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.

 

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

MEMBERS IMPORTANT NOTICE:

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 - AGTO magazine co-ordinator, Branch Webpage

Maureen Hardingham, committee member


 

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

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

 

 

CARLIE'S THEATRE TIPS

                       

 

FOUR PLAYS IN SMALL THEATRES

 

Sometimes it is worth going to one of the smaller venues. Although you could take a group of about 30 or so, it might be easier to just go with a bunch of say 12. So have a look at these plays and see if you can book to go.

 

The first is Appropriate at the Donmar Warehouse theatre, London (until 5 October. Box office: 0844 871 7624), a small, 251 seat theatre which is well set out. 

 

We join the Lafayette family as they meet at
 their old plantation home in Arkansas following the death of their father.  The house is in a terrible mess (the stage is wonderfully littered with an assortment of old furniture, toys etc) and the family set about putting the large sitting room in order and also try to sort out the future of the house itself.  They bicker constantly and during the play old secrets are revealed.

But nothing is as shocking as a book of photos of dead and tortured black people. The three middle-aged children - Toni (wonderfully played by Monica Dolan), Franz (Edward Hogg), who appears with his 23 year-old fiancée River (Tafline Steen) and Bo (Steven Mackintosh), with his wife Rachel  (who the late father referred to as Bo's "Jew-wife")  and two children - discover their father was a racist.  Arguments about keeping or selling the offensive photos ensue. Playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins has written a very emotional, at times gut-wrenching play, which is deftly directed by Ola Ince.  Worth seeing .

Rating ****

The next is Falsettos at the Other Palace, London (until 23 November. Box office: 0844 871 7622), a slightly bigger theatre with 312 seats.

 

The musical, which has won awards on Broadway, is set in the 1980s and tells how a Jewish man leaves his wife and son, Jason, to live with his male lover, Whizzer (Oliver Savile).  Marvin (played by Daniel Boys) wants to stay involved in his son's life
 - an outstanding performance from young Albert Attack as Jason on the day I went - and is particularly keen on the organisation of his bar mitzvah.  Trina (a lovely performance by Laura Pitt-Pulford) goes to the psychiatrist, Mendel (Joel Montague), recommended by her husband,  and the two fall in love.  Marvin is most unhappy at losing his therapist.  The sung-through musical is bright and funny with lots of energetic singing until it suddenly changes to a sombre look at the advent of the AIDS virus.

Well-written with some witty lyrics, with good singing from the cast, the play exposes some truths about being a real man and the importance of different types of relationships.

Rating ****

And then there is For Services Rendered at the tiny 70 seat Jermyn Street Theatre (until 5 October. Box office: 020 7287 2875).

The play, by W. Somerset Maugham, takes place in 1932 when men who achieved high status in the armed forces are now without appropriate jobs, without purpose and in debt.  Young women are told that their future lies only in marriage, but many have lost their partners, husbands, fiancés in the war.

One such family is the Ardsleys and we see the effect on the various members and their friends.  All this with a background of a lovely English village and the sound of tennis being played.  Disaster is not far behind and the director, Tom Littler, has caught the atmosphere perfectly and there is strong acting from the large cast.

The Jermyn Theatre is celebrating 25 years of established theatre.  It is well worth a visit as a little gem in its own right and to see this ant-war play showing an England that has no place for its heroes of the First World War.

Rating ****

 

Preludes at the Southwark Playhouse (until 12 October. Box office: 020 7407 0234) is quite a difficult musical to take in. With music, lyrics, book and orchestrations by Dave Malloy, it starts with a difficult concept for a musical - the disturbed mind of the composer Rachmaninoff and his sessions with the hypnotherapist, Dahl (played by Rebecca Caine). Rachmaninoff is played by Tom Noyes on the piano and Keith Ramsey as the wide eyed young composer.  The play is called 'a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninofff, " and this is what you get!  It is a sophisticated production with some powerful singing, but nothing with which you can come out humming a tune.  Oklahoma it ain't!

But it is a well produced production with good lighting and sound and does the 240-seat main house space at the little theatre proud.

Rating ***

 

Carlie Newman

 

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (Noel Coward Theatre, London until 28 September 2019, Box office: 0844 871 7624)

A long night, but made worthwhile by the performances of all the cast.  This is not one of Tennessee Williams' greatest plays, but watching this, we can notice themes of isolation and loneliness that the playwright has returned to in his later work.

Here we find Maxine (Anna Gunn), struggling to make ends meet in the run-down hotel in Mexico, which she now runs alone after the recent death of her husband. She is delighted to welcome back an old friend, Rev T Lawrence Shannon (Clive Owen), who was dismissed from his church for sexual misdemeanours. He is now working as a tourist guide and turns up at the hotel with a coachload of women from a Baptist church. 

It turns out that the coach party are not happy at being at the hotel and furthermore have taken exception to his behaviour with one of their very young women, Charlotte ( Emma Canning).  He is berated by one of the Texan ladies (Finty Williams).   Shannon has a breakdown while there and is reliant on help from the gentle spinster, Hannah (Lia Williams) who accompanies her grandfather (Julian Glover), who at the age of 97 is made to perform as the oldest practising poet as the couple, who have no money, move from hotel to hotel.

The setting is evocative of the hot country and there is a spectacular storm. It is well-directed by James Macdonald who manages to bring together the different elements of Williams' play.

But Tennessee Williams' play, written in 1961, is a fantastic vehicle for actors and in this production the roles are seized upon with gusto. Clive Owen plays the dissolute, disgraced priest with the right mixture of pride and degradation while Anna Gunn brings a gutsy realism to the part of the amorous widow.  The smaller parts are also very well depicted.  Finty Williams is an amusing New England feisty character and young     Emma Canning makes her mark in her professional debut and acquits herself well.  Good, too, to see Julian Glover in a small but meaty role. A group of German tourists come in and out of the action without adding much but reminds us that the play is set in 1940.

But the star of the show is Lia Williams, who brings a quiet pathos to her role and holds the stage as she recounts incidents from her past.

At almost three hours it is a long sit, but well worth it to marvel at the performances.

 

THREE SISTERS (Vaudeville Theatre, London until 29 June 2019, Box office: 0330 333 4814)

[Aleksandr Bikovskii as Prosorov and Ekaterina Kleopina as Natasha]

I speak no Russian – my only words being along the lines of “niet,” when asked – so it is perhaps surprising that I really enjoyed this production of THREE SISTERS. 

The Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg is a  company of actors which has had the same director, Lev Dodin for some 35 years. The company is known for giving superb interpretations of Chekhov’s plays. Dodin here directs Anton Chekhov’s play.  The company of actors work well together with a good mixture of chemistry between the actors and a feeling that they know the play inside and outside as well as their own charaters and their individual place within the story.

The three sisters are very different but relate superbly with each other on stage.  They also work together as a trio of close relatives who know and really love each other.

Away from the bustle of Moscow, the sisters spend much of their time expressing their longing to return to Moscow.  All three have an overwhelming desire to return to the city. 

At the start of the play they have lots of visitors as the army is stationed in their area. This works especially well for Masha (Ksenia Rappoport) who is not happy in her marriage with Kuligin, the schoolteacher (Sergey Vlasov) and soon becoems entangled with Vershinin (Igor Chernevich), a lietenant-colonel.  Olga (Irina Tychina) is unhappy at being a single woman and growing older in her job at the school.  Irin (Ekaterina Tarasova) finds herself pushed towards  matrimony with the baron (Oleg Ryazanzev).

The sense of despair at the endof the play leaves one feeling wretchd while rejoicing in the beauty of this production.

Rating ****

Carlie Newman 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

ROSMERSHOLM (Duke of York’s, London until 20 July 2019,

Box office: 0844 871 7624)

The play is not performed very often but after seeing this production we are entitled to wonder why.  Beautifully performed by the whole cast it is particularly executed with panache by the two stars, Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke.

[Atwell with Tom Burke.]

Burke plays John Rosmer, who was a clergyman         and is something of a socialist in that he feels that he is not entitled to this wealth as it was handed down to him. He also feels the loss of his wife, Beata, who committed suicide.

Staying with him is his wife’s friend Rebecca (Atwell) who is trying hard to persuade John to come back to life and enjoy the present. She believes that the house should be opened up once more and, to that end, removes the material covering the pictures and windows and tries to let light into the house.

Giles Terera as Dr Kroll (Beata’s brother) enters the house.  He is the owner of a newspaper which is advocating against the ideas that his brother-in-law is putting forward. The other main newspaper is putting forward the opposite point of view.  Each is hoping that Rosmer will support them.  The power of the media is shown here as it is today.

The play by the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, was written in 1886, but the ideas put forward are remarkably current. And brought out well in this new adaptation by Duncan Macmillan. There is even mention of being in the hands of, ‘the many’ at the expense of ‘the few.’

It’s a time of political crisis with Rosmer having his own crisis of conscience.  There is hypocrisy around and also ambition on show.  Remind you of anyone? And there’s an election coming up.  There is a telling small part for Peter Wright as Ulrik Brendel, an alcohol fuelled sort of free spirt who bumbles on and talks about what is best for ‘the people’.

Tom Burke shows all of Rosmer’s feelings of guilt as he is troubled by the past, combined with an underlying passion for Rebecca. As played by Hayley Atwell we can fully believe in her Rebecca as she desperately attempts to get Rosmer to stand up for his beliefs in the coming elections.

The imaginative stage design, by Rae Smith, is a character in itself. It comes to fruition in a final momentous staging effect.

Ian Rickson’s dramatic and contemporary production is not to be missed.

Rating *****

 

Carlie Newman 

 

 

 One of my very favourite musicals, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (now on at the Playhouse Theatre, London until 28 September 2019) is a super musical with lots of well-known songs and a story based on the real life of Jewish villagers in Ukraine in the early 1900s.  But if it’s given a good production, then this musical gives us something extra – a real emotional involvement.  And here at the Playhouse this virtually immersive presentation is not just good, but superb.

The Playhouse theatre has been transformed into the fictional village of Anatekva. There are wall hangings and lanterns around the wooden sides of the auditorium and the little houses on stage come out into the audience. A path winds its way through the centre.

The story focuses on the poor milkman Tevye (Andy Nyman) who lives with his wife Golde (Judy Kuhn) and their five daughters.  He just about scratches a living, but has to contend with a variety of disasters.  It starts with his horse which goes lame, leaving Tevye to pull the heavy cart. But his main troubles are caused by the actions of his daughters, who, individually, wish to marry men of their own choosing.  It is against tradition - one of the main themes of the show and one which Tevye and the other older Jewish characters continually reference – which states that marriages should be arranged by their parents, generally through the services of the Matchmaker, in this case, Yente (an amusing Louise Gold). Tevye has to think up imaginative scenarios to convince his wife to let his daughters have their own way – but only up to a point. He never comes to terms with one of them.

Although the musical deals with the troubles of a long time ago and the issue of anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, it is, unfortunately, coming to the fore today in our own society.

Under director Trevor Nunn’s expert director, Trevor Nunn, the musical very carefully juxtaposes funny and lively musical moments with more poignant ones. A particular such moment is when the Russian Tsar’s officers interrupt lively  wedding celebrations and destroy the furniture and stop the dancing and singing of the villagers.

Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, this particular production began life at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre. Music, provided by an 8-piece band, is of consistently good quality and produces glorious sounds for the score by Jerry Brock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  The choreography based on Jerome Robbins’ original and directed by choreographer Matt Cole, is exciting with the famous bottles on the head dance performed faultlessly.

Tevye and Golde’s five daughters are well-depicted here, with each one showing their own character. They are carefully delineated and beautifully presented by the five actresses, Molly Osbourne as Tzeitel, Harriet Bunton as Hodel, Nicola Brown as Chava, and a group of youngsters as the two youngest.  Judy Kuhn is exactly right as the milkman’s long-suffering wife, Golde.  She puts real feeling into her special song replying to Tevye’s question, she sings “Do You Love Me?” alongside him and as she does, we see how their long marriage has worked.  As for Tevye himself…Andy Nyman does not have the charisma of Topol, the original Milkman in London in 1967, but his is an altogether less joyful interpretation.  He appears to have a personal link to God and consults him constantly before speaking directly to the audience.  The rest of the large cast are all just right for even the smallest part, with some excellent singing from Stewart Clarke as Perchik.

The production does not only give us a full social scene, but it is also an example of physical theatre with its thrusting stage and connection with the audience.  Lighting and sound production enhance our experience.

You may enter the auditorium humming, “If I were a rich man,” but you will go out with a far more all-round view of life in the small village, how the people lived and in particular the story of Tevye, a poor man with a rich family life.

Rating *****

Carlie Newman

 

HAMILTON (Victoria Palace, London booking until 31st August 2019

Box office: 0844 482 5138)

Wow! And Wow again for this musical marvel. Spoken about as a hip-hop show, it is so much more than that. There is, indeed, a lot of rap and all of Hamilton is set to music, but there are many good songs using various musical styles interspersed with the rap. It has, too, a cast who interpret the music perfectly.

Lyn-Manuel Miranda, author of the book, lyrics and music has composed a wonderful musical. It tells the story of one of the founding fathers of America, Alexander Hamilton, as told by Aaron Burr who acts as Narrator for much of the show.

Most of us in the UK know little about Alexander Hamilton (Jamael Westman).  Perhaps we identify him with the head on the $10 US bill or the more erudite might have heard of Hamilton as one of the founding fathers of the United States of America in the 18th century.  Here we see young Hamilton as a 19-year-old arriving in New York.  We learn a lot about what happened to him in the first few minutes of the opening. Aaron Burr, Alexander’s mentor and the narrator of most of the musical, tells us that Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean to an unmarried Scottish father and half-French, half-British mother. He was soon orphaned but eventually arrived in New York.  Very intelligent, charming, with a knowledge of languages, he rose to become a leader in the political scene of the time, before he was killed in a dual at the age of 47 by his former mentor, Aaron Burr. Unusually, we are told the end of the story right at the beginning.

It’s how this story is staged, of course, that is the  outstanding element of it and this is chiefly the work of Lin-Manuel.  Together with director Thomas Kail the two have ensured that the musical has a set that works for the content, a cast who delivers and that the music under the delicate hand of Musical Director, Alex Lacamoire, who, worked alongside Miranda, enhances the lyrics.

The set, which reminds me of Sean Kenny’s wonderful set for the first outing of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! is all wooden platforms, stairs and walkways with lots of ropes.  It is just right for the different elements of the musical as it moves from     place to place, with a centre revolve, showing the different stages of the life of Alexander Hamilton.

The costumes have been expertly designed to fit in well with the story-line. So, at the beginning the ensemble is dressed mainly in white and cream.  Later - to show mourning – the women wear black tops, Eliza is in a black dress and Alexander in a black coat.

Miranda’s music and lyrics combine so perfectly that it is almost impossible to separate the two.  The show is mostly in rap interspersed with songs.  The songs reference Sondheim, the words of Shakespeare and even Gilbert and Sullivan.  I particularly liked, The Room Where It Happens, which tells us about an important meeting of politicians while progressing the characteristics of the man – Aaron Burr – singing the song. It is also a catchy, tuneful ditty put across well by the actor/singer Giles Terera. Later Eliza finds out about her husband’s affair with Maria and her song is reminiscent of the mother’s lament in Miss Saigon.

Some of the songs have lovely melodies such as the one Alexander sings to his baby son. One must listen carefully to the words as within the lyrics lie the very bones of the story. The music is almost non-stop throughout.

Politics and the role of immigrants in the foundation of present day America are brought to the fore. To begin with Alexander Hamilton is himself an immigrant who comes to America with nothing and by the time he dies, at a too young age, he is one of the most powerful men in the country. The importance of immigrants and their contribution to society is emphasised and while the line, “Immigrants – they get the job done” is loudly applauded by the London audience, it is important to note how immigrants played a main part in the creation of modern America.  We must also take on board that Miranda stresses,

“Until we end slavery there will never be freedom.” Although the musical obviously deals with the revolutionary politics of 18th century America, there are enough points of commonality to ensure that it hits home to current audiences.

The moves and dancing by choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler are not over-flamboyant but fit in well with the music and songs. The chorus is excellently drilled even when not dancing and the ensemble always moves well and with precision.

But to my mind it is the casting that gives this musical the edge above all the others.  Jamael Westman, newly out of RADA, has been given the title role.  He develops, before our eyes, from a hesitant 19-year-old listening carefully to Burr’s instructions not to talk too much and to smile more into a self-assured leader of his country.  For a young actor in his first major role to show such an out-standing control of the stage is remarkable, but Jamael does just this.  He is also very charming and good-looking so that we can believe his attraction to women – particularly his wife Eliza (played by Rachelle Ann Go who has a lovely pure voice), his sister-in-law Angelica (given a suitably feisty interpretation by Rachel John) and his mistress Maria (Christine Allado). Westman has, too, a very pleasant singing voice, noteworthy in the lullaby he sings to his baby son. This is a charismatic performance from a new star who, I am sure, will continue to grace the London stage for many future years.

Almost equally important is the part played by his rival and ultimate killer, Aaron Burr.  Giles Terera, seen in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom plays the villain in a way that is neither over the top nor too obviously villainous, but gives us the correct amount of believability as he moves from mentor to fellow politician and then on to political rival. Terera has great personality.

The almost completely non-white cast all perform well and even the small parts are presented forcefully and with emotion. There are some almost show-stopping moments from Jason Pennycooke in the parts of the revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette and a camp Thomas Jefferson.  Also, most amusing is Michael Jibson as the English King George 111 jigging to a simple melody.

This is one show which, although it is long, we wish it would just go on and on.  It moves at a fast pace with the cast – particularly Westman and Terera – leading all forward in an at times moving but always exciting and innovative show which, I am sure, will keep on running.  Tickets are selling fast so get in there and book your group visits for the earliest date you can get!

Rating *****

Carlie Newman

 

 

 

 

 

 

.