet, novelist, artist and erstwhile diplomat, his social life revolved around the Sitwells, William Walton and Constant Lambert as well as the Mitford sisters. His hospitality at Faringdon House, where he kept a flock of doves dyed in vibrant colours, was legendary.  These Valses, are, not surprisingly, larger than life - showy, brash, satirical, and harmonically edgy. Furthermore, they were brilliantly played - a very suitable end to the first half.

The second half began with a Suite in Three Movements  by York Bowen, a sadly neglected composer these days, but one of the recognised musical talents of the interwar years. He was also a talented horn player and piano teacher. His Suite, probably written for his own use, is very difficult and requires substantial changes in mood. The wonderful central movement is a Nocturne, initially a gentle reflective piece which steadily rises to a disturbing climax. The last movement, Dance, is another tour de force.

Debussy’s Petite Suite is well-known to duet lovers and was beautifully played. The four movements begin with En Bateau, (a serene evening on a boat rudely interrupted by a nasty squall!) and includes a striking Minuet before finishing with a very well-known Ballet.

The programme finished with a piano duet version of Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue, better known in its original version for piano and orchestra. Indeed the work loses something of its variety of colour in this version for duet.  Nevertheless, it was played with great style and made a very suitable climax to the evening’s music.

It was most fitting because George Gershwin died at the age of 38 from a brain tumour, thus cutting short a very flourishing career. Berendina’s own son died of a brain tumour in 2000 at the age of 14, while the Town Mayor’s son-in-law suffered the same fate.  The concert, appropriately, was to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity which will remain the Mayor’s Charity of choice throughout her year in office.  This was a worthy and most enjoyable start - a very successful concert.

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Trio of cultural landmarks to open free for Heritage Days


A reconstruction of 17th century life at The Merchant's House in MarlboroughA reconstruction of 17th century life at The Merchant's House in MarlboroughThree of the Marlborough area’s cultural landmarks will be throwing their doors open next weekend for Heritage Open Days.

Wilton Windmill – the last working windmill in Wessex - will hold an open day on Sunday, September 13 from noon until 5pm. Children’s games and free guided tours are all aprt of the package.

Nearby, visitors will be able to see the world's oldest working beam engines at the Crofton pumping station. Although the pumping station will not be 'in steam', volunteers will be given guided tours of the facility.

The Grade I listed Crofton Beam Engines - complete with original Boulton & Watt beam engine dating from 1812, and a Harvey of Hayle Cornish beam engine built in 1846 and rebuilt in 1905 - will be open in Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13, from 10.30am until 4.30pm.

And entry will be free at The Merchant’s House on Sunday, September 13, with free tours starting at 10.30am, noon, and 1.130pm.

The House of Thomas Bayly was built following the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653, and reconstructions of life in the 17th century will take place around the house and gardens.

For information about Heritage Open Days events locally and further afield, log on to



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Return to ‘spiritual home’ of Pewsey for blues star Jon Amor


Jon AmorJon AmorInternationally-renowned blues singer and guitarist Jon Amor returned to his ‘spiritual home’ at the weekend – headlining Pewsey Music Festival in a field behind the Coopers Arms pub.

And following an hour-long set, the musician discovered escaping his spiritual home was no easy task, as he and his band exited the stage, returned for a one-song encore which became two songs, then came back for a grand finale after making their second exit from the stage.

Drawing on a back catalogue that spans more than 20 years, Amor told the crowd that he considered the village – and more specifically the Coopers – ‘my spiritual home.'

“My old man, who is looking down on me, telling me it’s too loud, was born and raised in the Coopers,” he reminded an audience that was more than familiar with his backstory.

He recalled that some of his earliest gigs with The Hoax, the Devizes-based blues band that has found itself a contender in the category of Best Band at the 2015 British Blues Awards, took place at the pub, in front of an audience of 30 or so. These days, they play gigs and festivals across Europe.

Amor promised a set of ‘feel good blues’, and his four-piece band delivered an hour of foot-stomping R&B, with Amor sharing singing duties with gravelly-voiced keyboardist Pete Gage.

Earlier in the evening, the crowds were treated to sets from Invisible Vegas, a young Oxford four-piece dressed in heavy metal sleeveless t-shirts, but who delivered a melodic set of blues and rock covers alongside their own compositions.

Vocalist Alex Colman endeared himself to the Pewsey crowd by telling his audience “You guys are so much better than [local festival rival] Faringdon.” Later, they wrote on their Facebook page “Great show, great crowd!” and “Bring on the next one!”

Meanwhile, a reggae ska set from the Swindon-based Erin Bardwell Collective accompanied the setting of a sun which had blessed the audience – and no doubt contributed to the sale of real ale and cider – throughout the day.

Organiser Liz Boden said: "It was an amazing day with a fantastic crowd. Everyone seemed to have a great time and those I chatted to from further afield said they'd be bringing their families and friends next year."

Next year's Pewsey Music Festival will be on Saturday, August 6.

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Jon Amor belts out another oneJon Amor belts out another oneCrowds at Pewsey Music FestivalCrowds at Pewsey Music FestivalErin Bardwell CollectiveErin Bardwell CollectiveInvisible VegasInvisible Vegas


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Review: Jerusalem by Gatecrash Theatre Company

A scene from Jerusalem by Gatecrash TheatreA scene from Jerusalem by Gatecrash TheatreYesterday I enjoyed a 'bucolic alcoholic frolic' at the theatre of Swindon Dance.
It was a weird experience; it felt like a play that could have been written for an amateur cast to be performed locally, simply because everything was so familiar.
But then I reminded myself that this was not only the seminal West End play of 2010 but also a Broadway smash. Fancy little 'ole Pewsey (masquerading as Flintock) with its 'gypos', drunken teens and carnival having international exposure.
And so the new semi-professional Gatecrash Theatre chose 'Jerusalem' by Jez Butterworth as their inaugural performance, featuring a talented cast of young and older.
Steve O'Halloran played grimy, drug dealing, alcoholic pied piper Johnny 'Rooster' Byron with his collection of teenage 'educationally subnormal outcasts'. They have nothing to do but drink and take drugs, but it does look like one hell of a party.
Johnny offers tall stories and whizz to the kids, hides the 15 year old May Queen who's probably abused by her violent step-father, but he can't relate to his own ten year old son.
The play is a microscope on small town/big village life with one foot in tradition - the fair (carnival), the local pub and the King Alfred statue - and one on modern concerns - the vice grip of the pub's brewery, the erosion of local news, NIMBYism and reliance on alcohol and drugs for entertainment.
Gatecrash Theatre made a brave attempt at this well-scripted play - well defined characters and committed acting, a great set that was less caravan and more Pewsey-style favela - and mostly it worked.
The length of the play - especially with the second half double the length of the first - the heat of the auditorium combined with the fag smoke on stage and some of the poignant lines delivered a little too quietly to be heard at the back made the final section sag a little.
But overall I enjoyed this expletive ridden 'rebuff to the antiseptic world'.  An exciting, promising start for a new Swindon theatre company.

Jerusalem by Gatecrash Theatre at Swindon Dance, Friday 7 August 2015.



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National Play Day in Aldbourne is pure magic


Magic with childrens entertainer RazzamatazzMagic with childrens entertainer RazzamatazzYoung people in Aldbourne celebrated National Play Day on Wednesday by hitting each other with sticks.

The inflatable pugil stick arena was part of a range of free activities laid on by Aldbourne Youth Council, which also included Zorbing – rolling downhill hamster-style in a giant inflatable ball – and surmounting a climbing wall.

There was also the opportunity for youngsters to shoot at each other in the Lazer Tag Maze and ride a rodeo bull, while for younger visitors there were bouncy castles, a soft play area, and a magician.

The day-long event, which was enjoyed by young people from toddlers to teenagers, was free to attend, and gave visitors a taste of the activities on offer at the Community Junction youth centre.

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Bouncy castle fun with Jack (3)Bouncy castle fun with Jack (3)Milo (9) scales the climbing wallMilo (9) scales the climbing wallOscar Reeves (11) on the rodeo bullOscar Reeves (11) on the rodeo bullPugilist Tom Maslin knocks friend Catherine Jutchings off her feetPugilist Tom Maslin knocks friend Catherine Jutchings off her feetA mass Macarena performance by members of the Aldbourne Youth CouncilA mass Macarena performance by members of the Aldbourne Youth Council


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The weird magic of Wonderland comes to Priory Gardens


Mad Hatter Charlotte Kinnaird and Josie Goddard's AliceMad Hatter Charlotte Kinnaird and Josie Goddard's AliceOne hundred and fifty years after the classic children’s book was first published, the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts and Alice herself brought the magic of Wonderland to the Priory Gardens in Marlborough yesterday (Sunday).

And during Alice's Enchanted Family Picnic – a party thrown by mayor Margaret Rose for the community – actors from Marlborough Young Actors kept their characters faithful to the original story: Alice pouted as much as she laughed, the Queen of Hearts never cracked a smile, and the Mad Hatter engaged adults and children in meaningless conversation.

Meanwhile, singers and dancers from Marlborough Academy of Dance and Drama brought a lighter, more Disneyfied version to proceedings, with dozens of younger children as white rabbits proving particularly appealing.

The Priory Gardens was packed with families enjoying the spectacle in glorious sunshine.

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Tweedledum (Ben Scott) and Tweedledee (Adam Coveney) with white rabbits Arabella Burns, Jessica Muller, Mila Trusson, Lotte Davies, Isobel Place, Sophie Deadman, Mia Webb and Olive BarrattTweedledum (Ben Scott) and Tweedledee (Adam Coveney) with white rabbits Arabella Burns, Jessica Muller, Mila Trusson, Lotte Davies, Isobel Place, Sophie Deadman, Mia Webb and Olive BarrattThe March Hare (Carys Muirhead-Davies) and The Queen of Hearts (Sasha McClintock)The March Hare (Carys Muirhead-Davies) and The Queen of Hearts (Sasha McClintock)Picnickers Sofia Wilkinson as the Mad Hatter, Jimmy Fairer-Smith as the March Hare and Ava Wilkinson as the DormousePicnickers Sofia Wilkinson as the Mad Hatter, Jimmy Fairer-Smith as the March Hare and Ava Wilkinson as the DormouseWhite Rabbits from Marlborough Academy of Dance and Drama in actionWhite Rabbits from Marlborough Academy of Dance and Drama in actionOlder members of MADD entertain the picnickersOlder members of MADD entertain the picnickers


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REVIEW: The Wiltshire Museum has a summer of superb exhibitions

The Devil's Den (copyright Steve Speller) The Devil's Den (copyright Steve Speller) Two exhibitions currently open at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes are attracting great interest.  One is temporary, the other is a new permanent display.

The temporary exhibition shows the remains our forebears left above the ground - remains still staking their dramatic place in the modern landscape.  The other shows finds excavated from below the surface of our landscape, forming another part of the Museum's ambitious programme of chronological displays revealing items that have often stayed hidden in storerooms.

Traces is an exhibition of really stunning photographs taken by Steve Speller.  In his words it is "a personal exploration of English prehistory in today's landscape."

Steve grew up near Avebury (he now lives and works in West Sussex) and has produced startling images of The Devil's Den, a single chamber 'portal tomb' on Fyfield Down just west of Marlborough, and a most unusual view of Silbury Hill.  This is a distant view of the mound seen over a field in flower, but it shows more clearly than ever the extraordinary scale of this giant Neolithic mound - the tallest man-made earthwork in Europe.

Speller's photographs (prints of which are for sale) include sites at Buxton, the Isle of Wight, Sussex and the bizarre Rudston Monolith in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  This is the United Kingdom's tallest standing stone - at 25 feet - and seems to have had the village church built round it.  It now stands there rather like a very tall vicar welcoming worshippers.

Ceramics by Alison Milner Ceramics by Alison Milner Complementing the photographs is a display of beaker ceramics by Alison Milner - also for sale.  These have delicate images inspired by the flora found growing around her husband Steve Speller's choice of Neolithic remains.

Her designs of spare fronds, florets and stalks look as though they are taking us back beyond Neolithic times towards those fossilised filigree remains of plants found between layers of slate and in coal seams.

This exhibition runs until late August.

A Saxon warrior's sword - from Blacknall FieldA Saxon warrior's sword - from Blacknall FieldAfter the recent openings of newly mounted displays of the Museum's amazing selection of Neolithic gold ornaments from the time of Stonehenge, they have now opened a new Saxon gallery: "Saxons: the making of the Kingdom of Wessex."

These display cases are of special interest to the Marlborough area as they tell the story of the Blacknall Field Saxon cemetery close to Pewsey, which was partially excavated in the 1960s and 1970s.  Its finds are now brought together and, with other finds as well, tell a fascinating story of Saxon life in Wiltshire.

The Blacknall Field cemetery served a village of about 50 people and included graves of all ages and conditions of men, women and children.  One grave held the remains of an important warrior - buried with his beautifully decorated sword, shield and spear.  Close by was a woman buried with superb jewellery and nearby the remains of three children - perhaps a family group.

Saxon jewels for a girl old enough to bear childrenSaxon jewels for a girl old enough to bear childrenAn ornate clasp for an older woman of some importanceAn ornate clasp for an older woman of some importanceBeing able to tell age of these remains has meant that archaeologists can show how, as children grew into adults, they were adorned with more and better jewellery (for girls) and more and better weapons (as boys grew into manhood.)  Much of the jewellery looks at first sight like gold, but is in fact bronze covered in gilt.

The Saxons were farming peacefully in the Vale of Pewsey.  But the cemetery does include signs of warring - with one skull showing the results of a definite and lethal blow from a sword.

There is a third display at present in the museum which is linked to the excavations that have just started in the Vale of Pewsey led by Dr Jim Leary of Reading University.  These cases show some of the finds from previous digs at Marden and nearby.  

(Front) The Clench Common bracelet - the other bracelet was found at Potterne(Front) The Clench Common bracelet - the other bracelet was found at PotterneDr Leary will be hoping that his students from Reading University's Archaeological Field School and their international colleagues will make many more finds to reveal how people lived at the time the henges at Marden, Avebury and at Stonehenge were in use.  They have already made some significant finds.

Visitors should not leave the Museum without finding time to marvel at the Later Bronze Age gold bracelet found at Clench Common.

Marlborough Open Studios:  to help mark the twentieth anniversary of Marlborough Open Studios, the Wiltshire Museum is putting on a special display over the weekend of 11 & 12 July.  They are bringing out of their storerooms works by some of the areas best known artists.  

The gallery will also include a display about Eric Ravilious (1903-1942)  - a water-colourist famous for his views of Wiltshire such as Wiltshire Landscape, Strawberry beds near Pewsey and the iconic painting of Westbury's White horse seen from a third class railway carriage.   He was killed when he was working as a war artist and his plane disappeared off Iceland.


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