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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

Juliet Wood: ‘Music Beaches Family’ at The White Horse Bookshop’s gallery - Seeing the familiar...yet not

Juliet Wood: 'Sea Gazers, Cromer' - from her White Horse Bookshop exhibitionJuliet Wood: 'Sea Gazers, Cromer' - from her White Horse Bookshop exhibitionSince the Impressionists left their studios to draw and paint outside, many artists have been preoccupied with the attempt to depict what’s in front of us – what we deem as ‘familiar’ – in a fresh way. To show us someone leaning over a bridge, or families playing on the beach, or a pedestrian looking at their iPhone - as if for the first time. This is an increasingly challenging task.

 

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Takes Steps to see this Spanish Court-themed show

A scene from Any Port in a StormA scene from Any Port in a Storm

 

 Marlborough.news was one of the first in the town to catch the latest Gifford Circus show, Any Port in a Storm.


An exuberant, joyous affair, the circus skills are world class, the live band the kind you'd happily pay to see on their own, and comedy appealing to all ages.

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St Peter's Church recitals: pianist Ben Schoeman excels with challenging Russian programme

Ben SchoemanBen Schoeman

 

In the latest of this popular series of Brilliant Young Musician recitals at St Peter's Church, we welcomed back the South African pianist, Ben Schoeman (June 24.) He played here in 2014 and earlier this year he played with the Swindon Choral Society when they sang the Puolenc Gloria in Marlborough College chapel - and a spectacular performance that was.  

 

Ben first studied firstly at the University of Pretoria and in 2016 was awarded a doctorate at City University in London. He has already had an impressive international career, playing in a wide range of prestigious concert venues, both recitals and as soloist in the great piano concerti by Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Ravel.

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REVIEW: Wiltshire's amateur archaeologists - finding what lies beneath our feet

50 Finds from Wiltshire - Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme by Richard Henry (Amberley - 2017)

This book will give pleasure - and a good deal of hope - to all those who imagine turning up some notable or even priceless archaeological find.  They may be metal detectorists, gardeners, tractor drivers or walkers crossing ploughed fields - and their find may turn out to be 'important' rather than worth that dreamt of fortune.

The author of 50 Finds from Wiltshire, Richard Henry is Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer, so he has first hand knowledge of the extraordinary variety of finds as they pass across his desk to be recorded onto the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database.  

"The scheme is a Department of Culture, Media and Sport-funded project to encourage the documenting of archaeological objects found by members of the public."   

Some of these objects will be judged to be 'treasure' and may bring considerable financial reward to finder and landowner. Most will not be treated as 'treasure'. 

Either way they will bring satisfaction to the finders - and possibly some financial reward.

Each of the 50 finds detailed in Richard Henry's account - just 50 objects from the 45,000 Wiltshire finds on the PAS database - has been chosen for the insight it gives into our past.  And each is clearly described and explained - and well illustrated.

The chosen finds run from a beautiful Stone Age adze (3,500-2,200 BC), through rare Roman coins, to the minute and delicate Saxon gold coin found near East Grafton (and on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes), right up to a nineteenth century ceramic flagon found - in wonderful condition - near Burbage.

Along the way is the Pewsey Vessel Hoard (deposited AD 380-550, but with vessels left behind by the Romans.)  Marlborough.News has reported on this extraordinary find with its remains of Medieval plant life.

[Photo: Richard Henry][Photo: Richard Henry]Here Richard Henry has included a very useful drawing to show how the vessels were packed together and put into the ground - in Russian doll fashion. This created a sealed compartment that protected the organic material and so allowed it, when it emerged into the twenty-first century, to be scientifically analysed - throwing new light on Mediaeval England's natural history.

In amongst this rich selection of finds, Richard Henry has written fascinating mini-essays on aspects of 'experimental archaeology' - present day experts using ancient techniques to discover and explain how some of these finds were made.  They are experimenting just as our forbears experimented to find new ways to make essential tools and decorative items.  

We learn about ancient iron and copper smelting, even older techniques for creating flint tools, down to the medieval introduction of mass production with stone moulds used to make pilgrims' badges - by the hundred.

Richard Henry's map of Wiltshire's PAS finds shows how widespread and common these finds are.  I bet that there is a red dot within a hundred yards or so of every school in the county.   Perhaps every school in the county should have a copy of this book - it would inspire interest in a subject that is currently doomed to slip off curriculums as politicians and exam authorities turn their back on it.  

At the very least, this is a map and a book that may set a spark of investigation and discovery in many more of those amateur archaeologists in Wiltshire who are merely 'members of the public'.

Copies of '50 Finds from Wiltshire' are on sale in the Wiltshire Museum's shop - price £14.99.

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Review: Victoria Jinivizian's 'Interior Lives' - rooms we can view at our leisure

Victoria Jinivizian:  Interior, Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor’s, KardamyliVictoria Jinivizian: Interior, Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor’s, Kardamyli

This month’s exhibition at the White Horse Gallery presents a series of paintings and drawings of rooms by Victoria Jinivizian. Victoria was trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, exhibits regularly and is an established tutor at the Marlborough College Summer School.

 

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Ben Cipolla: Busking the High Street to the Royal Albert Hall

Ben Cipolla at last year's Marlborough International Jazz FestivalBen Cipolla at last year's Marlborough International Jazz Festival

Jazz megastar, Clare Teal, is a great discoverer of new talent.

After all, she discovered Jamie Cullum. Just five years ago, she was walking down Marlborough High Street on the way to her gig in the big marquee at the International Jazz Festival when she saw a young lad busking a Michael Jackson song.

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REVIEW: After ‘Summertime’ Vanessa Lafaye's new novel tells a story from the past that resonates with today's America

 

At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye (Published June 2017 by Orion)

If you like a really good story really well told, this is a book for you.  Vanessa Lafaye's second novel - At First Light - tells a fairly discomforting tale, but it tells it with a clarity and a pace that keeps you involved - and guessing.

It is a novel based on a news item from history - from the year the First World War ended.  It was probably just a News in Brief item and the author has woven around it a cast of easily understood and colourful characters inhabiting a place that generally seems somewhat monochrome and certainly bleakly sordid - Florida's Key West settlement.

The time she has chosen is crucial: the Great War is over, men are returning from fighting in France, prohibition is coming, the Ku Klux Klan is gathering strength, the Spanish flu pandemic is bringing its ugly way of death to Key West.  

Into this maelstrom comes Alicia - forced to flee her home in Cuba.  She is 'brown'. She is surprised and shocked to find herself managing a brothel.  She then surprises herself by falling in love with a war-damaged soldier.  He is white.  And their union provides an excuse for the KKK to mobilise.

Alicia Cortez takes over the brothel - which goes under the sly name of The Tea Room - from her aunt who has been killed by the Spanish flu.  Her lover, John Morales, runs a bar called - quaintly enough - The Last Resort.

With a tide of American patriotism running strongly after the war, the bar might have been called the last refuge.

Descriptions of place are sketches rather than street maps, but they still give the reader a clear picture of the frontier town world of Key West.  And what might in another hand become overblown and wordy, the set pieces are treated like the everyday stuff of life they must seem to be to At First Light's cast of characters.

One of Vanessa Lafaye's great skills is to write entirely objectively about the highly ethical and moral themes that surround these events.  She makes no judgment on them - a judgment which might sit uncomfortably with the customs and moral norms of the time she is writing about.  The moral point is made by the story as she reveals it.

This is a novel of retribution.  It is not a thriller, not a novel of simple revenge. It is a tragedy.  It has nothing to do with the traditions of Jacobean revenge tragedy, and a great deal to do with America's continuing and greatest stain - the racism that stretches across the centuries from the genocide against Native Americans to Trump.  Weren't his tweeted attacks on Mayor Sadiq Khan nothing more than pathetic playground racism?  After all they were not part of any normal President's everyday concern or tasks.

In 1918 the Klan are seeking to make America great again by killing or excluding everyone who is not white and protestant.  So they wage war against Jews, Catholics and anyone of colour - sowing the seeds of perpetual hate.

The title At First Light harks back to the executions of allegedly cowardly soldiers during the First World War.  They were shot at first light.  Others went 'over the top' at first light. But I think it also refers obliquely to the light of certainty that enters Alicia's world, late in life, to clear away the horrible and pitiable darkness that surrounded her relationship with John Morales.  

There are other themes threaded carefully and unobtrusively through the book.  Among them: the contrast between Cuba and Key West, Alicia's herbal healing, the acceptance of fairly uncivilised ways of life, and the ordinariness of life in both Tea Room and Last Resort.

Vanessa Lafaye's first novel, the very successful Summertime, featured a public lynching.  At First Light plays light on a wider canvas of racism - a canvas occupied then and now by the extremists of the KKK and their playground full of fellow travellers.  

There is a strong and sobering lesson in the tale of Alicia Cortez and John Morales, but it is a lesson told by Vanessa Lafaye with subtle control and written beautifully - in clear and compelling language.

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St Peter's Church recitals: fifth series welcomes a truly brilliant young duo

On a chilly Sunday evening, Yume Fujise (violin) and Maria Tarasewicz (piano) joined the ranks of the brilliant young musicians who have played in Saint Peter’s church (April 30).

Yume Fujise is a Japanese violinist who began to play the violin at the age of three. Aged 10 she was invited to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York before coming to Britain as a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School. She is currently studying at the Royal College of Music, has made her debut at the Wigmore Hall and is currently living in London.

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REVIEW: Junkyard is the story of all our playgrounds

Junkyard photo by Manuel HarlanJunkyard photo by Manuel HarlanJunkyard reminds us that we need to fight for places to play.

Sometime in the mid-eighties (I’m guessing the spring or summer of 1985) my parents took me to Bowood House, near Calne, where I spent an incredible couple of hours at my first adventure playground.

Rather than swings, and roundabouts, and slides there were tall wooden structures to surmount, cargo nets to scramble up, and what I recall was called a death slide, but which health and safety now demands is called a zip wire.

Back at school, I could not wait to tell my friends. “Lockleaze has got a Vench” said one mate. And so, the following Saturday, we set off – he and his brother on their BMXs, me on a racer (my parents disapproved of the brakeless BMX), five or so minutes door-to-door.

What I found was underwhelming: ramshackle structures of badly nailed wood, and tyres attached to lengths of rope. Occupying the playground were some older kids, who smoked, and swore, and were reluctant to let outsiders play. Did I, I wonder now, meet the real-life inspirations for Fiz and her friends?

This, then, is the world of Junkyard by Bafta award-winning Jack Thorne, whose Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brought the story of the boy wizard to the stage. Lockleaze, though, is no Hogwarts.

It’s the summer of 1979, and optimistic degree-educated hippy Rick, inspired by the Adventure Play movement, comes to Bristol’s Lockleaze estate to work with the secondary school’s most troubled children in building a playground.

At first he is mocked, but one by one his small army of swearing, smoking teenage recruits grow. We meet feisty Fiz – in whom Rick sees leadership qualities – and her pregnant sister ‘Dirty’ Debbie. The father of Debbie’s baby might be skinhead Ginger, or Higgy, or someone else entirely, but not the fragile Talc, who harbours not-so-discreet desires for Fiz.

The playground is built, and the friends evolve from dismissive to becoming fiercely defensive of it, mounting moonlit patrols to ward off vandals and school authorities, who want to build a maths block on the site.

Junkyard is fast-paced and witty, with much of the action taking place around the playground, which in The Best of Us has a song of its own: “This is a spider, this is a ship, this is the thing where we do dip the dip, we haven’t quite worked out what this bit is, but we promise you it is the biz,” the cast sing, in a ballad that recurs throughout the play.

Elsewhere in the song, the playground becomes a metaphor for the lives of the young people “it’s broken and s**t and it doesn’t fit, as broken and s**t as we know we are.” Oh yes, in Junkyard, everybody swears. Even the headmaster.

Music plays an important part in Junkyard, but songs are delivered naturally and honestly, rather than with West End musical flamboyance, with accompaniment provided by a stripped-down three piece ska band of bass, guitar and drums.

The mainly young cast takes the audience on an anarchic emotional rollercoaster, from despair to joyful exuberance and back again, frequently breaking the fourth wall to include the crowd in the action, but never to such great effect as when Fiz stands at the front of the stage and closes the performance with: “We’ve been junk, you’ve been lovely, thanks for coming to watch us play.”

The Vench, we’re reminded, is nearly 40 years old. Now run by a social enterprise, the roughly-hewn wood has been replaced by sanded, varnished, health and safety-pleasing structures. A fitting legacy, you’d think, to the play pioneers, but, tellingly, the name of The Vench’s Facebook page is Save Lockleaze Adventure Playground.

The Vench and playgrounds like it are constantly at risk from politicians who have forgotten the value of play. In 2014, Wiltshire Council cut the number of youth workers from 144 to 25. That number is now down to seven – for 100,000 children.

In Marlborough, the future of our 1970s Youth Centre – saved from total closure by a handful of community champions, but providing nothing like the services to young people it did five years ago – remains in limbo. Devotion, a hangout for youngsters, could close if more volunteers are not found.

Junkyard, as well as being a thoroughly entertaining two-and-a-half hours of theatre, reminds us that we need to fight for places to play.

Junkyard is at Bristol Old Vic until March 18, then tours until April 29.

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