Gold fever for Wargrave Festival

Round & About

Theatre

50 years on and Wargrave Festival is still serving up family favourites with more than 40 events making up 19 days of entertainment from June 12th to 30th as Ally Holloway tells us

Fifty years ago in 1974, many villagers thought he was crazy. The idea of uniting the village from the High Street to Highfield Park. They said it wouldn’t work.

The then Vicar, the late Reverend John Ratings, mused in 1974 that a village festival “would be a useful exercise to do something for village unity…” And from that, the first Wargrave Festival was held in 1975. Now it has grown into one of the biggest village festivals in the country. The festival is not-for-profit event, where proceeds go to local community organisations to improve the quality of life in the village through education, sport and culture.

This year’s 50th celebration Gold Fever, starting on Wednesday, 12th June, will feature a host of fun-filled family delights, dazzling formal events, spirited theatre and musical performances, roving culinary delights, a sporting extravaganza, a wonderfully riotous talent show, as well as the traditional Wargrave Festival Parade through the historic village down to the Village Fete opened by Wargrave resident Debbie McGee, celebrating all that makes up this splendid community. The festival will draw to a close on Sunday, 30th June with the popular family BBQ on Mill Green.

For families looking for a variety of entertainment this summer, there is a lot to look forward to. On Saturday 22nd, the Wargrave Bike Fest and Family Sports Day is more than just a bike ride. The 20km family ride will see parents and children cycling through Wargrave and neighbouring villages in search of checkpoints. Back on Mill Green, kids can pick up their Olympic Passport to collect stamps as they complete the 10 Olympic challenges including rock climbing, golf, cricket, rugby, martial arts, wrestling, tennis, rowing and more. There will be soft play for under 5s, an art & craft area to make your own gold medal and a BBQ and bar. The family sports day is free for adults and only £5 for the Olympic Passport for children 13 and under.

In the evening, there will be an enchanting night of dance, fun and family entertainment at Saturday Night Dance Fever. Witness inspiring demonstrations from talented local dancers including salsa, contemporary, ballroom, jazz, Latin and more – join in the fun group classes to learn some moves of your own and show off your fancy footwork. Tickets from £6.

It doesn’t stop there with a kids comedy event, Morris Dancing, a tennis day, the family BBQ and the Wargrave Village Parade and Fete and much more. The big finale is the Wargrave’s Got Talent night that promises to serve up some quality free entertainment, delicious food and a DJ to dance into the evening.

Find out more and book tickets online at Wargrave Festival 2024 Gold Fever

Alfie Boe’s Encore with Carly Paoli

Round & About

Theatre

Alfie Boe will star with Carly Paoli at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre on Friday, 7th June.

When Pope Francis heard Carly Paoli, the British/Italian soprano sing her Ave Maria as the official song for his Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016, he declared that she had, ‘the voice of an angel.’ A classical Brit nominee, lyricist and star of the classical and crossover worlds, Carly Paoli toured the UK with Aled Jones 2022.

Carly has been confirmed as a special guest on Alfie Boe’s forthcoming tour Alfie Boe – Encore at theatres around the UK this summer.

Carly and the Tony Award winning tenor, Alfie Boe first met when Alfie worked with Carly on her second TV special that is set to air later this year. With a broad repertoire to choose from, Carly’s set will include interpretations of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Time To Say Goodbye, Never Enough and O Mio Babbino Caro amongst others.

“One of the greatest joys for a performer is to work with artist they admire,” says Carly. “Aflie Boe is one of those people and I am thrilled to be appearing as his special guest on his Encore Tour.”

“One of the greatest joys for a performer is to work with artists they admire”

Carly’s star continues to shine and since bursting onto the music scene she has sung for members of the Royal Family at Windsor Castle and St James’ Palace, at the Royal Albert Hall for the Royal Variety Performance and at Carnegie Hall in New York. Following her concert at London’s Cadogan Hall, the critic David Mellor called her a ‘special talent’ under the headline “Nobody Does It Better.”

In 2016 Carly’s version of Ave Maria was heard by Pope Francis who commented that she had “the voice of an angel” and was chosen as theme for his Jubilee Year Mercy. That same year Carly hosted a very special concert Music for Mercy in Rome’s historic Roman Forum featuring Andrea Bocelli, Elaine Paige and David Foster amongst others. In 2023 Carly could be seen opening and closing Pope Francis’ concert for Humanitarian Efforts at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican which was broadcast globally to more than 55 million people.

A performer at many major sporting fixtures, in 2023, Carly was invited to sing the Italian National Anthem at the opening ceremony of the very first Ryder Cup in Rome.

With five chart topping albums to her credit Carly has performed live and recorded with some of the world’s greatest artists including Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bolton, José Carreras, David Foster, and Elaine Paige and will soon be adding Alfie Boe to that list of names! 

Breaking bard with Chiltern Shakespeare Company

Round & About

Theatre

Enjoy The Comedy Of Errors thanks to the Chiltern Shakespeare Company this month at Hall Barn in Beaconsfield

Chiltern Shakespeare Company was founded in 1986 by Michael and Aviva Wiseman, residents of Beaconsfield who were prominently involved in local theatrical activities.

Their mission, to the this day, is to deliver the Bard’s plays featuring some of the finest amateur local actors, and to encourage children to participate in plays, bringing the sometimes dry study of the text at school to life.

From its early productions in a Beaconsfield school hall the company graduated in 1989 to the lovely open air setting of Hall Barn, a stately home on the outskirts of Beaconsfield, by kind permission of the Burnham family.

The company celebrated their 20th summer season at Hall Barn in 2008 with their third production or A Midsummer’s Night Dream, followed in 2009 by Romeo & Juliet. In total CSC has now staged 28 productions, including the majority in the open air at Hall Barn.

A further key objective of the company was – and remains – the raising of funds for selected charities from any surplus funds generated by their productions. This is made by the efforts of the company’s members who give so much of their free time (no one is paid at all) and the generosity of Hall Barn’s owners who continue to host the events on such favourable terms. A performance at Hall Barn is made complete by booking a delicious picnic (with or without prosecco) to enjoy before the play in the glorious grounds.

The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins separated at birth. Antipholus and Dromio (both from Syracuse), arrive in Ephesus, unknowingly the home of their identical twin brothers (also named Antipholus and Dromio). Hilarity ensues as mistaken identities lead to confusion, accusations, and romantic entanglements. Through a series of misunderstandings, the twins and their servants create chaos until a final reunion brings everything to a happy end.

There will be 10 performances on the evenings of Wednesday 5th, Thursday 6th, Friday 7th and Saturday 8th June plus a matinee on Saturday 8th, the Wednesday 12th, Thursday 13th, Friday 14th, Saturday 15th and again a matinee on Saturday 15th. Evening performances start at 7.45pm with the matinees at 1.45pm.

There are a range of tickets from £15-£25 depending on your chosen performance and age. Concessions are available for over-65s and students in full-time education on Wednesday performances and on both matinees.

All proceeds will go to The Ducklings Trust, a charity set up to raise money for equipment and help improve the environment in the maternity units at Stoke Mandeville and Wycombe. This fundraising continues to help ensure the units are the best birth environment they can be for families and staff.

As well as organising fundraising events, contributions from the public are very welcome. To find out about The Ducklings Trust please visit The Ducklings Trust

Iconic film flies as magical

Round & About

Theatre

An Officer and A Gentlemen will soar into New Theatre Oxford from Monday 27th May until Saturday 1st June. Director Nikolai Foster shares his thoughts.

An Officier and A Gentlemen: The Musical follows the hot-headed and determined naval candidate Zack Mayo (played by Richard Gere in the movie) who has a fiery, passionate relationship with factory worker Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger on screen) before sweeping her off her feet in the soaringly romantic finale.

The film’s writer Douglas Day Stewart co-wrote the book with Sharleen Cooper Cohen for a musical which had a short run in Sydney in 2012, with original songs by Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner. Now, Oxford audiences can look forward to a brand new, perhaps surprising, outing, directed by Nikolai Foster.

“I think a lot of people associate it with being cheesy ’80s romcom,” says Nikolai when asked about the stage version of the film… “There’s nothing wrong with a cheesy 80s romcom – and we offer some tasteful cheesy choices in our production – but audiences will be surprised by the depth of this story and how moving the show is. It is genuinely uplifting because we invest in the lives of these characters and care about them.

“Audiences will be surprised by the depth of this story”

“It delicately charts the lives and experiences of working class people in Pensacola, Florida. In some ways these appear to be ordinary and unremarkable lives but the characters created by writer Douglas Day Stewart (based on his own experiences) have remarkable stories to tell. When you throw a load of ’80s pop hits into this world, it truly is uplifting and sings in the way only a musical can. The songs in our show don’t propel the narrative forward but express something of the characters’ inner lives and emotions that they are unable to speak in their everyday lives. The music heightens the emotions.

“All of these characters are seeking some kind of escape, including from a factory which doesn’t allow women to move up the hierarchy. In our play Casey Seeger is the first woman in history to ‘get jets’ and Lynette believes her only escape from an abusive, alcohol-soaked home life is literally on the wings of a naval aviator.

“This is a completely new production, created by our incredible team at Curve. Alongside original screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart we have worked with his writing partner Sharleen Cooper Cohen and the team at Jamie Wilson Productions to take the film from screen to stage. It’s been an exhilarating ride for all of us – almost as exciting in taking off in a fighter jet!”

To book your tickets visit atgtickets.com/venues/new-theatre-oxford/

Under Milk Wood Returns

Round & About

Theatre

Progress Theatre revives the Dylan Thomas masterpiece with a diverse cast

Reading’s Progress Theatre is bringing Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, originally conceived as a radio drama and ‘play for voices’ to the local stage, a full 70 years after the BBC first commissioned the work, one of its writer’s most enduring and popular.

The play, featuring myriad personalities, invites the audience to hear the innermost thoughts and dreams of the inhabitants of the small, fictional Welsh fishing town of Llareggub (try spelling it backwards!), as it follows the life of the village during one spring day and night in an emotive and often slyly comic account.

Thomas himself described his play’s lyrical language as ‘prose with blood pressure’, and the poetic voice that runs through Under Milk Wood is surely one of the most remarkable things about this work. Make that voices – there are scores of locals, and so, unsurprisingly, Progress’s actors are doubling up to meet the character count.

During the performance, we meet the likes of the blind, seafaring Captain Cat, the two Mrs Dai Breads, the Rev Eli Jenkins, poet and preacher, Mog Edwards the draper, the murderous Mr Pugh and many others. Then, of course, there is the treat of the lyrical narration that runs like a thread throughout.

From the outset, the vision for the Progress production was to make it as inclusive and as diverse possible from the audition stage (back in January) onwards. And doing so has long been a dream for director Ali Carroll and producer Liz Carroll.

The show’s cast of more than 20 actors includes those on the autistic spectrum, one with hearing loss, a wheelchair user and three adult clients of Reading Mencap, where many rehearsals have been held. What’s more, ages among the performers range from 11 to eighty something. So it’s a genuine piece of community theatre. Some are stalwarts of the Berkshire drama scene; others are taking to the stage for the first time.

Inclusion began with making the audition process as accessible as possible, and this philosophy has extended throughout the rehearsal stage so that as many different people as possible feel encouraged to take part, with additional support made available throughout the production.

  • Under Milk Wood runs at Progress Theatre from April 26 until May 4. There will be reduced capacity/relaxed performances on Saturday 27th April and Tuesday 30th April shows. Curtain up is 7.45pm, 4pm Saturdays. Book tickets here.

Theatre review: The Divine Mrs S

Round & About

Theatre

Jonathan Lovett reviews the world premiere of The Divine Mrs S by April De Angelis at Hampstead Theatre

Sarah Siddons was not only one of the great actors of the 18th century but one of the first modern celebrities.

Carefully calibrating her image she chose her roles shrewdly and worked with the best portrait artists of the age to represent her as a cultural icon – tragic muse, Lady Macbeth etc. She also spun herself as a devoted mother even though her chosen career demanded she often had to neglect her children.

As such her and her era are fascinating subjects for a playwright as skilful as April De Angelis who penned the brilliant Playhouse Creatures about female actors in the Restoration period, set 100 years before this one.

And yet… even though Angelis’s new play stars the commanding, twice Olivier nominated Rachael Stirling it is but a walking shadow to the life of dramatic technicolour lived by Siddons and her contemporaries.

Set mostly backstage at the Drury Lane Theatre we hurry through a number of vignettes involving Siddons (Stirling), her brother and theatre manager, Kemble (Dominic Rowan), and a host of quirky characters who pop in and out of proceedings.

Siddons is tired of performing in sub-standard romances or revisiting Shakespeare for the umpteenth time and yearns for something fresh and radical. Enters unknown playwright Joanne Baillie (entertaining Eva Feiler) who bonds with Siddons and writes her parts to die for.

So there is a lot of comic potential and opportunity for comment on women on stage and their place in the patriarchal society but the play never takes off and, for the first half in particular, it feels flat.

Too sketchy to fully involve the audience in a strong, engaging narrative; not funny enough to carry us along on a wave of laughter; and lacking the biographical insight to spark interest this is an odd hotch potch that fails to do justice to its source.

It’s a shame as Stirling certainly has the stage presence – as well as the plangent voice of the tragedian – to be a successful Siddons. At the end she is allowed to portray the actress as Lady Macbeth and for a few moments the audience holds its breath in a too fleeting flicker of what could have been.

Until 27th April. Box office: 020 7722 9301

Quasimodo comes to Wantage

Ellie Cox

Theatre

AmEgos Theatre presents The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

AmEgos Theatre is the first company in Oxfordshire to stage the magnificent musical – The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Victor Hugo classic tells the story of Quasimodo, who has been kept within the bell tower of Notre Dame for his whole life, but longs to be out there as part of the outside world.

When he summons the courage to attend the Feast of Fools, he meets Esmeralda, a compassionate gypsy who protects him from an angry mob.

At the same time, Quasimodo’s guardian, Archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, and the new Captain of the Guard, Phoebus de Martin, fall in love with Esmeralda.

Will Quasimodo be able to save Esmeralda from Frollo’s lust and anger? And who is the true monster of Notre Dame?

Using the magnificent surroundings of the medieval Wantage Parish Church as a backdrop to the story, and with a sweeping score and powerful story, audiences will be swept away by the magic of this truly unforgettable musical.

With some adult themes, this is not a show for very young children

All Performances will be held at Wantage Parish Church at 7.30pm from Thursday 4th April to Saturday 6th April with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.

There is a bar that opens at 6.45pm (and 1.45pm)

Seating is unreserved, and on church pews, so please bring cushions or blankets if required for your comfort.

Parking is in the nearby Market Square (limited spaces) and at The Portway car park – a five minute walk.

Tickets are available here

Calendar Girls returns to the stage

Round & About

Theatre

The true story of the Calendar Girls launched a global phenomenon: a million copycat calendars, a record-breaking movie, the fastest-selling stage play in British theatre history, and now a musical written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth.

Tim Firth’s involvement with Calendar Girls began with the original movie 20 years ago and along with his writing partner of the musical, Gary Barlow, he has reworked this new production ahead of an extensive UK tour. Tim tells us a little about the new musical and the inspiration behind its reimagining.

“There was something in the heart of lockdown that was all about time; about suddenly being dumped with a container load of it, about managing that, not resenting it, realising you were lucky to have it and not to waste it…if you were well enough to enjoy it. Of course, it’s only looking back that we can get that kind of perspective. For the pair of us it just presented as an inexplicable urge to DO stuff; to write, to plot new work and to re-examine work that already existed.  This led us to new projects; it also turned our heads back towards Calendar Girls the Musical. 

Now, by this time it was a good few years since we had written the show and there was justifiable trepidation in returning to the project. After all it had been in the West End, done a national tour and was due to be performed by many companies around the UK if lockdown finished. However, that UK was going to have changed. A strange sense of liberation came out of the confinement that meant, we thought – whatever you’re thinking, just try it. Take the chance. Have a fresh look. Take the jump.

Maybe we’ll never get that sense of empowerment again. It was like the bravery you have when starting out as a kid and feel you have nothing to lose. That was it; the spirit we momentarily regained meant we re-wrote like we had nothing to lose. In a sense we were led by the words of Dare, one of the songs in the show; something about taking a jump without the fear meaning you stand a better chance of making a landing on the other side.

The film is twenty years old this year, the real girls more than twenty years older but their story, like their sunflowers, seems to keep reseeding of its own accord; and when it does, the flower is always, always the same. It’s only the shape that changes.”

After opening to rave reviews in the autumn, the brand-new production of the smash-hit production Calendar Girls the Musical, written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth comes to Woking from Tuesday 26 to Saturday 30 March.

Calendar Girls the Musical brings together a stunning cast of music, stage, and television stars. Baring it all in 2024 are Laurie Brett (Eastenders) as Annie, Liz Carney (The Full Monty, The Mousetrap), Helen Pearson (Hollyoaks), Samantha Seager (Coronation Street), Maureen Nolan (The Nolans, Blood Brothers), Lyn Paul (The New Seekers, Blood Brothers) and Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle’s War). They are joined by Colin R Campbell, Andrew Tuton, alongside Jayne Ashley, Lucas August and Victoria Hay in the ensemble.

Following the death of a much-loved husband, a group of ordinary women in a small Yorkshire Women’s Institute are prompted to do an extraordinary thing and set about creating a nude calendar to raise money for charity. But upturning preconceptions is a dangerous business and none of the women are prepared for the emotional and personal ramifications they will face as the fabulous and funny calendar brings each woman unexpectedly into flower.

This production sees this incredible true story continue to bloom, this reimagined book and new music sees the show packed with unforgettable songs, bringing the joy to life live on stage. 

Tim Firth and Gary Barlow said: “The chance to look again with fresh eyes at our musical is something that came as an unexpected opportunity during lockdown and we’re both hugely excited not only with the shape we found, but also to work on a new production of it with such an amazing cast” 

This tour is proud to be supporting Blood Cancer UK, the charity dedicated to funding research into all blood cancers including leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, as well as offering information and support to blood cancer patients. Every performance continues to add to the millions already raised for Blood Cancer UK and prove that there is no such thing as an ordinary woman.

Calendar Girls is at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking from Tuesday 26th March – 30th March

Tickets are on sale visit here for booking links and more information.

Want to be in GSC production?

Round & About

Theatre

Guildford Shakespeare Company issues a community casting call for its outdoor Romeo & Juliet, application deadline March 1st

This summer Guildford Shakespeare Company are staging their most ambitious project to date and are looking for an ensemble of community performers to be part of it.

The company are taking to the streets of Guildford for a multi-venue, promenade production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

Swapping the streets of Verona for the streets of Surrey’s county town, the production will feature iconic landmarks including the Guildhall balcony, Holy Trinity Church, Tunsgate, the historic High Street and Guildford Castle. Audiences will move with the action, from one location to another, following the fateful story of the star-cross’d lovers.

Alongside the professional cast, GSC are recruiting a youth ensemble from local schools and their own drama clubs, and forming an adult community ensemble, to bring the play as fully to life as possible.

Matt Pinches, GSC Co-Founder and Director says: “We really want our 18th birthday summer season to celebrate everything that’s positive about Guildford. Our community is at the heart of everything GSC does, whether on stage or in our huge range of outreach and education programmes. This is an opportunity for so many elements of Guildford to come together and be part of something special.”

The Community Ensemble will help bring to life the pivotal scene of the Capulet ball, where Juliet and Romeo meet for the first time. This is a high society party where the movers and the shakers of Verona strut their stuff and where the Capulets are showing off the best they can. Performing will involve some dancing/movement, and possibly a little dialogue.

“If you love performing, or dancing, or just want to be part of something special, we would love to hear from you. No experience is necessary, just a desire to take part and buckets of energy.”

Casting will take place across two dates, 23rd and 25th March, with rehearsals beginning on Saturday 25th May. Deadline for applications is 1st March. Please note this is an unpaid participation opportunity.

Full details of all dates, times and how to register are on the GSC website.

Romeo & Juliet runs June 21st to July 13th.

Booking opens later in the spring. More details here.

Review – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Liz Nicholls

Theatre

It turns out everybody’s talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and it’s easy to see why.

With energy levels flagging and skies gloomier than Sheffield smog everyone’s in need of a boost at this time of year.

So it’s a delight that the award-winning hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has landed at Oxford’s New Theatre.

The opening night shone brighter than a rave rainbow thanks to star performances and plenty of laughs from Ivano Turco (Get Up, Stand Up!, Cinderella) as Jamie New, the indomitable stage legend Darren Day as Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Shobna Gulati (Coronation Street, Brassic).

The ”musical for all” tells of Jamie New, who is 16 and lives on a council estate in Sheffield. Supported by his brilliant loving mum and surrounded by his friends, Jamie overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness, into the spotlight with plenty of humour courtesy of drag queens and superb support from a star cast who are clearly having a ball. Their northern humour, accompanied by the live orchestra and fabulous costume and stage sets are sure to have you feeling brighter and full of hope as you strut out into the rainy streets.

Set to an original score of catchy pop tunes that will ‘blow the roof off the theatre’ (Mail on Sunday) by lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling, Dan Gillespie Sells and writer Tom MacRae (Doctor Who). Choreographed by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Kate Prince (Into The Woods, Some Like It Hip Hop, SYLVIA, Message In A Bottle). This ‘sparking coming-of-age musical’ (The Times) will have everybody talking about Jamie for years to come.

Darren Day said “It’s a wonderfully uplifting show filled with great music and humour and has a beautiful message at its heart. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

Following a record-breaking three-year West End residency, sold out UK & Ireland Tour and Amazon studios award-winning film, the show runs at New Theatre until 30th January. Watch the trailer here