Theatre Group see Move over Mrs Markham

Once again the Theatre Group greatly enjoyed a theatrical performance, this time of Move Over Mrs Markham, at The Mill at Sonning on Wednesday 30th May.  The play is like a Brian Rix farce and was directed by Ray Cooney who co-wrote it with John Chapman in 1971.  As usual at this theatre an informal dinner was included prior to the performance.  The menu selection and the food were good which all added to the conviviality of the occasion.

Those visiting for the first time would find the environment extraordinary, the theatre/restaurant being a restored and surprisingly extensive 17th century flour mill.  Many original mill artefacts have been retained, and a great mill wheel is on view still churning away, apparently supplying electric power to the building.  Everywhere there are ancient wooden beams, and the sense of the historic is maintained in the horse-shoe shaped auditorium.  There we looked down on to the stage-set of a sitting room and adjoining bedroom of a London flat decorated and furnished as for the 1970s, with a number of strategically place doors which were to play an important part in the proceedings.

We were soon to learn that once the flat owners, the straight-laced Philip and Joanna Markham, have gone out for the evening, their Interior Designer plans to try out the new oval bed – with the au-pair girl.  But, unknown to them, Philip Markham has reluctantly agreed to let his business partner borrow the flat for the evening to entertain his new girl-friend.  Meanwhile Joanna Markham has also allowed the business partner’s wife to borrow the apartment so that she can rendezvous with her lover.

Then the Markham’s’ evening out is cancelled – but too late to stop the convergence of the multiple lovers at the flat.  So of course there ensue farcical compromising situations, desperate attempts at concealment along with bogus explanations which lead to further hilarious complications.  To compound it all a highly principled middle-aged authoress arrives willing to sign a lucrative business contract so long as everything is prim and proper!

The story is fast-paced, the dialogue rife with saucy ambiguities, the acting brilliant, the casting and costumes totally believable.  The whole performance was greeted with gales of laughter from the audience.

Well done Malcolm for organising another successful Theatre Group outing.  It was a splendid evening.

John Grimshaw

The Rivals for the Theatre Club

The Rivals, Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury

In March, 15 members of the Upton Theatre Group visited the Watermill Theatre near Newbury to be entertained by a performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, The Rivals.

This was Sheridan’s first play, written in 1774 when he was just 23 and, being recently married, in need of a little ready cash. After an inauspicious first night and some hasty rewriting it became a great success and set Sheridan on a course to be not only one of the best-known playwrights of his generation but also a theatre-owner and MP.

The play is set in Bath in the 1770s, when that city was a hot-house of fashion, society and scandal. Driven from Dublin by debt, Sheridan’s family had settled in Bath in 1770 and as a young man-about-town, Sheridan would have had first-hand knowledge of the foibles of contemporary society. A comedy of manners, it’s a throw-back to the Restoration comedies of a century before. Beth Flintoff’s skilful adaption included a new prologue to transport us in rhyme back to 18th century Bath and back to 21st century Berkshire at the conclusion.

To set the scene……Jack Absolute, a dashing army captain, is in love with Lucy Languish, but adopts the disguise of the impecunious Ensign Beverley, pandering to Lucy’s fanciful notions of a lifetime of romantic penury. His father Sir Anthony, in the meantime, is doing his level best to arrange a suitable marriage for Jack and as luck would have it has chanced upon Lucy as a suitable candidate via her guardian, the moralistic Mrs Malaprop. Jack forcefully spurns his father’s suggestion, blissfully unaware that his beloved and his father’s proposed bride are one and the same….

Thus we embark on a romp of comic misunderstanding and mayhem, incorporating secret notes, unbridled passions and even a duel, or at least a coward’s attempt at one, but readers will be relieved (though probably not surprised) to hear that it all ends happily ever after.

This was my first visit to the Watermill which, for those who have not yet had the pleasure, is an absolute delight. The theatre has been built within the old mill building and is an intimate space seating 200 in a small stalls area and a gallery. The stage apron spreads generously into the auditorium and literally to the very feet of the Upton contingent, for whom Malcolm had secured seats in the front row. Hearing aids and glasses were quite superfluous! From such a vantage point we were able to observe the cast in close-up; woe betide anyone who might have briefly dozed after the splendid meal we enjoyed in the Watermill’s restaurant before the play began.

In a strong cast, Ncuti Gatwa was an ardent, impassioned Jack Absolute while Julia St John hammed up the gift of a role as the Mrs Malaprop – she was absolutely encouragable, or should I say incolourable? Daniel Abelson was memorable in the role of the hapless Bob Acres, up from the country and outwitted by his urbane companions, while who from Upton could have failed to observe the startling similarity between Jack’s chum Faulkland (James Mack) and the Rev. Jason St John Nicolle?

All returned to Upton thoroughly amused and exceptionally well fed – a splendid night out!

Paul Batho

Theatre Club plan to see Move over, Mrs Markham.

Encouraged by a positive reaction from a number of you, I have today ordered 16 tickets for ‘Move over, Mrs Markham’ at the Mill at Sonning for the evening of Wednesday 30 May.   I had to pay a non-returnable deposit, so please do rush to get your tickets, at the Group price of £49.50 each. This, you will recollect, includes a buffet meal with coffee, half a programme (one between two), and seats for the show in an amphitheatre.  I’ve booked seats near the back, on the level of the restaurant, for those who don’t like descending steps with no rails. The show is being directed by its co-author, Ray Cooney, and is billed as “hilarious” and “a wonderful farce”.

It is obviously pretty popular, because we couldn’t get seats in a block, even towards the end of its run.

When you pay, please say also whether you wouldn’t mind driving to Sonning.

Malcolm   850705

The Play went Wrong for the Theatre Club

The latest visit for the Theatre Club was to see The Play that Goes Wrong at Oxford Playhouse on 23rd January 2018.

The mayhem started even before the play itself; the theatre displayed a sign for the wrong play, a frantic cast member trawled the auditorium for a missing dog and an audience member was prevailed upon to help fix the collapsing scenery in a taste of what was to come. The scene was further set by an introduction from the play’s ‘Director’, who described a previous history of theatrical catastrophes. When the play did get going, it quickly became evident that the title is a gross understatement. The plot is ridiculous, the cast are shambolic and miscast over-actors and the set has a malevolent life of its own. Every single thing that could go wrong goes wrong.

The performances were extravagantly awful, but they were supposed to be. The cast played their parts with a bemused but energetic determination to finish the performance, regardless of what was happening around them. The gags were fired out in such a scattergun manner that it was impossible to not find something in there to appeal to every sense of humour. There is comedy in every minute, if not second, of the play, some of it traditional physical farce and some of it in more subtle actions and wordplay. One scene was played with the lines in the wrong order; one scene trapped the actors in an increasingly manic loop of repeated lines; props got mixed up and cast members substituted for each other and bits of furniture. The script is crammed with gag after gag after gag; it is literally achingly funny.

The star of the night, however, was the set. It started out being held together with duct tape and ended up literally in pieces. The action in the second half of the play was almost entirely directed by its gradual disintegration. It was absolutely ingenious, and a delight to watch, as the cast attempted to continue with the play despite the mortal peril posed by collapsing pieces of set.

‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ makes for an incredibly enjoyable evening; brilliant writing, award-winning set design and laugh-out-loud comedy. I’d see it again in a heartbeat… and a hard hat.

Jane

War Horse comes to Oxford

Following 8 record breaking years in London’s West End the National Theatre acclaimed play War Horse came on tour to the New Theatre Oxford and on the 13th December, ten members of the Upton Theatre Group had the opportunity to enjoy this fabulous production.

The Theatre production is based on Michael Morpurgo’s Novel about the friendship between a Devon Farm Boy Albert and a young horse called Joey. At the outbreak of WW1 Albert’s father sells Joey to the Cavalry and the horse is shipped to France. Joey is caught up in all the horrors of the War, eventually serving on both sides of enemy lines. Albert cannot forget Joey and although underage enlists in the British Army in an effort to find his beloved horse and bring him home.

At the heart of this production are astonishing life-sized horses by South Africa’s remarkable Handspring Puppet Company. The puppetry is so mesmerising that you forget while watching that you are not looking at real horses.

War Horse was an unforgettable theatrical event and for me ranks as probably the very best theatre production I have seen for the extraordinary production, special effects, casting and ingenuity in bringing the story to the stage.

Feedback from other members of the Upton Theatre Group suggests I was not alone in feeling enraptured by the whole experience that tugged at heartstrings and laid bare the best and worst of humanity. If you haven’t seen it and can get tickets do go ………you really will not be disappointed!

Lesley Shaw

Great Expectations for the Theatre Group

“Great Expectations”

Blewbury Garden Theatre, 18-22 July, 2017

The Blewbury Players have performed over forty years of productions at Orchard Dene and their latest production, “Great Expectations”, was recently enjoyed by the group. Not only were we treated to Malcolm Wright’s accomplished portrayal of Pumblechook but we were also able to pay a silent tribute to Irene Timblick, a theatre club enthusiast who would surely have revelled in Dickens’s novel being brought to life in the charming open air theatre.

We were lucky; we had picked a dry evening but, goodness me, it was cold. While the audience huddled in rugs, there was plenty of action on stage to keep us locked into the story of lost hopes and broken hearts. Experienced actors played alongside novices of all ages, supported by the dedicated crew and all passionate about delivering community theatre.

Many readers will know the story well but for me, Miss Havisham’s bitterness was in stark contrast to Pip’s never-ending charitable nature and I found her death in the fire, a sad ending to an even sadder life. The dark and gloomy mood of the tale was lightened by Dickens himself being brought forward like a chorus figure, using his wit and impish genius, to envelop us. The cold evening needed a warm and happy ending and we got one, with Pip and Estella planning their future together. Luckily for me, my lift home had a car with heated seats – perfect!

 

Rosemary de Wilde

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Theatre Group visited the New Theatre at Oxford on 23rd May to see ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ writen by Simon Stephens, based on the book by Mark Haddon.

The outing coincided with my Australian friend Libby coming to stay with us and luckily Malcolm found another ticket so that she could join us all. We had read the book but couldn’t remember the details of the story – no matter, we knew it would be an experience we could share together. The theatre was packed on a Tuesday night with young and young-at-heart people and there was a buzz of anticipation about what would unfold on stage where the silhouette of a dog lay dead, speared by a garden fork with a figure crouched over it.

There was no warning! Suddenly, flashing bright lights and loud noises screamed from all directions and you could understand why someone might cover their ears and shout “Stop!” There was no going back, we had entered that frightening world, albeit for an evening, to share Christopher Boone’s (Sam Newton) experience of solving who had killed his neighbour’s dog Wellington.

Christopher, fifteen years old, has an extraordinary brain – exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. When he falls under the suspicion of killing Mrs Shears’ dog, it takes him on a journey that upturns his world. He has what he likes to describe as “behavioural difficulties” and yet with his brilliant mathematical brain and logical processes, he never gives up his quest.

Despite the pleas from his father to mind his own business, Christopher discovers truths about his parents as his investigation progresses, causing distress for the whole family. Since he finds the irregularities and peculiarities of the English language confusing, the audience is constantly reminded of the fragility of communication in everyday situations. The metaphors of speech are strikingly obvious when Christopher is told to “Look at me when I am speaking to you” but then chided when he looks away after a second or two “You didn’t tell me how long to look at you for” he cries. The audience laughs but surely what some must be thinking is how often they have misinterpreted what others are saying or doing. It was funny, it was sad, it was fascinating, the audience was captivated.

I was captivated by Sam Newton’s portrayal of Christopher. For this brilliant young graduate, it was a debut major role and I wondered at the intricacies of the physical theatre that we were experiencing. How on earth does someone walk on walls supported only by another’s arms or lay cradled as if asleep, balanced on his hip with a small box as his bed? The supporting cast were outstanding and the stage and lighting were amazing. The grid like set reflected Christopher’s logical brain processes with sparks of light whizzing around to represent the impulses in his brain. When Christopher jumps down on the London underground tracks to retrieve his pet rat, the suspense created by loud beat music and steam like lighting of the approaching train, meant out hearts were in our mouths until he was hauled clear. Be careful with that metaphor ….

This play is an eye opener, and we emerged with that feeling of having experienced something very special. We talked about it all the way home and Libby and I added to the 40 years of memories we already treasure as friends.

Rosemary de Wilde

Improbable Fiction for The Theatre Group

“Improbable Fiction” by Alan Ayckbourn at The Mill at Sonning, 23 March 2017

A sociable and good-humoured twenty-two of us, a majority from Upton, but augmented by family and friends from elsewhere, sat down for an excellent meal in the picturesque restaurant at the still-functioning mill. We then proceeded to the spectacular amphitheatre – with easy acoustics and perfect sight-lines – to enjoy the expected professional performance of what had been billed as a hilarious comedy.

By the interval, I felt I had been misinformed. We had watched a mildly amusing meeting of a creative writers’ circle, with some nicely delineated characters who evinced plenty of mutual likes and dislikes and a good deal of back history. Clem’s barely intelligible Sci-Fi story, complete with the malapropisms which infuriated the ill-tempered Brevis, a retired teacher, was well delivered and the encouraging chairmanship of Arnold endorsed the sympathy one might have felt for the two budding authors, Jess and Grace, who hadn’t yet managed to write anything. But …. It wasn’t Ayckbourn at his funniest, and we were left bewildered by a blackout and a glimpse of people in Victorian costumes, one wielding a knife and screaming to end the first act.

All became clear. The stories envisaged by would-be authors were played out around a bemused Arthur, striving to maintain some sanity and reality in a whirl of activity. In close succession, he was invaded by Jess’s Victorian melodrama, Clem’s alien-hunting American investigators (complete with malapropisms) and Vivvi’s poetry-quoting detective solving a mysterious death in the upstairs bedroom. This entailed an amazing number of costume-changes, usually heralded by another blackout – and the subtle switching of the telephone to indicate period. All actors except Arthur were given opportunities to show their versatility, and they revelled in it. The scenes became zanier and zanier – though there was a semblance of plot development in each story – and at last we were watching hilarious farce, well executed. Ayckbourn’s invention and tidy plotting even included Brevis’s half-finished song of the first act being used for a decidedly Shakespearean bergomask to round it off, waving alien detectors which doubled as buttercups and an alien pod which doubled as a walnut boat for the goblin of Grace’s children’s story. In the end, it was what we had been promised.

Malcolm Wright

Sand in the Sandwiches Review

Sand in the Sandwiches at Oxford Playhouse on Wednesday 26th October,
2016
The Upton Theatre Group spent a delightful evening watching Double BAFTA
winner Edward Fox starring in this one-man performance, bringing John
Betjeman’s poetry and his vivacious personality to life. What a tour de
force, all those words, and Edward Fox brought it to life with all the charm
and presence you would expect from such an actor.
Betjeman is one of the nation’s favourite poets. Sand in the Sandwiches
celebrated a man famous not only for light verse and laughter, but for his
passions, his sense of purpose and his unforgettable poetry. The Arrest of
Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel and Trebetherick were two of the fabulous
poems included in the performance.
Through his boyhood, adolescence and on to life as Britain’s Poet Laureate,
the performance embraced Betjeman’s delight for nostalgia and delicious
irreverence. The evening gave us a hugely entertaining insight into the world
of this much-loved poet. There were moments of laughter, naughtiness and
also great poignancy as his relationship with his father was explored. We
looked at his love affair with Elizabeth Cavendish, despite his marriage to
Penelope, and his amazingly positive view of his Parkinson’s and his uplifting
view looking towards the end of his life.
It was also an interesting ‘spotlight’ on how society and attitudes have
changed which gave rise to some interesting discussion on our journey home.
There was, I feel, an issue with the sound in the first act. I heard others
discussing this at the interval; however, it seemed better in the second act.
Had I grown used to it, or had they fixed it at the sound desk? Who knows!
On a slightly different level, the refurbishment of the theatre is wonderful,
finished I believe in August, more space, luscious colours, fabulous!
It was a wonderfully entertaining evening and had me digging out my John
Betjeman Collected Poems book as soon as I got home.
Sarah Carter

Theatre Group visit Watermill to see Untold Stories

Upton Theatre Group visit to the Watermill Theatre to see Untold Stories

Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, by Alan Bennet

On Tuesday 7th June, 14 of us had a very enjoyable visit to the Watermill Theatre, 12 having the pre theatre buffet meal. The weather was warm & dry as we arrived so it was pleasant to wander down to the stream to see the sculptures and watch the antics of the ducks. During the interval it poured with rain so some of us got a little wet!

Untold Stories is a double bill of memoirs based on his 2005 collection of diaries, recollections and essays.  In Hymn, a play set to live music by George Fenton, Bennett, played with thoughtfulness by Roger Ringrose, recalls the hymns and music that underscored his childhood.  It was a reflection on the gentle way things were then and a childhood and youth long past.

A live string quartet played while Bennett remembered his disappointment at his failure to play the violin despite his father’s mastery of the instrument, with no encouragement from his own father. Bennett’s passion for music was activated by his weekly trips to Leeds Town Hall to see the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, launched in 1947.  A customer of his father’s butcher shop , the Entertainment Officer of Leeds City council, would pass on a couple of complimentary tickets to the Saturday night concerts. His father would accompany music played on the radio with his violin.  As a member of the church congregation Alan felt that he belonged to a group, whereas he usually felt an outsider, looking in on other people’s lives, not really sharing.

Glimpses of his early life with Mam and Dad are shared in Cocktail Sticks, as Bennett in dialogue with his fictionalised versions of Mam and Dad bemoaned the lack of a “proper childhood “ with the right kind of trauma to equip him as a writer. “Well we took you to Morecambe”, replied Mam. Lucy Tregear was brilliant and sympathetic as Mam, depicting both the eager excitement at the anticipation of living the style and social fashion shown in her womens magazines and the doubt and confusion caused by her son’s lack of warmth and appreciation of her efforts to please him. Dad too (Richard Gibson) retreated into shyness when he realised that his best just wasn’t good enough for his clever son. Bennett looked back, after their death,  with love and affection but pain too at the little everyday things that his parents had given him, including source material for this funny and witty play.

 

Joan Durbin.