300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music
Hull City of Culture 2017
200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death
English Heritage & AGTO at World Travel Market
Kinky Boots The Musical
Cruises for Groups
AGTO’s 25th Anniversary Showcase
JRR Tolkein: 80th anniversary of The Hobbit
Diana: Her Fashion Story Exhibition
AGTO Sandringham Fam Trip
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.
2017 FAMILIARISATION TRIPS
You may have received information regarding an Alfa Travel familiarisation trip, commencing 17th February to Bognor Regis and a proposed group holiday in Hull, organised by Just for Groups, from 15–18 September.
For the Alfa Travel familiarisation trip you need to contact Julia Pearce direct on 01257 248007. For the proposed Hull holiday contact Joan Hanks direct on 01462 636626.
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
Joan Hanks - Branch Director
Maria Maltby - Secretary
Yvonne Hodson - Editor Eastwise
Maureen Hardingham, committee member
'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
CARLIE'S THEATRE TRIPS
L. to R. Claire Machin, Sophie-Louise Dann, Joanna Riding, Claire Moore, Debbie Chazen in The Girls at the Phoenix theatre.
It’s not often that something you look forward to seeing fulfills all expectations. I was – as the young people say – super excited to see The Girls and it was even better than anticipated. The show is THE GIRLS (Phoenix Theatre, London until 15 July 2017. Box Office: 0844 871 7629). Based on the true story of the Calendar Girls, which has already been a film and a play, this is written and music composed by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow. It tells of a group of women from the Yorkshire Women’s Institute who posed nude for a calendar to raise money to purchase a settee for the waiting room of the hospital where the husband of Annie, one of the stalwarts of the WI, died of cancer.
Firth and Barlow contrive to give each of the main women a solo to sing. There are some very good voices amongst the women and each song explains what makes the women tick and what she has to overcome in order to take the huge step of stripping in front of a camera and accepting that the pictures will be seen by many more people.
The Girls is directed by Tim Firth with a compassionate feeling for the plight of the man with cancer and how his wife and the community cope with his illness and death. We meet the women at the beginning of the show with the opening number, Yorkshire, where the women are introduced. Besides Annie (Joanna Riding), there is her best friend Chris (Claire Moore) who has a troublesome teenage son (Ben Hunter), Ruth (Debbie Chazen) who thinks she is the cause of her husband chasing other women. We also meet Cora (Claire Machin), the choir-mistress and main singer in the choir group and Marie (Marian McLoughlin), the Chair of the local WI. There too is the siren of the group, big breasted Celia (Sophie-Louise Dann) who sings “So I’ve had a little work done” and the very special older woman, Jessie (Michelle Dotrice), who gives a superb rendition of “what age expects” about being an older woman.
The women eventually take part in posing for the nude calendar even though Ruth has to down quantities of wine to get up enough courage and Chris has to prove herself to her son and his schoolgirl girlfriend (Chloe May Jackson).
Yorkshire, and especially the small village of Knapley where the women live, plays a large part in the story. Annie’s husband John (James Gaddas) is a man of the soil and the women plant the sunflower seeds he has left after he dies. The set is a simple assembly of kitchen cabinets and there are tons of sunflowers at the end. This is great musical for middle-aged people although the younger fans of Gary Barlow seemed to really enjoy it when he came on stage and sang on opening night. See this to be moved, amused and uplifted. Bring your groups and buy your tickets now!
THE WILD PARTY
Frances Ruffelle in The Wild Party
For once those devising a musical have chosen just the right name. THE WILD PARTY (The Other Palace Theatre, London until 1 April 2017. Box Office: 0844 264 2121) is just that – a really exuberant musical with lots about drugs and sex.
The Other Palace is a new enterprise by Andrew Lloyd Webber. He has taken over the St James Theatre as a place where new musicals will be put on. The Wild Party is the first production. Based on the long narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, it has been made into a musical by Michael John LaChusa and George C. Wolfe. The story is not the main element of the show but there is a tale to be told and under Drew McOnie, the director and choreographer, it is easy to follow. Queenie (Frances Ruffelle), a vaudeville performer, and her partner Burrs (John Owen-Jones), a clown, decide to throw a party. They want it to be special and memorable. And so it is, but not necessarily in quite the way they wanted.
Set in the time of the prohibition in America, a parade of characters enters and they entertain each other and the audience. Chief amongst them is Dolores, an older star who regrets the passing of the years. She is played with great poignancy by Donna McKenzie who has a powerful voice which she uses to great advantage, particularly when she sings When it Ends with the line “no party lasts for ever, I been there and seen enough.”
We also meet the impresarios Gold and Goldberg (Sebastien Torkia and Steven Serlin) who are concerned that their names might give away their Jewish heritage. Here, too, are the D’Armono boys (Genesis Lynea and Gloria Obianyo) black dancers who move exactly as one. There is something disturbing about their relationship which is only resolved when we see the top half of one of them. Late arrivals at the party are Queenie’s friend Kate (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who puts across the lyrics in her solos with a gorgeous voice) with her lover Black (Simon Thomas).Trouble brews when Queenie and Black fall for each other.
To a lively jazz score – which makes all of us want to join in - the actors dance and sing with great virtuosity. There are some frenetic production numbers; I particularly enjoyed Black Bottom. Frances Ruffelle – do you remember her as Eponine in the original London cast of Les Miserables? - gives a performance to relish. Her voice has the edge of age combined with an exact ability to put across her songs in a beautiful manner. She is well supported by John Owen-Jones who displays a fine singing voice.
The end, when it comes, shocks us all. There are many references in this show, set in the 20s, to sexual exploits and decadence so this musical is definitely for adults only! If you are likely to be offended by the content then don’t go. For the more adventurous overall this is an exciting and most energetic opening production and we can only wish Lloyd Webber well in his new venture.
You will need your literary hat on for this play, TRAVESTIES (Apollo Theatre, London until 29 April2017. Box Office: 0330 333 4809), which gets a West End transfer after its sell-out run at the Menier Theatre. It is full of very witty dialogue. Director Patrick Marber’s production of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 comedy brings out the individual characters and their humorous speeches.
[Freddie Fox (Tristan Tzara) and Tom Hollander (Henry Carr) in Travesties by Tom Stoppard.]
Henry Carr (Tom Hollander), a diplomat at the British Consulate in Zurich, comes on in his dressing gown and remembers what happened in 1917. Only he is old and his memory is not as it should be so he is not always accurate about the sequence of events. He remembers meeting with the Russian revolutionary politician, Lenin (Forbes Masson), the Dadaist, Romanian Tristan Tzara (Freddie Fox) and the Irish writer, James Joyce (Peter McDonald).
A constant link is Henry Carr’s performance as Algernon in Oscar Wilde’s play The Impotance of Being Earnest.
Tom Stoppard has written a beautiful play in which language dominates. The dialogue is poetic even when poetry is not being spoken. There are many literary and historical references but the writer never overwhelms his audience with facts.
Stoppard is so clever with words and never better than in a lovely scene between the two main women in this play, Cecily (Clare Foster) and Gwendolen (Amy Morgan). Tom Stoppard gives us a very funny version of the scene between the two girls in Wilde’s play where thy start by swearing undying love and finish by being less than complimentary to each other. Patrick Marber, a writer himself, is the perfect director for this literary play.
It is good to see Freddie Fox (of the famous Fox acting dynasty) proving his true dramatic chops. Completely at ease with the sharp exchange, based on Oscar Wilde’s comedy, are the two actresses Clare Foster and Amy Morgan. Peter McDonald as Joyce and Forbes Masson as Lenin give strong performances. Best of all, however, is Tom Hollander as Henry Carr. Hollander relishes the main part and he gives a very polished and accomplished performance.
If you want a change from taking your groups to musical after musical, you won’t do much better than a trip to see Travesties.
And now for something completely different: RENT (St James Theatre, London until 28 January 2017 and then on tour*. Box office: 020 7452 3000.)
Leyton as Angel in RENT
This is an extraordinary production of a landmark show. First seen 20 years ago this is a worthy successor to other productions performed over the years. Loosely based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, the rock musical is set in the mid-1990s at the time it was created by Jonathan Larson (who very sadly died suddenly aged 35 just before the opening). The setting is the East Village, New York.
Struggling bohemian artists find it hard to get enough food or money to pay the rent. They keep their friendships throughout their difficulties, which include the coming of the AIDS virus. As friends get ill and even die, the group make personal discoveries and face up to the future. Larson is responsible for the book, music and lyrics and the show won numerous awards when it was first on Broadway. This production has an amazing cast, performing under the direction of Bruce Guthrie. Billy Cullum plays the narrator Mark Cohen. Apart from his terrific voice, Cullum has just the right mixture of curiosity as he films what is happening and participates in events. Ross Hunter provides strong characterisation as Mark’s roommate Roger while Philippa Stefani plays Mimi who is starving in the room below Mark and Roger. I liked Lucie Jones as Maureen and Shanay Holmes as Joanne, who perform an excellent song together.
The outstanding performance though is given by Layton Williams who plays Angel, a young man who dresses as a female. He does the most amazing acrobatics – splits in the air and on the ground and eye-watering jumps. Layton was the first non-white Billy in Billy Elliot in his younger days. The music played by a small band is great and forms a good backing for the songs, all of which are well-sung by an outstanding ensemble of singers who dance and act alongside the leads. A very minor character played by Jenny O’Leary comes to the fore doing a solo in Seasons of Love. Although the musical is written about a particular era, it remains of relevance today. The threat of HIV, while still around, is receding, but young people can find themselves on the breadline today. Taking La Boheme as its inspiration, the whole show bounces with virtually non-stop dancing and movement. Nobody can say that British musical theatre is inferior to America now! Get your groups together and go to the show in London or a theatre near you (see below).
*RENT UK TOUR
8 December 2016 – 28 January 2017
St James Theatre
31 January – 4 February 2017
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
6 – 11 February 2017
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
14 – 18 February 2017
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
28 February – 4 March 2017
Liverpool Empire Theatre
28 March – 1 April 2017
3 – 8 April 2017
Wales Millennium Centre
11 – 15 April 2017
Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
18 – 22 April 2017
York Theatre Royal
1 – 6 May 2017
Poole’s Centre For The Arts
9 – 13 May 2017
Belgrade Theatre Coventry
16 – 20 May 2017
23 – 27 May 2017
Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
30 May – 4 June 2017
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
HALF A SIXPENCE
As I predicted, HALF A SIXPENCE (Noel Coward Theatre, London booking until 22 April 2017. Box Office: 0844871 7622) has been transferred from Chichester Festival Theatre to the West End.
Ann (Devon-Elise Johnson) & Arthur (Charlie Stemp)
The show has the same cast that put across the musical in such a lively fashion in Chichester. Now Charlie Stemp comes to London as a star. His Arthur is full of life – lively, and extremely energetic with a most attractive personality and extraordinarily skilful acrobatic dancing.
There are two things I miss from the original production: the first is the lovely thrusting stage of the Chichester Festival Theatre is now reduced to the much smaller stage of the Noel Coward theatre so that the dancers don’t have quite the same amount of space any more. And the second is that Charlie, in being a more assured performer now, has lost a little bit of his innocent naivety.
Other than these two quibbles, the revival of this musical – first put on in 1963 as a vehicle for Tommy Steele - which has been adapted by Julian Fellows (of Downton Abbey fame), with new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, is the same inventive, very jolly romp. Director Rachel Kavananagh has kept to the original H.G. Wells’ novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul in her splendid production.
Charlie Stemp plays Arthur Kipps, an ordinary young man who we first see playing childish games with his young sweetheart, Ann Pornick (Devon-Elsie Johnson). He gives her half a sixpence which he has cut in two while he keeps the other half as a pledge of their devotion. Arthur has to leave the home of his aunt and uncle (he is an orphan) in New Romney in 1904 to go and work as a draper’s assistant in Folkestone.
We next see Arthur working alongside a little group of workers serving a rich clientele in a draper’s store in 1911. He falls for the seemingly wealthy Helen Walsingham (Emma Williams) who comes into the store with her mother (Vivien Parry). By chance, Arthur encounters the eccentric playwright Mr Chitterlow (Ian Bartholomew with a strange ginger wig) who reads a newspaper article and alerts Arthur to the news of a legacy left by his grandfather (his mother’s father) who had felt guilty for the rest of his life after preventing his daughter from marrying with the result that baby Arthur was born out of wedlock. Finding himself wealthy, Arthur is able to court Helen and fraternise with the rich. But he finds that money does not buy him happiness and he misses his old pals and the ease of their friendship and, above all, he misses his childhood sweetheart Ann. The upper-class life is difficult to adjust to and Arthur wants to get out of his situation.
A good mixture of minor characters and their stories combine with the life of Arthur to provide an always interesting story. The dancing, singing and inter-action between the characters enhance this production and the songs are all most hummable songs with the well-known title song, Half a sixpence and the very lively Flash, bang, wallop making the audience cheer. Made to rouse the audience to an enthusiastic display of hand clapping, I found Pick out a simple tune with Arthur playing his beloved banjo, went on rather too long, but managed to show the toffs dancing along to Arthur’s commands. The smaller London stage doesn’t quite manage to bring the dancers close to the audience but the choreography is varied and exciting with the dancers, led by Charlie Stemp, executing a variety of steps with dexterity and verve.
The set is simple but most effective: a back wall of projections shows where the various scenes are set – the draper’s shop, the pub, the high-class home of Lady Punnet (Jane How) and other locations in Kent. The actors move around on the stage on revolving circles.
The designer, Paul Brown, has worked closely with director, Rachel Kavanaugh, to produce particularly attractive costumes. Each set of designs exactly suits the characters and the class they come from. So the chorus of shoppers are all in cream dresses. And later at Lady Punnet’s garden party, the well-drilled ladies move around in unison all dressed in white.
Actors portray the other characters in an enthusiastic style with Ian Bartholomew particularly good in the part of Critchelow and Vivien Parry an admirable Mrs Walsingham in the Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey style.
Young Charlie Stemp, with his toothy grin, reminds us of Tommy Steel but he brings his own style to the part. While his singing can be called pleasant, his is not an exceptionally good voice. His dancing, however, when he performs somersaults and acrobatics is excellent. Both Emma Williams and Devon-Elise Johnson sing well and are nicely differentiated in their speech and behaviour. Thoroughly deserving of its five star rating.