15th December 2018
Last weekend saw me – and many others – in Swindon’s Old Town being part of The Journey.
The Journey, as described on photographer Elmar Rubio’s website, was ‘an immense, immersive theatrical telling of the Christmas story’. It entailed a processional performance that unfolded throughout Old Town that showed ‘the true nature, the faith and the fearlessness of those chosen to birth and raise Jesus Christ. It was truly epic, beautiful and moving and I offer my biggest and most heartfelt congratulations and thanks to all those who made it happen.
It began at Lethbridge School with crowd scenes, and the Romans telling the residents of Nazareth that they had to return to their birth place to be counted – for a census. The Journey progressed down to Wood Street, through a bazaar, and into Christ Church for the Nativity – with a real baby!
A couple of images below of this wonderful theatrical event, with thanks to Elmar Rubio for permission to use them. There’s dozens more here – follow the journey in fantastic photographic detail. Elmar is a brilliant photographer.
Mary and Joseph and the Infant Jesus
As I walked along with the performance it occurred to me how much the Christmas story carries resonances for all of us. Whether you’re a firm believer in God and Christ, are on the fence or strongly of the opinion that it’s nothing more than the greatest story ever told – it has resonances. Because, aside from the birth of Christ element, the Christmas story is one of people being made to move en masse, without fault and without choice. Whether it be fleeing from war, or famine or natural disaster – or forced from their homes for racist/political reasons – people have suffered mass exodus since time immemorial. The world hasn’t come to anything. Such atrocities were ever thus.
The residents of Nazareth, and all towns and villages in the region, were forced to undertake a long and arduous journey to Bethlehem because the Romans decided to count the population in its occupied territories. No matter if you were old, or sick or, like Mary, heavily pregnant – you had to go. Many must have died along the way.
And mass exodus is something that moved David Bent to paint his Movement 2000 collection. These works took David two years to paint. He undertook the project from feeling moved, inspired – driven even – to create a major piece of work in celebration of the new millennium. When he chose ‘Movement’ as the umbrella title for these paintings he was inadvertently prescient. Why? Because around this time the Balkan/Yugoslav raged. And, as we know, where ever conflict exists there are refugees. Where ever there is conflict there are people on the move seeking sanctuary.
You can view images of Movement 2000 on the David Bent studio website here.
So as I toddled along reflecting on all this, I considered how apt that this performance take place in a town that is home to the Harbour Project, aiding refugees and asylum seekers and is Swindon City of Sanctuary. And I reflected too, how so so very fortunate I am – that I am not them. I reflected that, to coin a cliché – there but for the grace of God go I. Go you. Go all of us.
I’m not wholly a fan of T S Eliot – but I do think that his The Journey of the Magi conveys how difficult that journey was.
On the subject of the Harbour Project and Swindon as a city of sanctuary see also this post.
Journey to safety mural at Drove Primary School
12th December 2018
Aladdin at The Wyvern
Aladdin: Saturday 8th December – Sunday 6th January 2019
To clear any doubt: the story of Aladdin didn’t start life as a Disney franchise. Aladdin is, in fact, is a folk tale originating in the Middle East.
Aladdin is one of the tales in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights) as told by Scherazade* – even though it wasn’t part of the original Arabic text. It’s thought that a Frenchman, Antoine Galland, attributing the tale to a Syrian storyteller called Youhenna Diab, added Aladdin to the collection of tales in the 18th Century.
Read about Scherazade, the inventor of the cliffhanger, in ‘Scherazade the story of a storyteller’ here.
Yet, despite all that, and as Interesting Literature.Com, points out, Aladdin is not Arabian but Chinese. Nor is he an orphan but a ne’r do well. And I can testify to that. Pictured below you see a Collins book of Fairy Tales given to me in 1966 (Yes – I AM quite old!). You’ll see from the image of the text at the story’s start, that Aladdin is indeed Chinese and a lazy so-and-so.
Aladdin and the magic lamp
The genie in the lamp
Whatever – Aladdin and the Magic Lamp is one of the best known and oft repeated of pretty much any fairy tale you care to mention, since its first appearance. Hence its place as part of the pantomime repertoire. Which brings us to Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre and the 2018 panotmime production.
Aladdin: Saturday 8th December – Sunday 6th January 2019
Check out performance times and prices here.
So last night (11th December), I donned my festive top, antlers and flashing light bulb necklace in readiness for some Swindon panto-style silliness. As my companion and I took our seats in a chock-full auditorium the excitement was palpable. We were ready for the off.
It has to be said, Adam Woodyatt makes a pretty good bad-guy. Last year he was swashed his buckle as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and this year he’s encouraging boos and jeers as Abanazar – the villain of the piece. FYI: Abanazar is the inspiration for Jafar in Disney’s version of Aladdin.
Should you be wondering where this version is set, Arabia or China – well that would be spoilers eh? And do they have Aladdin cast as lazy ne’r do well or a good son? Well that would be spoilers too!
What I can tell you is that all the panto elements you know and love are here. So, there’s booing and hissing and jeering and cheering. There’s a pantomime dame – of course. The genie proper looked the part! There’s the ubiquitous ‘he’s behind you’ – mild peril section and of course the audience participation section. My 2-year-old granddaughter had moved on from the infamous, viral Baby Shark song mod late. Thus I’d just about got that particular ear-worm out of my head. Now it”s well and truly back in there. So thanks for that Wyvern! Should you be lucky enough to have escaped it thus far – here, for your listening pleasure and subsequent insanity – it is: https://youtu.be/GR2o6k8aPlI
In summary then …
All the festive panto family fun you know and love. It’s a cracking night out so if you’ve not booked yet then do it. You’ll have a blast. Oh – on the subject of blasts …. did I mention the nerf guns?! No? Well I have now. Be warned!
Check out performance times and prices here.
And finally – to whet your appetite – a few photos from Anthony Hunt photography – https://www.facebook.com/anthonyhuntphotographyofficial/
The Chorus finale
Adam Woodyatt as Abanazer
David McKdechnie as the Emperor
The Summer Youth Project do Oliver!
Summer Youth Project Oliver
WOW! I’ve been to several summer youth project performances now and they’ve never failed to delight. But – last night, I saw them perform Oliver and it blew my socks off. The case were rewarded with a standing ovation that they deserved without a doubt.
Everyone was wonderful, a terrific ensemble cast, BUT – I HAVE to give special mention to Archie Fisher for his portrayal of Fagin. I saw Archie last year as Cyril in Summer Holiday – and he was fab. But as Fagin? For a sixteen-year old boy he gave a bravura performance, channelling the late, great, Ron Moody. Well done Archie – you are brilliant in the role. A name to watch I feel.
A great voice too from Nancy, played by Rhea Thorpe.
A cast of thousands
What I love best about the SYP is the seeming ‘cast of thousands’. The auditorium is used to great effect making you feel part of the action. It’s so very well staged! The Greatest Story Ever Told has got nothing on this. 🙂
What a super talented bunch they all are – my heartfelt congratulations to every single one of them. They’re all amazing and work so hard to get this production up and running in less than two weeks. Yes – that is what I said – TWO Weeks.
There’s no need to review this situation – go see it and consider yourself a damn good evening!
About Summer Youth Project
‘The first Summer Youth Project took place at the Wyvern Theatre in 1994 with Bugsy Maloneand 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 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! … ‘
‘Oliver! is a 1968 musical drama film directed by Carol Reed and based on the stage musical of the same name, with book, music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart. The screenplay was written by Vernon Harris. Both the film and play are based on Charles Dickens‘s novel Oliver Twist. The film includes such musical numbers as “Food, Glorious Food“, “Consider Yourself“, “As Long as He Needs Me“, “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two“, and “Where Is Love?“. Filmed in Shepperton Film Studio in Surrey, the film was a Romulus Films production and was distributed internationally by Columbia Pictures … ‘
13th July 2018
Event: This is our town
Prime Theatre wins major support for new Swindon history play called This is our town.
Prime Theatre has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £27,000 for an exciting new performance project based on Swindon’s people & places at the turn of the century.
Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project ‘This is Our Town’ will allow young actors & writers to partner the town’s heritage organisations & create live & digital performances & exhibition.
Supported through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the nine-month project begins with a major production at STEAM museum at the end of July,
’This Is Our Town’, brings to life figures & events from between 1903 & 1913. After this first production, new young writers & historians will be able to join another creative project with digital stories & an exhibition in the autumn.
Celebrating the award, Prime’s Associate Director Emma Barr said: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity for Prime Youth Theatre and any actors, producers, writers, researchers, technicians and directors between the ages of 10-17 to develop skills alongside professionals while learning more about local heritage. In our research we have come across dramatic stories and visionary people, giving us plenty of reasons to be proud of our town.’
Cast member and young writer, Jenna said: ‘I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the history of Swindon. Getting to be involved with both the writing and the performing has been so interesting and so much fun!’
Prime Theatre will support up to 150 young participants from across Swindon to get involved with heritage professionals from Swindon Local Studies archives, Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, STEAM Museum, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre & Swindon Heritage.
The show features William Morris, editor of the town’s newspaper, then called the “Swindon Advertiser and Wiltshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire Chronicle”. Other glimpses of history include suffragette Edith New, James ‘Raggy’ Powell the Swindon Councillor and philanthropist and events such as the tram crash of 1906.
Daryll Moody from Swindon Local Studies said: ‘We are proud to be involved in this fantastic project, which will allow Swindonians to step back in time and glimpse life in ‘our town’ a century ago. We always welcome the opportunity to share the treasures of the Local Studies collection with the widest possible audience.’
‘This is Our Town’ will be performed at STEAM museum on Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 July at 7pm with a matinee on Saturday at 2pm. Tickets at £7 are available through the Wyvern ticket office on 01793 524481 and www.swindontheatres.co.uk
29th April 2018
Swindon’s talent – telling Swindon’s Story
Earlier this week I attended a press launch of the above named-event. This one-off, set-to-be-spectacular event is the brainchild of the new and current, High Sheriff of Wiltshire, Nicky Alberry.
Uncelebrated journey celebrates Swindon and its journey by celebrating that of the much-unsung Alfred Williams – aka -the Hammerman poet.
The image below gives more information of what the event will comprise. If you can’t see it too well then visit the Uncelebrated Journey Facebook page. It’ll be much clearer there: https://www.facebook.com/UncelebratedJourney/
What’s so exciting about this innovative event is that it maps the entirety of Swindon’s cultural landscape. Just as the landscape of our beautiful country is more varied and rich than one can comprehend so too is Swindon’s cultural scene. It’s simply astonishing. What’s more it’s being brought together to tell Alfred’s story. And that story is as fascinating as that of Swindon itself.
As Total Swindon so helpfully say in their write-up:
‘The evening, full of specially commissioned pieces of music and dance seek to illustrate Williams’ amazingly varied life. Not only was he a factory worker and poet, he also served in the First World War as a Gunner and travelled to India.’
Alfred educated himself to an astonishing level: he taught himself Greek and Latin so he could read the Classics. His literary output was huge though largely – though not entirely – unrecognised in his lifetime. Alfred – THIS is your moment.
Swindon is a cultural oasis
For those of you unaware of how much Swindon has to offer culturally, here’s a round-up of some of it that you can experience at this event. These are the ones I’ve covered on this blog at various times.
- Swindon Dance
- Paul Turner and the Chamber Music Recital Series
- The South Asian Performing Arts Centre – SAPAC
- Swindon Symphony Orchestra
Swindon Choral Society and a whole heap more. I could be listing them all day.
When and where will it be?
Uncelebrated Journey will be taking centre stage at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre on Saturday the 6th of October.
21st March 2018
Not to be confused with The Birdie Song, BIRDSONG started out in 1993 as a war novel and family saga written by English author Sebastian Faulks. It’s also been televised by Auntie – aka the BBC.
Birdsong on tour, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 hostilities, is based on Faulk’s 1993 novel.
The first thing I have to do is apologise: I have a terrible asthmatic cough at the moment so there were times when it was less birdsong and more hacking old crow. I’m sorry. I know it’s annoying. The dry ice didn’t help. I did leave the auditorium when it got particularly bad. Plus my companion had a difficult evening for a different reason so between we must have driven the couple at the end of our row barmy! So, so sorry. Right – moving on …
I confess I’ve not read this book nor seen the adaptation on TV so I came to this stage adaptation with unsullied eyes. But, thinking of the subject matter, (and I don’t to talk about that the plot much – spoilers etc) I’m struck that the stage must be quite the best way to present the story. What better way, than on the confines of a small stage, to depict and to convey the physical location – in tunnels and dug-outs on a WWI battlefield – and the claustrophobia there of?
We can none of us, begin to imagine the awfulness of being there. And thank goodness we don’t have to. Yet dramas such as this are a powerful means of taking us there and going some way to be in their terror-filled shoes without recourse to dramatic special effects and CGI and gallons of Kensington gore.
One of my favourite plays is Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia – also written in 1993. Curious. That play has a stage setting that’s sparse in the extreme: a single large table with everyday items on each end for the period of the play one is in at a particular point in it action. I was reminded of that last night. Though not as sparse as that staging, the staging for Birdsong is minimal. Clever movement around the stage, a quick of a chair there, bring on a chaise longue here, and you moved seamlessly from Belgian bar, to picnic, to bedroom, to country house. All smoothly and tightly choreographed. Clever stuff.
Dig for victory
Some of the character focus of this play is on the men digging out the tunnels. They came to it from a civilian background of being a collier, or sewage or tube line construction. 3000 of them died engaged in this dirty, dangerous work. The trenches were bad. This was arguably worse still.
This, and Journey’s End, a powerful and haunting play from 1928, are moving evocations of WWI stories. These are just two stories – microcosms. Expand that out to the entire war and you get some sense of its unrelenting terror and … tedium. But the best thing of all is that we get to go home – and so many, many of them didn’t.
The play is running until this Saturday 24th March. Visit the Wyvern Theatre here to book tickets. I recommend you do. It’s a great slice of drama.
Birdsong on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BirdsongTheTour?ref=ts&fref=ts
And on Twitter: https://twitter.com/birdsongthetour