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Eels by the Pint


By David Anstruther

CD Digipak, Eel Pie Records, Twickenham

Review by Vince Francis  

Vendetta is the latest album (and the first of his own original material) of singer-songwriter David Anstruther, who hails from south-west London and is hence a local lad to yours truly.  I generally experience a combination of excitement and anxiety when I get to hear artists who are new to me, but generally I have a genuine respect and admiration for those who have the bravery to put their original work out there, regardless of my own take on it.

There is much to recommend David’s music.  He is an accomplished guitarist.  To my ear, the influence of Mark Knopfler is apparent, particularly when he isn’t using distortion.  No shame in that, in my view.  Knopfler is an outstanding player and one who is inspirational to many guitarists, including your reviewer. 

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The Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules

Tearaway Strip Tease

The Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules

curated by Andy Holden

Embankment Gallery, Somerset House, London until 6th March 2022

Review by Heather Moulson

Biff!  Bang!  Whizzz!  Ouff!  Ouch!  Curator Andy Holden had been planning this exhibition since March 2020 when the lights were switched off by Lockdown.  Proving that patience and careful planning really does pay off, he lays this infamous comic treasure trove bare before us.     

I was greeted by Biffo the Bear at the ticket office, the character I mourn the most, along with his extraordinarily strange chum Buster.   Once having the status of Desperate Dan, he stopped appearing in strip form in 1986.  Biffo was wholesome and neat in his red shorts, which could have been his downfall, yet he kept up his end with his maverick counterparts for many years. 

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The Good Life

How Green is My Plot?

The Good Life

by Jeremy Sams, based on the television series by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey

Fiery Angel at Richmond Theatre until 29th November, then tour continues until 4th December

Review by David Stephens

Working from home, learning new life-skills, growing one’s own produce, living more sustainably, escaping the monotony of the daily grind and discovering the joys of simple living instead.  In recent years, these one-time dreams and ambitions of the few have become a normal way of life for the many.  Well, for a spell at least.  Recent global events, including Covid-19 and concerns over rapid climate change, have forced the global community into positive and, it is hoped, lasting changes, in an attempt to improve the health of the planet and the physical and mental health of her inhabitants.  With this dawning social conscience, some have opted to change their diets, choosing to eat more plant-based products and, to further reduce CO2 emissions, have started growing their own vegetables, resulting in greater demand for allotments or homes with larger gardens.  Others have ditched their gas boilers and opted for those fuelled by sustainable sources, while some have upgraded to electric cars, and many have ditched their vehicles altogether, opting for greener travel instead.  To support their employees, and to reduce their own carbon footprint, many employers now allow their staff to work from home, encouraging a better work-life balance.  Whatever the change, our lives have all been impacted in some way and, for many, this has ignited the desire to take further steps towards a self-sufficient, sustainable and more holistic existence.  It could be argued, therefore, that the draw to that lifestyle is felt more widely than ever before and, thanks to technological advancement and a positive shift in corporate thinking, has never been more attainable.  But how many would be prepared to give it all up for a life of total self-sufficiency?

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The Gathering: Poets on the Move

Never Mind the Rugby

We Gather: Poets on the Move

Poetry Performance, promenade at Richmond, 20th November

Part of the BE Richmond We Gather Programme

Review by Greg Freeman

To be fair, the rugby fans didn’t turn a hair when they encountered a group of poets beside the River Thames in Richmond while they were heading from the pub to nearby Twickenham.  On the other hand, they didn’t break their stride.  The poets, including myself, were from Poetry Performance in Teddington, a regular open-mic night which has run on Zoom during lockdown – and still does – but has now ventured back to its old stamping ground, upstairs at the Adelaide pub, as well.

We only not clashed with the England v South Africa match, but with the closing events of Richmond literature festival.  Our walk around local landmarks was not on the festival bill, not even on its outer fringe.  Perhaps it should have been?

No matter.  The walk started outside Richmond Theatre, where a few poems were read, crossed the town’s expansive green, surrounded by historic and attractive houses, before stopping by a gatehouse which is all that remains of Richmond Palace, torn down brick by brick after the execution of Charles I.  More poems were read, packed with interesting details about the old palace – the great fire, and the fact that Henry VII and Elizabeth I both slept and died there – with pauses while descending planes trundled over our heads.

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Rose Opera in Recital

Salon Culture 

Rose Opera in Recital

Rose Opera, at the 1901 Arts Club, Waterloo, 17th November

Review by Mark Aspen

Here is salon culture in style, the intimate soirée, sans salonnières.  Strip away that formality and conversazione and enter the charming 1901 Arts Club, the bijoux bolt-hole known only to aficionados of chamber music, tucked away near the hustle and bustle of Waterloo Station.  Think a miniature version of a Pall-Mall club, but where you don’t need to wear a necktie.  All is chintzy or bee-waxed antique furniture, comfy in a whisky-and-cigars sort of way. 

Originally the headmaster’s house for the church school associated with the nearby St John’s, Waterloo (a magnificent Greek Revival church; think the Acropolis with a steeple), it was bought in 2007 by the philanthropist, Joji Hattori, to be used as a space for chamber music that had the intimate ambience of a private residence.   Tonight we are welcomed by the genial Glenn Kesby on behalf of the venue, who invites us to stay afterwards for the aforementioned whisky; and then by Rose Opera trustee, Professor Alethea Tabor, who introduces the evening.

The programme comprises three sets of Lieder by Mahler, Richard Strauss and Rachmaninov, parenthesised by two pieces by the contemporary English composer, James Francis Brown, who is with us, an honoured guest in the audience. 

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The Valkyrie

Darts in the Ski Lodge

The Valkyrie

by Richard Wagner, libretto translated by John Deathridge

ENO with the Metropolitan Opera, New York, at the Coliseum, until 10 December

Review by Matthew Grierson

Richard Jones’s new staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle begins with a small fire downstage that, given safety concerns about the venerable Coliseum, is the largest conflagration we’re allowed. It’s a slow-burner, and in that respect rather like the opening encounter between separated siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde (Nicky Spence and Emma Bell). The burgeoning relationship could be human and affecting, easing us into the tetralogy after the pandemic rather than blasting us with the bombast that, as a Wagner novice, I’d anticipated. But instead the first act tends to be slow and, peculiarly, quiet.

The tone is also at odds with the sturdy, outdoor aesthetic of our ill-fated protagonists, with their sensible boots, jeans and tees, and the woodshop vibe of Sieglinde and Hunding’s marital home. I say ‘woodshop’, and in fact a huge ash tree grows in the middle of the self-assembly hut and right through the exposed rafters. It’s one way to juxtapose the domestic and mythic aspects of the opera, I suppose; but if this is a show home then I’m not buying.

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Stones in His Pockets

Check the Gate

Stones in His Pockets

by Marie Jones

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 20th November

Review by Andrew Lawston

Hollywood has come to Hampton Hill Theatre courtesy of Teddington Theatre Club, as two extras muddle through the filming of a costume drama in County Kerry, Ireland.  Over the course of two hugely enjoyable acts, Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones deflates every romantic notion you may ever have had about film-making, painfully plausibly.

Given that the setting is a film with a cast of hundreds, it’s appropriate that this play has a cast of two, playing dozens.  Brendan Leddy plays Charlie, a video shop manager driven out of business by a corporate competitor, who has packed a tent and left his home to “do Ireland”, washing up on the film set apparently by chance.  Ian Kinane plays Jake, a local man with a restless soul.

Both Jake and Charlie are played to perfection, two laddish men in their 30s who drink and exchange banter and ogle the actresses.  When we first meet them, Charlie is trying to wangle an extra portion of lemon meringue pie from the catering truck, and this seems to be his main goal in life.  They both begin the play apparently carefree, but it becomes evident that both are deeply dissatisfied with their aimless lives.

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The Dragon of Wantley

A Fundamental Hit

The Dragon of Wantley

by John Frederick Lampe, libretto by Henry Carey, arranged by Lindsay Bramley

Richmond Opera, at Normansfield Theatre until 14th November

Review by Mark Aspen

Take a bawdy late mediaeval poem about a raging dragon and a drunken knight, rewrite as an early Georgian burlesque opera, mount in a beautifully bijou mid-Victorian theatre, for a 21st Century audience; then you know you are in for a now-for-something-completely-different experience.

Johann Friedrich Lampe was almost completely different.  Born in Saxony in 1703, he was a virtuoso bassoonist, who came from Hanover with Handel to a successful music career as a composer in England.  Although now known (almost) as a hymnist, he was commercially canny in his choice of opera subjects for a London audience.  Pyramus and Thisbe, based on Shakespeare, and Columbine Courtesan, based on a another Ovid story, Cupid and Psyche, chimed with the challenge to then the endemic Italian opera seria, a challenge made popular by Handel.  The antidote was opera buffa with English libretti and earthy subjects and a tendency to parody the established genre.  Lampe’s biggest London hit was his 1737 premiere of his The Dragon of Wantley, a risqué comic opera, a spoof on the Italian opera conventions and a political satire aimed at the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole; just what theatre-goers wanted in 1737 (and arguably in 2021).  This was Augustan drama par excellence, but with superb baroque music.   Moving from the Haymarket and then on to Covent Garden, the production was the biggest commercial success at the time, beating even the hugely popular The Beggar’s Opera, which is far better known today.

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HMS Pinafore

Well-Oiled Rollocks

HMS Pinafore

 by Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W. S. Gilbert  

Opera Anywhere, The Players Theatre, Thame, 13th November then on tour until June 2022

Review by Nick Swyft

“We sail the ocean blue” …  Well, crossed the Chilterns actually.  Saturday’s port was The Players Theatre in Thame where Opera Anywhere offloaded its cargo to a packed audience, a rollicking performance of HMS Pinafore.

HMS Pinafore’s maiden voyage was in 1878, when its London premiere ran for nearly six hundred performances, one of longest theatre runs at the time.  Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas towered over the musical stage for the rest of the century.  But, who would have thought that 19th century comedy operetta could remain so popular in the 21st century?  W.S Gilbert isn’t well known as a dramatist, nor arguably is Arthur Sullivan a great composer in his own right, but together the pair managed to produce a kind of timeless magic.  The songs are the material of ear worms.  Like it or not you will leave the theatre humming them.

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The Ghost Train

Strangers Off a Train

The Ghost Train

by Arnold Ridley

The Questors, at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 20th November

Review by Emma Byrne

As Marie Curie famously said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” But can you keep your head when surrounded by the inexplicable?   That is, in some ways, the theme of The Ghost Train – if a comedy thriller can be said to have anything as grandiose as a theme.

The play was originally written in the 1920s and has been in almost constant production since, both on stage and screen.  The three act structure is an anthology of genres: a comedy of manners instigated by the overnight stranding of six passengers in an out-of-the way station; a ghost story; and a good old fashioned thriller. 

This production leans heavily into the spooky, and also relishes the opportunity for a bit of sumptuous costume drama.  In fact the entire venue pays homage to the heyday of the railway, and the Grapevine Bar is offering themed cocktails – the All Change and the Ghost-tini – that definitely added to the atmosphere, if not to the ease of composing this review the next morning! 

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