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.

 

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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


2018 Events

'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

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CARLIE'S THEATRE TRIPS

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

 

 

Not having seen Poldark, I wasn't waiting with trembling limbs to see Aidan Turner in Martin McDonagh's THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE (Noel Coward Theatre, London until 8 September. Box Office: 0844 482 5151).

In many ways I could appreciate the play more as I wasn't just concentrating on the one character. Although Turner as Padraic, an Irish freedom fighter who is so violent that even the IRA have turned him down, is an actor who is utterly compelling when on stage, there are other aspects of the play which make this a top quality theatrical experience.

While Padraic's speciality is torture – we see him discuss his various methods as he inflicts pain on his drug-pusher victim who is strung upside down – he has one soft spot, his cat.  When he hears his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is very ill he rushes back home to nurse him.

Unfortunately, Wee Thomas is completely dead. Padraic's father, Donny (Denis Conway), who has been looking after the cat, tells Davey (Chris Walley), who admits having run him over, that his son will be very very angry.  Davey, scared stiff, finds a ginger cat and attempts to turn him into black Wee Thomas by coating him with black shoe polish.

It turns out that Donny and Davey are not alone  as gunmen burst into the cottage to kill Padraic.  Add to this mixture Davey's terroist-in-the-making sister, Mairead (Charlie Murphy), and the black comedy turns very violent with blood spattered everywhere.

Michael Grandage directs with an eye to the comedy in all the events which take place.  He brings out the many unusual twists in the story so that the audience is constantly amazed at what is taking place on stage.

Aidan Turner is a real charismatic presence here and gives a tremendous performance in the lead.  But there are also exceptionally good performances from Denis Conway as Padraic's simple living dad and Chris Whaley as Davey, a young man who acts stupidly.  There is also a lively, fully developed character study from Charlie Murphy as the budding terrorist leader, who becomes the girlfriend of Padraic.

While the play shows brutality and is bloody to observe, the underlying message is that violence is bad.  See it to appreciate the clever writing of McDonagh, who also wrote the recent Oscar winning film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  

Rating *****

Carlie Newman

 

AS YOU LIKE IT

 

 

AS YOU LIKE IT at the Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park, London (Box Office: 0844 826 4242)   

Coming to the theatre, you think, “Oh lovely, As You Like It, just the right play for a pretty setting surrounded by trees.” And then…what’s this, an almost bare stage with water in the front, but it is what’s on the water that catches the eye!  Floating in the water are lots of empty coke cans, bin bags, and thrown away rubbish of all kinds. But surprisingly all this works. As the play progresses you can see the references to the environment and after the interval the water is clear and flowers appear.  Naomi Dawson has designed a set which carefully shows all this under director Max Webster.

The start of the play is the court of Duke Frederick (Simon Armstrong), which is a place where you will find fast food and plastic containers. We can see urban pollution in extremis. This is where the wrestling match takes place and Rosalind (Olivia Vinall) and Orlando (Edward Hogg) fall instantly in love.

In contrast, the Forest of Arden where the Duke Senior (Simon Armstrong again) holds court is a dishevelled place of jollity with communal eating and living.

When Rosalind is banished from the court by her uncle, his daughter Celia (Keziah Joseph) and the  clown, Touchstone (Danny Kirrane) accompany her to the Forest of Arden. Here, too, comes Orlando who is escaping his cruel brother. Naturally – being a Shakespeare play – when the characters meet, they don't recognise Rosalind and Celia now disguised as males.  

There is lots of fun in this comedy and this is brought to the fore in this lively production.  There are attractive, lyrical performances from Edward Hogg and Olivia Vinall as the two main lovers. But there is also a very funny lover in Danny Kirrane's Touchstone, who courts the country lass, Audrey (Amy Booth-Steel), who also gives a very amusing performance. There are some base farmyard-like activities here!

This is one of the few productions where not only are the characters carefully differentiated but all the speeches are spoken clearly so that both the plot line and progress of the affairs of the main characters move along speedily and are always comprehensible.

This is shown in the person of the disdainful Phebe (Joanne McGuiness), who barely tolerates Silvius (Jacade Simpson) who adores her but falls immediately for Rosalind's pretend man, Ganymede.  It is not really clear why Jacques is being played by a woman in the version, but Maureen Beattie is good in the part.

The whole experience is enhanced by a lovely musical score by Charlie Fink – a mixture of Shakespearean words and pop music and sung by various members of the cast. As they splash around in the water and gallop across the stage, the boisterousness of the cast ensures that all of us have a most delightful theatre outing. More exciting productions are coming here in the near future!

Rating ****

Carlie Newman

 

THE JUNGLE

 

THE JUNGLE at the Playhouse Theatre, London (until 3 November Box Office: 0844 871 7631)

You soon forget the uncomfortable seating once the play starts.  It is a show that involves the audience completely as it deals with the destroying of the refugee camp known as The Jungle in Calais.

The Playhouse Theatre has been totally transformed. You walk into the area behind the bar at the entrance and are immediately in the ‘Afghan Café.’ Sitting around long tables almost within the action taking place above and around us, the audience is closely involved as the characters discuss what to do about the imminent threat of the immigrant camp being torn down. Miriam Buether’s design extends to the entrance where we come in past some camp beds and tins of food piled on shelves.

When we are seated, flyers are handed out inviting us to a meeting.  Cups of hot sweet tea are given to those of us at the long tables. Above this area is the circle, now re-named ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ where audience members look down on the action.

The camp has been set up right at the side of the motorway to make it handy for those who are agile to jump on to stationery lorries. They know of the dangers - in fact right at the beginning the body of a young teenage stowaway is brought into the café area.

By chance the coach taking my group of seniors to the European Parliament in Brussels a couple of weeks ago drove past the camp on our journey.  Now desolate and completely laid to waste, we could see the large area originally used and it was noticeable how very how very close to the motorway it was.

Over 8,00 refuges are housed here, and they manage to live alongside each other with difficulty but without major upsets. Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) acts as our guide through what is happening.

Risking their lives to get to the UK, the refugees turn to the British volunteers for help. The play is written so well by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, who have admirably researched the situation in France in such detail that we get to learn about the individuals as people not just ‘volunteers’. Particularly telling is Alex Lowther as the very young Sam, who has left Eton to come and help at the refugee camp. We meet Beth, a teacher (Rachel Redford), Paula (Jo McInnes) and Derek (Dominic Rowan).

The refugees, too, are sharply differentiated.  Besides the Syrian Safi, the main ones include the traumatised 17-year-old Okot (John Pfumojena) from the Sudan, lively Afghan 15-year-old Norullah (Mohammad) and the owner of the restaurant, Salar (Ben Turner).

Originally at the Young Vic, the play has successfully transferred to a West End venue where it looks set to draw in crowds who don’t just want to be entertained but have their minds informed.

The production is excellent on all counts. Directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin have assembled a cast of brilliant actors, picked music to blend in with the action and songs that are moving even when sung in another language. The musical direction and composition is by the actor John Pfumojena.  The directors have chosen a designer who appears to know just what the camp should look like and they have even directed the audience to behave as participants in this tragedy of human lives which seem to mean so little to those with the final authority.

The excellently designed set and actors who put their very souls into their parts, present us with a play which is very moving. It was noticeable that many were shedding tears at the end.

Book quickly to take smaller groups to the West End to see this fascinating play.

Rating ****

Carlie Newman

 

IMPERIUM

Seven and a half hours of theatre sounds a lot…well, it is a large amount, I assure you.  But, as one who sat through the two parts of IMPERIUM (Gielgud Theatre (until 8 September. Box office: 0844 482 5151) on the same day, it didn’t seem at all too much. It is now in the West End after a very successful run in Stratford. This fascinating story of Marcus Tullius Cicero is full of intrigue, conspiracy and violence, with some sex thrown in! Each part is made up of three little plays with a short interval between each. Based on the trilogy of novels about Cicero by Robert Harris and adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton, who presented the magnificent Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies, it gives a potted history of the life and times of Cicero.

Part 1 is called CONSPIRATOR. It details how in 63 BC Cicero was known as a great orator who became a Consul. He was just an ordinary man, relying on his wife, Terentia (Siobhan Redmond)’s personal fortune to finance his political activities. Cicero (Richard McCabe) makes an enemy of Cataline (Joe Dixon) who continues to conspire against Cicero.  The story is told by Tiro (Joseph Kloska), Cicero’s former slave and now his friend and secretary.

Part 2, called DICTATOR, is easier to follow, dealing, as it does, with many of the events covered in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. So, we see the assassination of Caesar (Peter De Jersey) and the rise of Mark Antony (Joe Dixon again). Octavian, Julius Caesar’s adopted son, schemes to become the ultimate leader.

Director Gregory Doran understands the history of the Cicero Plays, and also the relevance to today. He has chosen a Pompey, played by Christopher Saul with a blond piece of combover hair (apparently the real Pompey did have a quiff), and given him some of the same gestures as the American President! We also have some sex scenes with Clodius (Nicholas Armfield), who brings trouble on Cicero who refuses to defend Clodius’ lascivious behaviour.

The acting is all-round excellent with the cast pulling together as a true ensemble.  Chief amongst them is Richard McCabe’s Cicero. He gives a performance which is not only subtle and emotional but also very physical – amazing how he can keep up his energy over the seven hours.  His side-kick, Joseph Kloska’s Tiro, is almost equally good as he draws the audience into his confidence as he tells Cicero’s story.

The plays are stand-alone so you can see Part 1 on one night and Part 2 on another or you can do the marathon and see the two parts on the same day!  Whichever you choose will be a great theatrical experience.

Rating *****

Carlie Newman

 

CONSENT

There is plenty to mull over in this play which has transferred from the National Theatre to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End.  While feeding the intellect it also provides an emotional reaction, especially for the females in the audience.  Bang up to date, although Nina Raine’s play premiered in April 2017, it deals with the subject of rape and looks at consensual rape in and out of marriage in a manner that is completely of today.

The play focusses on a number of issues: how the law courts deal with rape, what the victim has to face in court, marriage and sex within it; friendship and even the changes having children bring to a relationship and a consideration of what constitutes consent in a sexual encounter including the difficult issue of marital rape.

The play starts with a scene where two couples are meeting to celebrate the arrival of a first baby for Edward (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Kitty (Claudie Blakley). The baby – and in this production there is a real very small peaceful baby, who is passed around so gently from one person to the other – has altered the relationship between the parents; they are no longer at complete ease with one another. We gradually learn that there is trouble in the marriage of the other couple.  Rachel (Sian Clifford) is about to chuck her husband Jake (Adam James) out of their home because he is unfaithful.

Into the mix comes single Tim (Lee Ingleby) and Zara (Clare Foster) who is also single.  In her late 30s she is desperate to have a baby, and Edward and Kitty hope that Zara and Tim will get together. It doesn’t seem to be happening though.

All except Kitty and Zara are barristers and we see some at work on rape trials. Edward and Tim work on opposite sides.  We meet a victim of rape who asks, “Who is my lawyer,” as she realises there is a defence lawyer and a prosecuting barrister but nobody for the victim.”  She is just a witness in the proceedings. The author shows how it ends up being the female victim who is virtually put on trial as her actions are questioned and often she is just not believed.

When Tim shows that he is attracted to Kitty, matters get somewhat out of hand. 

The set is simple but effectively shows the different places in which the action takes place.  Technology enables furniture to rise easily from the floor of the stage, so the flow of the scenes is not interrupted.

In a well- structured play, Raine gives each of her characters a complete persona and director Roger Michell lets the actors develop their characters in a rounded manner.  While the matter is, of course, serious, there are lots of amusing lines. Excellent acting all round gives the play depth and meaning. Fascinating and all-absorbing, it is highly recommended.

CONSENT is on at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London (booking until 11 August 2018. Box office: 0844 871 7622)

Rating ****

TINA – The Tina Turner Musical

What a singer! What an actress! What a star! And this is what Adrienne Warren gives us in this new musical.  She plays Tina and seems to actually become her in all her various styles as she dons wigs and dresses to show her transition from a young naïve girl with a powerful voice to a super star.

We first see her as a child.  She is called Anna Mae Bullock (played on the night I went by Claudia Elie) and lives with her family in Nutbush, Tennessee.   She is told off for singing too loudly in the local Baptist Church.  Her mother walks out with her daughters when her husband physically abuses her once too often. Anna Mae then gets together with Ike Turner (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), who she marries and eventually escapes from after many years of being the victim of terrible violent behaviour from Ike.  He gives her nothing and she is left without money or work and with two young children. She finds rejection as a black woman working in a white world and is almost a has-been. We see how she builds up her career, changing her image to become the famous rock star we all know.

Well certainly the audience at the Aldwych theatre know as they cheer throughout and give a tremendous standing ovation at the end as Warren reprises many of Tina Turner’s greatest hits. Is the show just an excuse for listening to TT’s songs?  No, it is more than that. Directed by Phyllida Law, the show is always exciting to watch with simple effective lighting and staging. Holdbrook-Smith is a fully developed Ike – we never feel sorry for him as he is so brutal, but the actor gives us glimpses of his bad childhood and his current bursting ego. The chorus can sing and dance and choreographer Anthony Van Laast makes sure that they keep moving. Actually,  I liked the moments best when Warren was allowed to sing centre stage by herself.

This is a world premiere with Tina Turner, herself, as an Executive Producer so we can assume all the incidents are authentic.

But the night belongs to the young American actress, Adrienne Warren, who gives us an extraordinary portrayal of Tina. She looks terrific in the Tina costumes and her movement captures the real star, but it is her amazing voice which is so astonishing.  Close your eyes (not that you would want to) and it could be Tina herself

TINA is on at the Aldwych Theatre, London (booking until 16 February 2019. Box office: 0845 200 7981)

Rating ****

 

HAMILTON (Victoria Palace, London booking until 30th March 2019

Box office: 0844 482 5138)

Wow! And Wow again for this musical marvel. Spoken about as a hip-hop show, it is so much more than that. There is, indeed, a lot of rap and all of Hamilton is set to music, but there are many good songs using various musical styles interspersed with the rap. It has, too, a cast who interpret the music perfectly.

Lyn-Manuel Miranda, author of the book, lyrics and music has composed a wonderful musical. It tells the story of one of the founding fathers of America, Alexander Hamilton, as told by Aaron Burr who acts as Narrator for much of the show.

Most of us in the UK know little about Alexander Hamilton (Jamael Westman).  Perhaps we identify him with the head on the $10 US bill or the more erudite might have heard of Hamilton as one of the founding fathers of the United States of America in the 18th century.  Here we see young Hamilton as a 19-year-old arriving in New York.  We learn a lot about what happened to him in the first few minutes of the opening. Aaron Burr, Alexander’s mentor and the narrator of most of the musical, tells us that Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean to an unmarried Scottish father and half-French, half-British mother. He was soon orphaned but eventually arrived in New York.  Very intelligent, charming, with a knowledge of languages, he rose to become a leader in the political scene of the time, before he was killed in a dual at the age of 47 by his former mentor, Aaron Burr. Unusually, we are told the end of the story right at the beginning.

It’s how this story is staged, of course, that is the  outstanding element of it and this is chiefly the work of Lin-Manuel.  Together with director Thomas Kail the two have ensured that the musical has a set that works for the content, a cast who delivers and that the music under the delicate hand of Musical Director, Alex Lacamoire, who, worked alongside Miranda, enhances the lyrics.

The set, which reminds me of Sean Kenny’s wonderful set for the first outing of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! is all wooden platforms, stairs and walkways with lots of ropes.  It is just right for the different elements of the musical as it moves from     place to place, with a centre revolve, showing the different stages of the life of Alexander Hamilton.

The costumes have been expertly designed to fit in well with the story-line. So, at the beginning the ensemble is dressed mainly in white and cream.  Later - to show mourning – the women wear black tops, Eliza is in a black dress and Alexander in a black coat.

Miranda’s music and lyrics combine so perfectly that it is almost impossible to separate the two.  The show is mostly in rap interspersed with songs.  The songs reference Sondheim, the words of Shakespeare and even Gilbert and Sullivan.  I particularly liked, The Room Where It Happens, which tells us about an important meeting of politicians while progressing the characteristics of the man – Aaron Burr – singing the song. It is also a catchy, tuneful ditty put across well by the actor/singer Giles Terera. Later Eliza finds out about her husband’s affair with Maria and her song is reminiscent of the mother’s lament in Miss Saigon.

Some of the songs have lovely melodies such as the one Alexander sings to his baby son. One must listen carefully to the words as within the lyrics lie the very bones of the story. The music is almost non-stop throughout.

Politics and the role of immigrants in the foundation of present day America are brought to the fore. To begin with Alexander Hamilton is himself an immigrant who comes to America with nothing and by the time he dies, at a too young age, he is one of the most powerful men in the country. The importance of immigrants and their contribution to society is emphasised and while the line, “Immigrants – they get the job done” is loudly applauded by the London audience, it is important to note how immigrants played a main part in the creation of modern America.  We must also take on board that Miranda stresses,

“Until we end slavery there will never be freedom.” Although the musical obviously deals with the revolutionary politics of 18th century America, there are enough points of commonality to ensure that it hits home to current audiences.

The moves and dancing by choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler are not over-flamboyant but fit in well with the music and songs. The chorus is excellently drilled even when not dancing and the ensemble always moves well and with precision.

But to my mind it is the casting that gives this musical the edge above all the others.  Jamael Westman, newly out of RADA, has been given the title role.  He develops, before our eyes, from a hesitant 19-year-old listening carefully to Burr’s instructions not to talk too much and to smile more into a self-assured leader of his country.  For a young actor in his first major role to show such an out-standing control of the stage is remarkable, but Jamael does just this.  He is also very charming and good-looking so that we can believe his attraction to women – particularly his wife Eliza (played by Rachelle Ann Go who has a lovely pure voice), his sister-in-law Angelica (given a suitably feisty interpretation by Rachel John) and his mistress Maria (Christine Allado). Westman has, too, a very pleasant singing voice, noteworthy in the lullaby he sings to his baby son. This is a charismatic performance from a new star who, I am sure, will continue to grace the London stage for many future years.

Almost equally important is the part played by his rival and ultimate killer, Aaron Burr.  Giles Terera, seen in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom plays the villain in a way that is neither over the top nor too obviously villainous, but gives us the correct amount of believability as he moves from mentor to fellow politician and then on to political rival. Terera has great personality.

The almost completely non-white cast all perform well and even the small parts are presented forcefully and with emotion. There are some almost show-stopping moments from Jason Pennycooke in the parts of the revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette and a camp Thomas Jefferson.  Also, most amusing is Michael Jibson as the English King George 111 jigging to a simple melody.

This is one show which, although it is long, we wish it would just go on and on.  It moves at a fast pace with the cast – particularly Westman and Terera – leading all forward in an at times moving but always exciting and innovative show which, I am sure, will keep on running.  Tickets are selling fast so get in there and book your group visits for the earliest date you can get!

Rating *****

Carlie Newman

 

 

 

 

 

 

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