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Young Writers Festival

Little Gem of Empathy and Escape

Young Writers Festival 2020-21

Arts Richmond, publisher’s release on 28th March

Review by Thomas Forsythe  

If we stand back and take a look at ourselves objectively, isn’t it clear that the pandemic has affected everyone’s state of mind?  This is no less true for the younger members of our families. 

Arts Richmond, the umbrella charity that promotes the arts in Richmond-upon-Thames, runs an annual competition to celebrate the many talented local writers who are still of school age.  The current competition, which closed at the end of December, just before the second wave lockdown, attracted over 400 entries. 

Having had opportunity to preview this year’s published work of the best of these young authors’ work, your reviewer notes that the mood has changed.  Gone is the humour: tragedy reigns.  The pieces are more introspective than previous years, and oddly many have a surrealistic feel.   But then again, haven’t we all become more introspective, living in a world, undermined by coronavirus, that looks more surreal as the weeks go by.

The booklet, Young Writers Festival 2020-21, which is to be published during the last week of March, comprises twenty-six pieces of poetry and prose from the finalists, nominated by a panel of Judges.  It is launched to coincide with the Festival itself, which takes place on 28th March at The Exchange theatre in Twickenham, when the pieces will be performed by the professional acting company, The Stage Company.  This year the event is a joint venture between Arts Richmond and Exchange Twickenham (the theatre’s managing company, which is owned by St Mary’s University).  Following the performance, the winners in each age category will be announced and a Junior and Senior Laureate appointed, in the presence of the Mayor of Richmond, Cllr Geoff Acton. 

So what can we look forward to?  What themes are tackled in the twenty-six published pieces?  Well, coronavirus and Covid 19 feature significantly, as might be expected, and another world-wide, and world-altering, subject, that particularly exercises our young people, climate change.   

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Virtual Fifth

Brightly Shining Imagery

Virtual Fifth

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 7th March

Review by Georgia Renwick

Cast your minds back to October for just a moment.  You might recall the mounting fear of a second wave of the virus that has so altered our lives, might have felt despondent at the growing possibility of a winter spent indoors away from loved ones, or resigned to once again having freedoms we once took for granted, stripped back.  Six months since Poetry Performance’s first foray into the online realm, it is where this staunch troop of Teddington poets remain, but the tantalising promise of lockdown lifting and a whiff of spring in the air lends a hopeful voice to this evening’s meeting.

In days gone by, as you will know if you have read previous reviews for virtual volumes One through to Four, these poets performing from their living rooms, would have been performing in person at The Adelaide pub, but they have settled into their new home on Zoom and the sense of community and comradery the group share is palpable.  There is also no keeping some members from the opportunity to enjoy the work of their fellow poets with a glass of wine in hand, which I commend!  There’s still always someone on mute, but such is the lie of the land on Zoom.

Virtual communities formed over the last year have been a lifeblood for many, and as evidenced by the volume of new writing shared this evening, a place for creativity to grow and flourish.  Confidence, too, can bloom even on Zoom and whilst some members are long established, writing poetry since their teens, others are much newer to the craft and to the group.  Regardless, everyone is welcome, and Heather Montford (tonight’s host) offers words of encouraging feedback and reflection to all brave enough to share.  Tonight’s featured poet, Eddie Chauncy, also has a few pearls of wisdom to offer to budding poets in his insightful interview with Keith Wait; a treat sandwiched between the two acts.

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Cart Noodle Show

Fantastic Frustration

Cart Noodle Show

by ShumGhostJohn

ShumGhostJohn, DARE Festival, Upstart Theatre, Shoreditch, On-line until 28th February

Review by Nick Swyft

Last night I went to the theatre in Shoreditch.  Due to problems getting there, I didn’t have time to look around the gallery, go in the games room or have a drink in the lounge.   Others were in there chatting about the Dare Festival.  I hurried to the auditorium, an usher checked my ticket, and I sat down in my seat.  I pressed the X key and the show started … by Zoom.   You see, I was actually over fifty miles away at home.  Watching a show on-line has become commonplace these last twelve months, but thanks to new technology I visited the theatre too!!

Putting on an effective show via Zoom is a tall order for any arts company.  Better known for their highly innovative contemporary dance productions, ShumGhostJohn (a collaboration between the London based Hong Kong trio, Shum, Ghost and John) took on the challenge with creative gusto with their highly effective Cart Noodle Show, as part of the Dare Festival, hosted by the Shoreditch Theatre via Gather.  *

We were asked if we had ever had Cart Noodle, and they didn’t mean those ghastly tubs of gunk, popular with students, the pot noodle. .  No, we were introduced to the original Cart Noodle as it developed in the street markets of Hong Kong when it was served in metal trays.

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Milly Forrest

Expressive and Charming

Milly Forrest

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 23rd February

Review by Claire Alexander

All live arts have been catastrophically hit by the enforced closure over almost a year now – not just depriving performers with their livelihoods and ability to share their talents, but audiences too of their passions and imaginations.   I for one have particularly missed the spontaneity of live music.  I admire how all creative artists have maintained their motivation, and practice during these troubled times.  I have seen many many ways in which groups of artists have come together in innovative and inspiring ways to support each other and continue to entertain.

Opera Live at Home is no exception to this ingenuity.   We were treated to an hour of arias by emerging soprano Milly Forrest, accompanied sympathetically by Ian Tindale on piano.   She was singing from St Michaels and All Angels church in Chiswick – a church I know and blessed with great acoustics, broadcast on Zoom to a dedicated and appreciative audience.   The evening’s compère was Helen Astrid, founder of Opera Live at Home

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Henry V Scenes

Marvellously Macaronic

Henry V, Scenes from Shakespearean Plays

by William Shakespeare

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 14th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Mark Aspen

The English can’t speak French and the French can’t speak English.   Patently untrue of course (well, except for some), but why let facts get in the way of fun, let alone in the way of a good story.  Across twenty-odd miles of water, nos voisions français have always been the butt of (largely) good-humoured jokes, while the other side of the water, we biftecks are ribbed à point.  Thus has it been for centuries, something not lost even on The Bard himself. 

William Shakespeare wrote Henry V ostensibly to report or recall then pertinent history of almost two centuries earlier.  As the culmination of Shakespeare’s sequence of English history plays it is epic, or as epic as can be within the constraints of the theatre, as the opening Chorus apologetically point out.  As such, it had to appeal to everyone.  So we have sublime poetry and knockabout ribaldry.   It presents history to reflect the Zeitgeist of the politics of the day (whilst cleverly being a bit double-edged in this respect), which pleases the upper-classes.  It has soaring poetry and patriotic oratory, which pleases the yeomanry.  It has glamour and heroism, which pleases everybody.   Then there are the groundlings; how does WS please them.  Well, there are the earthly rustics, the soldiers, Pistol, Nim and Bardolph, who provide the comedy (and it must be said much of the pathos).  Now, where does comedy lead?  Where romance and love nudge up against lasciviousness and, dare we say … sex, there lies a rich ground for comedy.   After all, Donald McGill sold 200 million saucy seaside postcards … and how many of us have “never Kippled”?   However, an earlier master of the double-entendre was William Shakespeare.

Teddington Theatre Club’s latest two-day on-line marathon was What’s Love Got to Do with It?, presented over St Valentine’s weekend and designed to be “celebrating love in all its forms (or at least as many as we could think of and fit into two days)”.  The event was designed as a lockdown return match for its Wilde Weekend bonanza back in June 2020.  This is getting to be a deliciously bad habit.

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Stephan O’Goodson

No Panic, No Fuss, Just Warm and Leisurely

Stephan O’Goodson

Live Lounge, OSO, on-line via YouTube from 10th February

Review by Vince Francis  

We have all been changed by the lockdowns and it could be argued that some aspects of that change might be for the better, such as moves toward more flexible working arrangements.  What has also changed is the presentation of live performance and the usage of performance spaces.  OSO Arts is to be saluted in this regard, transforming their auditorium into a ‘Crisis Kitchen’ and shifting the performances on-line (and, apparently, outside when that had been possible).  It is into this on-line space that I was invited last night, to enjoy the performance of vocalist Stephan O’Goodson, accompanied by guitarist Paul Stead. 

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Virtual Fourth

Pain and Beauty of Perseverance

Virtual Fourth

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 7th February

Review by Melissa Syversen

Set against the backdrop of a cold, windy and snow-filled night, Poetry Performance gathered once more for a digital evening of language and poetry.  As an ever-increasing multitude of Covid variations continue to keep us cooped up inside, Poetry Performance, like many artists, have adapted and moved its meetings on to Zoom, as their usual meeting spot The Adelaide Pub remains off limits until further notice. 

This was my first introduction to Poetry Performance, an ‘open mic’ kind of gathering where amateurs and professionals alike can come along and share their own poems, work in progress or favourite verses by other writers.  It is a bit of an odd feeling to have our first meeting be a virtual one; I felt a bit like a fly on the wall, but it was clear from the start that Poetry Performance is a group that is warm, supportive and clearly passionate about poetry.  After a seemingly never ending year of dreadfulness, and being but a month away from the first anniversary of the start of the nation-wide lockdown, a meeting such as this was quite comforting.  I think many of us these days have a need to be able to gather and share some thoughts and words together, even if it is via zoom.

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Cliff Zammit Stevens

Purr-fect Pleasure

Cliff Zammit Stevens

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 26th January

Review by Suzanne Frost

Oscar Wild (the cat) is curled up in bed with me for our Opera Live at Home experience, the fourth such concert since Covid locked us all up in our homes.  This time, the young tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens is singing for us live from Malta, where he is joining the Zoom call from the living room of his accompanying pianist Maria-Elena Farrugia.  Meanwhile, our presenter, the founder of Opera Live at Home, Helen Astrid, is speaking from Richmond-upon-Thames. The programme they have put together for us is centred around the theme of longing – something that, with is prevalent in all of our lives at the moment, be it for love or connection, like in so many emotional opera arias, or for pleasures that used to be quite common in simpler times – travel, seeing friends and family, leaving the house, breathing freely … …

Cliff also is eager to add to the list of longing a yearning for the stage, since like all artists he hasn’t performed live in a theatre since before March 2020.  Another common thread for the programme could be “Best of”, since so many of the chosen arias are proper smash hits from the most popular operas around.  It is comforting, after a long day of digital work meetings, to hear the classics, songs that are easy on the ear and wrap you in a hug of familiarity.  We start off with Tamino from Mozart’s Magic Flute, hands down the most popular opera in the world, swiftly followed by Donizetti’s romantic una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore, a proper crowd pleaser in a rich, velvety minor key, which hits that sweet spot of sounding sad but rather snuggly.

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Brothers

Sibling Rivalry

Brothers

by Matthew Huntington

Short Plays for Short Journeys, Wild Duck Productions, on-line

Review by Eleanor Lewis

In these trying times I feel an overwhelming need firstly to offer a huge vote of thanks to Harry Doyle, Sound Designer for Wild Ducks’ recent series of podcast plays.  I refer specifically to Brothers by Matthew Huntington in which two men are sitting in a wine bar – yes, an actual wine bar! – and if you relax and close your eyes you could be right there, in said wine bar, with a glass of something nice, chatting to other people at the same table!  Frankly in the midst of a global pandemic, I view this as a public service.

Getting back to the play in question, Dan and Simon, the Brothers, meet for a drink and proceed together on a journey of personal discovery over the course of fifteen minutes.  Dan (Luciano Dodero) has been trying to keep up with Simon (Daniel Wain) for most of his life, both are bright and talented but Simon has always been just ahead.  Dan and his wife are now struggling to have a baby, while Simon and his wife are on pregnancy number three.  Both characters are consumed by sibling rivalry.  Dan sees himself as validated only by equalling or surpassing his brother’s achievements

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Sofia Kirwan-Baez

Smoky Sounds at Virtual Midnight

Sofia Kirwan-Baez

Live Lounge, OSO, on-line via YouTube from 20th January

Review by Thomas Forsythe

Quite a trans-Atlantic day: it was the day that the 46th President of the United States was sworn in, in splendidly soulless isolation, in sleety-snowy Washington, around about midday.  Meanwhile, Venezuelan soprano Sofia Kirwan-Baez slipped in, in splendidly soulful isolation, in sleepy-slinky Barnes.  But, yes, it was some hours short of being around about midnight. 

Sofia Kirwan-Baez has started the OSO Arts Centre’s series of Live Lounge, interactive on-line recitals, recreating the ambience of a jazz club.  Here she was back in the second of the continuing series.  Dark drapes and relaxed atmosphere, all that was missing was midnight, lots of cigarette smoke and an audience packed into the space.  Tier 4 has scotched the packed audience, but OSO has recreated the shared experience by preparing a hot supper (this time Stroganoff), although you must eat it at home.  Who needs cigarette smoke, particularly on your hair the next morning?  Midnight came some hours early, but the Live Lounge’s virtual midnight set the atmosphere and the smoky sounds of Kirwan-Baez completed the ambience, with a chatty but intimate, relaxed but animated, style.  She had eschewed her usual black for a colourful peacock blouse, although the fun shades thankfully sat on the piano. 

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