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

Patricia Maltby - Chair

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

 

  

 One of my very favourite musicals, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (now on at the Playhouse Theatre, London until 28 September 2019) is a super musical with lots of well-known songs and a story based on the real life of Jewish villagers in Ukraine in the early 1900s.  But if it’s given a good production, then this musical gives us something extra – a real emotional involvement.  And here at the Playhouse this virtually immersive presentation is not just good, but superb.

The Playhouse theatre has been transformed into the fictional village of Anatekva. There are wall hangings and lanterns around the wooden sides of the auditorium and the little houses on stage come out into the audience. A path winds its way through the centre.

The story focuses on the poor milkman Tevye (Andy Nyman) who lives with his wife Golde (Judy Kuhn) and their five daughters.  He just about scratches a living, but has to contend with a variety of disasters.  It starts with his horse which goes lame, leaving Tevye to pull the heavy cart. But his main troubles are caused by the actions of his daughters, who, individually, wish to marry men of their own choosing.  It is against tradition - one of the main themes of the show and one which Tevye and the other older Jewish characters continually reference – which states that marriages should be arranged by their parents, generally through the services of the Matchmaker, in this case, Yente (an amusing Louise Gold). Tevye has to think up imaginative scenarios to convince his wife to let his daughters have their own way – but only up to a point. He never comes to terms with one of them.

Although the musical deals with the troubles of a long time ago and the issue of anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, it is, unfortunately, coming to the fore today in our own society.

Under director Trevor Nunn’s expert director, Trevor Nunn, the musical very carefully juxtaposes funny and lively musical moments with more poignant ones. A particular such moment is when the Russian Tsar’s officers interrupt lively  wedding celebrations and destroy the furniture and stop the dancing and singing of the villagers.

Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, this particular production began life at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre. Music, provided by an 8-piece band, is of consistently good quality and produces glorious sounds for the score by Jerry Brock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  The choreography based on Jerome Robbins’ original and directed by choreographer Matt Cole, is exciting with the famous bottles on the head dance performed faultlessly.

Tevye and Golde’s five daughters are well-depicted here, with each one showing their own character. They are carefully delineated and beautifully presented by the five actresses, Molly Osbourne as Tzeitel, Harriet Bunton as Hodel, Nicola Brown as Chava, and a group of youngsters as the two youngest.  Judy Kuhn is exactly right as the milkman’s long-suffering wife, Golde.  She puts real feeling into her special song replying to Tevye’s question, she sings “Do You Love Me?” alongside him and as she does, we see how their long marriage has worked.  As for Tevye himself…Andy Nyman does not have the charisma of Topol, the original Milkman in London in 1967, but his is an altogether less joyful interpretation.  He appears to have a personal link to God and consults him constantly before speaking directly to the audience.  The rest of the large cast are all just right for even the smallest part, with some excellent singing from Stewart Clarke as Perchik.

The production does not only give us a full social scene, but it is also an example of physical theatre with its thrusting stage and connection with the audience.  Lighting and sound production enhance our experience.

You may enter the auditorium humming, “If I were a rich man,” but you will go out with a far more all-round view of life in the small village, how the people lived and in particular the story of Tevye, a poor man with a rich family life.

Rating *****

Carlie Newman

 

PINTER AT THE PINTER

The Jamie Lloyd season of the presentation of Harold Pinter’s One Act plays at the Harold Pinter Theatre has been very successful with lots of full house.  The latest are PINTER 5, directed by Patrick Marber, and PINTER 6 (until 26 January. Box office: 0844 871 7622).

Starting with THE ROOM, which was Harold Pinter’s first play to be staged in 1957 there are three one-act plays in Pinter 5 and two in Pinter 6.  Full of slow talk which gradually moves into something menacing – we are in full Pinter mode here!  Jane Horrocks is terrific as the talkative wife who keeps going even though her husband (Rupert Graves) says not one word.  Finally, he goes out and a series of visitors come to see the wife in her one room, very seedy home. Violence occurs when the husband returns home!

The second short play, VICTORIA STATION (written in 1982) is a delightful comedy in which a controller (Colin McFarlane) gradually loses his cool listening to his cab driver (Rupert Graves) telling him that he doesn’t know where he is and doesn’t even know Victoria Station! Two excellent actors speaking in lit up boxes give lovely performances.

The last one, FAMILY VOICES (written in 1981) sees Jane Horrocks as a mother who hasn’t heard from her son and writes letters which seem to get no answers.  We find the son (Luke Thallon) writing to the mother but are never sure whether she gets his letters.  The son describes the room and the boarding house he is living in and his rather strange elderly landlady.  Rupert Graves is the father who also appears – each family member speaks separately, and they never meet.  This was the least impressive of the three short plays.

Moving on to PINTER SIX, directed by Jamie Lloyd, we have two short plays.  They both sport another excellent cast: John Simm, Phil Davis, Eleanor Matsuura, Celia Imrie , Katherine Kingsley, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Abraham Popoola.  PARTY TIME (written in 1991), refers to dissidents being brought in from the streets.  But the middle-class group at the party are more concerned with showing off about their new all-excusive club.   Tracy-Ann Oberman is almost unrecognisable in a dark wig.

There are more wigs on show in the final play, In CELEBRATION (written in 2000), Celia Imrie transforms with the help of a huge wig.     

         

This is an enjoyable and amusing play with another group of nouveau riches enjoying a celebratory dinner at ‘the best and most expensive restaurant in London’.  There is a lot of chit chat.  Every so often they are interrupted by the waiter (a gorgeous performance by Abraham Popoola) who starts every interruption with, “Do you mind if I interject?”.  Then he reels off a string of names of people his grandfather knew from the worlds of literature, politics and so on!  Great characterisations from Ron Cook, Phil Davis and Gary Kemp.  A lovely pair of blousy sisters presented by Imrie and Tracy-Ann Oberman.  

Try to catch this while it is still playing.

Rating ****

To be followed by PINTER 7, the last in this season of one-act plays and running from 31 January to 23 February 2019. A SLIGHT ACHE and THE DUMB WAITER will star Danny Dyer, Martin Freeman and John Heffernan.

The final play in the Jamie Lloyd season is a full length play, BETRAYAL, starring Tom Hiddleston and running for 12 weeks from 5 March 2019.  

CARLIE NEWMAN

 

HAMILTON (Victoria Palace, London booking until 31st August 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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