Evening of music and song in July for Farnham choirs

A grant of £1,500 from Farnham Town Council is enabling Voices Together Community Choir to organise an evening of music and song in July.

A Festival of Song is a collaboration of five local choirs which will see each choir sing individually and as a massed choir.

The Mayor of Farnham Councillor Mike Hodge, enjoyed an early musical treat when he visited rehearsals to present Voices Together with the cheque.

Voices Together

“Having listened to Voices Together rehearse, I know the audience will love watching A Festival of Song. The show finale will involve about 200 people from all five choirs coming onto the stage and singing together – it should be quite spectacular.

“It’s always a pleasure for Farnham Town Council to support worthwhile groups and activities like this with a grant. The net proceeds from the event will be donated to Melanoma UK so please do buy a ticket,” says the Mayor.

Catherine Johnson from Voices Together Community Choir says: “We couldn’t put on the show without this grant. The £1,500 has paid for the hire of the venue, lighting, sound and other costs so we very much appreciate the support from Farnham Town Council. We are also grateful to the Farnham Institute for giving us a grant which has gone towards the cost of buying music for all the choirs. Please support us and enjoy our show by coming to the performance in July.”

The event will take place on Saturday 2 July at Princes Hall, Aldershot. Tickets are available by contacting the Princes Hall box at www.princeshall.com/bookingtickets.

Farnham Town Council provides community grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to several thousand to local organisations. Visit its website to find out more and how to apply,www.farnham.gov.uk/grants.

Visit www.farnhamvoicestogether.uk to find out more about Voices Together.

Churcher’s student Libby shortlisted for Saatchi prize

A Churcher’s College student has been shortlisted for a prestigious art award.

Libby Gervais’s artwork ‘Untitled Self’ has been shortlisted for the 2017 Saatchi Gallery Art Prize for Schools.

The Prize received more than 24,000 entries from 66 different countries, where only 20 works are shortlisted.

An exhibition of the 20 shortlisted works will take place July 4-13 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The winner and runner up prizes will be announced at 7pm on July 4 at an awards evening.

This year’s judging panel consisted of Alice Anderson, Artist; Alistair Hicks, Writer and Curator; Nigel Hurst, CEO of the Saatchi Gallery; Megan Piper, Gallerist and Founder of The Line; Dea Vanagan, Curator and Director, Hauser & Wirth Somerset.     The winning school has the opportunity to win £15,000 for their art department and the winning student getting £3,000 with a further £1,000 to another student to spend on computer equipment.

Libby Gervais was 17 at the time of completing the painting as part of her Art coursework at school. She is now is a Sixth Form student at Churcher’s in Petersfield.

Libby said: “This painting was produced as a part of a project at school on the theme of ‘Self’. It is the result of a culmination of smaller drawings, paintings and photographs which were produced as preparatory studies. I wanted the self portrait to show something of the person that I am at this stage in my life. The title ‘Untitled Self’ reflects the transitionary stage I feel I am in, where/as the development of my sense of self is not complete, but very much still in progress. Part of this is my creative journey, which is about to move to another stage as I leave school and embark on a course at London College Of Fashion.

“The title also works as an antithesis to the current trend of the ‘selfie’ which has become embedded in our recent culture. The pose is also carefully considered as I wanted to do something that engaged the viewer but also says something about my personality. I am very excited about being short – listed and feel it is a great honour.”

Al Saralis, Head of Art at Churcher’s College, said: “We are delighted that Libby has been recognised by the Saatchi Gallery and an expert judging panel.

“Beating off so many international competitors and being one of only 11 UK finalists, is testament to Libby’s talent and her phenomenal self-portrait.

“Libby is one of many talented Art students here at Churcher’s, and it is incredibly rewarding to see them grow beyond school.  Our A Level course is Fine Art based, which I believe gives the platform for students to flourish in any creative area they may wish to pursue.  Libby is, in fact, about to embark on a Degree in Fashion Marketing at London College of Fashion.”

 

Haslemere Comedy Festival is launched

The Haslemere Fringe is delighted to announce the launch of the first ever Haslemere Comedy Festival on Sunday, July 9, from midday until late, curated by local MC and stellar professional comedian, Andy Stedman.
This event is taking place at seven popular venues in Haslemere, with many of the venues offering drinks/bars on site and money off vouchers:
Haslewey Community Centre (12.30-6.30pm with a BBQ lunch – 120 max)
Haslemere Hall (7.30-10pm – 350 max)
Dylan’s Ice Cream Parlour – Family friendly and a wide range of free children’s entertainment (1-5pm – 30 max)
ST Engineering (St. Christopher’s Green, 2-7pm – 50 max)
The Station House Restaurant & Bar (2-7pm – 30 max)
Headcase Barbers, Haslemere High Street (1-6pm – 20 max)
Haslemere Museum (1-10.pm – 70 max)
More than 35 professional comedians – the majority of them making a pitstop in Haslemere before appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe – will be appearing, including Mike Gunn, Andrew Ryan, Matt Richardson, Stephen Grant and Jonny Awsum (who recently appeared to great acclaim alongside Ant & Dec on Britain’s Got Talent).

Tickets are strictly for comedy fans over 14 years old – with the exception of the free children’s entertainment event at Dylan’s Ice Cream Parlour on Wey Hill – and are available from Haslemere Hall (01428 642161 or online at www.haslemerehall.co.uk) – or from the other six venues listed.

Tickets are £12 per person for the entire Festival.
Pick up your Comedy Festival wristbands, needed to gain entry to the venues, (but not the free session at Dylan’s), from the new Haslemere Hub next door to Haslemere Station on Saturday  July 8 or on the Festival day itself – Sunday, July 9. This will get you into all the venues and the accompanying Comedy Festival Flyer means you can plan and choose where, when and who you want to watch throughout the Festival event.
Comedy Festival flyers will also be available in advance from Haslemere Hall, the Haslemere Hub and the other six venues.
Tickets are limited to just 650 in total for the entire event – so plan your Comedy Festival journey around the venues in advance. Seats are on a first come, first served basis.
For more detailed information on the Festival comedians and venues go to www.lionfest.co.uk/haslemere-comedy-festival

   Children’s entertainment at Dylan’s
Mike Gunn

Official opening of Edward Thomas Study Centre in Petersfield

Saturday, June 10, 2017 may become known as the day the literary critic and poet Edward Thomas ‘came home’ to Steep and Petersfield.

Just over 100 years since, in a letter to his friend Gordon Bottomley, he wrote on  October 2, 1916: “I have just seen Steep for the last time” as he took the train from Petersfield to their new home at High Beech, near Loughton in Essex (just over six months later he was killed in action on April 9, 1917 at the start of the Battle of Arras).

This ended a 10-year association with Petersfield, but the literary connection has never been lost, and a wonderful Study Day, with a stellar line-up of speakers and readers, was crowned with a moving tribute to Tim Wilton-Steer and the official opening of the Edward Thomas Study Centre at Petersfield Museum.


Opening of Study Centre – Lucy Milner (Thomas’s great grandaughter); Jamie Matthes (Town Mayor); Hilary, Christopher, A J and Charlotte Wilton-Steer); Julia Maxted (Thomas’s great niece); Jeremy Mitchell. Photographs by Michel Focar

The Study Centre, a collaboration between Petersfield Museum and the Edward Thomas Fellowship, is based on a most important collection of 1800 books by and about Edward Thomas put together by the late Tim Wilton-Steer during his lifetime and donated to the Fellowship by his widow Hilary following his death in 2011.

Prior to the tribute and opening, the 170 attendees to the Study Day, which was held in St Peter’s Church owing to demand for places, were treated to a full programme of readings and presentations by Edward Thomas specialists, actors, poets and authors who have been inspired by Thomas’s work.


Hilary Wilton-Steer cutting the ribbon to open the Study Centre, with Lucy Milner

These included Michael Longley, considered to be amongst Ireland’s most prominent poets, his wife Edna, Professor Emerita of English at Queens University Belfast, Richard Emeny, Chairman of the Fellowship and widely respected ‘Thomas specialist’, Guy Cuthbertson, Professor of English at Liverpool Hope University, and Matthew Hollis who rounded off the ‘Study’ part of the day with an engaging and professionally delivered talk on Thomas’s ‘Path to Poetry, Path to War’.

Readings were provided by the actor Edward Petherbridge and by Petersfield’s local author Michelle Magorian. Amongst the most moving, however, were the readings delivered with full feeling and from memory by another actor, Tom Durham, who enraptured the audience.

The event culminated in a moving eulogy to Tim Wilton-Steer delivered by his son Christopher, followed by a few words from Tim’s widow, Hilary, before the family party moved over to Petersfield Museum for the formal opening of the Study Centre.

The day ended with a tour of the museum and tea and cakes in St Peter’s Hall.

For many attendees it was the first time they had visited Petersfield and for almost a third the first time they had been introduced to Edward Thomas.

In summing up the day, Jeremy Mitchell, on behalf of both Petersfield Museum and the Edward Thomas Fellowship, said: “It was a truly wonderful, and moving day enjoyed by all and I would also like to thank the South Downs National Park Authority, East Hampshire District Council and Petersfield Town Council for their financial support which helped make the day so successful.”

Michelle Magorian
Tom Durham 

 

 

Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas was a renowned poetry and literary critic who turned to writing poetry late in life. Over a 20-month period from December 1914 he wrote 144 poems, that we know of, including two of the Nation’s favourites – Adelstrop and As the teams head brass. He and his family lived in Steep from 1906 – 1916 and he wrote his first poem Up In The Wind at The Pub With No Name (The White Horse) at Priors Dean.

Petersfield Museum is open between March and the end of November on Tuesdays – Saturdays inclusive between 10am and 4pm. It is an independent, accredited Museum and receives no statutory funding. A small admission charge of £3 is payable (children free).

The Edward Thomas Study Centre is currently located in temporary space (pending completion of the Museum’s re-development in 2021) outside public areas. From mid-July it will be open to visitors, by appointment, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons between 2pm and 4pm. It is primarily a research and reference resource and will be open at other times to students and researchers by appointment.

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 The seminal story of two girls who fled Ireland for freedom

REVIEW

The Country Girls, by Edna O’Brien

 Minerva Theatre, Chichester

The first novel of Edna O’Brien, ‘The Country Girls’, was banned in her native Ireland and criticized by the church when it was published in 1960. This seminal coming-of-age story mirrors her own experiences of growing up in a highly conservative Roman Catholic country where women struggled to make their feelings and voices heard. Her domineering mother despised literature and even tried to burn the books Edna was reading.

In 1954 O’Brien married an Irish writer, who was disliked by her parents, and they moved to London. Her groundbreaking book was published in her 30th year, and it changed the tone of Irish writing.  She later adapted it for the stage, and has since won international acclaim.

The heroines are charming Kate (Grace Molony) and her bubbly best friend Baba, short for Bridget (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman).  We meet the girls in drab convent school uniforms, white socks and sandals. They feel troubled and trapped in their west of Ireland convent, although they are befriended by one of the nuns, Sister Mary.

This matches Edna O’Brien’s own experience in county Clare where she grew up. As a girl before the War and as a young adult, she lived in a deeply  deprived country where women were particularly oppressed. In 1951 Noel Browne, the Health Minister, tried to introduce the free Mother and Child Scheme to protect young women. This was opposed by the church and the medcial profession, and the Minister had to resign. Books were banned, films were censored, and there was no TV, or mains water for many people, until the Sixties.

Against this real life claustrophobic background, we find the two teenage girls in the story trying to find their way. Baba is constantly breaking the rules in search of fun and leads Kate astray. Out of school, they meet a couple of spiv businessmen. Kate rejects their advances as she is being courted by an older married man, known simply as Mr Gentleman (Valery Schatz). Baba is expelled from the convent after going off with her beau, and the two girls are separated for a while.

  

Kate is flattered by the attentions of the older man and shows a growing affection for him, although he is married. However, the two girls are reunited and Baba persuades Kate, with some difficulty, to leave Mr Gentleman and go with her to London. Kate battles with the demands of her drunken widowed father. In leaving home she overcomes her innate sense of duty, but only with the help her wayward friend Baba. For them, that marks the start of a brave new world as they move from childhood to womanhood, suitcases in hand.

The theatrical version of Edna O’Brien’s tale works well. The innocent rebelliousness of the girls within the confines of their strict social straightjacket rings true. The setting by Richard Kent of bleak stone buildings against a green floor provide the stern background for life in Ireland in the first half and London in the second act. ‘The Country Girls’ is at the Minerva until July 8 and you can enjoy a play with good writing, deft direction, and two fine young lead actors.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith

 Powerful performances in a classic cocktail

REVIEW

‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, by Tennessee Williams

Chichester Festival Theatre

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III is reckoned to be one of the top three American playwrights of the 20th century, together with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. The last of his great works, ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’, has stormed into the Chichester Festival Theatre this June. Typically for Williams two lost souls battle for survival in a turbulent sea of alcohol, drugs, disappointment, corruption, blackmail, and sex, where inner turmoils are embroiled with outer hostilities. This is truly an exceptional work and it is a big surprise to learn that there were 26 years between its opening on Broadway and its first production in London.

Elia Kazan, who directed the play in the fifties and most of Tennessee’s other successes, has said: “I think this is the most autobiographical play Williams ever wrote. I believe it is Tennessee in disguise.” The Pulitzer Prize winning author himself said, before he became famous with ‘A Glass Menagerie’ in the forties, that his plays would be a “picture of heart”. What a troubled and tormented heart.

Set in St Cloud, Mississippi, on the Gulf of Mexico, the play opens in the large suite of a hotel where gigolo Chance Wayne (Brian J Smith) staggers out of bed leaving his restless older partner moaning in her sleep. She is ‘the Princess Kosmonoplis’ (aka fading film star Alexandra del Lago, played by Marcia Gay Harden). He has returned to his home town shortly after his mother’s funeral, which he failed to attend. He is desperate to regain the respect of the local people by showing them he is still a player. He also wants to regain the love of his teenage crush, Heavenly Finley (Victoria Bewick), the daughter of local bigwig Boss Finley (Richard Cordery), with his dream of making them both Hollywood stars with the help of Alexandra.

The scene seems familiar territory, with echoes of Williams’ previous big success with ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, first produced in 1955. Paul Newman, who had starred on stage and in the later screen version of that work, was also cast as Chance on Broadway. Williams believed that he was rapidly losing his creativity with age (he was only 48 in 1959) and that process was being hastened by drink and drugs. In 1954 he had said: “I don’t dare turn down a street unless I can sight a bar a block and a half down it.”

In the play the word “monsters” is a prevailing theme. “I like you. You’re a nice monster,” Chance tells Alexandra early in the piece. Much later, she says to him: “Monsters don’t die early; they hang on long. Awfully long. Their vanity’s infinite, almost as infinite as their disgust with themselves.” Yet, these monsters are sad, disempowered creatures, brought low by misconceptions, denial, and unrealised dreams. Alexandra is running away from what she expects to be bad reviews of her recent comeback movie; Chance is living on a dream in which someone else can make him a star where he has failed, and when his attractions are beginning to fade as he approaches his thirties. As Alexandra tells him: “Of course, you were crowned with laurel in the beginning, your gold hair was wreathed with laurel, but the gold is thinning and the laurel has withered. Face it – pitiful monster.”

Initially Williams wrote this as a one-act play featuring only Alexandra and Chance. Kazan persuaded him to expand it, so he brought in Boss Finley and his family and the St Cloud people, who are all hostile to Chance. In the background is the story of a black man who was attacked and castrated, and Boss Finley turned a blind eye to this event. Chance fears his own fate, and also learns that at some time he has infected his beloved Heavenly with a sexual disease; she has had a botched hysterectomy, which has left her barren and bitter.

This volatile cocktail has painful effects in a visceral second act which takes place in the downstairs bar of the hotel where Boss Finley is to hold a rally and make a big speech. A drunken, drug-filled Chance tries and fails to convince his former friends that he is on the way to Hollywood stardom. Meanwhile, Alexandra has learned that her fears have proved wrong about her new movie, which has had critical success. She offers Chance the opportunity to escape an angry situation by getting out of town fast and remaining her driver. Will Chance take the chance? He explains his feelings and his decision in a powerful and emotional speech directed straight at the audience at the end of the play.

 

  

This work provides dramatic and memorable theatre. The treatment of the characters and issues make for universal interest, whereas some Williams’ epics seem more removed from everyday life. The performances, especially by the two award-winning leads, and the sets are superb; and there is masterly direction from Jonathan Kent (who directed hits for Chichester and London like the Chekhov trilogy, ‘Gypsy’, and ‘Sweeney Todd’). You are urged to grab the opportunity to taste this wonderful cocktail in the next two weeks, with the run of ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ at the Festival Theatre ending on June 24.

www.cft.org.uk

 

by Nick Keith

Surefire hit for Petersfield Theatre Group

Annie Get Your Gun (Petersfield Theatre Group)

Festival Hall, Petersfield

Friday, May 26

They certainly rolled up for PTG’s latest show, Annie Get Your Gun, by Irving Berlin, directed by Roger Wettone. The true story of gun totin’ Annie Oakley was a surefire winner for Petersfield audiences, who packed the Festival Hall.

The story follows rough and ready country gal Annie who uses her gun to shoot game, to support her little brother and sisters. Her skills bring her to the attention of Colonel Buffalo Bill, who invites her to join his travelling Wild West Show. There’s a romance, of course, this being a musical – enter rival sharp shooter Frank Butler. But of course, it ain’t easy being eclipsed by a woman, and tension ensues. But it all comes good in the end, in a final shootout.

It’s not quite feminism but bearing in mind the time it’s set and was written, it gives a strong woman the title role, as well as a bit of US folk history.

The two leads were excellent – Suzie Dove as Annie and Elliott Port as Frank. Suzie has a beautifully fluid voice, soaring to extraordinary heights without ever sounding strained or harsh. Her expressive face and irrepressible cheeriness won the audience over immediately – a lovely performance.

Elliott also gave a strong, likeable performance, commanding the stage. He has a warm, easy-to-listen-to singing voice and can dance, too – romantic lead material in spades.

The three youngsters playing Annie’s siblings – Georgie Gardner-Cliff, Bethany Hickey and little sprite Max Merricks were very engaging and obviously having the time of their lives, with broad cheeky smiles on their grubby little faces.

John Edwards as Buffalo Bill really looked the part, all white bewhiskered and fringed jacket. Jo Stephenson as Dolly looked incredibly glamorous in her costumes and brought a bit of her panto stepmother nastiness to the character. Emma Read was great as Dolly’s sister Winnie – I hope to see her in a lead role again in the future. And Joe Dove, straight from picking up a main part in Winton Players’ last production at the last minute, gave it his all as Winnie’s intended, Tommy.

Simon Stanley as Buffalo Bill’s right hand man, Charlie, gave an assured performance, keeping the pace up and pulling scenes together in a subtle yet essential way. Stage experience shows.

Tim Coyte as Sitting Bull worked really hard to maintain dignity without letting his performance become too comedic. I do feel uncomfortable about the portrayal of native Americans in this show. It’s very easy to veer into panto territory, making them caricatures. How would the audience have taken someone ‘blacking up’ to play an African American, I wonder? Sitting Bull has some sardonic lines, giving us a small window into attitudes towards ‘Red Indians’ at that time. But it’s a tricky thing to get right, and I think this element needed a bit more careful handling. But Tim did a good job, despite this.

The ensemble pieces were beautifully sung – as always for PTG. The group contains some great voices, and when combined, the sound could take the roof off!

Quieter moments, too, were delicately done –  Moonshine Lullaby was genuinely touching.

The big top set was good with its red and white drapes (looked familiar, somehow…!) and the moveable set pieces such as the boat and the train worked really well.

The band was very versatile, and being at the back of the stage meant it was part of the action but didn’t drown out the cast. I could hear every word onstage.

Standout moments for me definitely include Anything You Can Do – great fun. And There’s No Business like Showbusiness was being hummed by everyone as they left the theatre. Indeed there is not.

Kat Wootton

Annie Get Your Gun in Petersfield – show opens this week

The Petersfield Theatre Group is bringing one of the all-time classic Broadway shows to the Festival Hall this week, May 24-27 (not June as incorrectly stated in Life in Petersfield magazine).

Annie Get Your Gun is a musical with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin and a book by Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert Fields.

The story is a fictionalised version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860-1926), a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and her romance with sharpshooter Frank Butler. It features well-known songs such as: ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’, ‘You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun’, ‘I Got The Sun In The Morning’ and ‘Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)’.

The cast includes Suzie Dove as Annie Oakley, with Elliott Port as Frank Butler, John Edwards as Buffalo Bill and Tim Coyte as Sitting Bull.

 

Elliott Port as Frank and Suzie Dove as Annie

 

Tickets can be booked online at petersfieldtheatregroup.org or from the Petersfield Library (Tourist Information Centre).

Performances are: Wednesday, May 24 at 7.30pm, Thursday 25 at 7.30pm, Friday, May 26 at 7.30pm, and Saturday, May  27 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Prices are £16 for adults and £11 for children under 16.

Pratchett fans gather for opening of owl parliament at Birdworld

On Friday, April 28, Birdworld near Farnham officially celebrated Sir Terry Pratchett’s 69th birthday with the official opening of its brand-new exhibit, the Terry Pratchett Owl Parliament with the assistance of Discworld dignitaries, Rob Wilkins and Stephen Briggs.

The beautifully crafted exhibit has been created in collaboration with the World Owl Trust (WOT) and has been named in honour of the award-winning author, Sir Terry Pratchett due to his well-known love of wildlife and in particular, all species of owl.

As well as showcasing a wonderment and diversity of owls from the magical snowy owl to the reputedly wise long-eared owl, the Terry Pratchett Owl Parliament will aim to educate and raise awareness of these amazing birds. The display will also provide an interactive space for visitors to learn fascinating facts about Strigiformes – the order in which owls belong.

The Owl Parliament has been created both as a satellite of the WOT’s collection and to recognise Sir Terry’s passion for these mysterious birds of prey. Visitors familiar with the popular Discworld novels will be able to easily recognise a number of the references but with the unique stylizing of these aviaries, everyone exploring the exhibit will be drawn into the mythical and wonderful world of Sir Terry Pratchett.

To celebrate the day, visitors attended the official opening ceremony in their finest Discworld-themed costume before Rob Wilkins cut the red ribbon and christened the Owl Parliament with a bottle of champagne.

After the official opening ceremony Discworld Auctioneer, Dr Pat Harkin led a prize-packed auction that featured prizes from rare signed books, Paul Kidby artwork and the star prize of feeding Birdworld’s African Penguins alongside Rob Wilkins that very afternoon.

As a result of the Discworld Auction and Raffle, the day raised over £1,400 for the Birdworld Conservation Fund which will in turn be donated to the World Owl Trust to support the fantastic work they do on both a National and International Scale.

Pratchett fans were also treated to a special Q&A session with both Rob Wilkins and Stephen Briggs which included time for personal book signings and photos as a reminder of the day.

Elsewhere in the park, the Birdworld Keepers were delighted to welcome into the world a Humboldt Penguin chick and as a fitting tribute to both the author and the day itself, it was decided the only appropriate name for the hatching was Terry!

Mark Anderson, Birdworld General Manager, commented: “We were extremely proud to host Discworld Day to celebrate the official opening of The Terry Pratchett Owl Parliament.

“We would like to thank all the fans who attended the day and of course, Discworld dignitaries, Rob Wilkins and Stephen Briggs for helping to make the day such a special one. The hatching of another Humboldt Penguin chick was a pleasure for all of us to hear and it was only apt for the chick to be named in honour of Sir Terry himself.

“We are looking forward to continue showcasing such an extraordinary selection of owl species, many of which are threatened with the loss of habitat in the wild and for visitors of all ages to immerse themselves in the mysterious world of Sir Terry Pratchett in the process.”

Already one of the largest bird parks in the country, the 26 acres of landscaped park and gardens at Birdworld are home to over 800 birds and 180 species from around the world. The park also is home to the Underwater World aquarium and the Jenny Wren Farm.

For more information about the Terry Pratchett Owl Parliament and Birdworld’s other attractions or experiences visit: www.birdworld.co.uk or call 01420 22992.

 

Two Sisters offer more Lion and Unicorn laughs with the tears

REVIEW

Two Sisters (Lion and Unicorn)

Sheet Village Hall  

April 21 and 22 2017

If, like, me you spent your student days during the second half of that most blessed of decades, the 1980s, you would have dined lavishly at the most rich and toothsome of cultural banquets. Your vinyl would have been graced by the Smiths and the Cure. Your politics would have been stridently anti-Thatcher, while enjoying what now seems like a la

vish student grant. And the chances are there was

Laura Sheppard and Ali Hill in Two Sisters, for Lion and Unicorn

one film you loved more than any others: Withnail and I. And you would spend long evenings drinking your grant away in the pub while shouting out selected extracts from this tale of two scabrous, washed up, boozed up actors living in squalor, bewailing the injustice that they are not famed and feted. It was hilarious – and still is.
Many of its aphorisms are too foulmouthed for this genteel reviewer. But one did come to mind as I sat back and enjoyed the Lion and Unicorn’s production of Two Sisters; the eponynous Withnail’s condemnation of the entirety of Russian drama: “…all about women looking out of windows, complaining about ducks flying to Moscow”.

And let’s face it he has a point. Caroline Harding’s Two Sisters involves no ducks but does involve women who are far from happy from their lot. They spend pretty much the whole play regretting everything that has happened in their lives, even spending time sitting or lying down to enjoy the comfort of a coffin that has mysteriously appeared in the room. Salad Days, this is not.

But in the expert hands of Laura Sheppard as Anya and Ali Hill as Sonia and under promising young director, Sam Gaffney, it was full of laughter – albeit laughter in the dark. In fact what I admired most about their work together but was not what they did, but what they let the other do. This was am dram of the highest order, allowing each other to shine and with splendid comic timing. They were hand in glove as they depicted two people in a living hell, with little in their lives and little prospect of more.

Ali was lugubriousness itself, but extracted a great deal of humour from her plight and her complaints about her small husband. Ali herself is the very model of propriety, but she gives a jolly impression of a lascivious old lush. Indeed, this was Russian despair via John Orton with even a soupcon of Frankie Howerd. But she also revealed her character to be capable of real feeling as well, with her speeches about her love – and her fears – for her children truly memorable and rather beautiful.

Alongside her was the redoubtable Laura. She was the more energised of the two – but it was the energy of a woman for whom happiness is a long distant memory. Again, she was very funny, even playful at times. But again, she showed herself capable of real emotional depth. In the programme notes, she described the play as profoundly poignant – and that too was what I saw in her performance.

But as well as two sisters we were also treated to lots of poetry – a first half full of it in fact, organised and led by the estimable Jill Hancock, who put together a programme of poems on the theme of sibling relationships. And what fun her crew had with them. Each shone at different times, especially when imitating children, with Roger Wallsgrove in particular clearly enjoying himself a great deal. Jill herself had something of Alastair Sim about her as she revelled in Mary Dunn’s Lady Addle Remembers, while Beryl Savill was especially effective in Kit Wright’s Waiting for the Tone. The highlight was perhaps unsurprisingly the weird sisters of Macbeth – and this produced a highlight all of its own; John Deavin, well known to many as the basso profundo of our parish church choir, revealing himself to be very comfortable with his inner crone as he screeched and stretched his way as one of those sisters. It was most unnerving. But like the whole of this cornucopia of poetic delights, most enjoyable.

I had a cracking evening at Sheet Village Hall – but also one in which I pondered anew what it was about Sheet that meant it was so suitable for a drama of despair. Last year I cringed at Ben Gander’s extraordinarily painful OCD and Me, and squirmed at the bourgeois hate-fest of God of Carnage. Now we have the despair of Two Sisters. But darkness though there might be, there is always a great deal of laughter when the Lion and the Unicorn are in town. And frankly, with two months left of a general election campaign, I’ll take any laughter I can get, especially when it is from acting of this calibre.

Hugo Deadman