Here’s a short video…
Let’s prove the believers right.
As far as luxurious treats go, a great massage is top of my treats list. You’re either a massage person or you’re not. For me there is no other wholesome indulgence that quite hits the spot when it comes to topping up that mojo. Being a single mum, prone to life-ruining migraines and living with a non-hugging teenager, the prospect of some no-strings touching always appeals. 💆
So the ethos of The Massage Company, born in Camberley in 2016 and growing ever since while winning a few industry awards, really appeals to me. It’s a subscription-based service on a mission transform massage therapy from a “once in a blue moon occurrence” to a regular part of our wellbeing routines. This brings the costs down, and helps you enjoy a regular top-up just for you, so you can enjoy the benefits (better sleep, reduced anxiety anyone?) without feeling guilty or waiting for another birthday to roll round.
I popped into the High Wycombe branch and shared my goals with the friendly team. Although petite and dainty, Gabi the therapist was happy to indulge my “go-hard or go home” approach. Her Swedish style massage was expert, and incredibly relaxing, along with the calming fragrance ooozing out of the mister. You can also opt for deep tissue if you’re the hench type, or hot stones. I treated myself to an additional scalp massage which involved Gabi focusing on my temples and neck, gently pulling small sections of my hair which unleashed all sorts of weird & wonderful sensations elsewhere.
I wafted out into the real world feeling light as a feather and full of beans. And I was plagued by none of my usual headaches for more than a fortnight (and counting). I hope many more of these franchises spring up and urge everyone to put themselves first and treat themselves. We’re all cancelling treats and direct debits but this one should pay for itself.
*The Massage Company branches include Camberley and High Wycombe. To find out more, visit massagecompany.co.uk
Renting is no longer the preserve of the young, and like millennials, many in later life are turning towards the flexibility and benefits it offers. The appeal may not be immediately obvious to those accustomed to home ownership, but for a variety of people and reasons it can uplift your whole quality of life and be liberating.
Renting in retirement opens up all sorts of possibilities for people who may otherwise have been excluded from retirement living. They may want to pass wealth on to their children or move to a more expensive area to be near them. At Birchgrove, we’re 100% committed to renting in retirement.
Flexibility is one of the reasons residents find renting so attractive. Such is the case with Diane, who told us why she chose to rent rather than buy. “Flexibility. I’ve moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Birchgrove but I can move into a one bedroom if I want to. I’ve also got the flexibility to move out and into a different retirement facility if I don’t like it here. I really don’t know what my needs will be in the future but renting here gives me the flexibility to move quickly into a care home environment or in with my family without the burden of the house to sell.”
Another reason rental is popular with older adults, is many have already built their wealth. They see a lot of money going into the maintenance and repair of their family home and think that money could be put to better purpose. Perhaps into retirement funds that benefit the family or using it to enjoy a better quality of life. So, whilst some argue that paying rent is throwing money down the drain, the truth is this more applies when you are building your wealth. Late renters have a different perspective, they are working out the best way to disperse their accumulated funds and planning and preparing how best to enjoy their future years.
There are of course many advantages to buying off plan. Peter, a retired director, thinks renting his two-bedroom apartment at Woodbank Apartments, Hook Heath is the best decision he’s made. As he explains: “We decided to sell the house and rent somewhere so we could release capital to our children. What persuaded us to rent was we found people had bought flats and then died leaving their families struggling to sell their parents’ flat because people could buy brand new at the site next door. My wife and I fell in love with Woodbank Apartments. We bought early off plan, so we could take our time designing the apartment exactly as we wanted it.”
Birchgrove apartments are not for sale, so you won’t find our retirement advisors pressurising you to buy; they are simply here to help you think about things differently and work out what options are open to you. To find out more visit www.birchgrove.life or call 020 3929 5599.
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Q. Maggie & Ted sounds a wonderful play. Has playing Ted changed your understanding of Sir Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher? And do you think Ted was entitled to his “Incredible Sulk”? “Yes, it’s an extraordinary play. Brilliantly observant. Very funny! Surprisingly moving at times. The author Michael McManus was Ted’s Private Secretary. He has based so much of his play on personal recollections. So if, as ‘Ted’ I ever wanted to question a line or speech in the drama, ie ‘Would Heath ever say this? Michael is likely to reply ‘Well he did, I was there!’ Haha!
I once had the pleasure of actually meeting him. He suddenly arrived at a wine-bar/restaurant where my wife [Rosalind Ayres] and I were dining. He hadn’t booked and he and his eight young musician companions needed a table. With the help of the manageress, Ros and I relinquished ours. As we withdrew to park ourselves near the door he turned to us and, with immense charm and his familiar widening smile, announced: ‘Thank you so much. Very grateful.’
So that’s where I have begun in inhabiting the fascinating, and as I learnt, complex character of Edward Heath. Unexpected charm. I’ve much enjoyed discovering, too, how amusing he was. His comments about Maggie are often extremely funny, though sometimes with an undertow of misogyny and deep disapproval. I don’t think he ever quite recognised how very alike they were. Their backgrounds were oddly similar. I hadn’t appreciated how lonely a person he was, even early in his political career. And how cool and comedic he could be – his television encounter with Dame Edna (which occurs in the play) is a classic. When he lost office others termed him The Incredible Sulk. Really this came from the popular television character ‘The Incredible Hulk’. I sense he quite enjoyed the pun, even using it himself in public.”
Q. Do you follow British politics now? And how do you think this Conservative government compares to the times when Maggie & Ted is set? “How could I not follow current events and policies? Some things never change. Only perhaps ways of demonstrating attitudes and disunity. Perhaps there was more apparent courtesy offered in political exchanges in those older days. But in private, the attitudes of differing personalities, points of view, mindsets, jealousies were probably just as bitter, vitriolic, corrosive. Fortunately they didn’t have to deal with the pitfalls of social media.”
Q. You are renowned for your acting, and mellifluous voice – how do you take care of it? Anything you don’t eat or drink? “Well, thanks. I gave up smoking when I was 16, which I presume helped a bit! I’m told singers have a glass of warm water standing by in the recording studio for the occasional sip, to keep the throat open and relaxed. And an apple ready for the odd bite to prevent the sound of ‘lip-smacks’ on the microphone. I prefer cold water and a banana! Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been a great singer!”
Q. When did you know acting was for you? Were there any actors you remember being dazzled by growing up? “When I was selected for the school Shakespeare plays (Whitgift, Croydon, Surrey) I found I had an instinctual understanding of some of the verse and characters. Thanks to an inspirational English teacher, Maurice Etherington, I discovered I could speak the text believably and make it sound natural.
Actors that dazzled me ranged from Terry-Thomas the great comic performer and the superb actor Alan Badel. And on stage and film: John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. Later I was lucky enough to work with many of them. Not Olivier. Though I did speak to him on the phone when he rang-up to offer Ros Ayres a role. It seemed almost surreal when I asked: ‘Who’s calling?’ and he said in those recognisably crisp tones, ‘Larry Olivier!’
Gielgud gave me some wonderful advice when I was embarking on Peter Hall’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the National Theatre, with Judi Dench. ‘Acting in Wilde’ (said Sir John) is best approached with all the seriousness of taking part in an elaborate practical joke’? He was right. We found that the more deadpan and ‘earnest’ you were, how much the comedy increased.”
Q. I laughed at an interview in which you say you almost trod on the Queen… is this still your most embarrassing moment?“Ah yes, it was fairly embarrassing. At a Windsor reception I hadn’t realised that Her Majesty had suddenly arrived and was standing just behind me. I had backed, laughing at something one of our group had said – oh dear – I then turned and apologised to the queen profusely. Absurdly it didn’t end there. Some years later at a party given by Jeffrey Archer I had to edge along a row of seats in order to get to my own. Unfortunately I had, in passing, trodden on Margaret Thatcher’s toe. Again an apology. In Maggie and Ted I haven’t yet trodden on the wonderful Clare Bloomer’s foot, either by accident or design. She plays Maggie superbly and would no doubt improvise a characterful response. When I was fortunate enough to be awarded the OBE for services to Drama a friend suggested it should really have been for services to Apology.”
Q. What’s your first memory of music? And your favourite song? “My first music memory (if I could call it that) was my attempt at the age of five to play the xylophone in the school carol service. I hit the wood more times than the metal bars.
My favourite song? It changes all the time. Sometimes it’s Schubert’s The Trout. Sometimes, especially now that we hope the world is opening up, the emotional and rhythmic After Hours by Weeknd.
Sometimes it’s Half a Moment from Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s By Jeeves. I listened to it from the wings every night when I played Jeeves on Broadway. A genuinely moving ‘relationship’ song that gradually turns into a supremely comic rendition because of Alan’s brilliant staging.”
Q. What’s the most surprising lesson fatherhood has taught you? “That the fun and laughter goes on forever. Toby Jarvis is composer of everything from popular game show music to television ads, and the scores for plays by Ibsen, Sheridan and Wilde.
Olly Jarvis, criminal barrister, is also a best-selling author of legal thrillers, (his latest: The Genesis Inquiry.)”
Q. Having voiced so many great stories – do you read a lot for pleasure and if so who is your favourite author and why?“I read for pleasure, though very often it’s also for professional reasons. PG. Wodehouse, Michael Frayn, Christopher Matthew, Gyles Brandreth, Olly Jarvis are all authors who can make me laugh aloud – and also make me think. I’m grateful for my long association with Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories. Have just recorded five more for Radio 4 to be broadcast this Christmas. My favourite biographer is Claire Tomalin. I’m proud to have recorded so much of these remarkable writers’ work, either as a performer or as producer/director for BBC radio or audiobook.”
Q. Many happy belated returns on your 80th birthday. How do you feel in your ninth decade and how did you & will you celebrate?“Ros arranged two ‘celebrations’- a family dinner the weekend before, and a ‘friends’ dinner the weekend after. In between, business as usual. On the actual day I visited the dentist, and then recorded a voiceover for an American company. Should perhaps have been the other way round? Cold water and a banana saw me through.”
Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be? “One wish can never be enough – we desperately need an end to all the various horrors that are currently being visited upon us. This short piece, A Soldier’s Dream from the 1st World War poet Wilfred Owen comes to mind. He was 24 when he wrote it, in 1917. Killed in action the next year, a week before the armistice was declared.
‘I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big guns gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.’
Q: We look forward to the play in Guildford & lots of best wishes & thank you for your time. “Thank you, Liz. I’ve always appreciated Guildford. I came here in the 1960s to audition for the Surrey Scholarship that, somehow, I was awarded. Which meant I could go to RADA and begin to really understand what it might be like to be an actor. I’m thrilled to be back.”
Martin Jarvis OBE & Clare Bloomer star in Maggie and Ted at the Yvonne Arnaud, 12th-16th October. Visit yvonne-arnaud.co.uk or call 01483 44 00 00 to book.
Q. Hello! Which comedians did you like when you were young? “I always liked Dave Allen. My brother had a 12-inch album The Pick of Billy Connollly which I remember laughing at with my Ma & Da. And then repeating the jokes (that I didn’t really f***** get but were still funny), to other kids who also didn’t get it, in a bad Glaswegian accent.”
Q. Have you had to rewrite material for your new show If I’m Being Honest? “I’ve done a few outdoor & drive-in shows, so I’ve been able to tinker as I go, see what works and what doesn’t. Now I am making jokes about the fact that jokes in the show are a couple of years old which really changes the joke. It demonstrates that life has been in suspended animation for two years.”
Q. What were your lockdown saviours? “I had visions of having a nice break, then taking myself off to the Scottish Highlands when the kids went back to school…but no! I did manage to film a show interviewing celebrities while hill walking but people love to accuse you of breaking the rules. At home we did a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and Pokemon battles. We divided and conquered in this house, and I was banished to the garden. I dug a vegetable patch, made raised beds, I laid a patio… all in the first flush of lockdown, obviously, before my get up and go got up and went. I taught myself via YouTube. When it comes to practical stuff it’s better to watch someone who’s only slightly more qualified than you cackhandedly find their own way through it first.”
Q. Is it true you shook hands with David Bowie? “It was more than that! I was in Adelaide and was invited on to an evening TV chat show. It was live, and as I was doing my bit, Bowie and his band gathered opposite me next to the cameras and audience. Then he did his interview & he was easily as funny as I was. We had a chat and, despite the enormous disparity in our standing, he spoke to me like we were contemporaries, like equals, which was very sweet, if mad! The following day Steven K Amos did the same TV show and he got to meet… The Wiggles. So I won that one.”
Q. What’s your most memorable heckle? “To this day the most devastating heckle I ever had was in Sydney when woman just stood up and shouted [adopts drunken Aussie accent] BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! That really was all she was hearing.”
Q. You’re a humanist, right? “Yes. Humanists help people organise things differently. A lot of the big things in life; how we mark marriage, babies, death, used to be controlled by religion but now there’s choice. You can be altruistic and an atheist.”
Q. Any up-and-coming comedians worth a shout-out? “When work was scarce, I watched a lot of short videos. I do think it’s fitting that I’m made to feel old by the app TikTok, which sounds like someone pointing at their watch counting my career down. I have enjoyed Alistair Green, Tom Little and Naomi Cooper who are all very funny.”
Q. If you could make one wish for the world what would it be? “Wow; big question! That it be disease free. And if we can’t go for disease-free, can we just make the diseases we have slightly less contagious?”
For Ed’s show details & to book, visit edbyrne.com
Q. Your concerts look so joyful! How do you create that magic? “Wherever we play in the world, people start to dance when they hear The Blue Danube. Magicians use their wands, I have my violin and my bow. But there is also the joy I feel when I play my music. It’s real, and luckily, my fellow orchestra members share that joy and passion. And then there is this unmistakable interaction with my audience: we face them and they can see our faces too. You know, classical music has been composed for all of us – not only for the elite like some people tend to think. Johann Strauss, Mozart; they were pop stars in their own times. Music is my oxygen!”
Q. How have you coped over the last 16 months? “When a concert was over and we were travelling to our hotel, I used to watch baking tutorials on YouTube. So that’s what I’ve been doing: making cakes, pies and all kind of pastries for the street, haha! One of the most famous cake bakers in the Netherlands (Cees Holtkamp) gave me a masterclass on my birthday, that was a nice surprise! Nevertheless, I missed contact with my audience and my big family; that’s the nickname for all my fellow orchestra members. My saviours? My wife, our sons with their wives and our five gorgeous grandchildren. I am looking forward to touring and returning to the UK in 2022.”
Q. How did your father shape your path in life? “I was raised in a classical family. My father was a symphony orchestra conductor, all my brothers and sisters play one or more instruments, chosen by our mother. She thought the violin would suit me and she was right! No other instrument translates my inner feelings so well. My first violin teacher was an 18-year-old blonde girl with whom I instantly fell in love (I was five years old, haha!).”
Q. What’s the key to a happy marriage like yours with Marjorie? “The key to our blissful happiness is the 100% mutual trust, but also sharing the same sense of humour and giving the freedom the other needs. We’ve been married 47 years, we work together but we’re also still each other’s lovers. Most people forget but it’s important to enjoy life and laugh. In the Netherlands we have a saying: ‘Not having laughed one day is not having lived that same day’.”
Q. What surprising lessons have fatherhood, and being a grandpa, taught you? “Not a single day is the same as another. Try to enjoy every moment because your (grand) children grow quicker than you think. Besides that: freedom is the secret… they’ll come to you as a father or grandfather when they’ll need you. Last thing: I love to spoil my grandchildren once in a while…”
Q. Who would be your dream dinner party guests? “Walt Disney who said: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’ Next to him, the one and only true King of the Waltz: Johann Strauss. Albert Einstein because of his knowledge about the universe: Jules Verne and Columbus.”
Q. What wish would you grant the world? “World peace. Not to fight for, let’s say, one year. Try to make music… more fun than weapons!”
For tickets please visit andreincinemas.com
Q. Congratulations on the album! How was it born? “Most things become more apparent when you’re working on a record, so I don’t think I had a masterplan, I just wanted to make a record as I was facing a whole year or more of not doing anything, as all the live stuff had been cancelled.”
Q. You recorded in each of your homes, coming together at Black Barn studio in Surrey didn’t you? “In the first bit of lockdown, I was recording my vocal and a guitar or piano to a click track, then I’d send that to the band members… so there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing until we could all get together. It was very weird, and I wouldn’t say completely enjoyable as little things kept coming back that we could have easily fixed if we were all together, but it enabled us to stay working. Getting together in person though, was special. I’d say like the first day of school, but I hated school, so it was more like the last day, a real f***ing joy.”
Q. With your huge back catalogue you like to keep it fresh don’t you? “I’m always trying to keep my own interest and not repeat myself, which when you’ve been recording music as long as I have, can be difficult. The older I get, the less cautious I am about trying things. There was a similar ethos in The Style Council, I just don’t think I had the chops to bring it off successfully at times. If I believe in something though, I want people to hear it.”
Q. What was it like working with your star collaborators Andy Fairweather Low and your daughter Leah? “It was so easy and natural with Leah. We were sitting around the night before and I was playing this song on piano. She’s doing an album just now that Steve Cradock is producing. Even without doing the proud dad thing, I can see she’s coming up with really good songs. Andy Fairweather Low? Well, it was a joy to have him on board. We sang together a couple of years ago on a charity thing round my way in Guildford and our voices went really well together, so we’ve often said we should do something together.”
Q. What’s on the horizon? “My only ambition is to have more of what I’m having now; life, music, family, children and all that. I don’t have long-term plans because, as we’ve discovered in the last year, there ain’t no plan. As long as I get a bit more of this, I’m a happy man.”
For the latest news on Paul’s tour dates and releases, visit paulweller.com
Q. Hello Danny. It’s great that live music is back – do you enjoy playing the hits, getting the bangers out..? “I love getting my bangers out! Our songs are interesting and intricate enough that when you’re playing them, you’re concentrating and getting really into them. We did a tour before Covid, finished with a couple of gigs at Ally Pally and it felt… all right actually! Now playing live has a new meaning. Mind you, we’re doing a year of touring – maybe ask me at the end of that!”
Q. Do you know Englefield House? “I don’t. I moved to Oxford when I was 10 or 11. I went to school in Maidenhead and grew up around Cookham. It was a lovely childhood, mucking about in the woods, on the river, mad stuff.”
Q. Can you tell us about Oxford in the 1990s? “I remember loads and loads of pubs, characters. We had such a good laugh up and down the Cowley Road and in Jericho, at the Tavern, Freud’s and Raoul’s. Down Little Clarendon Street there was a place called Barcelona; I think I got thrown out for wearing pyjamas and acting really stupid. It was so free and easy compared to today.”
Q. Do you wish you kept a diary of those early days? “I suppose the beauty of mad off-the-wall moments is that you don’t remember them, which is sometimes the best way, haha! Some of those times were hectic and insane so it’s great not to be able to remember them. I’ve been writing my book to go with my new record so I’ve been reflecting on old times. I wish I’d written a diary from ages 16 to 20; how the band started, ins and outs. I’d recommend anyone starting something they think’s gonna be great to document it… Which everyone does these days anyway.”
Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Going through my dad’s rack of 45s, the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Rolf Harris. Weird comedy records. The first band I got into were Dexys Midnight Runners; that was the first single I bought. I am crap with music nowadays; I haven’t got a record player or good stereo at the moment. I don’t listen to music much, it’s more Radio 4.”
Q. Have you felt insular during lockdown? “I’ve kept busy, with my album and book. It’s about an ageing semi-retired rock star and how he gets bullied by his family! I’ve spent a lot of time at a beach house, trying to fit decking. But I know it’s been really tough for a lot of people so I’m lucky.”
Q. What’s on your rider? “Me and Gaz tend to have a few vodka and Red Bulls before going on stage; it gives you a bit of an edge, lets you go a bit bonkers for a couple of hours. Wine and beers. A good coffee machine. We’re quite easygoing.”
Q. Who is your dream collaboration? “Ahhh, it’s endless. I’d loved to have worked on songs with Ian Dury. David Bowie. Years ago I wangled a way to play drums with Paul McCartney on bass for a Christmas album. That’ll do me.”
Q. Do you still get compared to McCartney? “Not as much as when I was younger. I look really mental at the moment with my long, wild hair.”
• To book your tickets visit heritagelive.net
Hello James – thank you so much for taking time to share your thoughts with our readers.
Q. Congratulations on the new album, and the single out in June. You must be really proud of these? “Honestly, I am so proud of this whole album. I made the whole thing at home during lockdown, and I never could have imagined the difference working in a space I felt comfortable in could have led to me being able to produce the best work I believe I’ve ever made.”
Q. As someone who suffers anxiety myself, and a huge fan of CBT thank you for being so honest about it. How are you feeling now? “I take it day by day, I’ve found really focusing on staying present is the most important thing for me, I can’t control the past or the future, and trying to do so only breeds anxiety, so I focus on being in the present moment and just being grateful for that. What advice would you have for anyone going through a dark time? Speak to someone, you will be so surprised at the support you will receive if you just let people in, all it takes is a text to someone saying ‘I’m really not feeling ok’ which might sound like a scary thing to do, but by doing that, you are no longer alone. There is also an amazing out-of-hours mental health helpline by the charity SANE (sane.org.uk) if you don’t feel like you can speak to someone you know.”
Q. What is your go-to album or song to lift your spirits & make you feel good? “Got to be Real by Cheryl Lynn is my jam.”
Q. What is your first memory of music? “My early childhood memories of music are of rock vinyls playing at my dad’s (Thin Lizzy, AC/DC etc) – also Prince, Michael Jackson and soul music on repeat at my mum’s.”
Q. How did you feel about fame when you were young? And how do you feel about fame now? “I don’t think I ever really thought about fame when I was younger – the greats that I looked up to, I didn’t necessarily see them as famous, I was just so inspired by their talent. I also think the concept of fame was very different when I was younger – people that were ‘famous’ were very untouchable, you knew nothing of them apart from their art, and fast disposable fame didn’t really exist, whereas now, with social media, people really have an massive amount of access to a person’s life and personality. I guess it’s a necessary evil. I don’t think of myself as famous which probably helps me, and I’m so grateful to have people who love my music enough that would consider themselves a ‘fan’ of me, but if I could do my job without being famous, I’d definitely take that option!”
Q. How do you take care of your fantas1c voice? Anything you don’t eat or drink, or exercises etc? “I learnt very quickly after back to back tours that if I want to sing the way I want to sing every night I have to look after my voice, so I do an hour’s warm-up before a show and then a cool down after the show too. Even with that, if I don’t have days of complete voice rest built into the tour my voice completely cuts out for a few days, and it’s the worst feeling in the world as there’s nothing I can do to make it come back but wait and rest. It’s one of the most frustrating things about touring for me, so it’s a constant balancing act.”
Q. You have said you miss touring – having had some rest time, are you ready to go & perform live now? “I cannot wait! I’ve got some festivals lined up this summer and I’m really hoping they go ahead.”
Q. Is there an upcoming /lesser-known artist out there who you want to give a shout-out to & urge us all to listen to their music? “Shotty Horroh – I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about this artist for many years and I will continue to do so. He’s the best MC.”
Q. Rule of six time: who would be your dream party guests to hang out or have dinner/picnic with, living or dead, real or fictional? “Kurt Cobain, Jay Z, Elvis, Cillian Murphy, Ed Norton, William Wallace.”
Q. Do you have a favourite book? “My two favourite books are Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.”
Q. What were your favourite saviours of lockdown: i.e. things that made lockdown life better? “FIFA was massive for me during lockdown – I put my gamer tag on Twitter and my requests went crazy. From that I managed to find five guys who have become my really good friends. We spent the first lockdown speaking for hours and hours while playing FIFA every night. I’ve never even met any of them, but I speak to them nearly every day, and having that escapism was massive for me during lockdown.”
Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be? “I’d wish that people would be kinder to each other. I don’t even think that’s that big an ask.”
Q. Is there anything on your horizon or future ambitions you can tell us about? “There’s some exciting acting roles coming up for me, but I might get sacked if I talk about it so you’ll have to ask me again next time!”
As they celebrate their 15th birthday, Guildford Shakespeare Company are preparing to bring She Stoops To Conquer to life in the gardens of Guildford Castle. Rick Murphy & Lisa Dvorjetz review their recent live-streamed performance of Henry V…
Live theatre is one of the countless scarcities of the Covid-19 era, and during an exhausting lockdown, as the nation craves a return to art and culture, the Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) staged a virtual production of Henry V. Maybe the play’s timely theme, which reveres British power over Europe, reminds us that, for the last 800 years, history has been set to repeat. In a mere 75 minutes, the cast and crew transported us from the alehouses of England to the battlefields of France. But, can our modern video technology really compete with the grandeur of a theatre performance?
Watching Henry V on a tablet felt like receiving a Zoom call from the 1300s. The fifth wall was creatively protected by a five-actor cast who meticulously changed clothes, props, scenes, accents, stage positions, from the comfort of their own homes, while presumably entertaining hordes of neighbours too. This was a fascinating and novel experience because, as well as being transported into the homes of the actors, we were also “Zoomed” into the homes of other audience members. Performing a show online has the potential for losing a theatre ambiance; however, this production created a slight voyeuristic effect which allowed you to track viewers’ reactions and feel part of a shared experience.
Don’t worry, you could switch your camera off!
Historical plays are sombre, and they yearn for a strong fit between each element of the performance. Watching each actor on “speaker view” made the characters seem intimate and the drama immersive. In one night-time scene, Henry, played by Gavin Fowler, was considering his claim to the French crown. It was choreographed in such a way that the background images were dimmed, home lights were turned off, and phone torches were used to create a fluttering sense of firelight. Sitting inside a theatre means each poignant whisper must carry to those unfortunate souls in the back row, but in the ease of a virtual play one is invited into a dialogue with each character personally. This made for a stirring entry into their fictional world.
Gavin embodied the energy and focus that one could imagine the young Henry V to have possessed. Chris Porter, Emily Tucker, Paula James and Matt Pinches managed to transition between the diverse country folk and nobles by use of their colourful costumes and wide array of accents. Some moments were unintentionally slapstick, particularly where the storyline hurried along too quickly, where background images were cartoonishly bright, with one actor showing clear signs of dial-up internet; but experiencing the victory of the battlefield from the comfort of home, patriotically munching on popcorn from our own front row, made this modern-take on Henry V a welcome and entertaining experience.
Rick Murphy & Lisa Dvorjetz
To book your seats for the next outdoor highlights, She Stoops To Conquer & AS You Like It, visit guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk
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