Eastern Branch

The Eastern Branch welcomes enquiries from budding and new group organisers to our existing family of over 90 members in the Branch which covers Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Norfolk, Suffolk and the London post code areas of London E, N and NW.

 

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

MEMBERS IMPORTANT NOTICE:

All Members, please advise the Membership Secretary if your email contact details have changed since you first joined the AGTO - this is most important for continued contact and Membership updates.

 

The Branch Committee

Enid Pamment, Chair - telephone: 01462 851397

Committee:

Joan Hanks - Branch Director

Maria Maltby - Secretary

Linda Nicholas - Treasurer

Yvonne Hodson - Editor Eastwise

Maureen Hardingham, committee member


'Eastwise' - Our Branch Publication for Members

Our quarterly newsletter which holds our news, photos, trips, gossip, tips and much more is called 'Eastwise' and is produced with content provided by our members. 

 Editor -Yvonne Hodson

 

AGTO Showcase Weekend 2017 Familiarisation Trip

Everyone seemed to enjoy their chosen fam trip during the weekend. I chose the one to the three famous gardens i.e. Ness Park, Tatton Park and Arley Hall & Gardens. Each one had something really significant to offer:

At Ness Gardens our group really felt like VIPs. There was a special celebration day for the 70th Anniversary of the BBC’s Gardeners’ Question Time with a garden party for 3000 guests. Tim Baxter showed us round the site. It was quite a celebration.

Tatton Park is somewhere I have always wanted to visit and I wasn’t disappointed. The Japanese Garden is something I will always remember. The design, the plants, the way the landscape had been designed; it was just wonderful.

Unfortunately I was not able to take full advantage of visiting the Mansion House. I was provided with a buggy to help me get round the site and everyone was so helpful.  After our tour we enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch.

Our last visit of the day was to Arley Hall & Gardens, the home of the Viscount & Vicountess Ashbrook. Their ancestors have lived at Arley Hall for 500 years. Arley Hall is a Grade II* listed property. Unfortunately I was only able to visit the ground floor of the house but whilst waiting for our party who were able to see the upper part of the Hall, the guide’s wife, who is a pianist, played some lovely background music to create a wonderful atmosphere.

The garden at Arley, overlooking the beautiful park, had a great variety of plants and trees.  I was fascinated by an avenue of 14 holm oaks clipped in the shape of giant cylinders and elaborate topiary. The leaves are spiny like holly; amazing.  Before leaving we were treated to afternoon tea and we all loved the white chocolate raspberry cake!

Our guide for the day was Yvonne Kirk, who is a member of The Guild of Chester Tour Guides. A wonderful lady who knew so much about the gardens but also about the whole area. Our superb driver was Charlie from Anthony’s Travel.

Yvonne Hodson, E1285, Eastern Branch.

 

Tatton Park

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CARLIE'S THEATRE TRIPS

 

Julian Clary as Spirit of the Bells & Elaine Paige as Queen Rat

DICK WHITTINGTON at the London Palladium, London (until 14 January 2018. Box office 020 7087 7747) has enough stars to light up Christmas in London until well into the new year. The London Palladium has certainly struck gold – or should that be silver as most of Julian Clary’s ever more flamboyant costumes have a silver sheen.

In addition to Clary who plays a character called Spirit of the Bells (you may well ask what this has to do with Dick Whittington, the panto.  As I say, you may well ask…) who comes to help Dick get rid of the plague of rats in London, we have Elaine Paige as the Queen of the Rats and Charlie Stemp (who was such a hit in the main role in Half a Sixpence) playing Dick.  Gary Wilmot shows up as the Dame, here known as Sarah Fitzwarren, mother of Alice played by Emma Williams (Stemp’s partner in Half a Sixpence).  There is also Paul Zerdin (winner of Americas Got Talent 2015) as Idle Jack and the wonderful dance troupe Diversity - the leader Ashley Banjo is the Sultan.  We mustn’t forget to mention Nigel Havers who gets the sympathy vote. He plays Captain Nigel and sends himself up throughout the show.  Now 66 the actor is made fun of by the other actors for his age and loss of status as an actor.

Holding the show together is Julian Clary who appears in many scenes, leaving the stage seemingly only to change into an ever more flamboyant costume.  Although the show has a script and a chief writer, Alan McHugh, the director of the panto, Michael Harrison seems more than content to let the cast improvise as they go along.  And Clary is more than happy to be himself with lots of very provocative jokes, mainly built around Whittington’s name! He cracks lots of asides at the expense of the other actors who double up with laughter as they hear him.  Clary’s timing is pitch perfect and he knows exactly how to present a double entendre! Elaine Paige joins in with the dick humour as she sings new words to some of the well-known songs from hit musicals, including Cats, Evita, Chess and others.

Gary Wilmot can’t compete with Clary in the costume department, but he is amusing in his role and sings a song naming every single one of the London Underground stations that nearly brings the House down.  In fact, there are a number of London references, a couple about gays and Old Compton Street!  Those who have seen Charlie Stemp perform know that he can dance as well as sing and here he does both with aplomb.   Paul Zerdin is new to me but I shall remember the amazing use of his talent as a ventriloquist for some time.  He manages to bring small children from the audience into his act on stage. Great, too, to see the fantastic acrobatic skills of the Diversity dancers.

The stage, with its painted backdrop, is full of bright lights, sparkly costumes, infectious music and some unusual effects such as a gigantic rat’s head zooming over the audience’s heads, a flying bus and a ship with Clary and Stemp singing the song from Titanic!

This show is not really for children as there are too many outrageous jokes, but adults  won’t find any better panto for cast, sparkly, colourful costumes, well-timed choreography, excellently directed comic business and Julian Clary!  Book now to bring your groups to this great London pantomime.

Rating ****

Carlie Newman

 

 

BIG FISH at the Other Palace Theatre, London (until 31 December. Box office 0844 264 2140) stars Kelsey Grammer as Edward Bloom, a father who can't stop telling tall stories to his son. He has a stroke and while visiting him in hospital his son Will (Matthew Seadon-Young) listens as his father repeats some of his tales. The stories are acted out by storybook versions of the characters.

While Grammer is good as Edward and all the rest of the cast sing well, the musical doesn’t have a well-written book. It is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and Tom Burton’s 2003 film. The musical has more than a touch of Death of a Salesman and works hard to gel together the major themes of father and son relationship with the lighter touch of the fantasy scenes and the songs.

Wanting to know more about his father and to discover which of his stories are true and which are just fantasies, Will listens carefully as his dying father shows him a witch, a mermaid and a weird kind of werewolf who runs the circus that Edward joins.  We watch with fascination as young Will (Billy Barratt), and the other characters come to life and sing and dance, including Edward as a young man (played with verve by Jamie Muscato).

Nigel Harman directs with a good feel for the various elements of the musical and works hard – not always successfully - to marry the imaginative tales with the real-life Edward and family. There are some good visual effects and lively choreography. Good dancing, and singing from the whole cast with Kelsey Grammer shining in the lead. Grammer has a very good manner and really puts across the songs well.

Whilst we don’t really get to know the true character of Edward, we can see – as can his son – that he has a good heart.  Although he seems confident Edward actually has a lot of self-doubt.

Rating ****

Carlie Newman

HALF A SIXPENCE  

As I predicted, HALF A SIXPENCE (Noel Coward Theatre, London   Box Office:  0844871 7622) has been transferred from Chichester Festival Theatre to the West End.

 

 

Ann (Devon-Elise Johnson) & Arthur (Charlie Stemp)

The show has the same cast that put across the musical in such a lively fashion in Chichester.  Now Charlie Stemp comes to London as a star. His Arthur is full of life – lively, and extremely energetic with a most attractive personality and extraordinarily skilful acrobatic dancing.

 There are two things I miss from the original production:  the first is the lovely thrusting stage of the Chichester Festival Theatre is now reduced to the much smaller stage of the Noel Coward theatre so that the dancers don’t have quite the same amount of space any more. And the second is that Charlie, in being a more assured performer now, has lost a little bit of his innocent naivety.

 Other than these two quibbles, the revival of this musical – first put on in 1963 as a vehicle for Tommy Steele - which has been adapted by Julian Fellows (of Downton Abbey fame), with new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, is the same inventive, very jolly romp. Director Rachel Kavananagh has kept to the original H.G. Wells’ novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul in her splendid production.

 Charlie Stemp plays Arthur Kipps, an ordinary young man who we first see playing childish games with his young sweetheart, Ann Pornick (Devon-Elsie Johnson).  He  gives her half a sixpence which he has cut in two while he keeps the other half as a pledge of their devotion.  Arthur has to leave the home of his aunt and uncle (he is an orphan) in New Romney in 1904 to go and work as a draper’s assistant in Folkestone. 

We next see Arthur working alongside a little group of workers serving a rich clientele in a draper’s store in 1911. He falls for the seemingly wealthy Helen Walsingham (Emma Williams) who comes into the store with her mother (Vivien Parry).  By chance, Arthur encounters the eccentric playwright Mr Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew with a strange ginger wig) who reads a newspaper article and alerts Arthur to the news of a legacy left by his grandfather (his mother’s father) who had felt guilty for the rest of his life after preventing his daughter from marrying with the result that baby Arthur was born out of wedlock.  Finding himself wealthy, Arthur is able to court Helen and fraternise with the rich.  But he finds that money does not buy him happiness and he misses his old pals and the ease of their friendship and, above all, he misses his childhood sweetheart Ann.  The upper-class life is difficult to adjust to and Arthur wants to get out of his situation.

A good mixture of minor characters and their stories combine with the life of Arthur to provide an always interesting story.  The dancing, singing and inter-action between the characters enhance this production and the songs are all most hummable songs with the well-known title song, Half a sixpence and the very lively Flash, bang, wallop making the audience cheer.  Made to rouse the audience to an enthusiastic display of hand clapping, I found Pick out a simple tune with Arthur playing his beloved banjo, went on rather too long, but managed to show the toffs dancing along to Arthur’s commands.   The smaller London stage doesn’t quite manage to bring the dancers close to the audience but the choreography is varied and exciting with the dancers, led by Charlie Stemp, executing a variety of steps with dexterity and verve.

The set is simple but most effective: a back wall of projections shows where the various scenes are set – the draper’s shop, the pub, the high-class home of Lady Punnet (Jane How) and other locations in Kent. The actors move around on the stage on revolving circles.

The designer, Paul Brown, has worked closely with director, Rachel Kavanaugh, to produce particularly attractive costumes. Each set of designs exactly suits the characters and the class they come from.  So the chorus of shoppers are all in cream dresses.  And later at Lady Punnet’s garden party, the well-drilled ladies move around in unison all dressed in white.

Actors portray the other characters in an enthusiastic style with Ian Bartholomew particularly good in the part of Critchelow and Vivien Parry an admirable Mrs Walsingham in the Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey style.

Young Charlie Stemp, with his toothy grin, reminds us of Tommy Steel but he brings his own style to the part.  While his singing can be called pleasant, his is not an exceptionally good voice.  His dancing, however, when he performs somersaults and acrobatics is excellent. Both Emma Williams and Devon-Elise Johnson sing well and are nicely differentiated in their speech and behaviour.   Thoroughly deserving of its five star rating.

 Rating: *****

 

Carlie Newman

 

2018 Events

 

EASTERN BRANCH MEETING AND FAM TRIP TO ELTHAM PALACE 
AND GREENWICH, SUNDAY, 8th APRIL 2018

Programme for the Day (Itinerary may be subject to change)

10.30am          Introduction and Welcome by English Heritage

10.45am          Short Branch Meeting

11.00am          Tour of The House

 1.00pm           Light Lunch followed, weather permitting, Tour of the Gardens

 2.30pm           Leave Eltham Palace for Greenwich

Free time to look at the Market and waterfront

 3.30pm           Afternoon Tea. Venue to be advised.

Please note that, nearer the time, final details will be given regarding

transport by Clipper and  transfers to and from the Train Station.

Cost per Member and Guests £18.00 -- includes lunch and afternoon tea.

Booking Form available from:

Mrs Joan Hanks  -  joan.hanks@virginmedia.com

 

EASTERN BRANCH MEETING AND FAM TRIP TO THE LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER & STEAM, PLUS THE MUSICAL MUSEUM, SATURDAY, 7th JULY 2018
 
Programme for the Day (Itinerary may be subject to change)

10.30 am          Meet for coffee at The Museum of Water & Steam

10.45 am         Introduction and Welcome by our Associate Member from the Museum

11.00 am         Short Branch Meeting followed by a Tour of The Museum

 1. 15 pm         Light Lunch in Birdie’s Kitchen Restaurant

 2.15 pm          Walk to The Musical Museum (3 mins approx.)

 2.30 pm          Welcome by a member from The Musical Museum including

            Tour and Wurlitzer Organ Recital, and much more

3.30 pm           Afternoon Tea

Cost per Member and Guests £20 p.p. -- includes lunch and afternoon tea.

Booking Form available from:

Mrs Joan Hanks  -  joan.hanks@virginmedia.com

 

EASTERN BRANCH MEETING AND FAM TRIP TO THE LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER & STEAM, PLUS THE MUSICAL MUSEUM, SATURDAY, 7th JULY 2018
 
Programme for the Day (Itinerary may be subject to change)

10.30 am        Meet for coffee at The Museum of Water & Steam

10.45 am       Introduction and Welcome by our Associate Member from the Museum

11.00 am       Short Branch Meeting followed by a Tour of The Museum

 1. 15 pm       Light Lunch in Birdie’s Kitchen Restaurant

 2.15 pm        Walk to The Musical Museum (3 mins approx.)

 2.30 pm        Welcome by a member from The Musical Museum including

                        Tour and Wurlitzer Organ Recital, and much more

3.30 pm         Afternoon Tea

Cost per Member and Guests £20 p.p. -- includes lunch and afternoon tea.

Booking Form available from:

Mrs Joan Hanks  -  joan.hanks@virginmedia.com