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The Letter of Last Resort

Mutually Assured Distraction

The Letter of Last Resort

by David Greig

The Questors, in association with PlayGC Theatre Company, at the Judy Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 19th June

Review by Andrew Lawston

The hour is late.  As voiceover clips narrate a series of election results, a woman sits at her desk in an ornate office, struggling to write a letter.  Discarded drafts circle the waste paper basket, and her shoes have also been cast aside.  Theatre has finally returned to The Questors Theatre’s Judi Dench Playhouse, and the sense of relief and excitement in the auditorium is so palpable that we would probably all happily watch this exasperated letter writer work at her missive in silence for the full fifty minutes of David Greig’s play The Letter of Last Resort, from Playgc Theatre Company.

Fortunately, she is swiftly interrupted by a man with the smooth bearing and manilla envelopes of a Whitehall mandarin, who introduces himself to the Prime Minister as John, from “Arrangements”.  He has come, he reveals after a little small talk, to ask her to attend to a pressing matter.  The writing of the eponymous letter of last resort, the handwritten sealed letters written by all Prime Ministers on their first day in office, containing instructions for the commanders of Trident submarines in the event of an incapacitating nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister is attempting to write a letter of condolence to the mother of a young soldier killed in action, she reveals.  She refuses to use a template, keen to do things differently.  John’s pressing matter will have to wait.

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Opera Gala 21

Grand Passions Portrayed

Opera Gala 21

Rose Opera at Normansfield Theatre, Teddington, 12th June

Review by Helen Astrid

Opera excerpts from George Frederick Handel to William Walton provided a selection of arias, duets and trios to less well-known pieces at Rose Opera’s Gala latest gala evening.  Indeed, they rose to the occasion with aplomb showcasing some of their up-and-coming talents.

Rose Opera’s co-founder Tamara Ravenhill opened the programme singing the luscious Io son l’umile ancella, from Cilèa’s rarely performed Adriana Lecouvreur.  The romantic and voluptuous vocal line was finely rendered in her performance.

Baritone, Ian Helm was in fine voice singing Pierrot’s Tanzlied from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt another uncommon choice for UK opera houses.  The harmonic and melodic parallels with Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos was apparent and more so in the virtuosic piano reduction of the orchestral score.  The opera contains the stunning Marietta’s Lied, one for the next concert perhaps.

Die Tote Stadt Linz Opera

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The Co-Op

Cracking Clever Theatre

The Co-Op

by Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Felix Grainger

Make it Beautiful Theatre Company, OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 12th June

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“I have of late … lost all my mirth,” says Hamlet, and then goes on to describe a world under “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours” before moving into the “what a piece of work is a man …” bit.  Without much contriving you can connect the Prince of Denmark’s musings to our current situation, particularly where it relates to the performing arts and the long, ‘resting’ period anyone in the performing arts has been subjected to over the last year. 

Make it Beautiful Theatre Company, however, rather than let the grass grow, has devised a clever and witty short play about three actors setting up their own agency to represent themselves in a world where finding work is difficult enough without the small matter of a global pandemic.  Jimmy (Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson) and Cazza (Cara Steele) are the two remaining founders of the agency after Jimmy’s recently departed friend Tom was given a part in Silent Witness and moved on to what might unkindly be called the real world.  Jimmy funds the business while drinking quite a lot.  Cazza, never having had anything to rely on but herself, is forming probably quite an unhealthy dependency on Jimmy.  Into this mix comes new client cum business partner Charlie (Felix Grainger) bouncing with hope and positive vibes.

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Virtual Eighth

Milestones – or Millstones?

Virtual Eighth

Poetry Performance, 6th June and On-Line

Review by M. Grierson

It’s a small audience that turns up to June’s online Poetry Performance, perhaps because the vaccine roll-out and the better weather mean that the poetically inclined are heading outdoors to reflect on the world they have been denied over the past year or so. You might say it’s a milestone: which, as chance would have it, is the theme of tonight’s readings. Your MC is the redoubtable Clive Rowland, who once more does sterling work keeping things moving and accentuating the positive. Would it be fair to suggest that, at times, he has his work cut out for him?

First on the bill is Pratibha Castle. They say self-praise is no recommendation, but she fearlessly announces that she will be reading from her forthcoming award-winning debut pamphlet. Fortunately, she lives up to her hype: the poems from A Triptych of Birds and A Few Loose Feathers prove among the best of the evening, and show Castle to be a confident, engaging reader.

Her “Padraig, who drove the snakes out of Ireland” evokes Heaney, with an agricultural reminiscence of the speaker’s father and her association of him with Ireland’s patron saint. “Afterwards” meanwhile reflects on Mammy’s passing with honesty and an attention to the particular, whether that is the London accents of the ambulance drivers who collect her body, or the dead woman’s “fingers like fallen plums”.

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What the Dickens?!

Camping It Up

What the Dickens?! 

by David Hovatter

The Questors Theatre, The Courtyard Outdoor Theatre until 31st May

Review by Poppy Rose Jervis

On a bright day and buzz-wuzzing with anticipation, we find ourselves sitting in a courtyard (maybe not 19th Century flag-stoned type, of which many appear in Dicken’s work), and with a pocket full of curiosity in spite of shops being closed, and having been released, not from debtors prison but the ‘locked-in’ Covid jail where, although not paying a debt to society, we have all certainly been doing our bit for it’s good (the concept of which Dickens, social critic, would have approved and had plenty to say on the matter) and thinking to ourselves, ‘What the dickens is What the Dickens!? !?  and ‘What for this pun and minced oath?’.

Swap the damp, dark alleyways of Old London Town for a pleasant outdoor, leafy setting in the Queen of the Suburbs (Ealing), coupled with a gentle warming sun and light breeze (and even a little bird song), throw in an all-female cast in place of all men and you will get the idea …   

No, wait, swap the pleasant outdoor setting in the Queen of the Suburbs for a 20th Century holiday camp and think Dickens meets Carry on Butlins, fasten your socially distanced seatbelt for an energetic tumble with deliciously different transportation into 1960’s Dickens’ Butlins Land, David Hovatter (writer and director) style and you’re almost there.

Then hi-de-hi-ing in no quiet voice, pack your pre-conceived ideas (along with your political correctness) firmly away in your battered old suitcase, shove it into a bedroom at Bognor Regis, leave it there, and you’ve just about made it.

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Talking Lockdown 2

Flourishing in Adversity

Talking Lockdown, Episode Two

Arts Richmond, 19th of May and on YouTube

Review by Simone de Almeida

The second instalment of Art Richmond’s popular Talking Lockdown series was a breath of fresh air and familiarity amidst the constant change and chaos that seems to define the ‘new normal’ we have begun to settle into.   It brought a warmth that truly strengthened the sense of community that has often been hard to find during lockdown, due to social distancing and other safety precautions, that have prevented us from reconnecting to our loved ones and getting back in touch with the things we enjoy.

Following a warm welcome from Sir Vince Cable, we were joined by a panel of distinguished guests with careers in artistic and literary fields, who provided their insight into how lockdown has affected them and their individual professions, and sharing their experiences on what has truly been an unprecedented period.

The talk delved into the unique experiences of news reporters, theatre producers, opera directors, and poets, shining a light on other aspects of lockdown we don’t often get the chance to learn of or think about.  This was especially true of the discussions on the changes that have had to be made, and the amount of effort and work that had gone on behind the scenes in order to keep events and experiences running as smoothly as possible within lockdown guidelines, which we have all been a little guilty of neglecting to appreciate!

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Virtual Seventh

Maybe Soon

Virtual Seventh

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 9th May

Review by Thomas Forsythe  

The merry merry month of May has cheered that eclectic band of poets, Poetry Performance, with the possibility that it may soon bring the chance of returning from the internet back to real-life three-dimensional encounters in The Adelaide, its Teddington home.  Its latest on-line outing is inspired by the theme for the month, appropriately “May”. 

Where we once had saint’s days, we now have a “special” day it seems for everything.  (Apparently today is World Lawnmower Day.)  Clive Rowland, the Master of Ceremonies, reminded us (if we hithertofore even knew) that the day, the first Sunday in May, was World Laughter Day.

Picking up this point, there were quite a few poems with the light-hearted themes that mark this month.   Robin Clarke’s May I is a love poem, for this is the season when “a young man’s fancy…”   The young man’s seduction is hobbled by his shyness, but he carefully ask permission for each move.  But then again, as he admits, these words were “… never said. / They were just floating in my head”.   Fran Thurling’s one liner, “The Pink Cherry Blossom”  speaks succinctly for the season.   Jackie Howting’s thoughts went to May spent in Corfu with her A May Zing, so evocatively describing Greece in spring that you could almost hear the trizonia crickets singing and smell the oregano.

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Mystery of the Blue Train

Le Mot Unjuste

Chantecoq and the Mystery of the Blue Train

by Arthur Bernède, translated by Andrew K.  Lawston

Review by Matthew Grierson

For a great sleuth, a detail speaks volumes.  In the world of Parisian detective M.  Chantecoq, however, volumes are spoken about every last detail. 

No part of The Mystery of the Blue Train arrives without being extensively prefaced, described, attested in dialogue and recapitulated, as though the various hands behind it – the detective himself, his fictional amanuensis, author Arthur Bernède and translator Andrew Lawston – each want to make sure they’ve had a say on the matter.  Rather than being snappy or smart, the dialogue has the laboured quality of bad radio play, with characters patiently explaining to one another things they patently already know.  When they’re avoiding that pitfall, they can’t resist elaborate periphrasis: as the detective instructs his factotum to remove a disguise, for instance, he tells him to “reclaim your normal physiognomy” rather than “take off your mask”. 

You may not have heard of Chantecoq before, the concoction of prolific French writer Bernède in the 1920s.  For those who are interested I won’t précis the fictional sleuth’s career here because his résumé is given out as frequently as a calling card in the course of this mystery.  The real mystery is why we need a translation: there’s no shortage of golden-age crime already, and this one is a long way from the crispness of a Christie or wit of a Wallace

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by Simone de Almeida

Simone De Almeida’s poem, Requiem won the category prize for Arts Richmond’s Young Writers competition 2019-20.

She was awarded the distinction of Senior Laureate at the Young Writers Festival 2020

On the edge of insanity-
Blind to the fragmentary quandaries,
Ice melting;
Yet we heat our frozen hearts-
Connected yet we fall apart.

Materialistic desires,
Empty promises and counterfeit smiles.
Hide and seek,
In the game of your lies.

Naïve, is that so?
Incompetent and inept?
We are the future-
But you cannot perceive it yet.

Losing sanity,
To find yourself.
As ever, disregard:
The history book on the shelf.

The last time –
Though we’ve heard it countless times.
Say we’ll be fine –
In the darkness of your silence.

Simone de Almeida, March 2020

Photography by Thomas Jacobson

Young Writers by a Young Writer

Once in a Lifetime

The Arts Richmond Young Writers Festival

The Stage Company, at the Exchange Theatre, Twickenham, 28th March

A review by Simone De Almeida

Simone De Almeida is one of our younger reviewers.  Now aged thirteen, she was awarded the distinction of Senior Laureate in Arts Richmond’s Young Writers Festival in 2020 for her poem, Requiem.

Here she reviews the 2021 Young Writers Festival

As a bright, white light illuminated the stage, I leant forward on the edge of my seat in anticipation, knowing already that what I was about to witness would be undoubtedly spectacular.  The first category of finalists was that of Year 4 and under, and to say I was amazed by the quality of work would be an understatement.  Each piece was so captivating, following truly unique storylines to create something so incredibly original.  The plots were so imaginative, ranging from the story of an unlikely friendship between a snow wolf and a polar bear cub, to the tale of a puppy finding a loving home. 

Over time, I have noticed that it can often be all too easy to become wrapped up in complexity, valuing writing by length and vocabulary, but the work of these talented young authors served as an all too welcome reminder that there is so much joy to be found in work that is truly inspired.  Each piece was truly brought to life by the incredibly talented actors, who delivered each performance with such passion and enthusiasm; it was thrilling to watch.

The next category performed was years 5 and 6, and I was awestruck by the emotion conveyed in their pieces.  They took such complex subjects such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, and moulded them into something so raw and beautiful.  It was evident that each author wrote from the heart, as there was such passion in their work; they perfectly understood the power of their words, and harnessed this to create something really poignant and moving. 

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