Review of The Bear, Bristol Old Vic, Saturday 18 February 2107
A polar bear squeezes through a child's window and...is very naughty.Dressing up. Photo by Paul Blakemore
Tales of polar bears could go cuddly or monstrous. Recently, for instance, I've been watching the TV show Fortitude set on an Arctic island. There, everyone packs a rifle in case they encounter one of the huge white beasts and are in danger of becoming its snack.
But this is a half term theatre show based on a Raymond Briggs story and performed at the Bristol Old Vic, so we can assume this is a Nice Bear - the kind teddies are based on, the vulnerable giant whose habitat is rapidly shrinking.
I'm here with my almost four year old who is as concerned with the snacks in my bag with the action on stage. (This is the kind of distraction that kids' theatre companies such as Pins and Needles Productions have to put up with and handle with glee.) Tilly - who loves writing and singing pop songs - finds she has a large and noisy house guest. He becomes her new pal, but it's not easy sharing with someone who splashes bath water everywhere, messes up mummy and daddy's bedroom, mistakes the floor for a toilet and the toilet for a bowl of drinking water, and breaks things.
For a while I thought it might be just another children's show with a simple story where the bear is a child stand-in, but it, as it turns out, was a much richer metaphor than that. As with other Briggs' stories like The Snowman, it finds the magical space between dreams and reality.
Lily Donovan makes a charming Tilly; by turns excited child who can't get to sleep without Teddy, to a full tantrum on the floor because Bear has left the house in a state, but most of the time in wonderment of her new best friend.
And although Bear in the bath and Bear dressed up and what to do with Bear's big poos are funny enough, it is Tilly riding Bear across the stage, Bear swimming and Bear reunited with Baby Bear at the North Pole which takes the story from kids' TV territory and transforms it into a beautiful, tearjerking piece of theatre for any age.
Find Me - before they do by J.S. Monroe (published 2017 by Head of Zeus Ltd)
J.S. Monroe's Find Me is a tremendous read. The story unfolds at a great pace and the narrative structure is used with great finesse to keep the reader puzzled and on the very edge of resolving the mystery.
Rosa, a troubled young Oxford undergraduate, has committed suicide. With the apparent and highly unsettling sightings of her by Jar, the young Irish writer with whom Rosa had an intense but all too brief affair, you spend the book’s first section wondering what kind of world you are entering.
It is only on page 93 that one of the characters lets you down none too gently with a very short sentence: “This is not a ghost story.” But there is still the web of events that may be coincidences misread as connections - or may not be.
The first part of Find Me tightens the mystery of Rosa’s apparent reappearance. The second part is an even tighter unravelling of that mystery. It is difficult to say much more without adding a 'spoiler alert'.
Find Me is a thriller that combines a young man’s post-bereavement hallucinations with a very taut cat and mouse chase involving a garden shed, the ‘dark web’ and hacking galore. And among a cast of strange characters there is at least one mouse – called Rosa - that drowns.
The main characters are very clearly drawn – with just enough left unsaid to keep you guessing. Much of the well controlled tension is produced by cleverly alternating the story between the main characters.
In part one, as the hunt for a vital hard drive continues, readers are in the privileged position of being first to find out what is on the hard drive. Or are they? Is Jar being ‘played’ – as one of his helpers suspects?
The author says he was inspired to change genres – switching from his spy novels to this psychological thriller – as he had so enjoyed reading The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. But J.S. Monroe cannot quite leave behind the world of spies spy he wrote about as Jon Stock. In telling us that, perhaps he too is laying a false trail for his readers. Watch out for it.
Having got as far into the ‘dark web’ as is good for one’s sanity, we then get drawn into recent history with the CIA’s use of nasty psychological experiments that surround the nasty theory – and practice – of ‘learned helplessness’.
There are clear echoes in Find Me of current controversies – not just about torture, but about the media and truth. We get right up to date with a George Orwell definition: “Journalism is printing what someone else doesn’t want printing. Everything else is public relations.” So we tiptoe into President Trump’s world where torture by the CIA is okay and all journalism should be PR for himself.
I was intrigued to read in the Marlborough.News report of the Marlborough launch for Find Me, that a friend of the author had devoured the book at one sitting – all eight hours of it. I did not manage the eight hour record, but I did finish it at one o’clock in the morning. Good finding…
You can read more about the author on Marlborough.News and Marlborough’s White Horse Bookshop still has signed copies of Find Me.
Work has started to repair the historic 22 tonne Lancashire boiler at Crofton pumping station near Marlborough.
The coal-fired boiler generates the steam the powers the world’s oldest working beam engines, which pump water from Crofton Water up to the canal’s highest level – the section between Crofton and Burbage, which was above any reliable local water source.
The work to repair the boiler will take three weeks, during which time corroded rivets will be cut out and replaced by specialists from Keighley-based H A McEwen Ltd.
The boiler will then be pressure tested and the brickwork restored, ready to receive visitors in April.
Peter Turvey, chairman of the Crofton branch of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which owns and operates the pumping station, said: “Thanks to funding from the Pewsey, Marlborough, and Devizes area boards, generous donors, and the efforts of our volunteers we have been able to start work on these vital repairs so that our wonderful old engines will be working under steam again this Spring.”
The traditional Easter steaming weekend is scheduled for Saturday, April 15 to Monday, April 17.
Perennial festival favourites Dreadzone will be appearing at Sound Knowledge on Wednesday, February 22.
The elecro-dub-rock veterans will be playing a short set at Thirty8 cafe in support of their brand new album Dread Times, before signing copies in-store after the performance.
The performance will give the fans a rare chance to see the band in an intimate setting.
Put together by former members of Big Audio Dynamite, Dreadzone have carved out a twenty-plus year career that's seen them championed by the late John Peel, support Oasis at their legendary Knebworth concert and release a string of inventive, genre-mashing albums including 1995's massive Second Light.
Dread Times is the group's eighth studio album and was recorded at Mick Jones' Bunker Studio, featuring writing from long time collaborator Don Letts.
The performance starts at 6.30pm and attendance is free by registering at www.facebook.com/SoundKnowledgeMarlborough/
Part of the Newland Homes development at Broad Blunsdon Heights near SwindonIt's a news story for the Swindon press: "Housing developers to help fund social projects" - putting Section 106 payments into the headlines. What is more this development will include affordable homes.
There was disbelief, condemnation and anger in Marlborough at the waiving altogether of the agreed £334,625:51 Section 106 charge towards affordable housing in the town to be paid by the developers of retirement apartments on the former garage site at the foot of Granham Hill.
The developers - McCarthy and Stone - escaped through a gap created by the government to speed up house building. In the rush to try and hit their promised house building target, they once again forgot the needs for parallel improvements in infrastructure.
Wiltshire Council accepted McCarthy and Stone's figures showing that cleaning up the site had been more expensive than expected - making the development unviable. But Section 106 charges can be negotiated properly - as this recent example from Swindon shows.
Broad Blunsdon Heights is a development of 57 homes - including seventeen affordable homes and community allotments - by Newland Homes in one of the expanding villages just north of Swindon. The development is within walking distance of the centre of Blunsdon village.
Nine of the seventeen affordable homes will be part-buy-part-rent and the other eight will be for rent only. These homes are being managed by Aster Housing.
The parish lies either side of the A419 and is just one of the sites targeted for Swindon's northern and eastward growth. The company announced: "As part of our Section 106 development requirements, the funds are being passed to the local authority to deliver a range of services to benefit the wider community."
Newland Homes' Section 106 payment will provide over £364,000 to benefit the local community through schools, public amenities, public health contributions and public realm contributions.
Over £43,000 will be provided to support local schools' primary and secondary special educational needs, as well as learning for those aged 16 to 18 years. Over £179,000 will go towards public landscaping, open space and improvements to Ermin Street.
£75,000 will support Wiltshire Fire and Rescue, public library provision, public art, public games areas and other community requirements. £48,000 has been earmarked as contributions towards the extra needs for health and social services. The remaining money will be spent enabling these changes and improvements to happen.
Gail Remnant, associate sales director for Newland Homes, said: “Whilst Section 106 agreements are a standard part of planning agreements, we have worked closely with the relevant authorities to channel the contributions into areas that will bring the most benefits to all residents of Blunsdon."
The development will have a mix of three, four and five bedroom homes. Prices currently start at £375,000 for a four bedroom home. Three bedroom properties will be available later in 2017.
President Barrow speaking at his ianuguration Dr Nick Maurice has been back to Marlborough's long-standing link village of Gunjur in The Gambia to see the return of 'democracy, peace and harmony'. As the leader of an opposition coalition, Adama Barrow was elected President in elections on December 1. After six weeks of tension and the threat of violence, the defeated president - the despotic Yayha Jammeh - was finally forced to leave the country. Dr Maurice reports:
All the signs in The Gambia from the many people I have spoken to are of relief, peace, joy, true happiness as expressed in all conversations, and a desire to move forward and forget the past.
The post election impasse was ended on January 20 following the armed intervention by troops from Senegal. This was not before Jammeh had called a state of emergency, sending many people fleeing the country fearing conflict and violence.
The violence thankfully never happened, the troops 'walked into' The Gambia in the presence of three Heads of State from surrounding countries and Jammeh was persuaded to leave State House. But not before he had 'lined his pockets' with millions of dollars, leaving the country destitute - according to all I spoke to.
He is now in Equatorial Guinea as a 'guest' of that nation's equally notorious dictator. Friends tell me Jammeh will almost certainly face the International Criminal Court once sufficient evidence of his many human rights abuses has been gathered.
President Borrow's inauguration took place on the day Gambians celebrated their 52 years of independence from the British colonial rule. It was a nine hour gathering in the National Stadium attended by 20 Heads of State, representatives of the armed forces of The Gambia and Senegal and a crowd of 25,000 adoring and wildly enthusiastic subjects.
One could not but feel what a privilege it was to be present at this extraordinary turning point in The Gambia's history. It was clear from the atmosphere in the stadium that there was an overwhelming feeling of relief and optimism and universal support for President Adama Barrow
The return to freedom of speech and the ability to talk freely to anyone, expressing views which might be controversial, but in the knowledge that one is not going to be reported to the National Intelligence Agency, is fundamental. One becomes aware that the breakdown of trust between individuals permeated every aspect of life under the Jammeh regime and this is now rapidly dissolving.
While President has limited qualifications for running a country (does this remind one of anyone else?) it is clear that he is gathering around him a team of Ministers with the right background, experience and qualifications who are clearly already guiding him.
Among the Ministerial team is Dr Isatou Touray who spoke at the 2015 Marlborough Brandt Group AGM in Marlborough Town Hall, on the problem of female genital mutilation She is now the Minister of Trade and Industry.
Dr Isatou Touray The Marlborough link delegation meets President Barrow Dr Maurice presents the President with the gift from Marlborough's Town Mayor
Two days after his inauguration, I had the privilege of a private meeting with President Barrow in the company of three Gambian friends from Gunjur, Madi Jatta, Mankamang Touray and Nabani Darboe all of whom had received training in Marlborough in the late 1980s and early 1990s and now hold senior positions in the country.
The President was aware of the 34 year relationship between Marlborough and Gunjur. We were able to describe the impact it had had on the two communities - not least on those young people from Marlborough who had lived and worked in Gunjur.
The President was full of praise for what had been achieved and expressed his determination that his government should support the relationship in whatever way possible.
I was able to present the President with letters of congratulation and good wishes from Marlborough's MP Claire Perry who had spent a week in Gunjur in 2013 and from the Mayor of Marlborough, Councillor Noël Barrett-Morton, with a present from the latter in the form of a very fine paper weight containing the Marlborough crest.
I had been on the same flight to Banjul as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. The British Ambassador, Colin Crokin, who had been with Johnson at a meeting with President Barrow, told me the Foreign Secretary had expressed the desire of the UK Government to work closely with The Gambia not least in ensuring that The Gambia is welcomed back into the Commonwealth at the earliest opportunity.
In discussions with friends and colleagues on the change of regime it seems likely there will only be a small reduction in the flow of migrants taking 'the back way' from The Gambia to Europe. Indeed, I was told of young men who had left since the appointment of President Barrow.
This is something that the Marlborough Brandt Group is helping to address by providing loans for young entrepreneurs in Gunjur to set up businesses - a highly successful programme which is creating wealth and employment. Such schemes need to be rolled out across the country to give young people hope for the future.
However, I returned to Marlborough with a great sense of optimism on behalf of our many friends in Gunjur - and more widely in The Gambia - and the hope that the international community will recognise the new regime and give it all the support that it deserves after 22 years of cruel dictatorship.
"At first we thought it might be a landmine." [Photo: Marina Rae]Mick Rae, Rob Abbott and their friend Dave were detecting in a field in the Vale of Pewsey in October 2014 when they came across a hoard of eight metal vessels - including a cauldron and four small pans from weighing scales.
The vessels were buried in a pit beneath about 350 millimetres of top-soil and, as one would expect, were in varying states of disrepair.
The find was quickly identified as Roman. The discovery was reported to Richard Henry who is Wiltshire's Finds Liaison Officer. His role is to record archaeological finds made by members of the public – mostly metal detectorists, but also by people who are just walking in fields or digging in their back garden.
Most of the cauldron survives and a large copper-alloy vessel had been placed upside down into the cauldron - forming a sealed cavity. What was inside?
[Photo: Marina Rae]There were no gold necklaces or bronze coins in this hoard of Roman vessels. But what was found inside is worth its weight in gold to archaeologists - remains of plants preserved by the copper vessels' own micro-environment.
Among the remains of the dried plants were heads of common knapweed and pieces of bracken. They also found seeds of cowslips or primrose, milkwort, lesser hawkbit, sedges, clovers, vetches and sweet violet, fat hen, knot grass, black bindweed, buttercup and corn spurrey. They may be what is left of some careful packing.
Remains of the flowers and bracken are now on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Organic matter never survives if buried unprotected in the Pewsey Vale's greensand - so to find dried plants and pollen this old provided the scientists with many opportunities for research.
Cauldron showing scale pans [Photo copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme] Vessel with dried plants [Photo copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme]
The find did not count as 'treasure' so remains the property of the finder and the landowner. The detectorists donated the organic material to Wiltshire Museum - the scientific processes used to test it with would ultimately destroy it.
Richard Henry led the quest to discover more about the find. He brought in a team to excavate the site of the discovery, led by David Roberts of Historic England with the Assistant County Archaeologist, members of the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group and the finders. They found shards of domestic and imported ceramics and ceramic building materials.
The project to analyse the plant remains has been led by the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and supported by Historic England, Southampton University, the Association for Roman Archaeology and Wiltshire Museum.
Some of the flower heads from the hoard [Photo Steven Baker at Historic England - their copyright]The scientists discovered that the plants were dated between AD380 and AD550. They believe the hoard was hidden sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries - during the early Anglo-Saxon period. And interestingly, the find was within striking distance of the major Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered in Blacknall Field - finds from which can be seen in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
But if the age in years is a little speculative, the state of the plants reveals pretty accurately that they were picked and packed away in late summer soon after the harvest - late August to early October.
When their own kind of Brexit happened, the Romans obviously left much more behind them than roads, mosaics, villas and hoards of coins.
Wiltshire Museum's Director, David Dawson, is thrilled they can display this important material: “Richard Henry has led this remarkable partnership project, drawing specialists from across the country to piece together the fascinating story of the burial of Roman bronze cauldrons that took place on a summer’s day 1,500 years ago."
Richard Henry said “Such discoveries should be left in situ to allow full archaeological study of the find and its context. The finders did not clean or disturb the vessels which has allowed us to undertake detailed further research. If the vessels had been cleaned none of this research would have been possible.”
It is very tempting to imagine how this hoard came to be made so long after the vessels were first used. It is as though someone today decided to bury the Victorian kitchen pots Aunt Bertha inherited - and packed them with plants.
Why they were buried remains a matter for speculation. Does the careful packing of the metal vessels mean they were the antiques of their day? Were they, so long after the Roman era, still valued as useful cooking pots? Or was this some kind of votive offering?
Marlborough.News understands that metal detector Dave aims to have the vessels professionally conserved.
Ruth Pelling and Stacey Adams will be talking about their research on the flowers and other recent Wiltshire discoveries at the Archaeology in Wiltshire Conference on April 1 in Devizes. Their talk is titled “Bake Off and Brewing in Roman and Early Saxon Wiltshire: recent archaeobotanical finds."
Rosie Amos as CarmenRemember the kids from Fame? I do. I was 10 when the TV show began airing on BBC in 1982 – a little too young to fully appreciate some of the topics being explored, but you couldn’t move for the Irene Cara’s theme song at school discos: “Baby remember my name (remember, remember…)” she implored. I didn’t. I had to look it up for this article.
Anyway, like last year’s We Will Rock You, the St John’s Academy production of Fame is aimed squarely at a parental market, although I’m sure the ongoing 80s revival in fashion and music helps it feel not too irrelevant to the cast (in fact the only time the stageplay feels dated is when fame-hungry Carmen fantasises about fighting off autograph hunters – today they’d all be taking selfies).
Like the movie and the TV series, the musical is set at New York City's High School of Performing Arts. Pre-X Factor and YouTube, young people had to go to college for a shot at success, a fact of which we are reminded in the opening song, a full company rendition of Hard Work.
Here singers, dancers and musicians triumph or fail, fall in love and fall back out again. They also swear and take drugs – something I’m sure was cut from the BBC teatime show but remains intact for this production, giving the cast members the chance to (legitimately) use four letter words on school grounds.
Thus Sam Austen as Hispanic acting student Joe Vegas gets to sing (quite graphically, and with superb comic timing) about his sexual prowess (I Can't Keep It Down), while dancer Carmen Diaz (Rosie Amos – a terrific actor, dancer and singer) substitutes breakfast for drugs to stay skinny and alert, drops out of school to seek her fortune in LA, and has to do God knows what to earn the money to get home again, all the while shooting the audience sassy looks that could stop traffic.
Archie Fisher as TyroneNew York, of course, was and is a cultural melting pot, and class and ethnic tensions are a running theme throughout Fame – not easy for an all-white cast to convey.
So top marks to Archie Fisher (hip hop dancer Tyrone), who manages to rap (quite capably) about growing up poor and black in the Bronx. “No-ones gotta tell me what its like to be black,” he raps, without flinching.
The lad can dance, too. And besides some great dance performances from Sophie Little (ballet dancer Iris) and Rosie Amos, the role usually filled by “chorus members” is a stage-commanding dance troupe, while the backing singers huddle around the band in the orchestra pit.
School musicals normally demand acting and a bit of singing. Throwing dance into the mix is ambitious, and it says something about the St John’s – which offers music, dance and drama as part of its syllabus – that it has produced young performers who can handle all three – with aplomb.
Images courtesy of Sally Bere
The 2016 exhibition (Photo by Niels van Gijn)Following last year’s successful Open Art Exhibition at the White Horse Bookshop, the Exhibition is set to become an annual fixture for the town. This year’s Exhibition will be in May.
The inaugural Exhibition in 2016 celebrated the opening of the bookshop's art gallery. More than a thousand visitors enjoyed more than eighty entries in a variety of mediums. Exhibitors included tutors who run the White Horse art classes and their students.
The manager of the White Horse Bookshop, Angus MacLennan, told Marlborough.News: “I hope that everything that is submitted will be included in the Exhibition. It is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to see their work of art on the wall.”
[Click on image to enlarge it]As a keen amateur artist himself, Angus believes “there is nothing better than thinking and drawing.” His drawing of a Roman sarcophagus [left] is featured on the flyer advertising this year’s Exhibition. “I saw this many years ago and wanted to draw it. It was a technical challenge but it was fun.”
All exhibits will be for sale with the price is to be fixed by the artist. Exhibits must be submitted between April 1 and 17. Only one piece per artist can be submitted and may not exceed 50cm x 50cm once framed.
This year the exhibition will be extended to include sculpture. But with obvious space limitations, artists should check with Angus to confirm size restrictions.
The White Horse Bookshop Gallery is hosting several exhibitions this year. In March a textiles exhibition entitled Delving Deep will feature work from students at New College, Swindon which has been inspired by either Wiltshire history or nature.
April hosts the semi-abstract/architectural work of Will Wilford, who is completing an MA at Bath. Will has a family connection to the Chandler family who used to own the White Horse building in the early twentieth century.
In addition to the exhibitions, the White Horse continues to offer some twenty art courses each month. There are still places available on several of these popular courses ranging from Watercolours for the ‘positively terrified’ to - for the more assured - Going Wild in Watercolours.
The first rehearsal: Frazer Blaxland (standing - Jesus) with Ben Tanning, Edward Maurice, David Maurice, Alison Shelby & Pauline BerrymanRehearsals are underway for the Marlborough Community Passion Play which will take place in the town on Easter Saturday, April 15 from 4 to 6 pm. Spectators will not have to pay to watch the performance.
Frazer Blaxland, the professional actor who will play Jesus, and those members of the community who have been allocated speaking parts, met on Sunday for the first read through of the script written by Helen Stokes.
Helen, who is the play's artistic director, believes that “The retelling of the most famous story in Western culture will bring the community together and it will be a fruitful experience for all those involved.”
Volunteers are still required to assist in a variety of ways. Teams of stewards are needed on the day.
They will receive basic Health and Safety training, be dressed as Roman soldiers and will be required to attend the rehearsals in the week prior to the performance.
Planning the moves... The team behind the production: Back row - l to r: David Wylie, Liz Woods, Martin Milner, Charles Joseph, James Seddon, Louise Seddon Front row: Hugh de Sarum, Andy Tatum, Nina Woolrych, Noel Woolrych, Helen Stokes, Vincent Stokes
The costume department are looking for donations of fabrics in neutral shades, fake fur and leather, old tie-backs, tea towels, sheets and anything else that would be appropriate for middle eastern costume of that period.