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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). 

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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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Caliban’s Lament: A Critique

Caliban’s Lament

by Anne Warrington

Critique by Quentin Weiver

The whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Now here is an adage worth hanging on to when considering William Shakespeare’s most enigmatic, and arguably his best, play The Tempest.  Dig deeper and a corollary emerges when examining the play’s two most enigmatic protagonist, Prospero and Caliban, that intellect is more than a sum of knowledge.  Anne Warrington has done just that in her poem, Caliban’s Lament.

What is more galling than the Wiki-genius with a smart phone!   You may know your subject back to front; you may have earnt your living for decades on an application of its skills; you may even have an Oxbridge professorship on this very subject, or a Noble Prize come to that; but along comes the Wiki-genius.  You will recognise him: he probably wears a baseball hat (which reduces his IQ by 50%) and possibly wears it back-to-front (which reduces it by a further 50%).  However, in his pocket he has access to what he considers to be unassailable facts, “facts” from the Internet.   A few taps on the smart phone and out comes the pseudo-trump card to lay on your subject.   No one has told him that knowledge is far more than a collection of facts, just as a wall is more than a collection of bricks.

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Swan Upping

Clipped Swans Fly

Swan Upping

Retrospective by Mark Aspen

Coronavirus has claimed another victim: the annual royal tradition of Swan Upping on the River Thames.  For the first time since the 12th century the full ceremony has been cancelled this year.  Normally for five days at the end of July the river between Abingdon in Oxfordshire and Sunbury-on-Thames buzzes with excitement as crowds watch the river’s population of mute swans being marked and a census undertaken on behalf of the Queen.

Swan Master (Andrew Crowley)

The Crown has sovereign ownership of all the swans.  However, for the past four hundred years, rights over swans have been granted by the monarch.  The only bodies currently exercising these such rights are two livery companies of the City of London.  Nowadays, ownership of swans in the Thames is shared equally among the Crown, the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company.   The event is carried out from traditional rowing skiffs under the supervision of Royal Swan Uppers wearing scarlet uniforms, who weigh and measure cygnets and check on the swans’ welfare, along with swan uppers from the livery companies.  The cygnets are ringed to denote whether they belong to the Vintners or the Dyers, whilst Crown birds are left unmarked.  Previously marking used to by clipping nicks from the edge of the beaks of Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies’ birds.

SwanUpping Skiffs

A mile or so downstream in the London Borough Richmond upon Thames, Swans have had their wings clipped this year as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak … …  The Swan Awards are Arts Richmond’s local “Oscars” for the best in the non-commercial theatre within the Borough.  Normally the season runs from September to July, but this year’s coronavirus restrictions brought the Swans down from the sky in mid-March. Read more…

Wilde Weekend

Wilde About You

Wilde Weekend

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Overview by Mark Aspen

Only the very few see the sad sight of an empty auditorium in our locked-down theatres, thousands of theatre-makers itch to put a show on stage, while hundreds of theatre junkies yearn for their fix of real theatre.

6.-our-empty-theatres-criterion-theatre-helen-murray7

Real theatre is a living breathing, three dimensional creature, in which the audience feeds off the stage and the stage feeds off of the audience.  When real theatre is reduced to a screen it becomes merely a pale imitation of itself.  But needs must and we have all become accustomed over the past few months of seeing our favourite theatres boiled down to the small world of on-line entertainment.  The bigger the theatre the bigger the reduction, of course.  Nevertheless, I have found myself hooked every evening on seeing Covent Garden, the National Theatre, or the London Coliseum squeezed into the small screen … and have enjoyed it (as second best).

But what about our smaller local community theatres, the non-commercial theatre?  Read more…

A Florentine Tragedy

What Money Cannot Buy

 A Florentine Tragedy

by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Quentin Weiver

During that brief interlude in Oscar Wilde’s life when his mind was preoccupied with the gathering storm clouds of criminal charges, his prolific writing output was directed away for his trademark acerbity towards more reflective subject-matter.  A few months in 1894 when the impending prison sentence was almost inevitable, saw the creation of La Sainte Courtisane, his masterpiece Salome, and the languorous poem The Sphinx.  As another quirk that year he experimented with early seventeenth century styles and started a blank verse drama, A Florentine Tragedy, whose style smacks of Shakespeare but whose plot is scarily Jacobean.

One might speculate that Wilde may have been harking back to a period in history when his precarious predicament would not have been a matter for the courts of law, for during and after his incarceration in Reading Gaol for gross indecency in 1895-97 he never completed the work.  It remained unfinished at his early death from syphilic meningitis in November 1900, but the extant fragment of the manuscript was published in 1908. Read more…