Allelujah all! Christmas concert in Bracknell

Round & About

Christmas Berkshire

Music-lovers can enjoy the dulcet tones of Thames Voyces at their annual visit to St Joseph’s Church in the centre of Bracknell at 7.30pm on Saturday, 15th December

Thames Voyces will sing a selection of seasonal choral music and audiences can also enjoy readings, and carols (some with audience participation) from 7.30pm. Some seasonal refreshments will also be served in the interval if your singing comes up to scratch! The choir will be under the baton of musical director, Nick Austin, and accompanied by Ben Giddens.

The choir will present Christmas music from across the centuries, from cradle songs such as the Coventry Carol and Away in a Manger, to more celebratory music such as Deck the Halls and perhaps the fastest one-horse open sleigh in Berkshire! What better way to start your Christmas with one of Berkshire’s top chamber choirs?

Thames Voyces rehearse in the splendid surroundings of the Recital Room in South Hill Park on Tuesday evenings. They continually strive to give high quality concerts in the Bracknell area, regularly performing concerts in Binfield and Crowthorne, as well as what is becoming their annual carol concert at St Joseph’s.

The choir are grateful for St Joseph’s for kindly hosting the concert and, following the concert, there will be a retiring collection to assist the work that St Joseph’s undertakes, in association with other Bracknell churches, to assist the homeless and those in need this festive season.

For further information on this concert and others in Crowthorne and Binfield next year, please visit  

Shining example: Twyford Christmas Tree Festival

Round & About

Christmas Berkshire

Between Thursday, 6th and Sunday, 9th December everyone’s invited to the Christmas Tree Festival at St Mary’s Church in Twyford.

This is the fifth biannual event of its kind with trees provided and decorated by local organisations, voluntary groups and businesses.

The festival opens on Thursday, 6th December, and runs daily until Sunday, 9th with St Mary’s doors open 10am-4.30pm. On Friday, 7th the church will stay open until 9pm to accommodate visitors to the always popular Twyford Street Fayre. Admission is free at all times. Refreshments are available throughout the festival with a special Christmas tea and entertainment on Sunday 9th until 4pm.

On Friday evening the entertainment includes Reading Accordion Group, Twyford Handbell Ringers and the Work in Progress barbershop quartet.

At 2pm on Saturday, 8th December, Berkshire Recorder Consort will entertain, followed by the Avenue Acapella Group until 4pm. One of the festival highlights will be a Taste of Christmas concert on Saturday 8th at 7.30pm. On Sunday 9th, by popular request, Bonnie The Bubble Lady will return followed by Twyford Glee Club at 2pm. The climax on Sunday is a carol service at 4.30pm.

Concert tickets £10 for adults, £5 children from the Floor Store in the High Street on 0118 934 3328.

Broadway beauty: Guys & Dolls

Round & About

Christmas Berkshire

The Mill at Sonning’s Christmas musical this year could almost be described as a Fairytale of New York, writes Peter Anderson.

Guys & Dolls is a Frank Loesser musical based on the characters of Damon Runyan who themselves were based on real New Yorkers.

Meet gamblers, petty crooks, nightclub singers, as well as strait-laced missionaries, who will delight and beguile you.

Joseph Pitcher returns once again to the Mill as director, and he tells me he has quite the background for musicals. “I was drawn to theatre from a very young age and gained experience as a performer in local amateur and youth theatre productions,” he says. “At the age of 18 I moved to London to train as a dancer. After graduating I spent several years appearing West End musicals before retraining on a straight acting course at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which led me to work at the national, the RSC and in several of the UK’s leading regional theatres, including the Mill at Sonning where I now regularly direct.

“Alongside performing I had always directed and choreographed in a ‘let’s do the show right here, right now’ type way.”

I wondered what Joseph’s early memories of seeing plays and musicals were. “I have very clear memories of my mum taking me to an amateur version of Grease when I was about seven or eight. I was mesmerised! But the first West End show I saw was Joseph & the Technicolour Dream Coat at the Palladium. And the first show that had a real impact on me in terms of wanting to become a director one day was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was directed by Matthew Warchus, who many years later was my boss at Matilda!”

So, what can we expect from Guys & Dolls, and does performing in more of an amphitheatre make a difference? Joseph says: “We’re hoping to bring a little bit of Broadway to Sonning! An exciting reimagining of a classic musical, vibrant characterisations by West End performers and beautifully orchestrated arrangements of some wonderful songs.” Each performance space presents different challenges, but along with those challenges come opportunities. I wouldn’t say I really have a preference. Working in the semi-round is great in terms of how immersed the audience are in the action but you have to have a constant eye on making sure everyone feels involved.”

Guys & Dolls has it all – glamour, fun, romance, dazzling dance numbers, stunning costumes and some of the greatest show tunes ever including Luck be a Lady and Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat. For your chance to see the show, which runs until February 23rd, please go to

Mr Tumble talks to us

Round & About

Christmas Berkshire

Peter Anderson chats to children’s TV star Justin Fletcher MBE, 48, ahead of another star turn delighting families as we hit pantomime season.

Q. What inspired you to go into acting? “I have always been interested in acting and drama, including making my own animated short films when I was younger with my dad’s Super 8 camera. I was born in – and have always lived in – the Reading area and went to drama school in Guildford. A chance meeting with Philip Scofield led me to asking him how I might get into BBC children’s television. He said ‘make a showreel’, and so I did! Having experience with the Super 8 was a great help. Now I have my own production company and am still loving my children’s television work.”

Q. Who were your inspirations? “One of the people I always wanted to appear with was David Suchet, whose career was also launched in Berkshire [at The Watermill in Newbury]. But one of my real loves – and obviously great for pantomime – is slapstick. I adore watching Laurel & Hardy and their looks directly to camera. I was blessed to have been taught slapstick by Jack Tripp, who is sadly no longer with us. He was considered one of, if not the best pantomime dame in this country.”

Q. How do you think children see your character within this year’s pantomime, at Reading’s Hexagon? “Although I am known and billed as ‘CBBC’s Mr Tumble’, I probably take on more than 20 roles across the programmes I make. But it is very important for the children to understand within the pantomime [Aladdin] who my character is. So, every performance we always have fun with the children about who I am as a character in the pantomime, and get them on-side to help me through the rest of the show.”

Q. Do you enjoy doing panto? “I always enjoy doing pantomimes, in the same way I enjoyed going to the Hexagon as a child in the 1980s to watch them. Aside from, as I said, slapstick being one of my favourite kinds of theatre, it is a marvellous way to get people – especially families – to go to the theatre. Pantomime is one of those things that can be enjoyed by the whole family, parents and children. Then if we can get them coming to pantomimes as they grow older they may wish to try other types of show.”

l Justin is patron of local charity Make A Wish foundation:

Click here for more interviews.

Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Christmas Berkshire

Your local theatres have a stockingful of pantomimes to delight family audiences. Liz Nicholls rounds up some star-studded highlights to enjoy at a theatre near you this winter…

Pantomime elicits some very strong feelings. But, love it or loathe it, the art form – a beanstalk-like offshoot of the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition – often represents youngsters’ first 
taste of theatre. And, here we are at the end of 2018, with theatres and stars near you preparing to give the year the happy ending this year needs.

Speaking of beanstalks, Jack & The Beanstalk is the choice of pantomime at Newbury’s Corn Exchange – you could say a rather apt place considering its original use… Playing the comedy role of Billy Bumpkin, a favourite of Newbury and the panto there, Matthew Grace says: “I’m so excited to be back at the Corn Exchange for what will be my eighth pantomime. Jack & The Beanstalk is packed with hilarious jokes, brilliant songs and amazing dance routines – I dare anyone in the audience to find something they won’t absolutely love”. The pantomime runs until 6th January. Book at

A trip, eastwards down the M4 to Reading and The Hexagon takes us on a magic carpet ride to the mystical east with Aladdin. Reading panto legends Paul Morse and CBBC’s Justin Fletcher are joined by David J Higgins as the dastardly Abanazar and Sophie Ayers as The Princess. Read our interview with Justin this month. Aladdin runs from 8th December to 6th January;

Whilst at Bracknell Ice Rink, Aladdin forsakes the carpet for ice skates. This is a real community event, performed entirely by a cast of talented young skaters drawn from Bracknell Ice Skating Club who will recreate all the magic of the East with flying jumps, dizzying spins and energetic dance routines. With colourful costumes and the creative choreography of show co-ordinator Jacqui Adams, this will be a visual extravaganza for all ages. The cast includes British Champion ice dancer Adam Bouaziz as Prince Nike and, as Wishee Washee, international gold medallist Max Hall, who had a skating role in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The festival runs 12th-16th December and will raise funds for Sebastian’s Action Trust. Visit

Immersion Theatre are producing the pantomime at Henley’s Kenton Theatre and this year it’s Dick Whittington. Though this is only the second time for Immersion, James Tobias, who plays the cat, has had many memorable shows here, including one year, during a run of Peter Pan when he proposed to his girlfriend on stage… and they are still living happily ever after! Dick Whittington, 15th-29th December, is followed by Aladdin, produced by Henley Children’s Theatre, 31st December to 5th January. Visit
Over at Theatre Royal Windsor Dick Whittington will celebrate 80 years of traditional pantomime fun with the help of Anne Hegerty (AKA “The Governess” from The Chase), Basil Brush, DJ Mike Read and comic Kevin Cruise, along with resident dame Steven Blakeley who will don a frock for his 10th year! Catch Dick Whittington up until Sunday, 6th January; to book call 01753 853888 or visit

The streets will be paved with gold on the way to Bracknell’s South Hill Park as their in-house panto is Dick Whittington & His Cat, written by Joyce Branagh (sister of Sir Kenneth) sees the return of Bracknell’s favourite Dame, Brad Clapson. From 30th November to 5th January; Meanwhile, at the Alan Cornish Theatre in Woodley’s Oakwood Centre, Berzerk Productions present a new production of The Snow Queen, 12th-16th December. Visit

And Princes Hall Theatre in Aldershot invite you to be their guest with Beauty & the Beast – their “most spectacular pantomime yet” – between Friday, 7th and Monday, 31st December; call 01252 329 155 or visit

While Basingstoke’s Anvil Arts’ pantomime this year is Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs between Thursday, 13th December and Sunday, 6th January; call 01256 844244 or visit

Happy holidays!