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.





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

Linda Nicholas - Treasurer

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



AGTO Showcase Weekend 2017 Familiarisation Trip


Everyone seemed to enjoy their chosen fam trip during the weekend. I chose the one to the three famous gardens i.e. Ness Park, Tatton Park and Arley Hall & Gardens. Each one had something really significant to offer:

At Ness Gardens our group really felt like VIPs. There was a special celebration day for the 70th Anniversary of the BBC’s Gardeners’ Question Time with a garden party for 3000 guests. Tim Baxter showed us round the site. It was quite a celebration.

Tatton Park is somewhere I have always wanted to visit and I wasn’t disappointed. The Japanese Garden is something I will always remember. The design, the plants, the way the landscape had been designed; it was just wonderful.

Unfortunately I was not able to take full advantage of visiting the Mansion House. I was provided with a buggy to help me get round the site and everyone was so helpful.  After our tour we enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch.

Our last visit of the day was to Arley Hall & Gardens, the home of the Viscount & Vicountess Ashbrook. Their ancestors have lived at Arley Hall for 500 years. Arley Hall is a Grade II* listed property. Unfortunately I was only able to visit the ground floor of the house but whilst waiting for our party who were able to see the upper part of the Hall, the guide’s wife, who is a pianist, played some lovely background music to create a wonderful atmosphere.

The garden at Arley, overlooking the beautiful park, had a great variety of plants and trees.  I was fascinated by an avenue of 14 holm oaks clipped in the shape of giant cylinders and elaborate topiary. The leaves are spiny like holly; amazing.  Before leaving we were treated to afternoon tea and we all loved the white chocolate raspberry cake!

Our guide for the day was Yvonne Kirk, who is a member of The Guild of Chester Tour Guides. A wonderful lady who knew so much about the gardens but also about the whole area. Our superb driver was Charlie from Anthony’s Travel.

Yvonne Hodson, E1285, Eastern Branch.


Tatton Park






Calvin Demba, Sam Frenchum & Anah Ruddin in Loot

And now for something completely different:

Original and outrageous, Joe Orton’s play LOOT returns (Park Theatre, London until 24 September. Box office: 020 7870 6876 then Watermill Theatre, Newbury, from 28 Sept to 21 Oct. Box office: 01635 46044) to mark the 50th anniversary of Joe Orton’s murder by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. His play has lines which were cut by the Lord Chamberlain in the original 1966 production, restored by director Michael Fentiman. The other big difference is that there is a live person as the dead body instead of a dummy.

The plot is pure farce with McLeavy (Ian Redford) grieving over the coffin containing his recently deceased wife as they wait to go to the funeral.  He is helped by a kindly young nurse, Fay (Sinead Matthews) who, it turns out, has killed off a few husbands and is now looking for another one.  McLeavy’s son Hal (Sam Frenchum) and his partner in crime, Dennis (Calvin Demba) have just committed a bank robbery and Hal has hidden the loot in a wardrobe in the same room as the body.  When people seem interested in opening the closet, the young men remove the loot and exchange it with the body in the coffin.  The body is then moved backwards and forwards and under the bed. A police inspector Truscott (Christopher Fulford) posing as a water board official in order to gain entry without a warrant, appears in search of the criminals who have carried out the bank robbery.

The set – of a funeral parlour - is fantastic and includes doors which are always essential in a farce, even a macabre one like this.

The dialogue, while always witty, has a lot to say about society at the time of writing when homosexuality was illegal but also much of relevance to today about police corruption, religion, justice.  There was, however, a groan from the audience when Truscott commented,

“My wife is a woman. Intelligence doesn’t enter into the matter.”

Apart from continuous loud shouting from Fulford as the police inspector, the actors play well and it is beautifully cast and directed with the wonderful dialogue brought out to the full and what is not said directly is always understood by all.  There is also subtle portrayal of the sexuality between the two men as they hover over the coffin or woo the nurse.  The outstanding performance, however, is from Anah Ruddin as the corpse. She is completely flexible and allows herself to be thrown around including being placed head down in the closet (see picture above).

Rating ****


Carlie Newman

 I saw a version of this play when it was at the RSC in Stratford in December 2015.  Now QUEEN ANNE comes to the Theatre Royal Haymarket (until 30 September. Box office:  020 7930 8800).  There have been a few changes of cast; the  main one being Romola Garai who now plays Sarah Churchhill instead of Natascha McElhone.

The play, which is written by Helen Edmundson and directed by Natalie Abrahami (and good to see two women in these prominent positions) looks closely at the relationship between Princess Anne (Emma Cunliffe), who became Queen in 1702, and Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai), wife of the war hero John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.  Anne is extremely close to Sarah, not only personally but also because she looks to Sarah to advise her on political matters.  When this relationship is interfered with – mainly through the machinations of the Tory, Robert Harley (a strong performance here by James Garnon) and her close relationship with a new servant Abigail Hill (shown  initially as deceptively naïve in a good performance by Beth Park) – Sarah is unhappy to lose her position of power  over the Queen..

Romola Garai and Emma Cunniffe star in Queen Anne


 In some ways I preferred Natascha McElhone as Sarah.  Both she and Romola Garai are beautiful but Garai is more on one note than McElhone. However, Garai manages Sarah Churchill's mixture of sweetness and hard determination.  Ambition pours out of every pore. She is much stronger and more ambitious than her husband.   Emma Cunliffe renmains as the Queen and is a real revelation: her Anne is frail yet morally upright with a quiet determination to always do right and perform her duties with honesty.  She adores her husband.

Most of us don’t know much about Queen Anne at the beginning of the play.  Do we know more by the end?  Certainly we are aware of her personal relationships with her political advisers and her illnesses but not a lot more about the world outside. The play has, I suppose of necessity, a lot of dialogue which explains rather than shows what is happening in the outside world, so is not always fully engrossing. Because of the excellent performance of Emma Cunliffe, which has even improved since Stratford,  the play gains an extra star!

Rating ****


Carlie Newman



As I predicted, HALF A SIXPENCE (Noel Coward Theatre, London   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.

 Rating: *****


Carlie Newman