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HAVE WE EVER HAD IT SO BAD? THE EPIDEMICS OF LICHFIELD

It’s fair to say that the current Covid-19 situation is as bad as anyone can remember in living history. But Lichfield has been the subject of many epidemics over the years, from late 19th century small-pox, the (incorrectly titled) Spanish Flu of the final years of World War One, through the Asiatic Flu, foot and mouth and whooping cough epidemics of more recent times – and even an ice-cream poisoning epidemic in 1922!

The following passages appeared in the national, and local, press through the ages and do show that, although we may all feel that this is the most dangerous and threatening time of our lives, that epidemic outbreaks of the past created the same type of feelings, fears and anxieties in the past.
They also show similar incidents of misunderstandings, and misinformation, that are visible now.

They make for interesting reading – and perhaps we will see similar newspaper, and online reporting, about the deadly Covid-19 virus of 2020 in the future?

Whatever happens – do stay safe and do keep well.

THE SMALL POX EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, January 1888

Dr. Clark, the Medical Officer of Health to the Authority presented the following report respecting the case of small-pox at Spade Green, Burntwood:

Lichfield Union Rural Sanitary Authority – Lichfield, January 13tb, 1888. —Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen – I beg to report that the case of small pox at Burntwood is now convalescent. Its virulence through the man having been imperfectly vaccinated in early life, abated. There is now every reason to believe that the precautions taken to limit the disease, aided by the season of the year, will prove successful. The re-vaccinations have taken full effect and have probably prevented some of the inmates and others from being attacked by the disease. In about the course of a week, the house ought be thoroughly infected and lime washed, and what bedding clothes etc that cannot be steeped in disinfectants and boiled ought to be burnt, I also recommend that the same detached cottage under the same roof where there is a family of children should be thoroughly cleansed and lime washed at the same time. It has had nothing done to it for years, and is in very filthy condition especially the scullery where the bread has to be baked. The water supply to these cottages also very bad, and requires immediate attention as the people have to carry their water all the way from Pipe Hill Farm. There seems unfortunately at the present time, ground for fearing that a general epidemic of smallpox is imminent.

THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, May 1891  

During the past week the influenza in a serious form has made its appearance in Lichfield and district, and a large number of persons have been more or less afflicted. The Hon Mrs Maclagan and one of her children have been confined to their rooms at Bishopstowe, and several of the doctors of the City have suffered. Whole families have in some cases been attacked, in one instance eight persons in one household, and the sickness generally through the epidemic has been almost unprecedented. Amongst those laid up in Rugeley ana the district are the Rev Samson (vicar of S. Michael’s, Brereton), Mrs Samson, and several other members of the family, Mr J Hackett (district registrar), the Rev A Copeman (of Brereton), Ac. Amongst the troops at Whittington Barracks illness has been very great, and the sufferings of some of the patients have been very severe. The Mayor of Tamworth (Mr R Nevill) has been confined to his bed for several days with an attack of influenza. He is, however, reported to be improving and less feverish.

MEASLES EPIDEMIC AT LICHFIELD – Evening Despatch, January 1916

Several Deaths: All Schools Closed. A very serious epidemic of measles is raging at Lichfield, one doctor alone having over 200 cases on hie books. Several deaths have occurred, and there is a difficulty in procuring suitable isolation accommodation for the more serious rases. All the schools have been closed until the end of the month, and the city has boon placed out of bounds to the soldiers at Whittington Barracks. The outbreak is the most serious experienced in the city for many years, and is naturally creating considerable anxiety, especially in the poorer parts of the city, where majority of the deaths have occurred.

INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC IN LICHFIELD – Lichfield Mercury, October 1918

An epidemic of influenza raging in Lichfield and all the schools, with the exception of the High School, have been closed. The epidemic is the most widespread that has occurred for very many years, and it has developed with great rapidity. There are quite a large number of instances where four or five members of a household are down with the disease and one case reported where eight persons in one house are under treatment. Happily, the cases are for most part of mild type, though a proportion are of a more serious character. One noteworthy feature is that number of cases the influenza is accompanied by nose bleeding and vomiting, while others the sufferers are delirious. The outbreak has increased the strain on the local doctors, who. for a long time have been working at high pressure consequent on the absence on military service of members of the profession who formerly practised in the district.  

THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, November 1918

LESSON’S FROM THE OUTBREAK. THE POLICY OF THE FUTURE. The influenza epidemic is still causing acute anxiety in Lichfield. Fresh cases continue to occur in the City, though they are not as numerous as they were a fortnight or three weeks ago. Unfortunately, the disease seems now to be spreading to the outlying districts and the schools are closed at Armitage, Gentleshaw, Fradley, Alrewas Shenstone. Wall, Chasetown, Kings Bromley, Whittington, Weeford, BrownhilIs and Norton Canes. It cannot, therefore, be said that there is any real abatement.
The impression has been gaining ground that disease which has made its appearance with such virulence and over practically the whole world is not really influenza. This impression arose from the fact that the symptoms seemed to be in general to be of a quite different type from those experienced in previous epidemics. In the minds of people there was a suspicion that the outbreak was a form of plague. The latter suspicion, is, according Sir Walter Fletcher, Director of the Medical Research Committee, and Lieutenant-Col. Harvey, at the Royal Army Medical College, entirely without foundation. Research work has been proceeding for some time and no such organism as the plague bacillus has been found. Further it is pointed out by another expert that influenza manifests itself in several ways, and bacteriologists may find that what we call influenza is really a group of distinct diseases. The widespread nature of the outbreak is responsible for the great public attention that the disease is attracting at the present time.

AN EPIDEMIC ATTRIBUTED TO ICE-CREAM – Lichfield Mercury, February 1922.

 Dr. L. S. Tomkys, medical officer of health for the Lichfield rural district, in his annual report, expresses the opinion that ice-cream purchased from an itinerant vendor from Walsall was the cause an epidemic of enteric fever which broke out in the Lichfield rural district last year. The number of cases notified in this outbreak 17. It was found that all the notified cases, and also all the suspicious ones, had partaken of this ice-cream. The medical officer for Walsall (Dr. Shore) reported that, after a thorough investigation, he had failed find any evidence connecting the ice-cream with the outbreak. In spite of that, he (Dr. Tomkys) thought there could be no reasonable doubt the ice-cream was the cause, and. all the affected persons had purchased’ on two succeeding Sundays, was probable that those were the only two deliveries which were contaminated.

FLU EPIDEMIC HITS STAFF – Lichfield Mercury, February 1951

Hospital Has Volunteer Helpers: The ‘flu epidemic, one of the most virile in recent years, is causing serious concern to hospital authorities in Lichfield. Hardest hit of local hospitals is St. Michael’s, where five out of six sisters in the maternity section and two from the main wards have been struck with the illness. Over a dozen patients have died since the epidemic began to spread, and so many of the staff are ill that emergency measures have had to be put into operation. On Sunday, members of the local branch of the Red Cross were called in to assist the staff and an extra midwife had to be hurriedly sent for from Wolverhampton. During the week volunteers from Lichfield Round Table have been working in shifts in the evening in order to give the over-worked nurses a chance to rest. The Matron (Miss J. Lewis) told a “Mercury” reporter that illness was particularly prevalent among the older patients. “I have been very grateful for the help the Red Cross and the Round Table have given me,” she said. “The Round Table, with no previous experience, have worked wonders.” The Victoria Hospital has suffered less than St. Michael’s. The Matron (Miss M. F. Cant), herself a temporary victim, told a ‘”Mercury” reporter the – situation was under control and conditions were virtually normal.

KOREA MEN HIT BY ‘FLU WAVE – Birmingham Daily Gazette, September 1953

Epidemic sweeps Lichfield barracks. Medical officers at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, yesterday commandeered a barrack block as an ” overflow hospital” and called for volunteers to help nurse victims of a ‘flu epidemic which has struck the barracks. Parts of the former military hospital, which has been out of commission since 1946 and is now Mercian Brigade headquarters, may be recommissioned if the outbreak spreads. More than 40 men are in bed, including men of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry who recently returned from Korea. An officer said last night: “The barrack block we have taken over has four rooms, each to hold 20 men. One room is full, as well as the ordinary sick quarters, and we expect to open another room tomorrow.” The outbreak at the barracks is part of a wave of ‘flu. mumps and the seasonal coughs and colds which is striking most parts of the Midlands, though in most of the area it has not reached epidemic proportions.

THE ASIAN FLU EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, October 1957

The Incidence of cases of Asian ‘flu In Lichfield continues to be high and from all hands there are reports of sufferers. Mainly the outbreaks appear to be without serious complications. although they are none the less painful and distressing to the patients. Doctors advise that bed is the best place when the ‘flu strikes. From almost every public event held in Lichfield and district in the past week comes the comment that attendances were down because of the outbreak. For factories and offices the position made particularly serious with firms trying to carry on with half the staff – sometimes much less than half.

THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, October 1957

Although it difficult to assess exactly. the incidence of the Asian ‘flu epidemic in Lichfield, it is obviously continuing at a pretty high rate and very few families in the city have escaped. The M.O.C. for the area, Dr. C. E. Jamison, tells that the doctors the city are still extremely busy and the indications are that the epidemic has not yet reached its peak, but should do fairly soon. The best advice that can be given is for the patient to take to his or her bed as speedily possible, although It is well known that this isn’t always easy, particularly when there are other people to be looked after or when conscientious workers know that their absence will mean difficulty at their office or factory.

MEASLES IN LICHFIELD – Birmingham Daily Post, December 1960

There is a measles epidemic in Lichfield, the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. C. E. Jamison. said last night. “There is no cause for alarm,” he said. “It is the kind of thing we get about every two years and it is not in any way exceptional.”

CATTLE MARKET FIRST TO RE-OPEN – Walsall Observer & South Staffordshire Chronicle, February 1968

The first cattle market in Staffordshire to open since the foot and mouth epidemic began, was Lichfield’s Smithfield Market, which opened on Monday for the first time since mid-November, when it was held under special license. Mr. T. F. Winterton the auctioneer had to obtain another licence to re-open the market and said: I hope that the market can now be held each week, but while restrictions are still in force we will have to get a special licence from the County Council each time.

TURKEYS GALORE! – Lichfield Mercury, 25 December 1970

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Turkey trader!

There seems to be enough turkeys for everyone despite the threat of soaring prices and short supplies brought about by the recent Fowl Pest epidemic. This Lichfield trader was pictured hard at work last weekend preparing his stocks ready for the on rush of customers. It looks like being a happy, well-fed Christmas for everyone . . . except the turkeys, of course!

CHILDREN AT RISK FEARS IN NEW EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, 1986

Hundreds of local children are at risk from a whooping cough epidemic which is sweeping Lichfield and the surrounding area. Corresponding figures from six months of last year show that the number of children with whooping cough has jumped from 13 to a massive 137 this year. Now, child health care officers are urging parents to have their youngsters vaccinated against the disease.

Jono’s Lichfield Tourism April 2020

Articles courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Lichfield Greenhill Bower 1929

Article as featured in the Staffordshire Advertiser

Greenhill Bower Attracts Crowds

While the keynote Lichfield’s 1929 Greenhill Bower was “Patriotism,” its primary and ultimate achievement was, without doubt, enjoyment. It is estimated that 50.000 people participated in the ancient festival this year, and whatever may have been its historic motive, it was apparent that the majority of those people, visitors and citizens alike, were out for pleasure.
If Whit-Monday’s festival in every respect was not a record. at any rate within the memory of citizens who can recall over 70 Bowers, it has never been surpassed, and, whatever the future may hold in store for this quaint commemoration of one of the customs of the Middle Aces, the present generation will able recall the undiluted pleasure and joy they derived from this year’s festival. It was a magnificent day for a magnificent programme, the latter redounding great credit upon a voluntary committee, to whom Lichfield little realises its indebtedness. One of the most remarkable achievements of the day was the transport facilities. Wherever all the people came from will never be known, and how they were got away more mysterious still. The City Railway Station alone must have dealt with at least 20.000 trippers, to say nothing of Trent Valley, which caters for Stafford, Tamworth. and the Nuneaton districts, while the bus services from all parts were doubled and trebled in order to cope with the incoming and outgoing multitudes. As usual, there were no licensing restrictions throughout the day and consequently, the public houses and hotels had their accommodation taxed to their utmost limits, while the sudden and unusually warm weather created an almost unquenchable thirst amongst many of the visitors.
The striking feature of this year’s procession, which always opens the day’s proceedings was, undoubtedly, its originality, and everyone agreed that it was the best they had ever seen in the city. First and foremost came the Bower’s first queen. Miss Lavinia Edith Feam, a pretty young blonde with long flowing tresses, who made picturesque tableau with her crown of roses bestowed upon her outside the Guildhall with due ceremony by the Mayor (Councillor J. Key). For the main portion of the procession, the committee had selected tableaux representing “England.” ‘‘Scotland.” “Ireland.” and “Wales,” providing an object lesson of Great Britain’s unity in everything appertaining the welfare of these isles. Being nomination day for the Parliamentary election, the committee invited the three contestants to join in the procession, and their presence was regarded as an augury of the spirit of fair play, which it is hoped will predominate throughout the remaining days of the campaign. One of the most artistic and pleasing features of the procession was the Bower Cabaret Troupe, clever dancing reflected the highest credit upon their tutor (Miss Shelley) and whose striking costumes and wigs, made Miss S. Owen, enhanced the beauty of the procession. A greatly appreciated addition to this year’s procession was the English Electric Morris Dancers from Stafford, under the direction of Mr. L. O. Shelley, their exhibitions, like those of the Lichfield Morris dancers (under Mr G. H. Gallimore) being skilful and inter eating. Apart from the grotesque figures, the humorous element was provided Mr. E. Slater’s tableau. “A Boxing Exhibition” and ingenuity was shown in the tableau “The Ashes” by Messrs. J. Sims and Furber, and the nursery tableau, arranged by Mrs. Furber, while the humorous illustration of the building of the new hospital was the aid of the “industrious workers.” a very effective means of extracting close upon £6O from the crowd for the Building Fund. The procession was led Mr. T. Charrington, and marshalled by Mr. Ernest Cork.

At the Bower House

 After two hours’ perambulation of the streets the city, the procession reached the Bower House on Greenhill, where the civic dignatories and members of the committee partook of light refreshments.  After the loyal toast, the Sheriff (Major P. Norman. M.C.) proposed the toast “The Bishop. Clergy and Ministers of all denominations, coupled with the names of the Rev. Percival Howard, R.D., chaplain to the Bower, and the Rev. Father Cravin who responded. The Mayor proposed the toast of “Success to the Bower” and said the committee greatly rejoiced seeing such large crowds in their city that day. The committee were congratulated this year the extent and wonderful construction of the procession. There had no doubt, been a great deal of thought and care in its provision and arrangement, and was sure the whole city must with one voice acclaim the results of the committee’s efforts as a tremendous success. Alderman W. A. Wood, who responded said he had been chairman of the Bower Committee for nearly 30 years, and, as had said on previous occasions, never had a chairman more devoted or loyal helpers on his committee than he had. Never could that said more truly than on the present occasion, for in his long tenure of office never had he done so little this year. After referring with regret to the absence, through ill health, of Mr. T. Cureton, Alderman Wood paid a tribute to the heads of the different departments in connection with the Bower, and also thanked Mr. Fat Collins for his generosity in allowing them the use of his organ on Sunday evening for the sacred organ recital in aid the Nursing Horne. Proceeding, Mr. Wood said there were very few present who had had such long association with the Bower as himself and Mr. Cureton. They believed this was the oldest festival of its kind in the country. It went back certainly to Saxon days, and, from the exuberance shown in the Bower 1929 he saw very little chance of it ever dying out. (Hear, hear.) It was not merely an outdoor fete, but a lesson in English history from the earliest limes. It encouraged wholesome love for their dear old country, and long might the Bower continue to exist encourage that patriotism and all the good that such a wish could bring in its train. (Hear, hear, and applause.) The toast of “The Mayor and Sheriff” was proposed by Councillor F. Garratt. and, in responding, the Sheriff said he knew of no better way of spending Whit-Monday.

 Mr. Pat. Collins, jun., said his father and himself had been attending Lichfield Greenhill Bower for many years. but that was the first occasion they had been present that ceremony, and was amazed to see the good fellowship which it created. It was really marvellous, he said, to see everything going on so happily and everyone enjoying themselves. As representing the showmen, he thanked them all for their courteous reception, and wished to assure them that they would do their best to provide the entertainment part of that old festival. (Hear, hear.)

The Sports

About 4.500 spectators assembled in the Recreation Grounds for an interesting programme of cycling and athletic sports, the competition in which was exceptionally keen. Interesting displays were given by the English Electric Morris dancers and the Bower Cabaret Troupe, and an enjoyable musical programme was contributed the Aldridge Colliery Silver Prize Band under Mr. E. T Smith In the half mile cycle handicap for novices, a special prize was awarded by Col M. A. Swinfen-Broun for the best performance by a Lichfield rider, and this was awarded to G. Lees, of the Lichfield C.C.

Bower Sunday

Upon the invitation of the Rev. Howard. R.D., the Mayor and Corporation of Lichfield, accompanied by the Bower Committee, attended in civic slate the morning service at St. Michael’s Church on Sunday. The procession from the Guildhall was headed the Lichfield City Band, and included the Mayor (Councillor John Key), the Sheriff (Major P. G. Norman. M.C.) Alderman H. J. C. Winterton. H. O. Hall, C.C., and W. A. Wood. Councillors I. R. Deaton, W. Morrison J. 11. Bridge man. F. Garratt. W. B. Littler. F. M. Taylor, E. Hammond, and J. H. Thorpe, with the Town Clerk (Mr. W. and the three Parliamentary candidates for the constituency. Messrs. S. Samuel, K. B. Hamel, and J, A. Lovat Fraser. An interesting sermon was preached the Rector from the text, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do. do it with thy might” (Eccles. ix.. part of v. 10) Some three or four weeks ago. he said, he was in Paris standing at the foot of the tomb the great Napoleon, and by the side of his ashes lay the remains of the great General Foch. It was General who sent down from the front on memorable occasion that wonderful message which ought to be known by everyone in the world, a message which ought linked with Nelson’s signal and become a proverb in the land. His message was “The enemy is pressing me on every side. My right is falling back, mv left is giving way. I am attacking” What a magnificent message! —a message which showed the spirit of courage and determination to face difficulties almost overwhelming. Ten years had passed since that message was given, but he still felt that we wanted that spirit of courage and determination which the great General had in order to face and confront the difficulties of the present He was not sure but what we were not too fond of talking about our failures. Were we not taking rather a pessimistic view of life at the present moment, and of the English history being made day by day? We wanted that spirit which determined that, though things were very black, we were going forward to attack. The Prince of Wales, when opening an exhibition in the North the other day said almost the same thing. “When trade is bad—advertise” said the Prince. When dangerous competitors were meet them on every side, that was the tune for the big push. They must fling aside vain regrets of the past and face the future with determination and courage. As a member of a rowing club in his younger days, he was taught that the best time to make a spurt was when the other boat was getting away. When things were looking black was the time to call upon the crew to make up the ground they might have lost. The solution of our present national difficulties, industrial otherwise, lay with the nation, and was only when they all put their hands to their work, and did their utmost that the spirit of good industry and tbc spirit of good fellowship would once more prevail. When people said that Da-le was bad. that should never get back to the good old times, he replied that could do our problems in the right spirit. H was not at all sure but that the whole of our troubles were due to the fact that as a nation w« were getting away from God. And that people were leaving God out of their daily lives. When their daily lives were lived in the presence of God, it was then and then only they could hope to do the will of God and do the work God wanted them to do properly and in a fit way. The Mayor read the Lessons, and the service concluded with the singing the National Anthem. Upon returning to the Guildhall, the Mayor entertained a large company to light refreshments, and the customary toast of “Success to the Bower”, coupled with the name of Alderman W. A. Wood, was fittingly honoured.

The Staffordshire Advertiser, 25 May 1929.

Review – Nightmare at the Lichfield Garrick Studio

Review: Nightmare by the Lichfield Players

Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre

Wednesday 26 September 2018

There is nothing better than a classic murder whodunit and ‘Nightmare’, the latest prouduction from the Lichfield Players, definitely has all the ingredients for an evening of twists, revelations, body counts, double-crossings and, oh yes, several more  twists!

The play is written by Norman Robbins, a writer normally associated with pantomime scripts and although this is a murder mystery there is also a dark humour running through it and Robbins clearly uses his comedic past to put in some nice one liners and tragic-comic scenes.

The play is set in a remote house on a wild and lonely moor in Yorkshire with the classic soundtrack of driving rain and crashing thunder and lightning as the backdrop to the action. The home is owned by ageing writer Marion Bishop who is terminally ill with a medically lethal cocktail of cancer and heart problems to contend with. She is looked after by the village gossip, homely Doris Meacham, local girl bright-and-breezy Katherine Willis as well as the seemingly over-attentive local GP, Dr Thorne. When Katherine is away Dr Thorne arranges for a nurse, Laura Vinnecombe, to take over the reins. Doris also helps to look after and care for Katherine’s troubled brother, Michael, who after an accident cannot speak or communicate clearly. Also lurking in the shadows is Raymond Shapley, Marion’s estranged and resentful son who hopes that Marion will die sooner rather than later as she looks after a trust for him and he is desperate to raise some much needed funds.
When Raymond breaks into his mother’s house to try and make her see sense and hand over his trust fund to her immediately it sets off a chain of murderous events. Raymond does not realise that Marion has already changed her will to leave her entire, considerable, estate to the caring Dr Thorne who, it turns out, knows Nurse Vinnecombe on more than just a professional basis. Nurse Vinnecombe also has a dark past and clearly has more than one skeleton in the cupboard. The house is bombarded with mysterious, and silent, phone calls and, as Marion becomes more and more poorly, fed with a constant supply of drugs by the doctor and nurse, tensions begin to increase. When the body count starts to mount it becomes clear there is a murderous killer on the prowl…but is it the dangerous doctor, the nurse with a villainous ex-partner on her trail, the evil revengeful son or could it possibly be Mrs Meacham, the village busybody with a heart of gold…the final twist in the tale will reveal a shocking conclusion…

This is a thriller that builds and builds as the plotlines, and characters, develop. The first act introduces you to all of the main characters so well that by the end of act one you have got them all in nice neat compartments, and you believe you can name the killer without working at it too hard. During the interval you pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that you are the next Inspector Maigret or Miss Marple. But as the second act develops you realise that your neatly stacked pyramid of whodunit logic cards has been lifted up and thrown all over the floor! All of your pre-conceived ideas are shown to be ill-conceived and you realise you are more Inspector Clousseau than Maigret!

The Lichfield Players are excellent at putting these type of plays on, comfortable with either knockabout comedies, such as Curtain Up! or dark thrillers such as Blood Money. An experienced and accomplished cast steer us through the twists and turns of this dark and, at times, claustrophobic thriller with ease, but all conducted with a light touch and easy style with more than a nod to pitch black humour.

Becky Wright is full of fresh faced and perky good humour as young Katherine (until we see a steelier side of her character), Alex Dziegel cleverly balances the role of the nurse who turns from taking the heartbeat of her patient to threatening to take her life and switches from being mean and aggressive in one scene to vulnerable and frightened in the next. Andy Jones, last seen as the philandering game show host in Blood Money, is convincing as the doctor whose bedside manner is charming but whose easy charm may hide a hidden agenda. Adrian Venables as Raymond, the most obvious looking villain of the piece, is suitably brooding, menacing and cowardly as he bullies and threatens his ailing, aged mother, while slurping her vintage brandy and stealing the family antiques. Dickie Bannister has the most demanding role as Michael, the mentally challenged brother, as he does not have any coherent lines and has to use facial expressions and body language as his main acting tools. He invokes sympathy in every scene though as his life becomes more and more unbearable to the degree that a lady in the audience behind me lightly whispered: ‘Oh, poor old Michael’…!
The experienced Maureen George, as Doris, and Gina Martin as Marion are both fantastic, Maureen is ideal as Doris, with a string of lovely one liners and showing empathy for Michael and Marion, again cleverly changing her role in the second act as she shows that the killer has not fooled her as easily as he (or she) thinks.
Gina plays the doddery, frail and increasingly confused through illness and over-prescribed drugs in fine style and is excellent as she turns from mumbling Marion to sharp as a tack murder mystery busting Marion in the second act.

Nightmare is a suspenseful crossword puzzle of a classic murder whodunit, with an ingenious and intriguing reveal. You may well guess the killer in every episode of Midsummer Murders but I very much doubt you’ll work out the identity of the killer in Nightmare…you will literally be kept guessing right up to the final curtain!

Nightmare by the Lichfield Players runs at the Lichfield Garrick Studio theatre until Saturday 29 September. Performances start at 7.45pm, tickets are priced at £14 and are available from the Lichfield Garrick box office, ring 01543 412121 or book online at:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/drama/nightmare/2286#

Review: My Fair Lady at the Lichfield Garrick

My Fair Lady – the queen of stage musicals!

Lichfield Garrick Main Studio
Tuesday 25 September 2018

Last week I saw All Shook Up at the Garrick, with the music songbook of Elvis Presley and this week was another musical treat for the eyes and ears! My Fair Lady is one of the best known, most respected and most loved of all stage musicals and has played to countless thousands of theatre goers since it was first staged, in Philadelphia, in 1956. With a plot based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, dashing music by Frederick Loewe and pinpoint sharp lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, it is no surprise that it was a huge success on both Broadway and the London stage.

Last night was the opening night of the week-long staging of My Fair Lady by the Lichfield Operatic Society at the Garrick and they provided a truly fitting performance to match the tradition and heritage of this majestic musical.

When I was seven I went to the cinema with my parents and brothers to see the 1964 screen version with the wonderful pairing of Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison as Eliza and Henry Higgins and last night, as I sat in the front row of the theatre, it took me back to that very first viewing, long ago than I care to remember to be honest! The songs were still very fresh in my memory and the images of the ladies and gentlemen in their Edwardian clothes and finery were still very clear. And if a musical can bring back those childhood memories then it must be a winner!

The plot of Lady is very well known, and is the story of a cockney flower-seller, Eliza Doolittle, who meets and becomes involved with Professor Henry Higgins. Higgins is an expert in phonetics (he knows how to talk proper!) and is studying the accents of the people in the west end of London. When he hears Eliza mangling the English language he accepts a challenge from his friend, Colonel Pickering, to transform the ‘guttersnipe’ cockney girl to a charming English rose who will fool the courts of Europe into believing that she is a real princess.

Although she initially rejects his request, Eliza relents and agrees to move into his home so that he can transform her from caterpillar cockney to beautiful butterfly. Higgins is visited by Eliza’s drunken dustbin father, Alfred P Doolittle, who is quite happy to turn his daughter over to the professor’s care for a £5 note.

Higgins does not suffer fools greatly and is frustrated and infuriated at Eliza’s attempts to speak the Queen’s English and is doubly infuriated when Eliza has the temerity to stand up to him and give as good as she gets.

Finally, after weeks of effort, Eliza cracks the plum (marble!) in the mouth code and can now have conversations with the height of London society. Despite some setbacks when her cockney roots betray her outward appearance she becomes comfortable in polite society and befriends Higgins’ mother and is wooed by Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young socialite.

By now Eliza has begun to fall for the Professor who, despite his lack of empathy and understanding of women, truly believes that he is understanding, compassionate and kind, and doing his best to help and support Eliza.

When Eliza passes her final decorum test Higgins is delighted that his ‘experiment’ has worked and heaps praise upon himself, seemingly ignoring the hard work and effort that Eliza has put in herself, and also ignoring the feelings that she has for him. But this mismatched pair are meant to be together and the course of true love will eventually run true.

The Lichfield Operatic Society provide a fabulous version of this tale of manners, social etiquette, romance, class divide and the battle of the sexes with a lively, colourful, emotional, thought invoking  and funny performance which is spell-binding throughout.

The lead role of Professor Higgins is taken by Richard Poynton, it is a part with an extremely high line count, as well as having several key note songs which means that he is on stage for the majority of the show and he plays this demanding role to perfection. Equally impressive as he shows determination, frustration, humour, vulnerability and sensitivity it is a wonderful performance. At one point he raises an arm towards Eliza in frustration and as Eliza cowers, believing he is going to strike her, the look on Higgins face as he recoils at the very thought he might consider doing that is perfect, a mixture of disgust and shame.

Eliza is played by Vickie Beck, and again is a very challenging role as Eliza has to transform herself from beast to beauty in a plot procedure that lasts months, to an actual stage timeline of 45 minutes. She manages this in a truly convincing style, from street urchin to the queen of high society, so that by the end we, the audience, are also convinced that she is of royal blood. Eliza also has some superbly crafted songs to sing, the truly delightful Wouldn’t it be Loverly, the revenge-tinged menace of Just You Wait and the emotional Without You. But her stand out song is I Could Have Danced All Night, sung with Mrs Pearce and the house maids. It is a truly great vocal performance and the aching and desire of her longing to dance with the ebullient, frustrating, overbearing but loveable professor is etched into every line. As she holds the last notes of the song she also holds the full attention of the audience and with it attracts the loudest applause of the night – a lovely moment and, in my opinion, a moment worth coming to see in its own right.

There is a wonderful script which is funny, sharp and memorable with lots of fantastic lines and there plenty of laughs along the way. Chris Stanley is great fun as my old man’s a dustman Alfred P Doolittle (what does the P stand for??), willing to do anything to protect his daughter unless someone pays him not to, Julia Mallaband as Higgins’ mum has some delicious put down lines as she recognises the pomposity and fallibility of her own son and James Pugh is fantastic as Colonel Pickering. Playing a much older man than himself, he is superb as the stooping, bungling, old soldier in arms who recognises the true nature and beauty of Eliza, he is the perfect foil to the stubborn Professor Higgins. His jowl-wobbling protestations at Higgins’ worst excesses are a joy and there is a lovely sketch with an unseen police officer on the phone, which is good fun.

The supporting cast of Ben Foulds, as foppy Freddie, Sue Morgan as the devoted, but stressed, Mrs Pearce, Patrick Jervis and Dan Arketell as Dustman Doolittle’s boozy mates all perform really well and, as ever with the Operatic Society, the ensemble cast provide sterling work, as you will know by now that I love all the scenes with the entire cast on stage!

The choreography by Jessica Lambert is spot on, especially in the brilliant Get Me to the Church On Time and the Embassy Waltz. The Edwardian costumes are fabulous and glamorous, well done to the wardrobe team of Vanessa Morgan, Suzanne Harris and the Friends of the Society – the costumes at the Ascot Gavotte ensemble at the end of Act One looked amazing!

Superbly directed by Emma Hill and with Musical Direction by David Easto this performance flies along at a lovely pace, with no lull, it is feast for the eyes and ears at every scene. Sitting in the front row I had a great view of the energetic musical director and was interesting to see the interaction between the music and the stage craft, all perfectly timed.

It is difficult to know what is the outstanding element of this show – the music, the storyline, the script, the songs, the lyrics, the dancing, the laughs or the tears. In truth it is just a fantastic production of one of the most significant, popular and loved musicals of all times. The Lichfield Operatic Society treat this musical with the respect that it truly deserves – with enthusiasm, skill, joy, professionalism and dedication. I remember watching Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison at the age of seven and believing in their characters, that they were who they portrayed, and last night I again believed that Vickie and Richard were Eliza and Henry, and that to me, is a real skill, a genuine delight.

The couple sitting next to me last night said that they had seen My Fair Lady many, many  times and I asked them why they had come to see it again – ‘Because it’s a lovely show, a real joy’ they said – I could not have put it better myself!

My Fair Lady by the Lichfield Operatic Society is on until Saturday 29 September with performances starting at 7.30pm nightly, with a matinee on Saturday at 2.40pm.

Tickets priced £19-£21 and available from the Lichfield Garrick box office, ring 01543 412121 or book online at:

https://www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/musicals/my-fair-lady/2273#

** Photograph by Robert Yardley Photography

Captain Edward John Smith Statue Unveiling – 29 July 1914

Captain Edward John Smith – the Grit of the Mercantile Marine

On Wednesday 29 July 1914 one of the most iconic, and much debated, statues was unveiled in a ceremony at the Museum Gardens in Lichfield’s Beacon Park. The statue was of the renowned captain of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, Captain Edward John Smith. The statue has since been the subject of much debate and discussion, as it is a long held theory that the statue was placed in Lichfield as the people of Smith’s home town, Hanley in Stoke on Trent, did not want the statue on home soil, as Smith was seen as someone who had brought shame on them and not honour. It was suggested that Lichfield agreed to accept the statue as there was no direct link with the captain and the city and that, over the years, Stoke on Trent City Council had made requests to Lichfield to have the statue relocated to Hanley. The ceremony to unveil the statue took place on the afternoon of July 29 1914, in front of a large crowd in the Museum Gardens. A temporary platform had been erected in front of the statue and the Mayor of Lichfield Councillor Robert Bridgeman (of Bridgeman and Sons on Quonians Lane) and the Sheriff, Councillor Thomas Baxter, represented the City Corporation. Dignitaries included Lord Charles Beresford, an admiral in the British Navy, the Duchess of Sutherland, Miss Helen Melville Smith (the daughter of the captain), Lady Diana Manners (later to become Lady Diana Cooper, the socialite and said to be the most beautiful woman in the world at the time), Colonel and Mrs Swinfen-Broun from Swinfen Hall. Also present was the sculptor of the statue, Lady Kathleen Scott, widow of Captain Robert Scott, leader of the doomed Antarctic Expedition group, who had all perished in 1912. Tributes were read out in praise of Captain Smith from Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, William Perrin the Bishop of Willesden, the Duchess of Sutherland and Lord Beresford before the Duchess of Sutherland asked Miss Smith to unveil the statue of her father. Lord Beresford said that he was ‘an example of the very best type of British seaman and British gentlemen. Never could they forget his heroism, pluck and devotion to duty’. The outbreak of World War One had just started one day before, on the 28 July 1914, and the world at that time had very little idea of the horrors that were to come over the next four years. Beresford said that they in the Royal Navy could count on men from the Mercantile Marine (who we know refer to as the Merchant Navy) like Captain Smith to help to defend their country and protect Britain. Sailors from the Royal Naval Reserve from Liverpool, where the Titanic sailed from on its maiden voyage, attended as well as buglers from the Army camp at Whittington Barracks who sounded the ‘Last Post’. The ceremony closed with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem and Miss Smith placed a large wreath of laurels and roses onto the statue. Visitors then attended a service at Lichfield Cathedral which included a rendition of the anthem ‘Send out Thy Light’ by Charles Gounod, performed by the Cathedral Choir. But what is the truth about why the statue is placed in Lichfield’s Beacon Park? Well, the reason is down to Location, Location, Location. The Diocese of Lichfield, the area under the control of the Bishop of Lichfield, was very large and was seen to be a central point between London and Liverpool, where the ship sailed from, and was also the diocese of Smith’s home town, Hanley in the city of Stoke on Trent. The statue has been in the Museum Gardens of Lichfield’s Beacon Park for well over a hundred years, it is the subject of much discussion and debate about why it is there but is now part of the heritage and history of the city – and long may it continue to be so. The statue of Captain Edward John Smith is one of the featured sculptures on the City of Lichfield Sculpture Trail, more details at: www.thecityofsculpture.co.uk/ Photos copyright: Jono’s Tourism, other than 1914 photograph, copyright not applied but courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Measure for Measure by Shakespeare in the Park – Review

Measure for Measure Review – Maple Hayes Hall

Shakespeare in the Park

Opening Night, Tuesday 20 June 2018

After my first visit to Shakespeare in the Park in 2017 to see As You Like It I was really thrilled to make my second ‘appearance’ for their 2018 production of Measure for Measure.
The plays are performed in the woods of the Italian Gardens that surround Maple Hayes Hall, a stunning Georgian listed building, built in 1794 and now home to Maple Hayes School for Dyslexia.
The first Shakespeare in the Park (or SitP for short!) production was in 1986 and they performed The Taming of the Shrew. In 2005 Measure for Measure took its first bow at Maple Hayes and it now returns for 2018.

Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s darker comedic plays and is certainly much darker than last year’s pastoral comedy As You Like It. Set in the city of Vienna, it does have many of the usual Shakespearean elements to it though: criss-crossed plot-lines; misunderstandings, characters masquerading as other characters; double entendres; drunks; ne’er-do-wells; jocular oafs and winsome wenches! But along with the comedy there is also a very dark moralistic plot that is undercut by violence, verbal and sexual abuse and even a (off screen luckily!) beheading.

The plot is quite convoluted and complicated and it is fairly difficult to keep up with so I’m going to attempt to provide a brief(ish) summary:

Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, is worried about the welfare of his city so sets up a ‘sting’ to find out what would happen if he left it to its own devices for a time and who would step into the power vacuum and try to fill it. So he announces he is leaving Vienna for a period but actually stays in the city to observe what unfolds, dressing himself in disguise as a monk. His deputy is Lord Angelo who sets out almost immediately to rid Vienna of all the ‘undesirables’ such as brothel keepers and people with loose sexual morals. His first victim is Claudio a young gentleman who has committed the cardinal sin of having sex pre-marriage with his girlfriend, Juliet. Claudio is sentenced to death to teach the rest of Vienna a lesson. His sister, Isabella, approaches Angelo to beg for mercy but Angelo will only agree to this in exchange for sexual ‘favours’ which appals Isabella and she refuses to cooperate. Duke Vincentio (aka the monk) intervenes, telling Isabella that evil Angelo was promised to marry an old lover, Mariana, but jilted her when she lost of all her dowry. Duke / Monk tells Isabella to meet with Angelo on the pretext of marrying him but will send Mariana in her place – Angelo will be hoist by his own petard as he will be forced to follow Viennese law and will have to agree to marry Mariana while at the same tine be blackmailed into pardoning death-row Claudio. However dirty tricks Angelo refuses to pardon the condemned man, fearing revenge and, after the beheading of a unfortunate pirate in a misguided attempt to fool the substitute city leader that it was the head of Claudio, the cross dressing Duke is forced to disrobe to reveal his true identity and attempt to resolve the whole sad, sorry mess. Will there be a happy ending – as almost always with a Will Shakespeare comedic play (even a dark one), you can probably guess the outcome!

Still with me? I would not blame you if you weren’t…

Although the play is quite difficult to keep up with it is definitely worth it as the script is very funny, very sharp and quite modern considering it was written (in all probability) in 1604! There is plenty of wordy witty sword play between the protagonists and there are the usual lovely bumbling, tumbling, meandering characters with comedy names that come straight out of The Two Ronnies Sketchbook –  Elbow, Mr Froth, Pompey and the wonderfully titled Mistress Overdone.

The flipside of the comedy interludes are some dramatic, caustic, violent and aggressive scenes where characters clash, men to men but also men to women. The scenes are very realistic and convincing, it certainly drew the attention of the audience last night where you could hear a pin (or a pine cone from one of the trees) drop at the critical, most physical, moments.

The SitP cast are all every experienced, either at previous Maple Hayes performances or other performances in and around Lichfield and I recognised several cast members from the Lichfield Players and the Lichfield Operatic Society and who have performed regularly at the Lichfield Garrick – we are in very safe hands here.

David Stonehouse had a twin role both on and off set, he was excellent playing the double-hander of the Duke Vincentio / Mysterious Monk and was also responsible for directing the show. The direction of this part comedy, part tragedy, part shock horror play must be handled very delicately as it would be easy to overbalance in one direction or the other but David achieves this in a very accomplished manner and it is quite easy for the audience to switch from being highly amused to highly shocked within a couple of scenes.

Robin Lewitt plays the haughty, double-standard loving, out for all he can get Angelo with brooding menace and Hannah Wyss is fabulous as Isabella, the concerned loving novice nun sister of the unfortunate Claudio who is torn between saving the life of her sibling against losing her virginity to an unrequited suitor. The angry and upsetting violent scenes between Isabella and Angelo are amazing, it generates real sparking chemistry and the violence and anger that Angelo unleashes on Isabella when he realises she will not surrender to his clutches is very realistic and very moving.

Sarah Stanley, who directed 2017’s As You Like It, plays Vincentio’s wife Escala with calm assurance, Stevie Morgan plays Juliet while also performing double duties as the Stage Manager, Sam Chesses is the let off the hook Claudio and Ellie Galvin, Hannah Davies and Ryan Gault all show versatility with a number of roles.

The comedic roles are all wonderfully played by Adrian Venables as Lucio, Fiona Willimott and Gemma Irving as Bad Girls Mistress Overdone and Pompey and Brian Todd as Constable Elbow and Friar Peter.

The closing scene of the play is a joyful, cast ensemble River of the Dance-esque routine choreographed with typical skill and dexterity by Charlotte Middleton – and after the tribulations of the somewhat traumatic plotlines sends everyone home happy with broad smiles and a drum beat in their feet!

The other star of the performance is, of course, the wonderful Maple Hayes Woods, the colours of which change with the setting sun and with each closing scene, and provides a wonderful, natural, calming and atmospheric ambience to the whole of the performance, it is truly magical.

I had never read Measure for Measure before, did not know the plot or the main characters but, despite the at times pitch-black script and challenging plot-lines, I really enjoyed it, I am definitely going to draw the book from Lichfield Library and read it through, if only to confirm my understanding of the plot!

I said earlier that we were in safe hands with the cast and crew of SitP – they just will not let you down, and Measure for Measure is another glorious triumph in a glorious setting – they certainly have the measure of William Shakespeare.

Measure for Measure by Shakespeare in the Park is on at Maple Hayes Hall grounds from Thursday 21 June to Saturday 23 June at 7.45pm, with a Saturday matinee at 2pm. Tickets priced £15.00 are available from the Lichfield Garrick box office on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or book online (for Friday and Saturday) direct at:

www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/drama/shakespeare-in-the-park-measure-for-measure/2190#

 

Ain’t No Angels – Musical Review – 5 June 2018

Ain’t No Angels

Sutton Coldfield Town Hall

Dress Rehearsal Review – 4 June 2018

Al Jolson and Frank Sinatra are two of the most famous singers of the 20th century and their stories are combined in this brilliant production in the impressive grandeur of Sutton Coldfield Town Hall. This musical was performed last year at the Lichfield Garrick and received rave reviews and it is easy to see why based on the dress rehearsal I went to last night.

The idea for Ain’t No Angels came from musical director Ken Wragg, it tells the story of the animosity between the veteran singer and performer Al Jolson and the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra. Rivals in life they are reunited in death when they are brought back together in a virtual waiting room, somewhere between heaven and hell, as they await their calling to one direction or the other. As they wait they bicker and argue about which of them was the greatest singer and who had more hits, while a heavenly mediator, Mr Wellbeloved, tries to keep the peace and shows them the error of their ways in their mortal lives.

As both men relive their past they provide the soundtrack of their lives through their songs, initially like a verbal ‘duelling banjos’ as they try to outscore each other, but then eventually as more harmonious duets. Woven into this tapestry of classic songs are the events, personalities and partners that they encounter on the way, from their mothers, their (many) partners, lovers, contemporaries and wives, to the ensemble cast of their fellow performers and artistes that they have worked with over the decades.

As both men, initially stubborn, unbending and unrepentant, see their previous lives unfold and see the hurt they have inflicted upon the people who loved and respected them, they start to realise the error of their ways and wish they had been more generous, supportive and forgiving. They also see, through the suffering and torment that their respective rival has gone through, that there is another side to them and both men gradually begin to respect and appreciate the other.

They now stand before an unseen and all-powerful jury who must decide if they have done enough to repent and move along the up, rather than down, escalator towards heaven rather than towards hell. But have they shown true repentance – or will the jury think that they are just putting on another showman award winning performance to avoid the fiery furnace of Hell? Just who is the rather mysterious Mr Wellbeloved – is he a friend or a foe? And will their much put-upon marital partners ever truly forgive them?

Although the animosity between the two men is exaggerated for dramatic effect, this musical is based upon a true falling out between Sinatra and Jolson. Jolson’s star was waning when Sinatra came on the scene and the bad feeling probably emanated from the fact that Sinatra was the new kind on the block while Frank  saw Jolson as the has-been still trying to steal his limelight. Regardless of the truth behind the rivalry the premise is still a convincing one – both men were known for being ruthless in their work, and home, lives and it would be very probably that two such huge stars of the stage and screen would not get on.

The musical combines a fascinating background story of the early to late 20th century, with key events, occasions and personalities with a pulsating soundtrack of the hits of Jolson and Sinatra providing dozens of singalong classics to the beat of a live, swing band. It is truly a show of hit after hit as Jolson sings Swanee. April Showers, Sonny Boy, I’m Sitting on Top of the World and When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Boppin Along, and Sinatra replies with I’ve Got You under My Skin, Birth of the Blues, Somethin’ Stupid and That’s Why The Lady is a Tramp.

It also includes lots of, perhaps, less well known facts about the lives of the two men including the personal tragedies that affected them both such as the death of Sinatra’s elderly and much loved mother, and the tragic story of one of Jolson’s adopted children. This provides a fascinating insight into both Jolson and Sinatra and perhaps explains some of their actions and personalities – this definitely adds to the production experience and enjoyment.

Paul Lumsden, who also produces and directs the show, and Paul Roberts play Sinatra and Jolson respectively to perfection, bouncing off each other as rivals in life-turned-friends in after life and have a great time singing the classic hits of these two greats with obvious relish and enjoyment. Great together as solo performers as well as on the duets, they are impressive throughout.

Charlotte Middleton and Sian Jones play the (long suffering) partners of the two greats as well as a host of other female personalities of the day – Ava Gardener, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Mia Farrow to name but a few. Both sing, dance and portray this wide range (and diverse age group from 18 year old to 82 year old) of characters with great gusto, aplomb and have a blurring array of costume changes – I really don’t know how they do all this and still remember their lines and song lyrics – amazing!

Chris Wolverson plays Mr Wellbeloved, the MC who links and weaves the story all together but also plays a number of other characters, stage managers, producers and other stars including crooners Dean Martin and Bing Crosby – complete with the obligatory pipe of course!

With a cast of only five it is incredible just how many famous and not-so-famous characters appear on stage in various guises – at the curtain call I kept on looking behind the curtains to see where the other performers were, it seemed almost impossible for a cast of five to play a cast of hundreds! Lots of hard work and behind the scenes clearly went into this, well done to the whole cast and all the backstage crew for achieving this so seamlessly and professionally.

Music is provided by a ‘proper’ swing live band, all ably controlled by the show’s creator and musical director, Ken Wragg, and it all sounds fantastic in the impressive auditorium of the Town Hall. Lively, fun and time-appropriate choreography is provided by Angie Astell.

This is a great production with a song track that most musicals would die for, that has two of the most iconic names of the 20th century, a list of star names as long as your (fully extended) arm, witty one liners, historical accuracy with a musical and social timeline of the 1920s to 1980s, drama, pathos, tears of joy and of sadness and all performed with great heart, dedication and versatility.

Highly recommended, it is only on for two nights so please don’t miss out on this limited opportunity!

Ain’t No Angels is on at the Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 June 2018 starting at 7.30pm. Tickets priced at £16 and £14 for concessions, available from the Town Hall, ring 0121 2969 543 or book online at:
www.townhallsuttoncoldfield.co.uk/

Review from the dress rehearsal on Monday 4 June 2018

Avenue Q at the Lichfield Garrick – Review

Avenue Q Review – Lichfield Garrick Theatre

Lichfield Operatic Society

Tuesday 8 to Saturday 12 May

Fawlty Towers Meets The Producers Meets Sesame Street on Avenue Q!

One of the most irreverent, challenging, outrageous and controversial movies (and later stage musical) of the 1960’s was Mel Brooks’ The Producers, which satirised the movie industry and featured several taboo subjects which split audience opinion on release – although now widely regarded as a film classic!

Avenue Q, the latest production from the talented cast and production team at the Lichfield Operatic Society, is from the same stable as The Producers (with flashes of both Basil Fawlty and Sesame Street thrown in to the mix!) as it features a number of sensitive and controversial subjects all wrapped up with catchy singalong numbers, a pointed and spikey script, bouncy and sexy dancing and an array of puppets who hide behind their masters’ voices and sound like a late night, x-rated version of The Muppets!

The musical is based on the American Broadway Tony Award winning smash hit, first produced in 2003 with words and music by Lopez and Marx and from a book written by Jeff Whitty. The cast is a mix of humans and humans ‘armed’ with puppets, the puppets resembling cast members from Sesame Street and The Muppets and the storyline is how these humans and their puppet friends interact with each other, as they bicker, fall out, argue, encourage, sympathise and encourage each other. Set in a downtown section of New York (Avenue Q) the audience is introduced to the main characters when young college boy Princeton moves into a cheap and cheerful tenement block and meets all of the other tenants. The flats’ supervisor is Gary Coleman, a real life (and ill-fated) actor who starred in the hit 1980s comedy ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ as Arnold Jackson and who had the oft repeated catchphrase (and repeated in this production!) of: ‘Whady’a talking bout Willis’ to his long suffering brother. Also in residence is Brian and Christmas Eve a young about to be married couple, Rod who is struggling with openly declaring his homosexuality, his straight friend Nicky, the lovely Kate Monster (who is…er…a monster…) and another of the monster clan, Trekkie, who is very outspoken and yells out ‘Porn’ at every opportunity.

The new kind on the block, Princeton, falls in love with the fairy monster Kate, Rod falls out with his best friend Nicky when he accidentally ‘outs’ him in public and Brian and Christmas Eve bicker and make up as ‘about to be wed’s’ often do. When the lovely Kate gets sacked from her job everything seems to be falling apart for the monsters, puppets and humans on Avenue Q – but then an unexpected source comes to their rescue, they experience a gift dropped in from the heavens and suddenly there appears to be a silver lining in the clouds above the street where they live!

The musical has some very catchy (if not wholly politically correct) numbers including ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’, ‘The Internet is for Porn’ and ‘If You Were Gay’ and the show is very fast paced. It is one of the shorter musicals, and so the action rattles along which means that there are very few lapses, so is very easy on the eye and the concentration! The interaction between the puppets and their human counterparts is very engaging and, with the clever placement of the puppets in relation to their ‘controllers’ (who are dressed in black to merge with the backdrop) it is very easy to find yourself believing completely in the puppets, cheering them on and totally dismissing the Brian Conley catchphrase of ‘It’s Just a Puppet!’.

Acting – difficult. Acting and singing – very difficult. Acting, singing and controlling a puppet while doing the first two – extremely difficult! The talented cast and production teams of the Lichfield Operatic make these three things look very easy to the audience. Newcomer to the team (though not to Lichfield) Anil Patel makes a very assured debut in the leading role as Princeton – a lovely, consistent American accent and a very easy style which allows us to truly believe that he is the love struck puppet and not his human master. Fellow newcomer Lucy Follows is very sweet, vulnerable and tender as the love struck Katie Monster (and it’s hard to achieve a sweet monster I guess!), Pat Jervis and  Pete Beck provide terrific support as ‘desperate to stay in the cupboard’ Rod and best mate Nicky respectively, Adam Lacey plays Brian with verve and is every inch the typical New Yorker  and Kate Pinell puts in a great , funny and talented performance as the Chinese / Japanese wife of Brian ‘Christmas Eve’ who with her black bob and Chinese patois is a world away from her recent role as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. Lucy Surtees plays Lucy The Slut, love rival to Kate Monster, with man eating sexy charm and a hair toss that would rival Miss Piggy, Aaron Morris is excellent as Gary ‘Arnold’ Coleman and Ben Foulds (who many Lichfeldians will know from his singing at various Lichfield venues) is great as the outrageously outspoken Trekkie Monster!
The ensemble cast are all amazing and, as I always say, some of my favourite moments are when al 40+ of the cast are on stage, going for it like their lives depended on it and you can just see their enthusiasm and enjoyment tumbling out over the stage and into the audience – just fantastic!

I watched the dress rehearsal on Monday night and the production was razor sharp, it ran like clockwork with everyone switched on and raring to go for the opening night, very impressive. Direction from James Pugh is spot on, it all runs at a fantastic energetic pace and he draws some excellent performances for the cast. The musical numbers are directed by David Easto and have real ‘Muppetesque’ feel to them, you can almost imagine The Animal in the orchestra pit beating away on the drums! Lively, sexy and ‘combined human and puppet’ choreography is expertly looked after by Charlotte Middleton (seen on the stage as well!) and Steve Rainsford controls the lighting, showing off the puppets and the actors in equal measure.

The show does contain some strong language, adult themes and some views that some may feel are not entirely politically correct or in keeping with their own. But remember, just like Fawlty Towers and The Producers, this is a satire, the writers are trying to show us that if we make fun of these outspoken views and beliefs that we can make them look foolish and insignificant. At the end of the day the characters of Avenue Q show that if everyone works together – humans, puppets and monsters all work together in harmony then they can achieve great things, overcoming racism, sexism and gender issues.

I loved the performance: its funny (you have to listen closely to get all of the jokes!), sharp, ironic, spikey, outrageous, controversial and definitely makes you think. Definitely recommended, if you come along with an open mind I think you will really enjoy it – but try not to come out of the Garrick yelling Trekkie’s favourite line – ‘PORN’ – you may attract some attention!

Avenue Q by the Lichfield Operatic Society is on at the Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre from:
Tuesday 8 May until Saturday 12 May 7.30pm each day, 2.30pm Matinee on Saturday only.

Ticket prices from £18 per person, book at the Lichfield Garrick Box Office on Castle Dyke, Lichfield, ring 01543 412121 email: garrick@lichfieldgarrick.com or visit their website to book online:
https://www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/musicals/avenue-q/114#schedules

 

 

Blood Money – Lichfield Garrick Theatre – Review

Blood Money – Lichfield Players

Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre

Tuesday 1 May 2018

The latest production from the Lichfield Players is ‘Blood Money’, a dark thriller written by The Heather Brothers and performed in the Studio Theatre at the Garrick.
I’d not heard of this play before but that was a bonus as it has lots of twists, turns and ‘jump out at you’ surprises so trying to play Hercule Poirot and guess the end was all part of the performance.

The action was all set in the home of Mike and Liz Mason, a warring couple on the edge of a marriage break-up (or on the edge of strangling each other) who only keep their rocky relationship above water due to a deadly secret that they both share – seven years ago they were involved in a drunken hit and run car accident when they killed a young girl, Carol Mitchell. Mike is a host of a long running cheesy TV show, Bargain Basement, and was on the way back from a TV Awards ceremony when the accident happened and although it is a distant memory that they have tried to keep to themselves it looks as though someone wants to uncover their shameful secret.
Thrown into the marital ‘bliss’ is sexy next door neighbour Sue who has a crush on Mike, despite being half his age and also the slightly mysterious Julie who, initially,  is heard on the phone and not seen but clearly has the hots for Mike too.
As Mike prepares to attend the latest Awards Ceremony accompanied by a drunk and potentially reputation-destroying Liz the presumed deceased Carol Mitchell seems to step out of the grave and come back to haunt Mike and Liz through phone calls and messages scrawled on walls. When Julie finally appears on the scene as the doctor looking after the emotionally scarred and therapy-seeking Liz all of the key players are thrown into the mix. Jealousy, revenge, mental torture and blood lust all combine in a frenzy of cross and double cross, twist and turn, done it and whodunit until the final, shocking, nerve jangling denouement – but will anyone survive? Who is the victim and who is the killer – and will Carol Mitchell really come back from the grave?

Blood Money is firmly split into two acts, Act One sets the scene of the warring, and philandering, husband and wife, explaining why the couple hate each other and why Mike is so keen to rush into the arms of any woman he meets. It’s clearly a thriller but has lots of dark humour running through it as Mike and Liz spar with each other relentlessly – with shades of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ there are plenty of tart retorts and observational humour to admire.
Act Two is much darker as the plot and mood thicken and it becomes a taut physiological thriller with cat-and-mouse plot manoeuvres, threats, violence and edge of the seat ‘he’s behind you’ moments. Gunshots, bangs, crashes, screams and lights ‘off and on’ add to the menacing mood and the nerves jangle both on the stage and in the audience.
The four performers are all excellent with Andy Jones (last seen as a policeman in The Lady Killers) superb as the bitter, world weary, stuck in a rut TV host looking for his next break and looking to break his marriage to the increasingly paranoid Liz. Sue Evans, who was also in The Lady Killers, is fantastic as the caustic emotionally battered wife Liz, fed up with the multiple affair-seeking Mike and determined to ruin both his big night out at the Awards Ceremony and ruin his extra-marital relationships. Lichfield Players debutant Alex Dziegiel plays the next door neighbour that every philandering male would want living next to him with aplomb and Sarah Stanley (last seen in the anti-Christmas play ‘A Kick in the Baubles’) as the seemingly caring and compassionate family doctor is superb as her doctor’s mask slips to reveal something much more sinister.
Special mention must be given to the performances of Sue Evans and Sarah Stanley in Act Two as the tension ramps up and the plot, and their characters’ minds, gradually unravel and it descends into a nightmare cocktail of accusation, revelation and recrimination. Their performances dominate the stage and the feelings of frustration, anger, fear and hatred that they show in what are very demanding, both emotionally and physically, circumstances are very moving and truly believable – full five star marks to both actors.

The production values are up to the usual high standard at the Garrick Theatre and the lighting, sound effects and set all help the Studio audience enjoy the almost ‘on stage with the actors’ experience. Director Charlie Barker draws fantastic performances from all four actors and provides the perfect balance from the drama mixed with humour of Act One to the dark and brooding menace of Act Two with great skill.

This is a great way to spend an evening at your local theatre – the cast, direction and production are all first class and the play is moving, funny, dark, sad, dangerous and emotionally charged. I won’t spoil the ending for you but it will make you sit up in your seats – it left me with genuine goose bumps and I had to calm the nerves with a strong drink at a local hostelry.

Blood Money will, at times, chill your blood and is definitely great value for money – I would definitely recommend that you give it a run for your money!

Blood Money is on at the Studio at The Lichfield Garrick, on from Wednesday 2 May to Saturday 5 May at 7.45pm, with a matinee on Saturday 5 May at 2.30pm**

Tickets priced at £13.50, to book visit the Lichfield Garrick Box Office during usual opening hours, ring 01543 412121  email: garrick@lichfieldgarrick.comor book online at: www.lichfieldgarrick.com

** Performance contains strong language, violence, loud sounds and visual effects

The Importance of Being Earnest Review – Lichfield Garrick

Manners, Mirth and Muffins!

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’
Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre Tuesday 27 March

The Importance of Being Earnest is not only one of the most famous of Oscar Wilde’s plays but also has one of the most famous retorts in the British Theatre…’A Haaanndbaaag’ has been uttered on many occasions, by many leading actresses and by thousands of theatre-goers over the decades!
This production is playing at the main theatre at the Lichfield Garrick this week, until Saturday 31 March and has a delightful cast with a host of well-known television, theatre and movie stars including Gwen Taylor (Duty Free, Coronation Street), Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A Fine Romance) and Thomas Howes (Downton Abbey).
Earnest was first performed on stage in 1895 but it not old fashioned or staid, it may be from the Victorian era but I am certain it definitely would have amused Queen Victoria! The play is part comedy, part farce and part Wilde lampooning the classes, morals and manners of the strict code of the day.
In terms of the plot, both leading men, Jack (Ernest) and Algernon (Bunbury) have two sets of christian names which they use to their advantage when they want to ‘disappear’ from the straitjacket of their responsibilities. When their respective aliases are uncovered this causes confusion, misunderstandings, faux-pas and double-takes. However, the tangled lives become untangled and there is a ‘happily ever after’ ending where Jack-Ernest discovers the true importance of being earnest!
As is customary with Wilde there are a whole host of fabulous, witty, pithy, caustic lines and has a veritable fountain fall of double-entendres that it is difficult to keep up with them all!
Coupled with these fantastic lines the very strong cast form a formidable partnership, Gwen Taylor is just fantastic as Lady Bracknell, her experience and stage craft shine through, Susan Penhaligon and Geoff Aymer are very funny as ‘are-they-aren’t-they’ potential lovers and Peter Sandys-Clarke and Thomas Howes as Jack and Algy make great sparring partners as they both accuse each other of abusing their twin Christian name privileges, chase each other round the stage and fire off wonderful muffin-encrusted one line insults! Howes’ interpretation of the upper class Algernon is reminiscent of part Billy Bunter, part Mr Pickwick and it is definitely worth looking at his expressions and mannerisms whenever he is on stage. Hannah Louise Howell plays feisty, stand up for herself Gwendolen (you can imagine her as a potential suffragette!) and Louise Coulthard is ditzy, kooky Cicely Cardew who pops and fizzes across the stage, leaping and bouncing about and has a fabulous Miranda Richardson-esque squeal! Judith Rae and Simon Shackleton complete the cast providing strong support as the mischievous maid and long suffering hang-dog expression butler.
This is the latest of a number of performances of the play around the country and it shows – this is a slick, polished and razor sharp production, both from the cast and the ‘behind the scenes’ team, the play is produced by The Original Theatre Company. It’s got a stellar cast whose sheer professionalism comes to the fore, a witty, sharp-as-a-tack script from the brilliant, albeit ill-fated Oscar Wilde, with enough classic comedy lines to last you a lifetime let alone one evening.
If you go and see one show this year then I’d make it The Importance of Being Earnest – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

The Importance of Being Earnest is on until Saturday 31 March, tickets are priced from £23.50 to £27.50 and available from the Garrick Box Office on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or from their website:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/drama/the-importance-of-being-earnest/111