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As You Like It – Lichfield Shakespeare in the Park – Review 21 June 2017

From Lanterns to Levellers

The first performance of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park took place last night at Maple Hayes Hall near Lichfield. The chosen play for 2017 was As You Like It, one of the Bard’s merry, jolly, uplifting rom-coms – and wow was it good!
The al fresco setting is just perfect, a secluded, quiet and reflective wooded area of trees in an area of land between Lichfield and Burntwood. The audience sits on bales of hay (I found them to be quite comfy…although a cushion is a good idea!) on a slope looking down on the ‘stage’ and lighting is provided by spotlights and all types of LED string lights and lanterns – as the sun goes down and dusk falls it looks truly magical.
SITP (in its acronym form!) started in 1983 at Wychnor Hall Gardens before moving to its current home at Maple Hayes in 1985 so is in its 34th year and this was the third time the company have performed As You Like It – Maple Hayes woods is a great choice for the location as William set the original play in the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire.
The weather was ideal with not a breath of wind, warm without being stifling and nothing to disturb the actors bar the birds’ dusk chorus and the odd (annoying…) high revving motorbike boy racer!
The story is classic comic Shakespeare: boy meets girl, falls instantly in love, girl runs away and takes up a disguise, boy chases after girl, someone else falls in love with girl, lots of misunderstandings ensue, clutches of comic characters (including the essential jester!) revolve around the plot before everything works itself out, it finishes with the happy couples marrying their ideal partners and all ends happily…well that is an abridged version of events but something like that!
The play starts with two warring sibling princes and the fight, wrestling and duelling scenes are dramatic, realistic and the ‘darkest’ part of the whole production. After that it’s pretty much a comic romp to the end however. There are lots of physical and word-play gags and a whole array of comic characters – David Stonehouse as the jester Touchstone, Ellie Galvin as Celia, Greg Spencer as Jacques (with a bewildering line in accents including Brummie!) Paul McEvoy as Corin the shepherd and Fiona Willimott as Audrey the goat herd are all great fun and provide lots of laughs – and there’s a nice little cameo from Ron Hughes as William, the love-rival for the hand of Audrey!
Hannah Davies as Rosalind, the main love interest, was excellent, it’s a challenging role to switch between a lady of the court to her disguise as a man of the forests but she handles both roles really well. The woman disguised as a man has a long history in British drama and comedy, from the pantomime prince and dame to ‘Bob…’ in Blackadder – I wonder if Shakespeare was the originator of this classic comedy gender reversal?
In the lead male role as Orlando, Rosalind’s beau, Patrick Jervis was as strong and professional as always – I’ve seen him in a number of varying roles this year and he always brings depth and character to each role – you definitely know he is not going to let you down.
But, as usual, the whole cast, leading and support, young and not-so-young, female and male were all excellent and it’s why I love amateur dramatic groups – they put their heart and soul into it and (take a look at the photos!) you can tell that they genuinely love every second of it and that enthusiasm and warmth comes from the forest floor, rises up and washes over the audience on the straw bales – they’re all first class.
The actors are dressed in a combination of clothes from across the eras – from the doublet and hose of Elizabethan times to the gold medallions and pointed shirt collars of the fashionably challenged 1970’s. Some Shakespeare purists may not like this but I thought it looked colourful and fun and added to the feel-good factor. The performance is also full of guitars, drums (ancient and modern) and some traditional and not-so-traditional songs – who would have thought you could have mixed Under the Greenwood Tree by the esteemed William Shakespeare Esq with a hit for the Levellers in 1997 (so we have the English Civil War thrown in for good (measure-for) measure!).
The play is directed by the ‘first-time-for-SITP’ Sarah Stanley, who is an experienced actor and director with the Lichfield Players. Apparently she was nervous about directing her first SITP – but she needn’t have been, it was a great, innovative, entertaining and truly satisfying performance with a great ovation at the close and the audience left happy, if not a bit saddle ‘bale’ sore.
She was backed up by an expert production team and also front of house and stewarding teams. As I said SITP has been running for over 30 years and has several people in the off-stage team who have given many years of loyal service – and this continuity of experience and knowledge clearly shows through – from the parking stewards to the ticket office, to the volunteers and helpers it all runs really smoothly like a well-oiled machine!
I blush to say that this was my first ever SITP and as a lover of amateur dramatics, Shakespeare, al fresco performance and anything to do with history and Lichfield – I feel very embarrassed – so I’m going to make up for lost time and book up for 2018!
This is a fabulous way to enjoy a classic English summer’s evening – it’s a local group of local performers, in a local venue before a (mainly) local audience – and backed by the Lichfield Garrick -it’s a great Lichfield success story!
Performances run nightly until Saturday 24 June (with a 2pm a matinee on Saturday – it’s a family-friendly performance and one of Shakespeare’s more accessible plays – and the younger audience will love the sword fights!).
So please don’t make my mistake – book now for the remaining performances at the Lichfield Garrick website, www.lichfieldgarrick.com , call into the Box Office at Castle Dyke or ring 01543 412121.

What a beautiful place, What a beautiful play and, as The Levellers sang, What a Beautiful Day!

p.s. you can see more pics on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/jonotourism

Haywire at the Lichfield Garrick April 12 2017 – a Review

The latest production by the Lichfield Players is ‘Haywire’ a farce by Eric Chappell and running at the brilliant Studio theatre at the Lichfield Garrick until Saturday 15 April.

Chappell is responsible for writing some of the greatest sitcoms of the 1970 and 80s – Rising Damp is his comedy jewel but he also wrote Duty Free, Singles and Only When I Laugh (to name but a few)  and he also wrote a whole raft of plays and farces – Haywire being a prime example.

The play is set in a flat above a bookshop where the owner, Alec, is planning an illicit Easter weekend away with his shop assistant, the voluptuous Liz, in Spain while his suspicious wife Maggie visits   Europe’s capitals on her own holiday excursion.

Everything seems to be going Alec’s way until the usual farce factors come to play and his plans start to unravel with disruptive interruptions from his long term student son, his ‘care home avoiding at all costs’ mother, his unmarried ‘in an interesting situation’ daughter, a seven mile tailback on the M25 – and a nauseous bilious Airedale puppy!

The Players’ cast are led by Phil Shaw as the long suffering, frustrated (in more ways than one!), world weary Alec who plays his part very well and has a host of classic Chappell one-liners to deliver which means there are laughs guaranteed in every scene.

The cast of six all perform strongly and clearly enjoy themselves, the relationship between Alec and his demanding, walking stick toting, son-baiting mother Phoebe (played, against casting, by Maureen George) is one of the highlights and even the (completely unseen) dog gets plenty of laughs!

Chappell’s comedy genius litters the script and you can see influences of Rising Damp’s Rigsby in Alec’s paranoia and echoes of Duty Free in the affair seeking holiday in Spain and there are plenty of comedic mishaps and misunderstandings to enjoy along the way.

It’s a typical British farce and is a bright, breezy way to spend an evening out in the intimate Studio theatre where can really get close up to the action and see every pained line on Alec’s face as he wrestles with his unravelling life – and with its topical theme it’s an ideal way to spend an evening (or afternoon) this Easter week!

Haywire runs every day from now until Saturday 15 April 2017 and includes a matinee on the Saturday at 2.30pm.

Tickets only £13.50 and available from the Garrick Box Office, ring 01543 412121 or email: info@lichfieldgarrick.com

*Photo copyright of the Lichfield Mercury

Made in Dagenham Musical at the Lichfield Garrick – Review March 28 2017

I was invited to the dress rehearsal of the stage musical ‘Made in Dagenham’ at the Lichfield Garrick  by the production team from the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre group on Monday night – the production starts on Tuesday 28 March and runs until Saturday 1 April (Saturday includes a matinee at 2pm).
A few weeks ago it was International Womens’ Day and there is no better way to celebrate that by seeing this stirring and feisty story of female workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant in the late 1960’s striving, and succeeding, for equal pay with their male counterparts.
It’s fun, fast-paced, feel-good, flamboyant, and fabulous!
The performance is based upon the 2010 film of the same name, starring Gemma Arterton in the lead role of Rita and reflects real-life events at the American motor group Ford’s plant at Dagenham, Essex.

The musical tells the story of Rita O’Grady, played with passion and empathy by Charlotte Middleton, and her fellow female co-workers, and their battle with the company and, at times, the union officials for the right to equal pay with their male counterparts.

It’s a mix of ‘ups and downs’ as Rita risks everything – her home, her friends, her marriage to husband Eddie and, most importantly, her two children.

She has to battle with male chauvinism, the tragic illness of a close work colleague, no money to pay the household bills, buffoon-ish Prime Minister Harold Wilson, prickly Secretary of State Barbara Castle and, worse of all, the oily American MD of Ford, Robert Tooley – a sneering, boastful, bullying performance by Pete Beck which does make your flesh creep especially when he ‘cuddles up’ to Rita.

But Rita wins the day and at the TUC conference makes an impassioned speech which wins over everyone and earns her and her female colleagues the right to equal pay with the men – it proved to be a landmark case in real life.

This is the same theatre group that put on Hairspray at the Garrick last year and they put their usual ‘stamp’ of enthusiasm, verve and sheer enjoyment into the performance.

The cast is well led by Charlotte and Patrick Jervis as the emotionally confused husband Eddie and excellent support from the entire cast including its youngest members, brother-and-sister Lewis and Kirsten McLaren as the O’Grady children. Vickie Beck and James Pugh as Wilson and Castle spark off each other well and provide some lovely asides and facial contortions!

The dialogue is snappy and fast paced with lots of late 1960s references – strikes, Wimpey hamburgers, Berni Inns and Wilson’s famous Gannex raincoats all feature and the gags come thick and fast, you have to listen carefully to catch them all! The language is, at times, littered with gutsy shop-floor ‘compliments’ but it is all in keeping with the work-place location and authentic.

Thera are some great stage routines with clever scenery changes that include Big Ben, Essex social clubs and a typing pool office – and you also get dodgem cars, a classic 1960’s Cortina and a dead pigeon on stage!

All in all a great night’s entertainment based on a true British story of equality and common sense triumphing over adversity – the final rousing scene as Rita secures victory for the girls is ‘Stand Up’ – and I guarantee you’ll be standing up at the end to cheer them on!

Performances run from Tuesday 28 March to Saturday 1 April, there is a matinee and evening performance on Saturday 1 April. Tickets for performances can be purchased at the Lichfield Garrick Box Office in person (check website for opening times) at:

Lichfield Garrick
Garrick Square
Lichfield
WS13 6HR

Or telephone: 01543 412121

Or email: garrick@lichfieldgarrick.com

David Garrick at 300

David Garrick was born on February 19 1717 in the city of Hereford but soon moved to the family home of Lichfield. He lived in a house (now demolished and rebuilt as the Lichfield Probate Court) on Beacon Street, just a stone’s throw from Lichfield Cathedral.

He was educated at Lichfield Grammar School, now the home to Lichfield District Council, and then went to a new school at Edial, just outside Lichfield, which had been setup by a young Samuel Johnson. Johnson was not talented at making a school work and only had eight enrolled students, two of which were David and his brother George.

The school failed after only a few months but Garrick remained friends with Johnson and, in 1737 they decided to seek their fame and fortune in London. Garrick started a wine business, jointly managed by another of his brothers, Peter, who stayed in Lichfield with David in London. The idea was that David should promote their wine in the bars of London but he soon found that the wine trade was not to his fancy and it soon took up most of the inheritance his uncle (also a wine merchant and also called David!) had left him.

Garrick’s attentions soon turned to another of his interests – amateur dramatics. He had performed as Sergeant Kite in the George Farquhar play ‘The Recruiting Officer’ at the Bishop’s Palace while in Lichfield aged only nine! He developed his skills in London and his flamboyant style of acting soon led him to the attention of the London theatre-goers and critics alike.

His performances as King Richard III at the small theatre at Goodman’s Fields led to his introduction at the more notable Drury Lane theatre where he debuted on May 26 1741.

Garrick’s stock rapidly increased and, after marrying dancer Eva Maria Veigel in 1749, he became so well known that they set off on a tour of the Continent of Europe in 1763, all to great acclaim. As well as Richard III his other notable successes were the iconic roles of King Lear and Hamlet.

He was also a playwright, manager and producer and became one of the richest men in England with a combined annual salary of £20,000 at his height – a far cry from the handful of pennies in his pocket when he left Lichfield with his friend Johnson!

Garrick died on 20 January 1779m aged only 62, but having left a lasting legacy to the world of Georgian theatre. He is remembered by theatres named after him in London and Lichfield and by institutions such as the Garrick Club.

Now, in 2017, there are a number of celebrations to mark his 300th birthday, not only in Lichfield and London, but across the country. A very happy 300th birthday – take your bow Mr David Garrick!  #garrick300

A Day of Two Halves – Ale and Memorial

A Day of Two Halves – Ale and Memorial

On Friday 27 January I attended two very contrasting events in Lichfield.

Memorial

In the early afternoon I visited Lichfield Cathedral who had prepared a schedule of events to commemorate World Holocaust Memory Day 2017.

The day marks a world-wide commemoration of the people who suffered from atrocities carried out during World War Two, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda and Bosnia.

I attended the Eucharist service which included the holy communion at 12.30pm which was led by the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, the Very Reverend Adrian Dorber. Part of this service included the Jewish poem of loss, the Kaddish.

Then, in the main nave of the cathedral the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revered Dr Michael Ipgrave, gave a very moving account of three experiences he had encountered during his life regarding the impact of the holocaust both on the people who had suffered and the effect it had on him personally.

The bishop is also the chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews and he provided a very balanced view of this very sensitive and emotive topic. He commented that the long held Christian, traditional views are now being challenged and are subject to change. These views were replicated in the address given by the Dean during the homily and there appears to be a very comprehensive attempt to ensure that all views, of all religions, are welcome at the cathedral.

The bishop referenced a photographic album of images taken by local photographer Robert Yardley on a visit to Auschwitz to view the infamous and horrific extermination camp. I was able to take some images of the Bishop, Robert (who is also Lichfield City Council’s Sheriff of Lichfield for this term) and Bernard Derrick who was representing St John the Baptist Hospital Without the Barrs, the chapel on St John’s Street while Robert displayed the album he had created.

The album, and other images, had been on display at St Johns in a small exhibition within the chapel and, later in the afternoon, I took some photos of the exhibition and the lovely chapel including a stained glass window created by artist John Piper, who also created the artwork for one of the windows in Coventry Cathedral.

I was the only person in the chapel, it was very quiet and peaceful and the images of Auschwitz, including the gas chambers and the piles of their discarded shoes of their victims were very thought provoking and moving.

Ale

In total contrast to the memorials at the cathedral and St Johns I then moved on to another historic Lichfield building – the Guildhall on Bore Street – for an entirely different experience – the Lichfield Arts Winter Real Ale Festival!

Over 30 real ales, ciders and perrys were on offer at this regular annual event which runs on the Friday and Saturday from 12pm to 11pm. I was there at about 3pm and there was a large crowd of people were already supping away, there is always a great atmosphere with friendly customers and serving staff, all of whom are volunteers.

I decided to sample a quick half (as I was driving later that day) of number 3 on the tasting sheets, Bristol Beer Factory’s Milk Stout, 4.5% ABV. It was an ideal choice for a cold winter afternoon, very comforting, a bit like having a bar of chocolate in a pint glass!

The festival included live bands in the evening and with the amazing architecture of the Guildhall building (dates back to medieval times), the real ale, the much appreciated and traditional slice of pork pie this is definitely one of the highlights of the Lichfield Festival season!

The next Real Ale Festival, also organised by Lichfield Arts, is on 20 and 21 October this year – check their website for details: www.lichfieldarts.org.uk

Summary

So, a very contrasting day of events, it does show you the breadth and range of what Lichfield has to offer, providing you with food for the stomach as well as nutrition for the mind – who would want to be anywhere else?

Talk by Tracy Borman on the Tudors at Lichfield Cathedral

Private Lives of the Tudors – Review of talk by Tracy Borman

Thursday 19 January 2017 – Lichfield Cathedral

On Thursday 19 January I went to a talk given by author, historian, curator and TV personality Tracy Borman at Lichfield Cathedral.

The talk was free of charge, not something you would expect these days, especially for a notable household name like Tracy so was especially good value for money!

Although I’m interested in all things history the Tudors are not particularly my time period (being a fan of all things Georgian!) but they are certainly history box office at the moment so it was too good an opportunity to miss, especially as it was taking place in the fabulous setting of Lichfield Cathedral.

The event was very well attended and most of the seats were taken, some achievement in the cavernous nave of the cathedral, and for a Thursday afternoon (with a 3pm kick-off).

Tracy ran through a pen-portrait of the Tudors starting with the (perhaps) overlooked Henry VII, who undoubtedly suffered from the acclamation that his successor, Henry VIII achieved. After a surfeit of food and wives Henry VIII gave way to the boy-king Edward VII who never had the chance to get married let alone have six wives! With a brief interruption by the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey the Tudor line continued with Queen Mary, a devout Roman Catholic with the jolly moniker of ‘Bloody Mary’ who after her death was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth I. After her glorious reign (the time of Shakespeare and the defeat of the Spanish at the Armada) the Tudor line came to an end as Elizabeth never married and had no children – thus started the reign of the Stuarts beginning with James I who was also crowned as James VI of Scotland.

Tracy’s talk was very informed, knowledgeable and entertaining – anyone who has seen the relentless TV series about the Tudors will know that they were prone to murder, incest, double-crossing and torture at the drop of a hat!

So, we heard about the expansive diet of Henry VIII, with the inevitable outcome which made life very unpleasant for the Groom of the Stool (surprisingly a much valued role as it gave the occupant intimate access to the king…although at a price!), the gruelling regime of applying the make-up to the face of Elizabeth I (her facepack included vinegar mixed with lead – not exactly guaranteed to make the skin glow with health…) and the bloody fate that befell the Earl of Essex after he had made an unannounced entrance to Elizabeth I’s bedroom to find her sans makeup – it’s a good job that Michael Fagan did not commit his royal bedroom entrance in Tudor times!

The talk was accompanied by images on a projector screen, including a very interesting picture of a four poster bed which was rescued from outside a hotel where it had been discarded and was found to belong to Henry VII and his wife Catherine of Aragon – a truly remarkable find!

Tracy, very appropriately, gave several mentions to her fellow historian Dr Jonathan Foyle, whose book ‘Lichfield Cathedral – A Journey of Discovery’ provides a wonderful biography of the Three Ladies of the Vale.

After the talk Tracy answered several questions from members of the audience who faced the trauma of walking down the aisle to speak into the standing microphone and then faced the dangers of the microphone feedback howling – I daresay that the Tudors could have used it as an instrument of torture!  

Tracy then stayed aback to answer individual questions and also to sign copies of her book ‘Private Lives of the Tudors’ on which she based her talk.

The talk was just the right length, and pitched at the right level for the audience, with the pleasant balance of history, facts, fun and personal anecdotes, Tracy is clearly very relaxed when talking to a large audience and her natural warmth and friendliness came over very clearly.

Overall a great way to spend a chilly Thursday afternoon, it’s definitely inspired me to take a greater interest in the Tudor dynasty and to research their impact on Lichfield – other than Henry’s VIII’s closure of The Friary of course!