Theatre Club – Kiss Me Kate


Another Op-nin, Another Show beckoned us into this musical comedy with an exciting young company of multi-talented actor/musicians spilling onto the Watermill’s tiny stage. Energy oozed through their limbs in exhilarating choreography to their own big brassy arrangements taking them (and the audience) backstage on opening night into Baltimore City’s theatre world of the late 1940s.

Malcolm had treated us to front row seats (risky for some), where the stage’s simple back wall set needed no more than an illuminated sign and ‘his and hers’ dressing-room tables to conjure up this intimate revival of Cole Porter’s celebration of Shakespeareana. Using the play-within-a-play framework, Kiss Me, Kate was conceived when a young stage manager was amused to hear stars in a Broadway production of Taming of the Shrew, mirroring their onstage roles with bickering offstage and the subsequent production was born, later becoming Porter’s most successful show.

The multitasking, multiracial ensemble captured their audience in Act One, with numbers like Wunderbar and I Hate Men being belted out with frivolous abandon but Act Two brought more.

Where Is The Life That Late I Led could lead you to believe a mournful depiction followed but you would be wrong. Weaving within the audience, the lead headed straight for Emma in that risky front seat and we laughed at their tender yet jovial encounter, before he preyed on others throughout the theatre, mistakenly thinking they would be safe from any audience-participation embarrassment.

The cast kept us laughing until the end and Shakespeare’s translation of the basic elements of the human condition and human relationships triumphed again.

I loved this musical and I love the Watermill theatre. Join us another time for front row seats, if you dare!

Rosemary de Wilde

Theatre Club to visit “Kiss me Kate”

Theatre Group

It’s been a while, but I’m trying to resume normal service.

Today I reserved 16 seats for Cole Porter’s marvellous “Kiss Me Kate” at the Watermill Theatre for the evening of Wednesday 4 September.   The group discounted price is £26.20 for seats in the front two rows of the stalls.   As usual, the first to pay secure their places.

I cannot, as far as I know, get a group discount for the Blewbury Players’ production this year, Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, but I can perhaps co-ordinate tickets or transport.   The dates are 16-20 July.   Let me know when booking opens.

Malcolm Wright  Tel 850705

Christmas Reading – A Boy Called Christmas

At long last! Third time lucky, we’re going ahead with a Reading of an adaptation of this children’s book. But it’s entirely suitable for anyone aged between 8 and 108, a real family show.   The story is full of surprises and magic and fun and pathos – something for everyone. Do come to listen to the cast of talented readers in the Village Hall on Saturday 1 December from 4.30 to 6.30 pm. Tickets are available from Paul Batho, Clare Lightfoot, Jessie West or Malcolm Wright at £6 each for any adult. Children at school, however, are FREE! and the price includes drinks and cakes during the interval.

If there are any profits after we’ve paid for the hire of the Hall, they will go to the Friends of St Mary’s.

“The Wipers Times”

The most recent Upton Theatre Group outing found us at The Oxford Playhouse on 4th September enjoying a Trademark Touring and Watermill Theatre production of The Wipers Times.   This is based on a true story set during WW1 and was written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.

The Oxford Playhouse has seen a trendy makeover since my last visit some years ago and the auditorium is now a masterful palette of grey walls and multi-coloured comfortable chairs, a real bonus following a recent visit to the Adelphi Theatre in London in which you needed to be no more than 5’ tall to sit with any degree of comfort!

Fifteen years ago Ian Hislop came across The Wipers Times while working on a documentary for Radio 4.  The story originated in the spring of 1916 when a group of Sherwood Foresters led by Captain Fred Roberts discovered a printing press in the bombed out ruins of Ypres, otherwise known to the Tommies as ‘Wipers’.  Hence the satirical weekly publication was born. The dynamic stage setting seamlessly changed rapidly with some well rehearsed choreography by the cast to depict a variety of scenes from the trenches to French cafes.   Although familiar with the story of WW1 I found myself surprised at the months our troops had spent in one place and could not imagine how desolate it would have felt living in a sea of mud and barbed wire with the unrelenting noise of warfare and rats devouring your food supplies.  Captain Roberts and his Lieutenant Jack Pearson provided a very popular distraction in the form of a newspaper which celebrated the camaraderie of those whose existence relied on humour as a coping mechanism and as an antithesis to the ‘hate hymn’ which was sung incessantly by the Germans just a few yards away.  A few of the cast members held dual roles and their energy and timing was engaging to watch from the outset, many of the satirical articles within the newspapers were directed at the perceived “safe” positions senior officers held during the war and their apparent total lack of empathy and compassion towards the soldiers on the front line.   These senior officers appeared ignorant of the squalid, desperate conditions the troops were experiencing and together with the Temperance movement also objected strongly to the alcohol consumption on the front line which further illustrated their lack of understanding.  Even after the war finished, those who hadn’t fought on the front line questioned the accuracy of the Wipers Times and almost dismissed it as a bit of trivia.

The play was certainly very humorous in places, although perhaps not as much as the marketing material led me to believe.   I felt, however, huge gratitude that so many sons, brothers and husbands (many of whom did not return) found a shared camaraderie through The Wipers Times during a period in our history which we must never forget.  It ran from 1916 until just after the end of the war and published 23 issues.


Jane Strange

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.


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