Viki and Olivia Three St John’s IB students, a 75-strong audience, two great explorers and one mesmerising story teller added up to a brilliant evening at the Theatre on the Hill on Wednesday (October 22.)
St John’s International Baccalaureate students Viki Rutt, Olivia Freeman (pictured) and Emily Palmer organised the evening featuring the renowned historian and public speaker Rob Caskie as part of the Creativity, Action and Service element of their IB course for which they need to carry out 50 hours of volunteer work.
Rob Caskie presented “Going South with Scott and Shackleton.” – a chronicle of the expeditions of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.
Since 2004, Rob Caskie has presented his talks on history extensively in the UK and South Africa to both corporate and private audiences. His achievements were recognised with the honour of being invited to speak twice at the Royal Geographical Society in London – first in 2010.
Then in 2012, to mark the centenary of Scott’s ill-fated expedition, Rob was invited to present his talk 'Going South with Scott & Shackleton', fulfilling his lifelong passion for Antarctica.
Rob Caskie with trademark walking stick - and guestsThe evening was attended by over 75 guests, who were enthralled by Rob’s storytelling. His unique approach dispenses with visual aids or a microphone. He simply stands in front of the audience and talks about the expeditions. An hour of fascinating information seemed over in no time at all. And all he did was talk!
The courage and fortitude of the Antarctic explorers is vivid from the outset. It is the detail which impresses, from the colour of the ponies, through the appalling conditions, to the eating habits of the dogs. The members of the expeditions, their personal lives and characteristics are all unforgettably explained, sometimes quite disturbingly.
His hour-long lecture was enthusiastically received by the audience and by the NSPCC, to whom the evening’s proceeds were donated. Caroline Morgan, Community Fund Raising Manager for the NSPCC, was most impressed by the students’ efforts in organising the evening.
Before and after the lecture guests, the organising team and Rob chatted happily.
And how did it feel to have organised such an event? “With work from school as well as organising the event it has been quite stressful,” said Viki Rutt, “but it’s also been really rewarding as well.”
Mike Hosking & Namrita Price Goodfellow as Landlord & LandladyThe scenes in the Town Hall bar before the Marlborough Players’ performance of TWO were really civilised and calm.
It was a very different matter in the on-stage bar. The landlady and landlord of this Northern, post-knock-through pub welcome (if that’s the right word) a series of drinkers who reveal themselves or parts of their lives we might otherwise have listened to after a good number of pints.
Jim Cartwright wrote TWO for two actors. But director Anna Friend wisely chose to divide the fourteen parts between four actors – we will come to the fifth actor later.
The danger of this sort of play is that it develops into a fast-hat-change routine or runs away as a series of ‘gritty’, northern stereotypes. The director and actors avoided both those pitfalls.
The linking characters are the landlord and landlady. He has an endless stream of sales patter: “White wine and a Barbican? – not in the same glass!” and so on and on. Their relationship is fractious verging on the nasty: “Up from the cellar and into the boxing ring.”
Narita Price Goodfellow and Mike Hosking certainly make the most of these two main characters. As it is now too late for a spoiler alert, we can reveal that the arrival in the bar of a small boy (Leo McGurk) who has lost his father, prompts the two pub owners to confront their devils – in the shape of a past tragedy.
“Seven years ago tonight our son died.” This develops into a blame game (she was driving), and finally has landlady and landlord turning in short order from mutual admissions of hate to mutual declarations of love. They actors accomplished this development with great aplomb.
Charlotte Stirrup as the Old WomanAlong the way we meet this weird selection of drinkers – some obviously nearing the last chance saloon of life. Two are monologues – the Old Woman and the Old Man. The others are, in one way or another, dysfunctional couples bickering and sparring.
We get another and this time comic view of the blame game from Alice who thinks she is guilty of killing Elvis because she bought his records and he used the money to buy the drugs that killed him.
With their characterisation of these drinkers Charlotte Stirrup and Vernon Dunkley with Narita Price Goodfellow and Mike Hosking really held the attention of the capacity audience on the second night. Notable were Mr and Mrs Iger (Price Goodfellow and Dunkley) – she likes ‘big men’ and he is small and timid, but is finally goaded by her into a testosterone-fuelled attempt to get through the crowd to buy her a drink.
Moth (Hosking) who cannot stop flirting and Maudie (Stirrup) who is trying not to give him her money to buy drinks, were great entertainment. And Maudie had some of the best lines: “You’ll do anything to get into my handbag” and “I hold all the cards – I’m the only girl in the planet what’s interested in you.”
Later, the overtly abusive couple were a very difficult watch. Her demand – “Don’t make me feel small” – went unheeded. And this character sketch ended in a Nigella moment with his hands round her neck - triggering exclamations from the audience.
The basic idea of all the characters is the necessity of digging deep and acknowledging what is wrong in your life. The line from the final clash between the landlord and landlady (we never know their names) says it all: “We’ve got to get this out for the sake of our sanity.”
In retrospect the characters do grow on you. Part of the problem with the play is that it is such a kaleidoscopic tumble of characters. But Anna Friend and her actors certainly gave it enough space and shape to have a real impact.
The cast - l to r: Charlotte Stirrup, Mike Hosking, Leo McGurk, Namrita Price Goodfellow & Vernon Dunkley
Simone Dinnerstein (photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco)It was a privilege to have been at the concert given last Saturday (November 30) by Simone Dinnerstein (piano) and Stephan Loges (bass-baritone) in aid of the Marlborough Brandt Group. It took place in the Memorial Hall, Marlborough College by kind permission of the Master.
The recital started with an aria from Bach’s St John Passion (Ich Habe Genug) in which Stephan Loges expressed the pain and the acceptance of the Cross with a beautifully warm and well balanced tonality which was consistent throughout the whole range of his voice from the low bass notes to an almost tenor-like quality at the top.
Simone Dinnerstein’s piano accompaniment conveyed the colour and texture of an entire orchestra with wonderfully clear part-playing that was to be the hallmark of the whole recital - a wonderful dialogue of great sensitivity between voice and piano.
The main part of the programme was devoted to the music of Robert Schumann and here again the inner heart of the music its hope, despair, joy and sorrow was captured by both soloists in such a way as to make the lack of an English text almost unnecessary.
Simone Dinnerstein has explained the link between Bach and Schumann: “There is a beautiful connection between the music of Bach and Schumann, both composers were drawn to the human voice…every individual is important and contributes to a complex tapestry of sound.”
The recital lasted just an hour, but it was an hour of supreme artistry with a complete understanding between the two musicians. A rare treat for an enthusiastic audience.
As a friend said as we left the Memorial Hall: “It was one of the finest recitals I have ever been to. I have seldom heard a pianist as good as that.”
Auntie PriscllaShe was a woman who captivated men. They fluttered round her like moths attracted by a candle – “a figure of unusual glamour and mystery”, according to novelist and biographer Nicholas Shakespeare.
Nicholas Shakespeare2His aunt Priscilla remained so for decades, as Nicholas revealed on Tuesday night when he came to the Royal Oak, Marlborough, to talk about his newly-published biography of her.
And wow the audience at the White Horse Bookshop event with the sensational secrets he has discovered almost by chance about a woman who spent the war years in Nazi-occupied France, a secret agent with the resistance so it was supposed.
But in fact the aunt he originally met in the early sixties at her husband’s mushroom farm on the Sussex coast – they were a delicacy few enjoyed then – and watch the TV set in her bedroom, had a dramatic hidden past.
She had swopped identities after her failed marriage to an impotent French viscount and had been questioned by the Gestapo in an internment camp, not raped in a concentration camp as one source suggested.
Auntie Priscilla in furAnd she had then had love affairs with a string of men in her bid to remain safe, the final one, however, with Otto, the code name for an Abwehr Colonel, real name Colonel Hermann Brandl, who dined her at Maxim’s in Paris and bought her dresses in Schiaparelli and Patou.
“His role in military intelligence was to oversee the systematic plunder of France and the transportation of French art collections to Germany, cherry-picking the best paintings and sculptures for Goering and Hitler’s private collections, seizing paintings from apartments deserved by Jews who had fled,” Nicholas told the stunned audience.
When Nicholas informed his mother about her sister’s activities, she replied: “Nothing would surprise me in the war. Absolutely nothing. It’s a question of survival. I am sure you would have collaborated if you had wanted to live.”
He accepted that his beautiful aunt was no traitor but faced the dilemma of many learning how to stay alive in a country they thought would by German dominated forever.
“Priscilla was one of remarkably few English women who have lived in Paris through the Occupation – perhaps one of fewer than 200,” added Nicholas.
“She learned what it was to be faced with decisions that her family and friends in England never had to confront, and yet which they judged others or having made.
Priscilla's Wedding“Her story is not about an elite coming to terms with Fascism, but about ordinary women especially – adjusting, screwing up, developing survival skills of a deeply primitive and totally understandable, if ruthless, kind.”
By October, 1943 some 85,000 French women had children fathered by Germans at a time when there was a dearth of available men, nearly two million Frenchmen prisoners in Germany.
According to the historian Hanna Diamond: “The prestige of the stranger, the hint of perversity and adventure, the persuasive white dress uniform of a Luftwaffe pilot, the dinner in sumptuous surroundings – a German boyfriend offered immediate and sold advantage.”
And Nicholas quoted the memorable words of Joseph Paul-Boncur, France’s representative in Switzerland, to his mistress, a woman of charismatic liability who had seduced Mussolini.
“When I think of your lovely body, I don’t give a damn about central Europe.”
Oscar-winning actor Robert Donat’s desire for his Darling Priscilladimples
How Priscilla had been pursued by the Oscar-winning actor Robert Donat before she embarked for France – and after -- is also detailed in Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography, published by Harvill Secker at £18.99.
Donat’s remarkable intensity is shown in a folder of letters Nicholas found in a chest that stood in Priscilla’s bedroom when he watched TV there.
Writing in green ink, Donat declared: “Darling Priscilladimples,
“I wish I could undress you very slowly, very, very slowly indeed, and then be wonderfully sweet and kind to the wounds on your tummy, and dress you again in exquisite black-market undies, including sheer silk stockings, and send you back home safely to your mammie and grannie with a copy of Peter Quennell’s latest drivel – just to show you how platonic my love is for you.”