Daubing day at Butser Ancient Farm – wattle lot of fun!

By Kat Wootton

I’m at Butser Ancient Farm in Chalton, south of Petersfield just off the A3, on a hot and humid Sunday morning. Flying ant weather; and good drying weather for some daubing.

Wattle and daub – that ancient method of making walls – is basically a woven latticework of sticks with mud stuck on top to make it draught- and weather- proof.

I’m at the experimental archaeology site to volunteer my services in finishing a new roundhouse, built in the late Iron Age style. Unlike the large roundhouse next door, there’s no central circle of posts to hold the roof up, just a wattle circle wall using willow rather than the usual hazel to weave between the outer posts, a thatched straw roof and two layers of daub.

Mud, hair, dung and water mix – the daub

The inside walls had been daubed the week before by a group on a corporate team building day. Now the volunteers step up to do the outside.

Daub is a mixture of soil (which here contains a fair bit of chalk), cow dung, cow and horse hair, and straw, with water added until it’s the consistency of a wet cake mix. The aim is to splat it onto the wattle so that it coats it in an inch or two thick layer, squishing between the willow stems. Too wet and it won’t stay on, too dry and it won’t envelope the willow. It’s very therapeutic as we hurl clots of daub at the wall, before patting with the back of our hands to smooth it out and weld the blobs of daub together. When it’s dried a little, it can be smoothed with a plasterer’s tool. The bigger stones have to be picked out and we work in panels of three or four upright posts at a time, starting at the bottom and working our way up to the top under the eaves, which is tricky and usually results in a liberal amount of daub in the hair and down your top. It’s well rotted dung so it doesn’t smell. We convince ourselves it is conditioning our hair and skin…

Trevor, who is coordinating the small group of volunteers, gets stuck in too, under the watchful eye of David Freeman, resident archaeologist and proud builder of the roundhouse, as well as the stone age buildings at the other side of the Farm.

One little girl is so absorbed, she doesn’t want to stop even when the lunch call comes. Her younger brother isn’t so keen to get his hands dirty but once he plunges his hands into the bucket of gloop and realises he is actually allowed to sling mud, he gets to work with gusto, singing “splat splat splat” as he does so. There is lots of chat about how people would have built these houses, how long it might have taken them, how many people would have lived in it… a lesson in pre-history as we work. David explains that the walls would have been painted – he’s going for lime white and ochre red, with yellow bands top and bottom and swirling abstract designs painted on top.

David’s very neat daubing

Members of the Anglo Saxon reenactment group Herigeas Hundas walk past, eyeing the dirty work. We are coated in mud. We threaten to see them off by mudslinging and they head back to the Saxon hall, laughing.

Starting at 10am, with a squash and biscuit break and an hour for lunch, the daubing is done by teatime. I’m stiff and covered in dried mud, but I feel fantastic. I can say ‘I did that’ next time I see those bits of wall. I’m seriously considering creating my own garden roundhouse now…

Daubed! The new roundhouse

If you’d like to volunteer or take one of the courses offered at the farm, see www.butserancientfarm.co.uk

Anniversary sees former site of A3 at Hindhead recognised as a wildlife haven

The Devil’s Punch Bowl, once separated from Hindhead Common by the A3, has become one of the top wildlife sites in south east England.  The huge improvements to the area in recent years are the result of the creation of the Hindhead Tunnel by Highways England, which has enabled the site to regenerate, and hard work by the National Trust, supported by Natural England.
Hindhead Tunnel
The Devil’s Punch Bowl, once separated from Hindhead Common by the A3, has become one of the top wildlife sites in south east England. 
Picture by Alan Stanford/Stella Pictures Ltd 

Six years on from the opening of the tunnel, which saw the restoration of  this Surrey Hills nationally protected landscape, management techniques set out under Higher Level Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship have also seen the restoration of fragile and endangered historic heathland habitat, and the return of rare and diverse breeding birds such as woodlark and nightjar.
The nationally scarce heath tiger beetle has been sighted, and conditions are now favourable for the return of the silver studded blue butterfly. The Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) has now been assessed by Natural England as meeting its nature conservation targets, and is considered to be in favourable condition. 
Wildlife flourishing. Pictures by Alan Stanford/Stella Pictures Ltd 

It’s not only the removal of the A3 which has made Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl so special. The SSSI is one of the highest points in southern England.  Just under 1,000 feet above sea level, the relatively cool, humid climate of this ‘lowland’ heathland contains species normally associated with more upland sites such as bilberry, and trees festooned with lichens and mosses. The mosaic of habitats found on site include upland and lowland heath, bog, streams, ancient woodland, and free draining sandy soil, making the site challenging to manage.
Matt Cusack, Lead Ranger for the National Trust said: “I am thrilled we’ve achieved favourable status for Hindhead and the Punch Bowl during my watch. The removal of the A3 in July 2011 was a major milestone, enabling us to thin trees and transform the site into a swathe of heathland.  But the site has been under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement since 2008.  Heather mowing, the introduction of woodlark nesting areas, grazing and scrub management conducted under the scheme has transformed it.  This couldn’t have been achieved without the support of my team and Hindhead’s dedicated local volunteers.”
Transformation of the SSSI and the restoration of the landscape within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have also boosted visitor numbers, up 20% from 2011 to approximately 700,000 per year, with visitors now choosing to spend longer exploring the stunning heathland and views. 

New paths created by Matt Cusack and his team offer walks for differing abilities around the Devil’s Punch Bowl, enabling visitors to enjoy the tranquillity of the site while avoiding wildlife disturbance on sensitive heathland areas.
Graham Steven, Conservation Advisor for Natural England said: “Matt and his team at the National Trust have done a fantastic job at taking on board actions needed to achieve favourable status.  They have balanced the needs of different habitats to create a haven for the endangered species that live here such as Dartford warbler, woodlark and nightjar.  The success achieved at Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl demonstrates what can be achieved when we work in partnership to balance the needs of people and wildlife.” 
Henry Penner, Senior Environmental Advisor with Highways England said: “The Hindhead Tunnel is a ground-breaking piece of engineering and shows how, by working together, we can deliver a road network fit for the 21st century in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment.  
“The tunnel is the longest of its type in the UK.  The old A3 around the Devil’s Punch Bowl was filled in using sandstone excavated from the tunnel and a mix of seeds to match the surrounding environment. I am delighted that six years on it has been recognised for playing its part in the wildlife success of the Devil’s Punch Bowl SSSI, and recognise the excellent work that Natural England and the National Trust have done to protect and enhance this special place for the country.” 
Rob Fairbanks, Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Director added:
“The Hindhead Tunnel scheme was the largest landscape restoration project in any National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is wonderful to see that the vision of reuniting the commons and enhancing the heathland habitat has proved so successful.”

CPRE Countryside Awards shortlist announced

CPRE Hampshire has announced who has made the shortlist in this year’s Countryside Awards, which has seen a record number of entries. Now in their 11th year, the county branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England run the awards to recognise and celebrate those working for a beautiful and thriving Hampshire countryside for everyone to value and enjoy.

The Countryside Awards scheme is made possible thanks to sponsorship by The Southern Co-operative (lead and Community and Voluntary category sponsor), Steve’s Leaves (Young People), Hildon (Rural Enterprise) and Hastoe (Sustainable Buildings).

Twenty-one projects are shortlisted and, by local area and award category, they are:

East Hampshire and Winchester District: 

Community and Voluntary

  • First Bite Community Café, Winchester

Young People

  • Forest School at Woodlea Primary, Bordon
  • Kindling Forest School and Parent & Toddler sessions, Twyford
  • Woodland Area at Kings Worthy Primary School, Winchester

Rural Enterprise

  • Two Hoots Shepherds Huts, Two Hoots Campsite, Bighton
  • Holden Farm Camping, Holden Farm, Cheriton
  • Blackwood Forest, Forest Holidays, Winchester

 Sustainable Buildings

  • Wessex Learning Centre, Winchester – Hampshire County Council Architects

New Forest:

 Community and Voluntary

  • HEG – Hordle Environment Group, Lymington
  • The New Forest Smooth Snake Survey, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC)

 Young People

  • Patrick’s Patch, Fairweather’s Garden Centre, Beaulieu

 Rural Enterprise

  • Poppy Pods Project, Tile Barn Centre, Brockenhurst

Sustainable Buildings

  • Forest Lodge, Brook – PAD Studio
  • Addison Road and The Larch Hut, Brockenhurst – Arboreal Architecture

South Hampshire:

Community and Voluntary

  • Milton’s Hidden Seashore, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
  • Community Roots, Southampton Voluntary Services

 Young People

  • Outdoor Learning Project, Ruth Butler Architects & St John’s Primary School, Rowlands Castle
  • Food Discovery, Bassett Green Primary School, Country Trust
  • Putting the Fare into Fareham, Wicor Primary School, Portchester

 Sustainable Buildings

  • Hampshire Passivhaus, Emsworth – Ruth Butler Architects

Test Valley:

 Sustainable Buildings

  • Mottisfont Abbey Visitor Facilities – Burd Haward Architects


Awards judges are visiting the shortlisted projects over the summer. The winners will be announced by the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire at the awards ceremony on September 19 at Littleton Millennium Memorial Hall near Winchester.

 

Would-be Wildings can head to Surrey Hills

A group of twelve young people aged 13-16 took part in an exciting wilderness expedition this summer, in  the Surrey Hills.

The group, brought together by the Leatherhead Youth Project, experienced two days of self-led navigation across 15km of Surrey Hills terrain, undertaking ‘wild’ camping and& cooking to complete the very first ‘Into the Wild’ expedition.

Oli Bell, Senior Youth Worker for the Leatherhead Youth Project said: “I’m so delighted with the success of this first ‘Into the Wild’ expedition. Watching this group of young people move away from their comfort zones, challenge themselves and come together as a team was inspirational. The aim of the exhibition was to provide each of them with a wilderness experience which would teach them lessons about themselves, each other and the world they live in.”

The group set off from Westcott, with a small amount of equipment to see them through the next few days. The 15km trek took them up into the heart of Winterfold Forest where youth workers led some reflective exercises with them including a 20-minute silent walk.

Oli said: “The silent walk proved a challenge to some of the group as many of them were used to constant noise and entertainment. Being silent for 20 minutes allowed them to experience nature in a new way, listening to noises and looking around them.”

The group successfully navigated their way through the woodlands of the Surrey Hills, eventually setting up camp at 7pm. Despite being exhausted from a full day of exercise and fresh air, the group set up survival hammocks, strung between the trees, and set about starting a campfire from flint in order to cook their evening meal.

The next morning the group packed up and set off on their trek again, taking in the views of the Surrey Hills landscape and bonded by their shared experience.

This ‘Into the Wild’ two day expedition was made possible by a grant from the Surrey Hills Trust Fund, Leatherhead Community Association and Community Foundation for Surrey.

As part of the expedition young people achieved the John Muir Award, an outdoor award based on the foundations of exploration, discovery, conservation and sharing experiences.

The Surrey Hills Trust Fund, established in partnership with the Community Foundation for Surrey, aims to help local communities enjoy the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and safeguard its future for generations to come.

Neil Maltby, Chairman of the Surrey Hills Trust Fund said: “Many of the young people had never been into the Surrey Hills before and this is exactly what the Surrey Hills Trust Fund is about – encouraging everyone to respect and enjoy the countryside on their doorstep and leave with a passion to protect it. We’re delighted to have played a part in the inaugural ‘Into the Wild’ expedition and hope to see many more like it. Offering young people an experience they don’t usually get is just wonderful.”

To donate to the Surrey Hills Trust Fund, apply for a grant or for further information visit http://www.surreyhills.org/trust-fund/

 

Into the Wild experience

World-renowned cellist to perform in Grayshott

One of the world’s most celebrated cellists, Raphael Wallfisch, is making his first visit to Grayshott in September.

He is regularly invited to play at major festivals including BBC Proms, Edinburgh, Aldeburgh, and events in Italy, Spain, Norway, Germany and the United States – and now Grayshott.

Accompanied by the famous London Mozart Players, he is to perform one of the three great romantic works for cello, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor. Grayshott has already staged cello concertos by Elgar and Dvorak and now completes the trio with Schumann’s final emotive, enigmatic and lyrical masterpiece.

 

Raphael Wallfisch

“It’s a huge privilege to bring Raphael to Grayshott. He’s such a star,” said Concerts artistic director, Vivien Harrison. “We’ve featured some amazing performers over our 15 years – and Raphael is among the very best!”

 

Mr Wallfisch has performed with most of the finest orchestras across the world including London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, English Chamber Orchestra, Halle, Berlin Symphony and many others. He has also recorded every major work for his instrument, releasing hundreds of acclaimed CDs and many leading composers have worked closely with him in premieres of their works. Teaching is one of Raphael’s great passions and he is much in demand all over the world, holding professorships in London and Switzerland.

The event on Friday,September 15 will be the 58th to be staged by Grayshott’s ambitious classical music promoters, Grayshott Concerts, whose performances attract music lovers from an increasingly wide area. Booking online is now open. Demand for tickets is expected to be high – early booking is recommended.

Grayshott’s next event, on November 24, features the world famous choral group The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers. This a cappella group is known to many through their regular appearances on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and on television. This concert will include a newly-discovered arrangement of Allegri’s Miserere, written in 1638 for the Sistine Chapel Rome and first written down by the 16-year-old Wolfgang Mozart in 1770.

Grayshott Concerts’ reputation of attracting bookings and selling out at all events is resulting in a growing number of members, Friends of Grayshott Concerts, who are entitled to priority booking. Friends can book at any time whilst general booking opens online seven weeks prior to each event.

For more information, visit www.grayshottconcerts.co.uk or ring 01428 606666 (voicemail).

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Fiddler on the Roof – another Chichester masterstroke

Fiddler on the Roof

Chichester Festival Theatre

Tuesday, July 18 2017

The lone fiddler, perched atop a black, empty stage, opens the show.

All at once doors open, light spills out and on come the residents of Anatevka, the little Jewish settlement in 1905 Russia where this story is set, for the opening number Tradition.

It sets out the importance of family, of heritage, of clinging hold of beliefs and ways despite being surrounded by a different and often hostile culture. But the tradition so powerfully sung about here (when all the voices are raised together in this show, it’s like a wall of sound – thrilling) is under threat, not only by the ruling forces but also from modern ideas, represented by the student Perchik. These ideas, about women and arranged marriages, politics and faith, disturb the delicate fabric of this mini-society, before the Russians rip it apart wholesale by forcing the Jews to get out of the country en masse.

It all seems very apposite – transpose Islam for Judaism, Syria for Russia, and you start to see some similarities: people ousted from their homes, the fear of ‘aliens’ and their strange customs, mistrust of other faiths and languages, refugees, the fear of mass migration…

As Tevye, the dairyman, Omid Djalili is spot-on casting. The comedian brings a self-deprecating warmth and a wry nod to the audience as if to say ‘families, eh? they’re all the same’.

Omid Djalili as Tevye in Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Johan Persson

There’s a subtle approach to this production – it seems underplayed slightly; more realistically perhaps than I’ve seen it performed before. The accents do seem a bit, well, varied, but that’s a minor quibble.

Tracy-Ann Oberman plays Golde his wife with assurity.  The three main daughters – Simbi Akande as Tzeitel, Emma Kingston as Hodel, and Rose Shalloo as the bespectacled Chava all seem a little unsure of themselves – I wasn’t really feeling the emotion if some of their scenes. But they’re young, which might explain it.

Omid-Djalili, Tracy-Ann Oberman and company. Photo by Johan Persson

The dream sequence was, in complete contrast, totally prog rock, over-the-top, panto style with flames and smoke and Thriller zombies – Laura Tebbutt screeching and wailing as the butcher’s dead wife. Very funny.

Some highlights for me include Gareth Snook as a really creepy Lazar Wolf the butcher – “but I liiiike her…”; the Russian soldiers’ dancing and the ridiculously extended note sung by one of them (apologies for not recalling which of the actors); the ensemble scenes when the vocal power could have knocked over an army; the beautiful Sunrise, Sunset song which had me in tears, and the incredibly poignant final scene with the cast tableau in front of huge photographs of the actual Jewish emigrants trying to start a new life in America, in ragged clothes, with haunted dark eyes, staring ahead. A waterfall in front of them represented… what? A barrier? A veil? A clean start? A sea of people, little droplets falling together to make a huge stream? Whatever it meant, it was very effective.

This a production that will no doubt head for the West End, as so many Chichester shows have done. There was a standing ovation on the night I attended – well-deserved. Get a ticket if you can.

Kat Wootton

 

Statue of Jane Austen placed today, 200 years since her death

A life-size bronze of Jane Austen is to be placed in the Market Square in Basingstoke to mark 200 years since the author’s death.

Today is the bicentenary of the death of Jane Austen, and all across Hampshire people are celebrating her life and legacy.

Adam Roud has been commissioned to create the sculpture, which he hopes will represent Jane not only as a writer, but also as a strong-willed and independent character in her own right.

Jane was born in 1775 in Steventon, just a few miles outside Basingstoke, where she lived for more than half her life. The places, people and landscapes of the borough had an enormous influence on her novels, and she created the first draft of Pride and Prejudice whilst living at Steventon, where her father was vicar of St Nicholas Church. Jane Austen knew Basingstoke well: she attended social gatherings at the Assembly Rooms in Market Square, near the current-day Lloyds Bank, and regularly visited family friends at the Vyne, Oakley Hall and Ashe House, amongst others.

Many events will be part of Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Jane Austen 200 project. For up to date information on events visit www.janeausten200.co.uk

Petersfield Shakespeare Festival is As You Like It

The Petersfield Shakespeare Festival is set to return this summer and love is definitely in the air…

Themes of disguise and mistaken identity dominate the joyful programme which is packed with comedy, romance – and quite a lot of cross dressing.

The intimate theatrical festival takes place in the inspiring grounds of Bedales School in Steep, next to the 17th century Sotherington Barn between July 19-30.

This year’s centrepiece is a production of Shakespeare’s  most elegant comedy, As You Like It which will be directed by last year’s dream team of Jake Smith and Chris Cuming. The show will create an energetic world which captures a joyously displaced portrait of life and theatre in the Elizabethan era and now.

Company in rehearsal

A firm favourite among Shakespeare’s comedies, and featuring some of his best-loved characters, as well as four weddings and no funeral, As You Like It will be performed July 19-24, and 29, at 7.45pm, with a 2.30pm matinee on July 28.

To inspire and delight audiences further, the festival is pleased to welcome two acclaimed touring companies, Illyria and Merely Theatre.

The Comedy of Errors (July 27 at 7.45pm) is the bard’s shortest comedy. Two sets of identical twins, separated at birth, unknowingly end up in the same city, and through a series of chance meetings their lives and sanity begin to unravel. Illyria returns with its intrepid band of five actors, desperately trying to work out how they can possibly reach the end of the play without needing more actors! It’s fast, polished and authentically Elizabethan in style.

Merely Theatre are joining the festival for the first time, on July 30 presenting fascinating productions of Romeo and Juliet (2.30pm) and Twelfth Night (7.45pm).  Each actor is twinned by another actor of the opposite gender, and they rehearse their parts together. The result is men and women playing every role in any and all potential combinations, creating five-hand Shakespeare plays with immense energy, pace and clarity.

And to cap it all the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival presents the world premiere of two short, Shakespeare-derived works – The Buried Moon, by Laura Turner and Shakespeare’s Lost Women, by Greg Mosse and John Gleadall.

Shakespeare’s Lost Women charmingly tells, through dialogue and song, the stories of some of the Bard’s forgotten female characters. Actress Deirdre Compton has made a career playing victims and luscious milk maids, fools and clowns. Meanwhile, her mother plays Desdemona, Titania and Lady Macbeth. They do not get on. With words by well-known local writer Greg Mosse and onstage music by John Gleadall, Shakespeare’s Lost Women is performed by the wonderful Harriet Benson, who returns to the festival for her fourth season.
In The Buried Moon, playwright Laura Turner uses a 21st century Lincolnshire setting to explore the youthful relationship between Miranda and Caliban, charting its twist and turns. Miranda is a young woman struggling to come to terms with her mother’s death and to understand her father. Caliban is an awkward outsider. A friendship is born between them but Miranda is never sure if Caliban is a malignant spirit of the marshes or a lost soul looking for a home.

Both performances begin at 7.45pm.

Book tickets for Petersfield Shakespeare Festival online at petersfieldshakespearefestival.co.uk or go to One tree Books, Lavant Street, Petersfield – 01730 261199.

Audiences are encouraged to bring picnics or order a pizza and relax with a drink from the Courtyard Bar prior to the performance.

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Students become forensic scientists at King Edward’s Witley

A group of budding forensic scientists from King Edward’s Witley delved into the world of crime when their classroom was turned into a CSI lab to help solve the mystery of the missing ‘Cock House Cups’.

The team of Year 9 students, armed with latex gloves and the contents of the school science cupboard, cast their eagle-eyed attention on the tricky task of tracking down the perpetrators of the misdemeanour, in a fun science project, code named ‘CSI Witley’.

Their mission was to find out who stole the valuable solid silver trophies from the Bridewell Room at the School. The Cups went missing last Thursday at approximately 8.47am. The criminals left plenty of clues at the scene – if you knew where to look – including handwriting samples, fingerprints and DNA evidence, blood and skin and pollen samples.

Scouring the area for evidence, the pupils brought back samples to the lab for DNA profiling, psychological profiling, fingerprint testing and handwriting analysis.

They identified four suspects who each had a motive, the opportunity and no alibi for the time of the theft. Their findings were later presented to a judge for scrutiny in a mock trial.

The project, which brings together science, biology, psychology and maths was inspired by the award-winning CBS series CSI, one of the longest running scripted primetime TV series in the US. Many of the experiments seen in the show were expertly re-created by the school’s talented lab technicians.

Leading the investigation, Mr Cochrane, Teacher of Physics at King Edward’s Witley said: “We recreated a challenging and realistic case for the pupils to crack using the knowledge they’ve gleaned as to how the experts collect forensic evidence. Just like real-life forensic scientists the students learnt to observe carefully, organise, analyse and record data, do simple tests and to think critically to solve the case. The Cups are important to the School as they are awarded to the houses that achieve the most credits at the end of the year. The culprits were probably attracted to the value of the silver, which is currently estimated to be around £429 per kg. It’s vital that we get them back before they are melted down.”

Who knows where their investigations will lead them. Will they solve the crime…?

Guildburys’ Nell Gwynn – a delightful feelgood evening

Nell Gwynn (Guildburys Theatre Company)

Waverley Abbey

Wednesday, July 12

Welcome to the witty, bawdy romp that is Nell Gwynn – Jessica Swale’s award-winning play set in 17th century theatre world. The playhouses have reopened after years of Puritan rule, and there’s a king back on the throne, making hay while the sun shines.

This is a lovely play; as open and warm yet as knowing about human frailty as Nell herself. There’s no sub-plot, no turgid passages pontificating about weighty issues; just rags to riches, real romance, a bit of earthy humour, some memorable songs, and a lot of laughs. Just the sort of play Nell would have liked. It’s a little bit Love Actually in fact.

Best known as the orange-seller who stole the heart of King Charles II, Nell Gwynn was also one of the first female actors on the stage. There is much discussion in the backstage scenes of the play about real women not being able to play women on stage, and about there not being good parts for women when they do get the chance to act.

Director Laura Sheppard must have thanked her lucky stars when Amy de Roche auditioned. She’s perfect as Nell; cheerful, expressive, cheeky – she seems great fun, the kind of person you’d want to hang out with. And she can sing and dance. (The ‘I can dance and I can sing’ ditty will not get out of my head!)

Playing her Charlie is Jason Orbaum, quietly regal and delivering the drily witty lines with elegance and warmth. Phill Griffith as Lord Darlington provides a nice bombastic contrast.

Ally Murphy as the Queen Catherine, her torrent of invective in Portuguese about the king shaming her by forcing her to meet his mistress, was very impressive; as was Tessa Duggleby as said mistress, the ambitious Barbara Castlemaine, looking upon Nell as a rather stupid lamb about to be eaten by a lion. Jemma Jessup as Louise de Keroualle, angling for the king’s affections in order to secure French interests, is also excellent.

In the theatre scene, Andrew Donovan plays the increasingly harassed-looking theatre owner Killigrew; Graham Russell-Price is Dryden the uninspired playwright, Tim Brown is the likeable Charles Hart who first trains Nell for the stage, Michael Thonger is Ned the unassuming young actor, and Eddie Woolwich plays the female impersonator Edward Kynaston – furious that an actual woman has stolen his roles. One of the funniest scenes is where he has created a ridiculous back story for his character, who has but one line to say.

We were also in tears – with hysterical laughter – when Nancy the dresser has a go at acting in the absence of Nell. Her obvious discomfort and desperation to get offstage, much to the exasperation of the other actors and the director, were hilarious. It would be so easy to overplay this, but the timing and expression were spot on and it was one of the highlights of the show. Well done to Pam Hemelryk.

Rose Hall as Nell’s sister Rose was suitably grimy and guttersnipy, while Old Ma Gwynn played by Gilly Fick, has her Doolittle moment to remind Nell where she came from.

The whole production, on a simple but effective set, with lovely costumes and the beautiful backdrop of Waverley Abbey, makes for a very entertaining and feelgood evening. Well done all.

Nell Gwynn is at Waverley Abbey until July 15, then at Haslemere Museum July 27-29.

Kat Wootton

Nell Gwynn, performed at Waverley Abbey by the Guildburys