Well dear listeners. Earlier this week, Swindon Old Town Rotary kindly invited me along to one of their breakfast meetings to talk to them about this here blog and related matters. They are a jolly friendly bunch of people so despite public speaking not being my favourite thing it was okay. I think. Old Town Rotary are of course the organisers of the world famous (in Swindon) charity duck race: http://swindonoldtownrotary.org/duckrace/
However! The main purpose of this post is to give a shout-out to the Phoenix players (a rotarian shoved a flyer into my hand so I thought I best had TBH 😉 ) and their forthcoming production of The Ladykillers at Swindon Arts Centre.
The Phoenix Players presents
“The Ladykillers” by Graham Linehan
A classic combination of black comedy and slapstick farce directed by Colin Wilkins.
Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 January 2018.
At the Arts Centre, Devizes Road, Swindon at 7.30pm.
‘The Phoenix Players started life in 1954 but under a different name, The Poetry Circle Players. The story behind this is that way back in the past, 1946 to be precise, the first Arts Centre opened in Swindon. At that time one of the Public Library Ancillary Societies was the Poetry Circle, a group which met at the Arts Centre to read and discuss poetry and verse plays.
The group flourished and reached a point where it was decided to present these verse plays to the public, which proved to be a popular decision and in 1954 a drama section was formed. In September of that year the Poetry Circle Players presented their first production, ‘The Firstborn’ by Christopher Fry. In the early 1960’s the Poetry Circle ceased to exist. This meant that the now flourishing drama section needed a new name and so became The Phoenix Players.
It is now one of the leading drama groups in the town with a string of successes to its name. To date it has presented well over 200 productions and in September 2014 The Phoenix Players celebrated their 60th anniversary … ‘
Well listeners it’s that time of year again. Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is! If Christmas is coming then the Panto is here.
Like all good theatres up and down the land, the Wyvern Theatre stages (see what I did there?) an annual pantomime. And this year it’s Peter Pan. Now were I to nitpick I’d be honour bound to say that, properly and traditionally speaking, Peter Pan isn’t a panto at all but a play and a novel by J.M Barrie. I guess now though, Peter Pan is a cultural icon and doing a panto version keeps the story alive.
Both versions of Barrie’s story tell the tale of Peter Pan – a mischievous little boy who can fly. He has lots of adventures on the magical island of Neverland – a place where mermaids, fairies, native Americans and pirates live.
The inspiration for both play and novel came from Barrie’s friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family. Barrie continued to revise the play for years after its debut until publication of the play script in 1928.
Tradition dictated a petite woman played the character of Peter Pan in the play. I daresay because in size and voice timbre they’d be better believed as a small boy than a grown man. One does have to suspend disbelief a tad more when it’s a grown man in tights flying about the stage. But hey – this is panto not a Pinter play.
Anyway onwards and UPWARDS to Swindon’s own Pantastic production
Oh we had the best time. This is a riotous performance with a terrific ensemble cast. The pirates, the indians and the lost boys all.
Not being an Eastenders viewer (I’ve never heard the theme tune in its entirety) I was keen to see Adam Woodyatt in action as Captain Hook. After seeing last year’s panto where the leading man was wooden to put it mildly I thought he made a quite decent stab of it. I said stab … oh suit yourself … He – well everyone TBH got proper warmed up in the second half.
But the top spot in the panto performance league has to go to Antony Lawrence as Smee. He does a terrific job as the comic turn – the Peter Pan equivalent of the ugly sisters, Widow Twankey etc. He’s fabulous on his own and together with other cast members – superb.
Like all good pantomimes this one has its share of song and dance routines, slapstick, innuendo, corny jokes, brilliant comic timing and of course – LOTS OF SHOUTING. And getting wet????!!!! Pirates with nerf guns??? Hmmm ….. In short: Pantastic panto pandemonium at Peter Pan. LOVING the alliteration opportunities here!
All in all it’s a great production that I heartily recommend. Oh no I don’t! Oh YES I DO!!
The wonderful Wyvern people have probably noticed my pitiful photography efforts so sent me some publicity shots to use. Not a bad idea!
Dreamboats and Petticoats started life with a couple of hugely successful compilation albums and now it’s a music-stuffed tale as frothy as the petticoats the girls wear. It’s a story of young love, and a song writing competition set in more innocent times, One where Rock n Roll is as young as the protagonists. And that’s no criticism. The plot is a vehicle for the songs – and what a lovely vehicle it is. It’s simply rocking good fun. What’s not to like?
Certainly last night’s audience loved it – and so did I.
So my advice to you is to dig out your circular skirts and your petticoats, get the hairspray out and get off to the Wyvern and enjoy this production. It’s on all this week so you’ve got every chance to get there. There’s a link to the booking information below. And here’s a nice promotional video on YouTube that’ll give you some brilliant background:
During a miserably wet British summer lunch break, Don arrives at the bleak cafe where his friends are avoiding the rain. He’s persuaded London Transport to lend him and his friends an AEC Regent III RTdouble-decker bus (and not a later AEC Routemaster as often quoted). This they convert into a holiday caravan, which they drive across continental Europe, intending to reach the South of France. However, their eventual destination is Athens, Greece.
On the way, they are joined by a trio of young women (Stubbs, Hart and Daryl) and a runaway singer, Barbara, (Lauri Peters), who initially pretends to be male, pursued by her mother (Ryan) and agent (Murton). The movie was a box-office hit, thus repeating the success of Cliff Richard’s earlier film The Young Ones(1961).’
Members of the cast
Born again Swindonian on a summer holdiay
Hook a duck
Summer holiday fun in Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre
What a wonderful nostalgia fest for anyone of a certain age this is!
Spotted frocks, net petticoats, shift dresses and jeans on the boys that didn’t weren’t torn and didn’t hang below their backsides. *wistful sigh* And the songs – aaaah – the songs …. just wonderful. When the film was released to a British public shivering in the February gloom (I hate February) it provided a blast of warming sunshine and glimpses of continental Europe – holidays abroad were not so common then so this was unusual.
The show features some creative and funny double decker bus (and ferry) activity – but you need to go and see it to see what I mean.
What I love about the summer youth project is that it finds a role for so many enthusiastic, energetic and talented young people of all ages. The entire stage and auditorium are utilised to make for an explosion of colour and action.
This production had lots of strong performances and some great singing voices – Don’s/Ethan Hughes being one of them. Yet I will give a particular mention to three of them:
Archie Fisher – who played Cyril – is super expressive and has a good comic touch. I see from the programme one of Archie’s previous roles is the Artful Dodger in Oliver. I can imagine him in that role. Then my other honourable mentions have to go to Jack McLoughlin and Omolola Funsho who played Stella (the mother of the runaway singer, Barbara, and Don’s love interest – keep up!) and Jerry, her agent. McLoughlin gave a nice comic turn and Funsho hit the spot well as the overbearing mother seeking to control her daughter’s life and career and do a spot of media manipulation along the way.
But this is an ensemble production so huge kudos and congratulations to everyone involved – both on the stage and behind the scenes. You don’t have to be proud grandma, or mum, or dad or uncle/aunty/sibling to enjoy this production. Get on board the double-decker bus for a joyous, innocent and sunshine filled trip back to the 1960s.
It’s playing again this afternoon and this evening so if you’re at a loose end – give it a go.
‘The first Summer Youth Project took place at the Wyvern Theatre in 1994 with Bugsy Malone and was one of the first community ventures of its kind in the local area. Since then it has become an annual tradition and many young people have been involved in the Projects over the years.
The aim of the Summer Youth Project is to provide up to 200 youngsters aged 9 – 21 with the opportunity to work together in a professional theatre. The two week project culminates in five performances of a full-scale musical under the supervision of a highly skilled creative team including a professional Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Musicians and Technical team all in less than 2 weeks!’
‘A story of order and disorder, reality and appearance and love and marriage. Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons are to be married and great celebrations are planned.’
So last night entailed two new experiences. One was seeing a live production of William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. And the other was seeing Gatecrash Theatre properly in action. They’ve been on my radar for a while but I haven’t managed to see them. Part of the problem being that getting to the Arts Centre in Old Town is such a schlep on public transport. But I digress.
I won’t go on about the plot aside from the synopsis above. If you’re not familiar with MND there’s oodles of information out on the World Wide Web. This is the Royal Shakespeare Company: https://www.rsc.org.uk/a-midsummer-nights-dream/the-plot I think it’s fair to say that MND is ‘Shakespeare Lite’. As ever with Shakespeare the human condition features, but with lightness and humour and fun.
A fabulous festival-themed Faerie Frolic
So now to this production. Let’s get the gripe out of the way first: there were times, throughout the performance when the diction could have been clearer and the delivery a tad slower! Even allowing for the nature of this story. Take a breath guys!
But that was more than made up for with sheer energy, enthusiasm and exuberance. There’s no lack of any of that! There’s no faulting them there.
I loved the interpretation. I suspect Gatecrash are not the first to do it but setting the play in a music festival setting is inspired. All that drink and drunks and sex – let’s not pretend otherwise! – is a damn good vehicle for this play. Think of the end of the play when Puck, one of the fairies, tells the audience that it’s all been a dream. A dream? Or a drug induced trip?! And Shakespeare wrote all this without LSD. Imagine what he might have done with it?
Be all that as it may, the festival theme lends itself to an opportunity to bring in a range of music and popular cultural references. I loved the conga at the wedding. And when the fairies are sitting unseen, watching the mayhem they’ve created, they’re wearing 3D specs and eating popcorn. That made me smile.
And of course a festival setting isn’t hard to conjure up. A pile of old pallets, a couple of spray-painted oil drums and fairy lights aplenty and Bob is, as they say, your uncle. Though they could have gone to my mate at 4Points Leisure (shameless plug 😉 )
I liked how women were playing male roles. I’m not sure if that was deliberate or not or they were simply suited to the role for whatever reason. Whatever – I approve. It’s a neat turnaround from Shakespeare’s day when all the parts were played by men because women weren’t allowed to act. #obvs
And there was a hint of same-sex relationships I thought. In a weekend where Pride is happening in Swindon that’s kinda nice.
In terms of the performances, I enjoyed the fairies a great deal. Puck wasn’t the only one being puckish (yep that is the origin of the adjective: playful, especially in a mischievous way.) They injected a great deal of faerie fun into the play. And a hint of a good singing voice from Cobweb (Pamela Giraud Telme) with a brief refrain of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ (and the livin’ is easy) LOVE that song!
But the standout for me has to be Bottom as portrayed by Keira C Georgeson. She gave that role everything she’d got. In particular, at the end of the play, when the group of amateur players, of which Bottom is one, are performing at the wedding party. Bottom took to his role with the greatest of gusto and went suitably over the top. Great stuff.
But don’t take my word for it all dear listeners. Go and see it. It’s playing again tonight and tomorrow so you’ve got time to catch it.
Here’s an extract from their website to give you a flavour of who are they are what they’re about:
‘Gatecrash is a developmental theatre company based in Swindon offering training and paid opportunities to professional and aspiring actors and those seeking a new creative hobby . The company was set up in January 2014 in response to the growing number of adults living in or around Swindon who are talented Actors, Writers and Directors and need a creative outlet; too old for youth theatre but wanting the professional mentorship, performance opportunities and support offered by many of these outlets. We also offer weekly workshops for aspiring performers who until now have had little to no experience of theatre. Seeking an opportunity to work and learn from professionals in the business, develop their craft and share their own talents.
Gatecrash is a high quality, professionally led step up from youth theatre! A support network for the artists of the future. Simple!’