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Phantasmagoria

Thirteen Frights and Chilling Delights

Phantasmagoria

13 Frights of Halloween, Audiotorium! TTC on-line from 31st October

Horror Stories for Hallowe’en, The Questors, The Judi Dench Playhouse, 31st October

Preview by Thomas Forsythe

The nights are turning colder, but what caused that shiver in the warm room?  Was it the impending darkness?  The sinister ambience of the fading facades of the old building?  Or was it that you noticed the date at the end of October calendar?

Halloween always brings up conflicting thoughts.  Do you eat the centre of the pumpkin; (recipes galore are available!) or do you carve it out and throw the middle away (a quid for a vegetable this big is a bit suspicious)?   Is it another frightful transatlantic import; or am I just being a rotten spoilsport?   And is silly superstition; or is it dallying dangerously with the occult?

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Opera in the Ether

The Clock Strikes Six

Opera in the Ether

A theatre thought by Mark Aspen

It is said that in opera if somebody is killed he does not bleed but instead sings six arias.  “That few?”, one might be tempted to reply.  And have you noticed that in opera when anyone is dying, whether struck by some fatal blow or of natural causes (usually consumption), nobody fetches a doctor or calls for an ambulance.  They don’t even try to staunch the blood flow: they just sing.

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Virtual First

Scorched Earth Quenched

Virtual First

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 4th October

Review by Mark Aspen

With the exigency of the scorched earth policy of containment, the Covid pandemic has ravaged the world of the arts.  The theatre arts, drama, opera, music have fared worst; the visual arts, which need galleries to be open, has done slightly better.   Nevertheless, there is one art form that is solitary in its creation and fireproof in lockdown.  That is poetry.  If proof is needed that poetry has thrived in 2020, then Virtual First stands witness to the fecundity of verse, which, like a rosebay willow herb on a bomb-site, has blossomed in lockdown.

However, the ethos of Poetry Performance is that poetry needs a listener, that the page needs a stage, that the spoken word is paramount.  Its monthly readings at the Adelaide in Teddington had become the must-do for lovers of the liquidity of language.  Restrictions since March though have forced the poets around Teddington back to their metaphorical (we trust) freezing garrets.  Nevertheless, the garret windows have now been flung open once more with Poetry Performance’s inaugural on-line conversazione, an experimental toe-in-the-water presentation of two dozen poems.

Did it work?  Yes it did!  With a mixture of established work and new writing, the evening buzzed with enthusiasm.  The poets own works ranged eclectically from ecology to ecdysiasts, exhibited with éclat.

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Claire Lees in Concert

Paris Tunes In

Claire Lees in Concert

★Opera Live At Home★, On-line, 29th September

Review by Kate Cleeland

An exciting first for Britain’s opera-hungry music lovers, a monthly interactive on-line programme presented by former opera singer Helen Astrid was launched at the end of September, the first of the series showcasing the talents of rising opera star Claire Lees with her accompanist Dylan Perez.

Online listeners were treated to six outstanding arias ranging from Purcell to Verdi all chosen to display Claire’s vocal and expressive range.  Her voice was ravishing.  Opening the concert with Semele’s gorgeous endless pleasure by Handel, the audience were thrilled with her beguiling intoxication, effortlessly rendered; it was nothing short of an endless pleasure to listen.

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Ignite Me

Unmasked Voices

Ignite Me

Ignite Me Workshop Theatre at The Theatre in the Park, Marble Hill, 27th September

Review by Celia Bard

Notwithstanding the greyness of the afternoon with the first signs of leaves turning golden brown, the Ignite Me Theatre enthusiastically presented its latest workshop against the backdrop of Marble Hill House, sadly neglected since the 1980s.  All that is now about to change for with the help of part of a £4 million grant from the Heritage and Community Fund, restoration is now underway.  Marble Hill is on its way to being revived, its story brought to life and investment in its long term future secured. 

The House, an elegant Palladian villa and gardens, was constructed by Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (1689-1767), perhaps best known as the mistress to the Prince of Wales, later George II.  The Countess was, however, much more than a mistress.  She was right at the centre of a dynamic circle of writers, poets and politicians amongst whom included Horace Walpole, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, a close neighbour residing at Pope’s Villa in Strawberry Hill.  It was Pope who designed the Villa gardens for the Countess.   Against this backdrop of the now scaffold-bedecked house, socially distanced groups gathered, with their deckchairs, under the grey skies with a distinct autumnal chill in the air, to watch a group of dedicated actors of the Ignite Me Theatre present their drama.   

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Sleepless, A Musical Romance

Roller Coaster Romance

Sleepless, A Musical Romance

by Michael Burdette, Music and Lyrics by Robert Scott and Brendan Cull

WPT at Troubadour Theatre, Wembley Park, until 27th September

Review by Stephen Leslie

It was with sense of curiosity and some trepidation that I set out on my first trip back to the theatre since everything closed in March (including my own show Annie Jr, which as producer I had nurtured right through to the dress rehearsal).

I had the pleasure of being part of the socially-distanced audience for Sleepless, A Musical Romance, a new musical which was playing the Troubadour Theatre in Wembley Park, a shiny new venue I’d not previously visited.  It had in fact not been open many months before lockdown hit.   The Troubadour Theatre, with its up to 2,000-seat auditorium as well as bars and restaurant was built on the site of the former Fountain Studios television complex, which had live broadcast many well-known TV shows, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and more recently, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.

Sleepless, new show based on the 1993 movie, Sleepless in Seattle starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, had been due to open in March, almost at the same time as our own Dramacube production of Annie Jr. but was put on hold when the UK went into lockdown.

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Roxy Dots

Summer’s Apples

Roxy Dots

West Green Opera at West Green House, Hartley Wintney, 20th September

Review by Mark Aspen

John Keats wrote his famous Ode to Autumn on 19th September 1819.  He could have been writing about the scene in Hartley Wintney 201 years and a day later, when the “maturing sun” of a gorgeous late summer day conspired with early autumn “to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees” in West Green’s beautiful gardens.

How appropriate then that our noontime treat by the Roxy Dots included the 1942 wartime hit Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me) and the beautiful mood piece I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time.

Although this gig started with Roll out the Barrel, we certainly were not in a pub, but in the more gentile surroundings of the grounds of West Green House, home in the Green Theatre, where for two decades West Green House Opera has been presenting fully staged summer operas.  The house has had quite an exciting history.  Having been built by the controversial Georgian military commander General Henry Hawley, it has been home to a number of prominent people, including as the dower house of the Duchess of Wellington.  As the home of Lord Alistair McAlpine, a well-known advisor to Margaret Thatcher, it attracted the attention of the IRA, who bombed it in 1990, destroying the front façade and much of the neo-classical garden statuary that Lord McAlpine had commissioned from architect Sir Quinlan Terry.

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SEND In the Clowns

Tranquillity Sought

SEND In the Clowns

by Suzy Rigg

Review by Heather Moulson

With its Silver Birch Glade, Fisher’s Pond, King’s River Garden and Willow Plantation, the woodland walk created in 1925 from two Georgian plantations, now much loved as the Waterhouse Woodland Garden, forms a tranquil retreat.   Could then then be a better place to discover a new work focussing on those for whom tranquillity is a luxury, rarely achieved.

Within the garden is the Pheasantry, highly popular as a meeting place for those with young children, so it was very pertinent that this was the venue chosen introduce a book by the prolific writer and poet Suzy Rigg on the subject of autism.

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Playing Jane

Parlour Games

Playing Jane 

by Rosina Filippi  

Amanda Root Company at Landmark Arts Centre, 4th and 5th September

Review by Erica White

What a huge pleasure it was to enter the Landmark Arts Centre in anticipation of seeing live theatre after being starved of culture during  the pandemic of 2020.  LAC opened its doors for the second time this summer.  Firstly to host three weekends of a well organised and socially distanced Fine Art and Sculpture exhibition.   Secondly, as a fund raising event, to offer local resident and actor, Amanda Root, the opportunity of producing a work recently rediscovered at the British Museum and republished in 2019. 

This was a collection of parlour plays put together by Rosina Filippi (1866-1930) who was an actress, director and feminist.  She was the first person to dramatise Jane Austen.  She was an actress, director and feminist so it is not surprising that she was drawn to Austen’s works, especially to the strong female characters Austen created.   Filippi eschewed the proscenium arch and stage, preferring minimal props and furniture so that her playlets could take place in drawing rooms. 

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A Feast in Time of Plague: a Morality Tale

Eating Up Life

A Feast in Time of Plague: a Morality Tale

Reflection by Mark Aspen

Throw open the bunker lid and step cautiously out!   Being of a certain age, it is only over the last couple of weeks that your theatre critic has ventured into the real world as lockdown has been eased.   Does one see a world of fearful caution?  Does one heck!   Few trips around the Richmond area and further afield, plus two intrepid safaris into central London have shown caution is being thrown to the wind.  Many seem to think that the worldwide pandemic has flown off across the Atlantic, whilst others just have an inshallah mentality.

My straw poll locally estimates that only about 4% wear facemasks outdoors.  The one-way pedestrian system over Richmond Bridge is largely ignored, and the pre-lockdown take-over of the pavements by cyclists has itself become an epidemic, now augmented by electric scooters.   On warm evenings, Twickenham Green has become an alcohol and urine soaked rave location.  These are a few examples.

However, not wishing to cultivate a GOM image, we must throw aside the Grumpy bit and say that there have been moments of welcome kindness: those young people who smilingly step aside to maintain the two metres, the lady at Waterloo Station proffering hand sanitiser, the restaurant staff going out of their way to make sure that your table is far from the coughing crowd’s ignoble strife (whilst still having a riverside view). 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is portrait_of_alexander_pushkin_orest_kiprensky_1827.png

Which brings me to Pushkin.  In the early days of lockdown, I reflected that his play Mozart and Salieri could be an allegory for the way that these unusual times distort people’s views and actions.  I left hanging the thought for reflection that another of his short plays, A Feast in Time of Plague, is a play pointedly prescient in 2020. 

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