Eastern Branch

The Eastern Branch welcomes enquiries from budding and new group organisers to our existing family of over 90 members in the Branch which covers Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Norfolk, Suffolk and the London post code areas of London E, N and NW.





All Members, please advise the Membership Secretary if your email contact details have changed since you first joined the AGTO - this is most important for continued contact and Membership updates.


The Branch Committee


Joan Hanks - Branch Director

Maria Maltby - Secretary

Linda Nicholas - Treasurer

Yvonne Hodson - Web Page and sub editor

Maureen Hardingham, committee member

At the Branch Meeting on the 19th October the following Eastern Branch members were co-opted on to the Committee until the AGM takes place at the Showcase Weekend in February.

Enid Pamment  -  Acting Chairman

Catherine Skeggs  -  Vice Chair

Committee Members  -  Jackie Ames, Elizabeth Cauldwell, Graham Scrase

Tony Wright  -  Official Branch Photographer






AGTO Magazine

Dear Members,

Just a reminder to send the details of your trips to Yvonne Hodson, AGTO magazine co-ordinator, Branch Webpage . Other members are really interested in your events and look forward to hearing from you. Send them to yhodson@gmail.com





 If you fancy a more intimate little drama at the Park Theatre, then TIME AND TIDE might well suit you.  It is in the Studio Theatre at the Park (until 29 February.  Box office: 020 7870 6876).

May (Wendy Nottingham) believes that her café is no longer viable.  That is also the view of her friend, Ken (Paul Easom), the local baker, who is facing the loss of long-term customers as small businesses are being taken over by major retailers such as Pret a Manger and Nando.

They are on the end of a pier on the coast in Cromer, Norfolk.  But May is not busy (we don’t see any customers during the play). The proprietor loves her café, which belonged to her mother before her and she also adores film and exchanges lyrics from songs with young Nemo (Josh Barrow), who works for her.  She encourages him in his ambition to leave Cromer and study drama at a University in London.

Ken is keen on Mary, but we learn that she is preparing to go and live in Suffolk with her female friend.  Nemo has an intense friend relationship with Daz (Elliot Liburd), who finds it too difficult to express his desire for Nemo to remain in Cromer with him.  While Nemo wants more from life, Daz is happy to remain in Cromer and go for, “money, marriage, mortgage.”

Although small, Park 90 manages to contain an excellent set – May’s café which is beautifully realised with a counter, a door that sticks and tables and chairs. This is a delightful little play with interesting characters.  It is well-written and nicely performed.




NORA (Young Vic, London, until 21 March 2020, Box office: 020 7922 2922)

Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House is well known as being one of the first plays to be acknowledged by women as a feminist piece.  In Stef Smith’s version of the 1879 play, she has written Nora as three people – each one from a different era.  There is the Nora of 1918 (Amaka Okafor), Nora of 1968 (Natalie Klamar) and Nora of the present time, 2018 (Anna Russell-Martin).  All dressed in clothes of their period (but with the same colour scheme), all looking very different with different accents.

Along with them, we have Nora’s old friend Christine (played by the three ‘Nora’ actresses), Nora’s husband Thomas (played in all three eras by Luke Norris), their friend Daniel (Zephryn Taitte in all versions) and Nathan an employee of the husband about to be fired (again in all eras: Mark Arends).

Nora is treated as a pretty little ornament by her husband Thomas. However, a disgruntled employee, Nathan, attempts to blackmail her by revealing a secret from her past and threatening to expose her.  She is terribly scared of harm coming to herself and her family. 

During the course of this new version of Ibsen’s play she comes to realise that everything she does has been for other people and she has never found or acknowledged her true self.

The actresses are well-delineated and even when they play Christine, we can tell who each one is.  It is necessary to follow the action carefully, but well worth any effort involved and this interpretation is well structured, immaculately directed by Elizabeth Freestone so that an evening with the three Noras is most rewarding.

Rating ****


For something completely different, try THE DOG WATCHER at the delightful little Jermyn Street Theatre, London (until 7 March. Box office: 020 287 2875) Any play at this little gem is well-worth seeing and this one is no exception. Victoria Yeates (Call the Midwife) plays Keri in Director Harry Burton’s production.  She nurses a dead dog and tells the dog walker who comes to fetch her pet that she can see the ghost of a dead child who she feels responsible for.

Keri has many problems as does the official dog walker, Jamaican Herbert Doakes (Andrew Dennis), who speaks romantically of his wife, but we later learn that, actually, all is far from good with the marriage.

This is an interesting little play, beautifully acted with a set which would not be out of place in a rich Shaftesbury Avenue venue!

It is worth keeping an eye out for future productions coming to the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Rating ****


Kevin Clifton is a fantastic dancer.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much chance to show his dancing skills in THE WEDDING SINGER (Troubadour Theatre, Wembley, London until 1 March. Box office: 0844 815 4865).  Instead he has to sing a lot.  While his voice is reasonable, it’s not great so the musical lacks a good male voice in the lead.  Telling the story of Robbie, a wedding singer who loses his bride-to-be at the last minute and becomes cynical until he finds a woman, Julia (Rhiannon Chesterman) who believes in him.

Based on the film, the musical has some enjoyable moments and there is dancing and singing from an enthusiastic cast.  The Troubadour itself is not a very welcoming space – more like an aircraft carrier than a theatre.  But the staff are friendly and helpful and the evening is enjoyable.

Rating ***


Next up at the Troubadour is the musical of another well-loved film, Sleepless in Seattle. It is opening in March – book now!

You might be just too late to catch this gorgeous little musical at the tiny Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre,. London.   The company, led by Director John Plews and his Producer wife Katie, have taken 42ND STREET and audaciously presented it with a cast of just 12 plus a single pianist. Amazingly, it all works fine.  The lovely music of Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin and the imaginative use of the traverse stage combined with gorgeous costumes, well-choreographed dancers and beautifully interpreted songs, make this a really enjoyable show.

If you missed this, and fancy a visit to this charming tiny theatre, then book now for a future musical -

5th – 29th March 2020

So begins Once Upon a Mattress, a magical musical comedy journey into the world of Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved story of the princess and the pea. But this isn’t your usual fairy tale, and princess Winnifred isn’t your usual fairy-tale princess. The Kingdom in which she seeks her prince seethes with a very adult problem, which won’t end until a very stubborn Queen Aggravain allows her son to marry Alas, he is his mother’s prince, and is any princess really good enough? The 1959 classic Tony-nominated hit from Mary Rodgers–daughter legendary composer Richard Rodgers–returns to London for the first time in many moons! 


Adam Spreadbury-Maher is making a speciality of converting well-known operas into contemporary stories.  While keeping the music and reducing both the length and number of characters – and no large chorus – he has given us two mini-operas which are most appealing.  Normally seen at the King’s Head Pub Theatre, they now come to the West End.

OPERA UNDONE: TOSCA & LA BOHEME in the small Studio at the Trafalgar Studios (until 7 March. Box Office: 0844 871 7632) are both beautifully sung.  With just a piano as accompaniment, the little Puccini operas are brought to life by a talented cast.

TOSCA is set in Manhattan in 1945.  Performed by Fiona Finsbury as Tosca, Roberto Barbaro as her lover Cavaradossi, it is passionate and always interesting.  As is LA BOHEME which moves from the Paris of the 1830s to modern-day London.  Gender switches make the two main lovers, Rodolpho and Mimi (Philip Lee and Roger Paterson) men with references to Grindr and Uber! It is lively and very different from the original!

Both operas are performed in the round and both in English.  Each runs for an hour. Well-worth seeing for lovers of opera as well as those new to opera.

Rating ****


Following on from a moving TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS, the Union Theatre is presenting BLITZ! (until 7 March.  Box office: 020 7261 9876).

Phil Wilmott is running a season to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The musical by Lionel Bart – first seen in 1962 - tells the tale of two families struggling through World War I in the Est End of London.  The Blitzens led by the excellent Jessica Martin as the matriarch, are Jewish and the Lockes consider themselves true London cockneys.

Produced by Sasha Regan and directed by Wilmott, there are 19 in the cast – all singing and dancing energetically on the stage in the very small Union Theatre.

Not the greatest of books, the story is told clearly and with enthusiasm by the whole cast.  Good choreography and nice singing voices help to move the musical along.

Next to come at the Union is PEACE IN OUR TIME (11 March to 4 April).  Book small groups in now!

Also worth booking in advance is HAIRSPRAY at the London Coliseum.  I went to the launch where Michael Ball introduced members of the cast for this new version of the musical.  

The cast is Michael Ball (Edna Turnblad), Paul Merton (Wilbur Turnblad), Lizzie Bea (Tracey Turnblad), Rita Simmons (Velma Von Tussle) and Marisha Wallace (Motormouth).

 I was impressed by the singing of Ball (of course) and Lizzie Bea as Tracy Turnbull along with Marisha Wallace who belts out her song.  Paul Merton is doing his first musical. Performances begin 23 April 2020 at the London Coliseum.

Carlie Newman 


At almost the opposite scale of production is ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL at the tiny but almost perfect Jermyn Street Theatre, London, Box office: 0207 287 2875)

Directed by Tom Littler with a cast of just six which includes two who play on two pianos from time to time. Helena (Hannah Morrish) really loves Bertram (Gavin Mowler) who has known her since childhood.  When Bertram leaves for Paris, Helena follows him.  Armed with her doctor father's medical knowledge, she is able to cure the sick queen (Miranda Foster). The Queen is so grateful that she offers her a husband. Helena chooses Bertram and the Queen gives Helena to Bertram as his wife. He is most displeased and tells the queen he doesn't love Helena.

Bertram leaves Helena, announcing that he won't acknowledge her as his wife until she is pregnant by him and has his ring to prove it. How she manages this is most imaginative and the play and its production is beautifully constructed.

The small cast fulfills all that’s required of the actors and the piano playing adds to the ambience – I would have liked to hear more.

Also just opened at the Barbican in London is the RSC’s touring production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE (see below for details of touring dates).  There are no major gender changes here.  Actors from the company show their versatility by taking on new roles here.


Shakespeare’s play has a similar change of lady as in All’s Well That Ends Well.  When the Duke of Vienna (Antony Byrne) leaves his deputy Angelo (Sandy Grierson) in charge, he little knows that Angelo, who closes brothels and tells everyone to behave in a moral manner, is himself corrupt.

A young man, Claudio (James Cooney) is put into prison and told he is to be executed the following day because he has got his girlfriend, Juliet (played by Amy Trigg, who uses a wheelchair) pregnant.  His sister, Isabella (Lucy Phelps) is persuaded to plead on his behalf.  When she goes before Angelo, he falls for her and says he will grant Claudio’s freedom if she gives up her body to him. As she is a novice nun, she tells him she values her chastity above her brother’s life and refuses. The Duke, now disguised as a priest, tells Isabella that she can seem to succumb to Angelo but still keep her virginity.

The story, as it takes place, is very clearly explained in this production, which, as with the other two plays in this Shakespeare season on tour, starting at the Barbican after Stratford-upon-Avon, is accessible in its exposition.

There are interesting characterisations from Grierson as Angelo and a luminous Isabella from Phelps.  The whole company plays exceptionally well in addition to working together in a meaningful manner.



*2019/20 TOUR







12 - 22 FEBRUARY 2020










UNTIL 4 APR 2020



UNTIL 18 JAN 2020

Carlie Newman