What have you missed?

Liz Nicholls

Theatre

Here we are, a full year after lockdown was announced. Let’s face it, tempers feel a little bit frayed this week, which is natural, really, as we approach the final furlong towards (hopeful) freedom!

So we were wondering… what have you missed most over the last 12 months? Maybe it’s something you took for granted BC (before Covid). That coffee & cake break with workmates… Your routine hair appointment… Saturday sport.

Hospitality

As you know we’re raising a glass to our hospitality heroes with our R&A Good Cheer awards because eating & drinking while supporting our local pubs, restaurants, delicatessens is right up there at the top of our list. Watch this space for news of the winners soon!

Entertainment

Entertainment is another industry we salute, as we remain hopeful of the roadmap to freedom allowing us to enjoy theatre again. As Louise Chantal, co-director of The Oxford Playhouse puts it: “We miss our friends. I think of the scores of youngsters in our 17-25 Young Company, who were in their last week of a year’s preparation for their showcase production when we closed [in March 2020], and our long-standing amateur partners – Oxford Theatre Guild, Oxford Operatics and Opera Oxford – whose yearly extravaganzas at the Playhouse bring together hundreds of local people, from every possible background, to put on a show.

The Oxford Playhouse team, intermittently furloughed and each covering several people’s jobs, transferred all the participation and artist development programmes online (leading the march to digital nationally) and have worked with over 4,500 young people and community group members to ‘stay creative’ during lockdown. “We kept telling stories and supporting artists all through this crazy year,” says Louise.

Check out the Oxford Playhouse co-production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley, and upcoming highlights.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve moved on from what felt like the world’s longest winter to all of the joys of spring

Festivals

With a summer of festivals shelved last spring, the idea of enjoying the pick of the area’s crop of get-togethers this summer feels like a dream… Boomtown near Winchester is tentatively set to go ahead in August, with tickets selling out this month.

“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve moved on from what felt like the world’s longest winter to all of the joys of spring and the collective excitement to reclaim the summer for hugging friends and family and dancing until our shoes fall off…” said the team.

“It’s still a long and rather complicated road to get there, but if we’re allowed to go ahead, words will never be able to fully describe the sheer love and energy that will radiate through this year’s fair.

The team behind Reading (and its northern sister festival Leeds) are also delighted to have sold out all tickets to eager festival-lovers, with Stormzy, Postmalone, Disclosure and Liam Gallagher ready to rock after a quiet year!

So…. what have you missed? Tell us on Twitter and we will be here to celebrate all of these returning joys with you!!!


Share your local news with us here

Looking on the Bright Side

Round & About

Theatre

Sing along and smile with Farnham group in aid of Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life couldn’t be more apt for the times we are living in with the promise of better days in the not-too-far-distant future.

We all need a bit of cheering up, and Farnham’s Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice has been starved of essential funds since scores of fundraising events were cancelled to comply with social distancing advice.

FAOS Musical Theatre Group has found a way to raise both our spirits and some money for the hospice and they invite you be their guests and take a front row seat at their virtual performance of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Business manager Nigel Morley said: “Most importantly, if you enjoy the performance, please show your appreciation not to us but at our JustGiving page for the Hospice. You can get there by clicking here

Watch FAOS Musical Theatre Group’s entertaining performance below

Don’t forget to sing along!

Take your seat…

Round & About

Theatre

If you’re missing the chance to enjoy live theatre while the current restrictions are in place, help is at hand courtesy of the National Theatre which has launched the National Theatre at Home.

To make it available to everyone it is releasing one title from its back catalogue each week on the National Theatre YouTube channel to keep audiences engaged and with the hope of attracting new fans.

The idea began at the start of April with the James Corden hit One Man, Two Guvnors, followed by Jane Eyre, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night. More are scheduled throughout May. Each production runs for a week only starting on Thursdays at 7pm.

The National Theatre at Home say: “We have worked hard to create an offer and this free streaming is strictly limited to 7 days per title and we have endeavoured to prioritise titles that have benefitted from theatrical success already.

“We see this as an opportunity to raise awareness about filmed live theatre with a wider audience, and will do what we can to welcome them into your venues upon reopening. And we hope this limited online offer might also support your National Theatre Live fans in these challenging times.”

Take this opportunity to enjoy the theatre from the comfort of your sofa and when we can get out and support live theatre again.

To enjoy these ‘at home’ performances

Cornering youth market

Round & About

Theatre

Dance, theatre, yoga, music and making your own bedroom decorations are among the fun activities for young people at Cornerstone’s Youth Festival.

The week-long extravaganza which runs during half term, 16th to 23rd February begins on Sunday with The Elves and the Shoemakers. Meet Sam who is big on imagination but short on business knowhow until one night, two small green visitors climb in and start stitching, cutting and gluing… Suitable for ages 3 upwards, tickets £9.50, concs £7.50, family £30.

Get active with a series of classes focussing on movement with fun from 18th to 21st starting with a children’s art and yoga class, £15, for school years 1-6 and unleash your inner dancer on Wednesday with beginner’s Latin and ballroom dancing, £25, school years 1-6 – perfect for those with an eye on being a Strictly star in the future.

Thursday and Friday it’s the turn of those in years 7-13 with break dancing for beginners, £15, where you’ll learn the basics and then develop the confidence to explore your own style. Friday sees a physical theatre workshop, £20, in which you’ll learn techniques for creating a narrative through movement and storytelling which will be performed at the end of the session.

Award-winning comedy musicians Bowjangles will be putting on a magical show taking you through myths, legends and folklore through a portal in a cello case – where else? – to find a priceless relic, a magical violin bow known as Excalibow. Suitable for all ages, £14, and may contain a few well-known ABBA hits!

Join Yana on Sunday 23rd as she journeys through a strange land, all alone and far from home, unable to understand anything other children are saying and then she encounters a Yeti… This cast of extraordinary puppets  are out to show friends come in the most unexpected shapes and sizes in Yana and the Yeti, £9.50, concs £7.50.

If craft is your thing there’s also the opportunity to spruce up your bedroom for years 1-6 by making your own bedroom decorations on Saturday 22nd, £25, with collage, paint, printing and mark making.

Cornerstone also offers a range of courses for children and young people including theatre, photography, dance and young reviewers.

More info

For more details about these and the Youth Festival and to book any of the events visit cornerstone-arts.org or call 01235 515144

Oh yes it is…

Round & About

Theatre

Pantomimes are many children’s first experience of the theatre and what a way to start!

Dashing heroes, beautiful heroines and villains you can boo and hiss at, they really are great family fun for all. Karen Neville offers up our guide to some of the star-studded highlights and those on the local stages…

CHOOSE YOUR AREA:

Make no bones about it…

Round & About

Theatre

Ella Reeves reviews Lovely Bones at Oxford Playhouse

If there is one play you go to see this year, this is it.

I have just returned from the stage version of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel The Lovely Bones, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Melli Still.

My mind was blown. I am not one to be reckless with my superlatives, and this was the best play I’ve ever seen. It is the kind of show where you are not thinking about when the interval is coming, because you are completely enthralled by the performance.

The Lovely Bones was one of the few books I found gripping enough to read cover-to-cover as a teenager. The book is set in Pennsylvania, 1973, where the main character, Susie Salmon, dies at the beginning, raped and murdered by a neighbour. The rest of the story follows Susie’s journey in the afterlife, as she watches over her family, while they deal with the aftermath of her death.

When I heard the production was coming to the Oxford Playhouse, I was keen to see it. I was curious as to how a stage production could plausibly portray Susie’s ghostly presence alongside the living world, and how they would deal with the book’s complex and disturbing themes.

How could it be possible to convey that one part of the scene is in the present, then it is in the past, and some characters on stage are in heaven, while some are on earth?

The situation and mood changes were seamless, owing to the actors’ convincing performances, the suspense-building sound design, the lighting, and the innovative scenery. The actors frequently changed roles, which could have been confusing or overdone, but they subtly conveyed the changes, so it felt as if as if you were in the characters’ heads.

It was clear that the other audience members were as captivated as I was. Through the contrast of lightness and laughter with darkness and gruesomeness, a full range of emotions were teased out in each scene. We gasped, we giggled, and we had tears in our eyes.

The stage play was beautifully choreographed, and there were parts where I was mesmerised by how the motion of each actor slowed and sped up, in sync with one another. I wondered how many times they must have rehearsed to perform it so perfectly. The live band, which transported the audience to the place and era of the story’s setting, was worth seeing in itself.

The scenery was inspired. The backdrop was an angled screen, which, dependent on lighting, acted as a mirror of the main act, or an illusion between the dimensions. When the actor playing Susie (Charlotte Beaumont) talks to the audience and “breaks the fourth wall”, you could imagine that the scenery creates a fifth wall.

There was no weak link to be found in the play, certainly not among the actors. Holiday, the dog, was played by actor Samuel Gosrani, and was clearly recognisable while playing a dog, while also credibly playing Ray, Susie’s love interest. It is notable that Susie never leaves the stage, and despite her screams to her parents, siblings, and friends, she is in a different dimension, so they never bat an eyelid.

Oxfordians are fortunate to have the Oxford Playhouse, an attraction of such excellent productions. I went to see the captioned show on a Wednesday, which enables people with hearing loss to enjoy live performances. The casting team of this production should also be commended for their inclusive approach: the actors were selected for their role based on their acting ability and suitability to the character, no matter their race or gender.

Tickets are still available

For the Thursday evening, Friday evening, and Saturday matinee and evening.

You will not regret it!

Beer-fuelled Bard

Round & About

Theatre

Peter Anderson catches up with Stacey & Saul of Sh*tfaced Shakespeare which lands at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre on Tuesday, 12th November

A smash-hit, internationally acclaimed, award-winning, multi sell-out fringe phenomenon comes to Swindon this month presenting Shakespeare in a way none of us remember it from our schooldays. We all know about pre-show drinks, but what if it is a random member of the cast who spends the four hours before a show having the pre-show drinks? Welcome to Sh*t-faced Shakespeare and their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a gin in one hand, a cup of wine in the other and a flagon of ale in the other… What could possibly go wrong?

I catch up with Stacey & Saul from the group to find out this combination of beer and the Bard, came about. “We had one of those sessions where we all put our heads together and came up with ideas on how we can make the improv different. This was the suggestion that someone came up with. I don’t remember whether we said yes or no to it at the time, but it was a little while later that in a radio interview someone mentioned that this was something, we had thought of doing. From then on, we had to it, and it seems to have been well received as we are still filling theatres after some years.”

Is there a chance the plot could change? “Oh yes, when you are one of the sober cast you have to be ready for just about anything, from Juliet deciding she is not going to commit suicide to characters appearing in the wrong play which adds to the spice and fun – for both us and the audience especially. There are rules that we use in improvisation and these can usually keep the play flowing. The important thing is that we are providing something enjoyable for the audience, there is no question of deliberately making one of the cast look stupid.”

You are quite a close-knit group of actors to be able to do improv, especially with the additional jeopardy of alcohol, but if you could have a famous actor join you for a show, who would you love? “Now, there’s a thought! I think the one actress who always seems good fun in the things she does is Helena Bonham-Carter, I am sure she would be up for it and extremely good fun whether she was drunk or sober.”

The Evening Standard said of this show “There is no doubt this is a hoot to watch”. To get your chance to see what could be subtitled for one actor A Midsummer Morning’s Hangover the show is on Tuesday 12th November at the Wyvern Theatre

Want to go?

Get your tickets here

Reading Thames Festival

Round & About

Theatre

Photo: Cirque Bijou – Nic Kane

Reading Thames Festival returns for the third year with a new programme set to change the town’s cultural scene. The world-class festival is made locally, celebrating the incredible creativity of Reading and driven by it.

The four-day festival, which runs from today (26th September) until Sunday 29th, will present music, film, theatre, dance, circus, spoken word, and offer a variety of food and drink.

Taking inspiration from the Thames’ grand heritage as a rich source of creativity, this year, the festival programme addresses themes of change and transformation, exploring how music, performance and the arts can bring people together in times of social unrest.

The festival will bring together more than 20 Reading and Berkshire artists and organisations, including a new co-commission partnership with Reading University. A brand-new festival strand – Art After Dark – will be introduced by performer Janine Harrington this year, due to transform Reading for one unforgettable night. The free one-night event will present art and performances in public spaces you may encounter every day as well as secret, off-the-beaten-track sites and venues.

Among the highlights this year are:

never closer to midnight

Reading on Thames Festival and University of Reading Co Commission
Thursday 26 September
Time: Various from 12pm – 5pm
Venue: White Knights Campus, Reading University, Shinfield Road, Whiteknights Road, Reading RG6 6UA
Free, un-ticketed

A meditative, rhythmic outdoor live art installation, exploring the sense of urgency in the face of climate change by artist Janine Harrington. never closer to midnight will also feature as part of Art After Dark. Harrington’s practice involves choreography, installation, writing and performance. She is interested in game structures, play, access, neurodiversity and the poetics of movement practices.

Art After Dark

Thursday 26 September
Time: 5pm – 10.30pm
Venue: Various venues Reading town centre
Free, un-ticketed

Art After Dark is a new contemporary arts strand that will transform Reading for one night. The free one-night event will present art and performances in public spaces and venues around the town centre. The event invites you to explore Reading’s identity, culture and architecture, offering arts organisations, independent artists and curators the opportunity to present works responding to Reading and the 2019 festival themes.  The Art After Dark trail will bring Reading’s waterways, town centre, heritage quarter and University alive with artworks and pop-up performances in an array of locations. Art After Dark aims to be accessible for a broad audience, giving local people and visitors the chance to discover different places across the town and explore its hidden histories and architecture. The event aims to meet the ever-growing demand for night-time cultural events.

In A Wonderland They Lie – A Riverboat Salon

Friday 27 September
Time: 6.30pm
Venue: Thames River Cruise
Meet Point: Thames River Cruise boarding pier
Ticketed: £10 full price, £6 concessions

In A Wonderland They Lie is a floating literary and musical salon. A riverboat tour showcasing writers and musicians whose work is haunted by a certain spirit of place. Partnering with Thames Cruisers, this event will take place on board one of their beautiful boats, set to sail along the quiet middle reaches of the Thames allowing audiences to see Berkshire from the water. This intimate event is curated by the writer, broadcaster and film-maker Michael Smith.

Acid Brass Fairey Brass Band

Sunday 29 September
Time: 7.30pm – 9pm
Venue: Reading Concert Hall
Ticketed: £12 full price, £7 concessions

Acid Brass is the brainchild of the Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller. It is the unlikely fusion of Acid House anthems with the sound of a traditional British Brass Band, the result of which has received much appreciation from varied audiences across Europe and beyond. Since its conception in 1998, Acid Brass has been performed in locations such as the Tate Modern (London), The Louvre (Paris), and at many large popular music festivals across Europe. The Fairey Band is one of the most successful contesting brass bands in the world. Founded in 1937 by a group of employees at the Fairey Aviation Works in Stockport, the band has won every elite band event on the contest calendar, including the National Championships of Great Britain on nine occasions and the British Open an incredible 16 times.

Cirque Bijou

Saturday 28 September
Time: 6.30pm – 9.30pm
Venue: Reading Abbey
Ticketed: £14 full price, £7 concessions

Following the sold out 2018 Reading on Thames finale event, Cirque Bijou return to perform against the beautiful and historic backdrop of Reading Abbey. They bring the party to Reading with an immersive evening of the most contemporary of circus. Combining traditional skills and daredevilry with modern technology, live music and sophisticated styling, with beautiful, graceful and inspiring performances supported by performances from the communities of Reading against this backdrop.

More info

For full details of all the events at Reading Thames Festival visit their website

Reading Rep

Round & About

Theatre

A Reading theatre company is asking the town to make a simple click to help its chances of collecting up to £100,000 to boost funds for a new theatre and arts centre.

Reading Rep is fundraising and nearing its target of £400,000 for the converted building in King’s Road on the Reading College campus, a simple click on social media could boost its funds by £100,000.

Reading Rep is asking people to log on to the Persimmon Homes website, which hosts a £1 million competition to give away cash for under 18s to health, sports, education and arts organisations, and vote for the theatre company by 27th September. Cash awards of £100,000, £50,000 or £20,000 will be made to those winning the most online votes.

Reading Rep artistic director Paul Stacey said: “We are up against lots of different organisations, but we’d urge people to vote for us as Reading Rep exists to provide access to the arts for all, including some of Reading’s most disadvantaged children.

“We currently perform in a small 50-seater space and the new theatre/arts and community centre will take us up to around 160 seats.”

Nick Thompson, executive producer, said: “We are very excited for our plans – the building to be converted is a 1920s’ former Salvation Army Hall which has massive potential. The benefits to theatre-goers will be immense – and crucially the space will include a permanent education and learning centre allowing disadvantaged children to access our work.”

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes Thames Valley said: “Persimmon Homes is delighted to be joining forces with Team GB – the British Olympic Association – to give away over £1 million to help children in England, Wales and Scotland. 
 
“As an official partner of Team GB, we are extremely proud to be supporting the organisation in the run up to, and beyond, the next Olympic Games in Tokyo. 
 
“Building Futures, supported by Team GB, comes on the back of our hugely successful Healthy Communities competition, which in 2018 gave away more than £600,000 to support youth sport.”

The website is Persimmon Homes and people can vote once each day.

Mr Stacey added: “It takes such a short time to vote but the difference our new centre would make to the arts scene in Reading is vast. We’d like to thank everyone who has voted so far. Why not make a note in your diary to vote for us every morning and evening until the closing date?”

The voting closes at midnight on 27th September.

Reading Rep hopes to begin the conversion of the building soon with the aim of opening in spring 2020.

Get involved

Vote for Reading Rep here

Brian Blessed

Round & About

Theatre

Peter Anderson chats to Brian Blessed, director of Towards Zero at the Mill At Sonning about meeting Agatha Christie and more…

‘A murder is the culmination of a lot of different circumstances all converging at a given time, at a given point. It’s Zero Hour.” So says Superintendent Battle in Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero.

The play begins with the shipping forecast, but the weather does not suddenly happen – it is the result of many influences and other events, in the same way murder does not just happen. Towards Zero is the current play at the Mill at Sonning, and the team are pleased that Brian Blessed, is once again directing one of Christie’s plays.

The “Queen of Crime” wrote it in 1944, when Agatha was married to Max Mallowan and living at Winterbrook, near Cholsey. But it was just over a decade later when a young Brian Blessed met Agatha Christie.

He was just starting his first job at Nottingham Playhouse where they ran a fortnightly repertory company under the artistic director Val May (who was later the artistic director of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre at Guildford) for the princely sum of £4-19-6 per week.

Agatha Christie was putting on Spiders Web at the Theatre Royal and came to the Playhouse for a look around. In those days the Stage Door opened on to the street.

Agatha and Brian often met up during the following three weeks. She helped him source some props he needed and told him some of her wishes about how her plays should be staged. Some of these, all these years later, Brian has remembered and used at The Mill, including the suit of armour that came to life. Towards Zero was Agatha’s favourite play, he recalls, and that of her good friend Robert Graves, the author of I Claudius.

Sometimes, either before or after their meetings, she was not going back to the theatre but to the police station to see if there had been any interesting murders! She described her meetings with him as relaxing which, for a lady who said that sometimes her head felt like a house where a light was on in at least one room 24 hours a day, must have been a blessing. Sadly, for Brian, her one gift to him apart from the advice a small radio covered in red velvet was taken from his bedsit.

As to what the audience can expect at the Mill, period music and the perpetual ticking of many different clocks as we head to the zero hour. Agatha was not Bran’s only source of advice, for Superintendent Battle, he went back to one of his early television roles – PC “Fancy” Smith on Z Cars.

Get tickets

Towards Zero runs until Saturday, 28th September; visit their website for tickets