Bring up the Bodies Review


Swan Theatre, Stratford

Monday 24 February 2014

Why on earth were two stage adaptations of two prize-winning fictional biographies so amazingly popular that we had to buy tickets over six months in advance? I gather that tickets were even selling at well over purchase price on e-bay. Admittedly, the novels were adapted by Mike Poulton, who had several very successful versions to his credit – most notably for us The Canterbury Tales – and it could have been interesting to compare this presentation of Henry VIII with those on TV, and even by Shakespeare. We were limiting ourselves to the second in the series, retailing the downfall of Anne Boleyn, but it could have been appallingly adapted, it could have been a travesty of the Mantel original, it could have been abysmally acted.

It wasn’t. The ecstatic reviews were justified. I recollected passages of dialogue and certain incidents from the book brought to vivid life on stage. I enjoyed the slick movement from scene to scene, effected with little in the way of props in a very Shakespearean manner, so that three hours passed without longeurs. The Swan is splendidly equipped for this sort of production. I thought the language excellently convincing, a touch of Tudor without being obscure, and verging at times on the poetic. It was even much funnier than expected, given that it is about the intrigue and dishonesty needed to bring a queen to trial. Above all, it was, through uniformly exceptional acting, a delight to see characters brought to complex and credible life. Special mention has to go to Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell, not only because the part is enormous, but also because he made this Machiavellian fixer somehow forgiveable and even likeable. The portrait of Henry was similarly much deeper and more multi-faceted than the lustful fat man of cartoons, while the three women in his life (thus far) Queens Catherine and Anne, and queen-to-be Jane, were wonderfully differentiated and believable.

We went on talking about it on the way home in the mini-bus; I don’t think anybody had found the show wanting. How soon before Mantel finishes the trilogy and the RSC depicts Cromwell’s demise?

Malcolm Wright

16 March 2014

The Theatre Club meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde


Watermill Theatre, Bagnor Tuesday 28 May 2013

There were some very last minute worries about whether we would manage to sell all the tickets, and even then somebody didn’t make it because of illness. Nevertheless, all drivers arrived in good time and the Watermill worked its usual enchantment – not quite a balmy summer’s evening but an enjoyable occasion and an excellent production.

Quite why anyone would want to make Stevenson’s horror story funny might be debatable, but the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company (all three of them) worked with Beth Flintoff to create a breath-taking, eye-dazzling and rib-aching show. It was intended as something completely different, and the three talented young actors conjured the essence of a Victorian adventure with colourful costumes and versatile set. Versatility indeed – one actor played Jekyll-cum-Hyde, the other two played the rest of the cast – friends, servants, townsfolk, victims, with an array of minor costume changes, an enviable variety of accents, and such inventive mime and improvisation it was almost exhausting to watch. We were seated in the front three rows, so could easily appreciate the split-second timing and constant pace of the action. And somehow, despite the undoubted, even slapstick, comic moments, the serious moral commentary on a man giving way to his darker impulses was not shirked.

This trio were recommended by the Box Office when I booked the tickets. They are certainly well worth watching.

Malcolm Wright

June 2013

Rough Justice at the Oxford Playhouse

The Upton Theatre Goers went to the Oxford Playhouse in November to see Rough Justice with Tom Conti as James Highwood and a small supporting cast. The author is Terence Frisby. Who he? Well he had a career of writing for the cinema and screen and Rough Justice is the creation of a master craftsman. It is a courtroom drama, with the clever and occasional insertion of the Courthouse cell where we are privy to the thoughts of James and his wife, and their solicitor.

We were gripped from the start. Tom Conti takes the part of a television journalist who has made a career of challenging the British Justice System. Now it is he who is challenged. He stands in the dock as the result of the death of his youngest child. Aged two years the child Is catastrophically handicapped as a result of congenital brain damage. The outlook for his future is grim. James enters a plea of Manslaughter. He describes the evening he placed a pillow over his son’s body, and presses down until the child is still.

The battle for the outcome is for a sentence of Life or Leniency. The Judge, the prosecuting Q.C. and Highwood representing himself are the protagonists.

The Judge stresses that the sentence whether Murder or Manslaughter is entirely in the hands of the jury. Then we find that the audience Is to be the jury.

It is the last twist of a truly dramatic evening.

Jo Joel

Local Visit for the Theatre Group

SHE STOOPS to CONQUER by Oliver Goldsmith

Orchard Dene, Blewbury Thursday 19 July 2012

Although I have lived in the area for over 30 years, 25 of which have been in Upton, this was the first production by the Blewbury Players that I have ever seen. Being newly retired, and supposedly having more free time, I decided this year that I would go along. So, together with eleven other members of the theatre club, I bought a ticket hoping that the weather would we alright on the night! With us experiencing one of the wettest summers on record, I eyed the weather forecast during the week of the play with trepidation! Right up until the day before the first night it continued to rain. However, on the day of the play the rain stopped – well, almost! There was an option to have a picnic in the grounds of Orchard Dene House, prior to the performance, which some hardy Uptonians chose to do!

The organisation was excellent and, despite the wet weather leading up to the performance the car park was accessible. The walkways were carpeted and well lit and there was help on hand to find your seat. The setting for the play, the tiered garden of Orchard Dene, was perfect for a play set in the late 18th Century and we duly took our seats, armed with waterproofs and umbrellas, just in case!

Although the play, as written by Oliver Goldsmith, took place in the house of Mr Hardcastle – a member of the emerging class of the landed gentry, this entertaining light comedy worked perfectly well set in gardens that would not have been out of place in the 18th Century. The play is about an attempt at an arranged marriage which almost fails. However, after many twists and turns and the guile of the intended bride who had to pretend to be a serving maid in order to catch her man, it all worked out in the end! I though the play was well-cast with outstanding performances given by Hannah Tomkin as Mr Hardcastle’s daughter, Kate and Liz Holliss as Mrs Hardcastle. They were well-supported by the rest of the cast which included our very own Malcolm Wright as the Landlord! There was one interesting moment when a bi-plane flew overhead, temporarily drowning out the words of the play! Perhaps it was a tiger moth attracted to the lights!

The Blewbury Players suffered a great loss in the middle of rehearsals with the death of Tony Loy, who has been involved with the Blewbury Players for over 30 years and was meant to have played the role of Diggory the butler. The production team and cast should be applauded for putting on such a professional production following such a tragic loss.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and will certainly go again next year. The weather behaved itself in the end, with just one brief shower. Perhaps next year I might venture to take a picnic!

Gloria Smith, September 2012

Theatre Group visit the Watermill


Peter Schaffer

Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, on Tuesday 28 February 2012

By the time that Schaffer wrote this play in 1987, he was a seasoned playwright. The cast is small – just four speaking parts, but the two main characters are female, which must be unusual. Lettice Douffet and Lotte Schoen dominate the whole piece and are played, magnificently, by Selina Cadell – a familiar face from television dramas – and Jessica Turner.

It is a gentle comedy for the most part, hilarious in places, with a number of surprises. The setting is initially in a dull panelled room of a minor country house called Fustian Hall. Lettice is the employed guide, who, getting bored with repeating the same set piece to groups of visitors (played in this production by unpaid volunteers), begins to embroider the story with exciting but untrue additions. Her employer eventually catches her out, and threatens her with dismissal.

The play develops, moving to Lotte Schoen’s office and then to Lettice’s basement flat, cunningly conjured up, using the theatre’s gallery as ground level. As Lettice and Lotte’s friendship grows, these two very different people reveal their backgrounds and their interests. Their costumes reflect their professions, one colourful and surprising for the actress and the other muted and sensible for the civil servant.

The final act brings an awkward but accidental dilemma into the story and involves a solicitor played by Michael Thomas. The play ends with a dramatic twist.

The Upton Village Theatre Group enjoyed a pre-performance supper (most enjoyable), seats at the front of the stalls and transport. It was an evening to remember, organised by Malcolm Wright and the Theatre Group Committee, whom we heartily thank.


February 2012

Theatre Group Looking for Summer Excursion

I have to announce, with apologies from the Committee, that we have found nothing that suited enough members to warrant an outing in June or July.  A very select few are going to the New Chamber Opera’s production of Salieri’s “Falstaff” in New College, but our next major excursion remains the trip to Stratford on 27th October.  One ticket still hasn’t been taken.  It costs £41.50, which includes transport.

If anyone notices something pretty local for late August or early September, there may yet be a chance to arrange something.

Malcolm Wright


Just One Ticket Left


We have just one ticket left for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Stratford on 27 October.

We have still not found something suitable for our summer outing.   Blewbury Players are doing “Peter Pan”.   Anyone interested?

Malcolm Wright 850705

Theatre Group Looking for next Venture


Nothing suitable has yet been discovered for our projected June/July outing.  Do let the committee know if you find something.

But we are already booked for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the NEW Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford on Thursday 27 October at 7.15 pm.   Door to door transport is included in the price of £41.50.   There are now just six seats left.  If you are interested, please get cash or a cheque to me as soon as possible; for this trip I won’t be trying to get extra tickets for latecomers!

The Group, incidentally, is not exclusive.   Anyone who lives in the village (and some beyond) may join.  Let me know if you want to be included on the advance mailing list.

Malcolm Wright 850705

Relatively Speaking with the Theatre Group


The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury 5 March 2011

We went to see a matinee performance of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Relatively Speaking”. This was the second play by this prolific writer (well-known for the “Norman Conquests”) to be seen by the Group and we were not disappointed by this very capable production of a comedy which provided literally a laugh-a-minute, as the basically simple plot unfolded through a series of hilarious misunderstandings.

Set in the 1960’s, the opening Sunday morning scene introduces the young couple, Greg and Ginny, as they plan to get married. There is only one fly in the ointment, a middle-aged suitor who is showering Ginny with “unwanted” flowers and chocolates. Ginny explains that she has to visit her “parents” that morning at their cottage in leafy Buckinghamshire, but cannot take Greg along as they are “funny” about unexpected guests.

The scene switches to the garden of the “parents”, Philip and Sheila, as they enjoy a leisurely breakfast on their patio. The conversation is about gardening, golf and church, but there is an underlying suspicion that each suspects the other of having a secret affair. Enter on this tranquil scene a somewhat flustered Greg, who has impulsively decided to follow Ginny down to Buckinghamshire and has somehow arrived ahead of her.

Greg is not the brightest communicator and fails totally to get across the purpose of his visit to Sheila, who declares that she doesn’t have a daughter. He fares no better with Philip, who assumes that the younger man is proposing to run off with his wife. Enter at this point Ginny, who it transpires has arrived to break off her long-running affair with Philip. Sheila knows Ginny only by repute as a work-colleague of Philip’s and is surprised to find that she isn’t the elderly spinster she had always assumed her to be. Ginny is astounded to find Greg in the house, who meanwhile has somehow inveigled himself into assisting with the preparation of lunch.

Everything is resolved at the end as Philip winds up by having to pay for the honeymoon, Sheila sees an end to Philip’s philandering, Ginny achieves her aims and Greg remains the innocent abroad, still unaware that the older couple aren’t Ginny’s parents.

The part of the blustering, manipulative Philip was played by David Acton, the diffident Greg by Greg Haiste, the determined Ginny by Ellie Beaven and the mysterious Sheila by Gillian Bevan.

After the performance we filed with aching ribs into the gazebo, where we sat down to an excellent afternoon tea and the chance for conversation.

Our thanks to Malcolm Wright and the Committee for organising the event and transport to the theatre.

Stuart Norman

March 2011

What Next for the Theatre Group?

Detailed arrangements for our trip to The Watermill will be sent later this month.  Meanwhile we are thinking about further outings this year.  Is it too soon to contemplate another trip to Stratford – to see the facilities of the new theatre?  "Macbeth" or "Midsummer Night’s Dream" – or a non-Shakespeare?  Or is anyone interested in exploring The Swan Theatre?

Do let Celia or Irene or me know how you feel.

Malcolm Wright