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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

Review: The Marlborough Players' production of Jim Cartwright’s TWO (Town Hall 27-29 March 2014)

Mike Hosking & Namrita Price Goodfellow as Landlord & LandladyMike 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 WomanCharlotte 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 DunkleyThe cast - l to r: Charlotte Stirrup, Mike Hosking, Leo McGurk, Namrita Price Goodfellow & Vernon Dunkley

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Review of “An evening with Bach and Schumann” performed by Simone Dinnerstein and Stephan Loges

Simone Dinnerstein (photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco)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.

Stephan Loges Stephan Loges

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.”

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Author reveals his Auntie Priscilla’s war – and sensational love life – in Nazi occupied France

Auntie PriscllaAuntie 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 Shakespeare2Nicholas 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 furAuntie 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 WeddingPriscilla'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.”

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Marlborough Young Actors’ “Teechers”: three students run riot in the staff room

Rosie Walker as Doug the CaretakerRosie Walker as Doug the CaretakerWhat a breath of fresh air!  For the new Marlborough Young Actors’ first production this was a big ask: three young actors on stage for the entire production of John Godber’s play Teechers as they act a whole register of fellow students and a staff room of teachers.

And a merry and satisfying evening they made of it. Put on in St John’s Academy’s drama studio which seats about forty, and with minimal props and no raised stage, black-clad Carys Muirhead, Rosie Walker and David Higgins brought White Wall Comprehensive to life with some wicked impersonations and lively repartee.

Minimal props?  But head teacher Mrs Parry’s yellow feather boa did have a starring role. And Mrs Parry – who sees fit to mix yellow and pink clothes – was central to the fun.

The three actors each had a turn at guying Mrs Parry – even David Higgins had his few seconds with the feather boa.

Salty (David Higgins), Gail (Rosie Walker) and Hobby (Carys Muirhead) are school leavers and they are putting on a play about the staff and about the staff putting on a play – so it gets quite tricky to knows who’s and what’s real.

Especially as Mrs Parry, who is best known for her all-male production of the Trojan Women and an eight-and-a-half hour production of the Pirates of Penzance, is putting on the Mikado.

The other main staff members are Mr Basford, who rules the timetable with an iron hand, and Geoff Nixon, the new drama teacher who falls for and loses PE teacher Jackie Prime.  The plot, or plots, centre on Nixon – the inspirational drama teacher.

Nixon succumbs to the attentions of an infatuated Gail, who is in turn lusted after by Oggy, the school thug who is “as hard as nails…as hard as calculus”.

How, asks Oggy, will Mr Nixon punish him: “What are you going to do – make me pretend to be a tree?”  Probably the best joke of the evening.

Rosie Walker was a delight as Gail who finds herself getting into Nixon’s “A-reg Escort” with Oggy taking the back seat. She also relishes playing Doug the Caretaker who cannot believe that drama classes should be allowed to sully his very clean Main School Hall.

Quite early on Gail, having ‘done’ Romeo and Juliet and the play about the two tramps and the man who never comes, declares “We’ve done all there is in drama”.  So it’s quite a relief when they set about doing their play about the staff. 

L to R: Hobby, Salty and GailL to R: Hobby, Salty and GailAnd along the way there’s a great team dance of the Ninjas who have somehow got mixed up with a French lesson – I think I lost the plot at that point.

After the interval we are in the run up to Christmas and a hilarious cabaret at the Christmas dance – once again featuring Mrs Parry and that yellow feather boa.

After the first night of Mrs Parry’s Mikado (which unaccountably rain for just 55 minutes), Carys Muirhead gives us a wonderful rendering of excerpts from her 'thank you' speech (which apparently went on for an hour.)

In between the fun and the jokes we get glimpses of serious issues about education.  White Wall Comp is apparently known as Colditz at County Hall.  One of the students asks: “Is this a school for thickies?”

Mr Nixon has a political spat with Basford who sends his kids to the nearest posh School, St George’s.  He then escapes through Colditz’s fence to St George’s.  And there he’ll bump into Mr Shaw who has had the nerve to marry Jackie Prime.

The school leavers feel they are trapped and do not want to leave school at sixteen: “Who traps us all? Politicians?” “They don’t care and they’re not bothered they don’t care.”

At the end we have a reprise of one of the play’s refrains – a shouted “Stop running Simon Paterson” – and finally “One last thing…” a reprise of Salty’s opening line which was probably spelled “…Bollox”.  A great curtain line, not diminished at all by the lack of a curtain.

What, to remind you where we began, a breath of fresh air!  Anna Friend produced and directed Teechers and her new enterprise deserves Marlborough’s support. It was a big ask and she certainly got these three young actors to answer it and answer it well.

I look forward to Marlborough Young Actors’ next production.

Auditions for the next production are on November 10 – followed by a series of workshops with rehearsals starting in January for a 2014 production.  You can get in contact via the website.

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Avebury’s world premiere: standing ovation for 'Atlantic Odyssey'

Robin Nelson (left) and Mike Polack (Photo courtesy Andrew Williamson)Robin Nelson (left) and Mike Polack (Photo courtesy Andrew Williamson)Atlantic Odyssey – a Journey through Music had its triumphant world premiere on Sunday evening (October 20) in St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Swindon.  The performance received a standing ovation from a packed audience of around 450 people.  

The new work for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra was performed by the Swindon Choral Society and Warneford School Choir. It was conducted by Robin Nelson and accompanied by a slide show.

The Odyssey is the result of an extraordinary creative collaboration between composer Robin Nelson and writer Mike Polack.  The two are next door neighbours in Avebury and share a passionate interest in birds.  

The piece takes its inspiration from the astonishing migration of the Arctic tern, a bird that weighs little more than an apple, but travels 40,000 miles a year.  The ‘bird of light’ follows the path of the sun from pole to pole and back during the course of the year.

Atlantic Odyssey depicts the journey superbly from tottering fledgling, through shrieking frenzy, to gliding and resting.  It begins with a rippling song Perpetual Light and ends with a joyous hymn of praise Oh the world sings to the movement of birds.

But Atlantic Odyssey does much more than that. Many of the places the tern passes over and the activities of humans beneath its path are presented in Mike Polack’s striking words, sometimes gritty, sometimes soaring and feathery.  

The narrative covers a huge span – from the early arrival of seafarers and fishermen, through the darkest activities of the slave trade and up to today’s oil drilling and pollution of the oceans.   Mike draws on a range of myths and legends including Anglo Saxon, African and Inuit.  

This is a big political story with depth and weight, as well as a celebration of nature. It is timeless and right up to date.

The joy of this piece is the way music and words combine.  Robin Nelson’s music contrasts light and dark and uses folk song, nursery rhyme and shanty.  It is approachable, harmonious and above all brilliantly orchestrated.  

You can hear the rattle of chains on the slave boat, the crack of the whip, the sweep of starlings roosting. Harp, piano, keyboard and percussion formed part of the excellent chamber orchestra and suited the piece perfectly.  Voice is also used as percussion: the choir hums, speaks and blows.  

The choice of the girls’ choir was inspired. They clearly loved taking part as did the Swindon Choral Society.  The soloists were Charlotte Mobbs soprano, Eamonn Dougan baritone, and Steve Cass tenor.
 
Atlantic Odyssey is thought provoking and moving with wonderful words and music. It deserves to be heard many more times.  

[For more information see our preview report.]

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Mildenhall author James scores his own conquest abroad with his tales of Norman knights

James AitchesonJames AitchesonOnline may be heralded as the future of publishing, but former St John’s student James Aitcheson, whose final novel in a trilogy about the Norman Conquest is published on Thursday, is doing remarkably well.

Foreign rights to the Conquest series – the first two novels are now in paperback -- have been sold to the United States and Germany, and James, who lives in Mildenhall, is now working on a fourth fictional drama.

He will be celebrating the launch of his latest novel, Knights of the Hawk, by signing copes at the White Horse Bookshop, in Marlborough, at 6pm on Tuesday.

And that is a real achievement for someone who began writing only three years ago after reading history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and then taking a creative writing course at Bath Spa University.

His fascination with the Middle Ages has already produced Sworn Sword and The Splintered Kingdom.  Now comes Knights of the Hawk, which continues to saga of Tancred, an ambitious young Norman knight.

“Set in the years following the fateful Battle of Hastings in 1066 and based on real-life historical events, the series tells the story of the great English rebellions against the Norman invaders, and of Tancred’s quest for vengeance after his lord is killed in an ambush one winter’s night at Durham,” James told Marlborough News Online.

“In Knights, it is 1071. Five years after Hastings, only a desperate band of rebels in the Fens, led by the feared outlaw Hereward, stand between King William and absolute conquest. As the Normans’ attempts to assault the rebels’ island stronghold are thwarted, however, the King grows ever more frustrated.

“With the campaign stalling and morale in camp failing, he looks to Tancred to deliver the victory that will crush the rebellions once and for all.”

Knights of the Hawk is published by Preface at £16.99.

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Roll up, roll up, for the best party in town

Gypsy circus leader Madame Andromeda with Tweedy the clownGypsy circus leader Madame Andromeda with Tweedy the clownGoing to Giffords Circus is like finding yourself at a crazy party of epic proportions.

There's all the ingredients of a modern circus - clowns, acrobats, dancers, singers, magicians, hand balancers, wire walkers, jugglers, a live band - all wrapped up in a loose light- hearted story that aims to put an ear-to-ear grin on all faces, from baby soft to wrinkly.

Our seven year old didn't stop smiling. Even our four month old did fair bit of leg and arm waving (until her brain declared itself full at half time and zonked out). I like to think she'll remember this fab experience on some kind of lifelong happiness-o-metre, perhaps where she can't recall the memory of the event but on a fundamental level she'll know where the fun-factor bar is set. (This is the kind of fanciful thinking that a trip to Giffords inspires.)

Circus animals can be a controversial topic; Giffords has five horses in the show, a goose and a chicken. The horses are well provided for with a team to look after them which includes a masseur.

Orodoff the magician tries to persuade  the dancing bear to be his assistantOrodoff the magician tries to persuade the dancing bear to be his assistantThen there's the dancing bear.

"Is it real?" our son asked. And of course we immediately put him straight by answering 'yes.' But then the bear gave the game away by giving a thumbs up to the audience. Something to do with a real bear not having opposable thumbs or something.

This year's theatrical theme is Lucky 13.  The circus attempts to put on a cultural evening of classical recital but find themselves thwarted by Transylvanian Romany types who've set up camp in the circus enclosure.

Their preferred entertainment is a little more low brow, which goes down well with Tweedy the clown and his flatulent pants but not with the musicians and Nell Gifford the circus owner. That is, until they find they have a connection they never thought possible...

Which shows that fart jokes and themes of the commonality of the human condition go together nicely.

Madame Andromeda opera singer Dame Winifred Letch and Tweedy Madame Andromeda opera singer Dame Winifred Letch and Tweedy It's not the cheapest circus to visit, with tickets priced at £21 for adults and £14 for children, but there's an awful lot of performance for the money with twenty-six artists not to mention backstage and front of house staff as well as the overall quality that a sizeable creative team brings.

The circus has been on the road with Lucky 13 since May, and is on Marlborough Common until 9 September, before finishing in Cirencester. For tickets to the best party in town visit www.giffordscircus.com

 

 

Bibi and Bichu TesmafariamBibi and Bichu TesmafariamNell GiffordNell Gifford

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