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.
‘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.
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.
‘This is going to be interesting’ I thought. ‘How on earth are they going to translate a much-loved show that featured broad, large-scale physical comedy (think the nativity play and the roller skating scene) to a stage?’ The answer is ‘Rather cleverly’. IMHO.
I have to confess two things here:
I’m not a massive fan of slapstick – I can see it’s brilliance in the comic timing but it doesn’t float my boat all that much.
Joe Pasaquale is an unknown quantity to me. I don’t watch reality TV and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him in action in any way.
So I’m happy to report that:
a. Not only did I smile several times – I even laughed out loud! 😉
b. More importantly, despite my personal antipathy to slapstick, I think Joe Pasquale did a brilliant job. He reminded us of Michael Crawford’s portrayal of the role without descending into parody. It would have been all too easy for this production to become an imitation of Michael Crawford’s rendition. And there were plenty of those at the time – remember Mike Yarwood? (Whatever happened to him?)
But I don’t think it did at all – a great testament to Mr Pasquale’s undoubted acting skills. He was quite a revelation to me I have to admit! The trenchcoat and the beret, and some of the mannerisms, all now a metonymy for Frank Spencer, were there but not overplayed.
A selection of publicity photos – photo credit to Scott Rylander:
Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em
Sarah Earnshaw as Betty in Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em
Susie Blake as Mrs Fisher in Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em
Sarah Earnshaw as Betty & Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer
LtoR: David Shaw-Parker as Father O’Hara, Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer &Moray Treadwell as Mr Worthington in Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em
Sarah Earnshaw as Betty, Moray Treadwell as Mr Luscombe & Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer
The staging deserves mention too. The action takes place in a single set, placed at a point quite far on (series 3 I think) in the timeline of the TV series, when Betty is trying to tell Frank she is pregnant. This conceit allows for a great deal of verbal and physical confusion – as you might expect. Some of the word play was pretty darn good I have to say with Malapropisms abounding. Good writing there.
So is this worth parting with your bucks for? Yes definitely. Even if, like me, you’re not generally a slapstick fan, give it a try. There’s much to commend and to be enjoyed in this lovely production of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
Though not obviously a hero, Frank Spencer is one. Despite his many failures, he has courage, and persistence and morality. He loves his wife and his family. No doubt that’s why his wife Betty, and we, love him right back.
This show is a lovely homage to Micheal Crawford and to the Frank Spencer we know and love. Yet Joe Pasquale has made the character his own. In fact, thinking about it, I can’t imagine anyone else that could take this one on so successfully as he has.
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is a British sitcom created and written by Raymond Allen and starring Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice. It was first broadcast in 1973 and ran for three series, ending in 1978, and returning briefly in 2016 for a one-off special. The series follows the accident-prone Frank Spencer and his tolerant wife, Betty, through Frank’s various attempts to hold down a job, which frequently end in disaster. The sitcom was filmed in and around the town of Bedford in Bedfordshire. It was noted for its stuntwork, performed by Crawford himself, as well as featuring various well-remembered and much lampooned catchphrases, that have become part of popular culture. In a 2004 poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em came 22nd.
The wimpish, smiling Frank, sporting his trademark beret and trench coat, is married to the apparently normal Betty (Michele Dotrice) and in later series they have a baby daughter, Jessica. The character was popular with television impressionists such as Mike Yarwood in the 1970s, particularly his main catchphrase, “Ooh Betty”, which is only ever said in one episode: series 2, episode 2.
“Ooh Betty …” is not Frank’s only catchphrase of the series. Others include a quavering “Oooh …”, usually uttered with his forefinger to his mouth as he stands amidst the chaos of some disaster he has just caused (and which he himself has invariably escaped unscathed). He also sometimes complains about being “ha-RASSed!”, or occasionally, “I’ve had a lot of ha-RASSments lately” (originally an American pronunciation). Other recurring catchphrases include references to “a bit of trouble”, which usually implies some sort of undisclosed digestive disorder, and to the cat having “done a whoopsie” (presumably a euphemism for having defecated in an inappropriate place, on one occasion in Spencer’s beret). If Frank is pleased (or confused) about something, he will often use the catchphrase “Mmmm — nice!” or “Ohhh — nice!”
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: