‘Last Night at The Conductor’s Arms’

The Invitation Theatre Company at The Bear, Devizes

 

 

It’s the early 1950s, and time for the very last pint to be pulled at The Conductor’s Arms.  Business ain’t what it used to be, and even the Music Hall next door is closing down.  As Albert the landlord (Ian Diddams) sits supping at the bar, he looks back over the history of his family; his grandparents’ escape from the Irish potato famine and their acquisition of the pub, meeting his wife, the birth of his children, the death of his son in the first World War, and victory in World War Two.  So many memories.  So many faces, come and gone.  So many tunes…

Oh, The Invitation Theatre Company had a good time with this one!  For one night only, sorry, three, the ballroom at The Bear became an informal and intimate old time music hall forward slash East End pub, with dancing girls, banging tunes, Pearly Kings, poignant tear jerkers, and cheese.  Lots of cheese.  A succulent smorgasbord of cheerful cheese, and the kind of sad songs that would have the stoutest customer weeping into their gin before closing time.

Devised and directed by Ally Moore and Liz Schorah, and ably compèred with alliterative acuity by Peter Nelson, ‘Last Night at The Conductor’s Arms’ was simply a good excuse to sing (‘Sing along!’ they said, so we did) all your gran’s favourites from ‘Danny Boy’ to ‘No Business Like Show Business’.

The problem with writing reviews for TITCO is that everyone is good, they get better each time they work together, the music is always spot on, and no one likes a sycophant.  But really, other than the fact that perhaps the performance space was a little small for the lively choreography, it’s hard to pick fault with this show.

So I’ll go with highlights, which, for me, were as follows; Ian Diddams’ acting.  Mel Coombs, Liz Schorah, and Viv Kyte‘s chirpy versions of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree’.  All of the men singing ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart.’ Paul Morgan singing ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ (the ladies I met in the churchyard today particularly liked that one).  Mari Webster singing anything.  And all of the ensemble pieces.

Moments of brilliance?  The whole cast singing the heart-wrenching ‘Keep The Homes Fires Burning’, with its rich and complex harmonies (I cried, and I wasn’t the only one).  Lottie Diddams producing a couple of notes of unearthly beauty in ‘Secret Love’.  Ian Diddams again, with his heartfelt delivery of ‘Brown Boots’.  And, for which she received the most rousing cheer of the evening, Jemma Brown, hilariously channelling Hyacinth Bucket, in a performance of the musically challenging ‘I Want To Sing In Opera’ that had some of us questioning our continence.

‘Last Night at The Conductor’s Arms’ was an uplifting, moving, and endearing show; no pretence at great art, just a wild ride through the music halls of memory on a pantomime pony, with the odd pitstop for a tear.

And cheese.

And the final verdict from behind the aspidistra?

Hit me with a feather boa, that was fun.

Nine out of ten.

© Gail Foster 19th November 2017

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colours of sunday

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Impressions of Sunday morning;

for Valerie, Vince, and John

*

valerie and I

call the slice of chapel light

hockney and lemon

sunshine on silver

tails of little wriggling fish

feeding the thousands

vince by the fountain

twinkling as he talks about

beetroot and the times

gold on the mustard

seeds that grow in gospel leaves

scattered on the ground

black belt lay preacher

hurling holy water on

the red fires of hell

the peace, fingers crossed

wishing my heart was as white

as the altar cloth

shades of pigeon grey

orange plastic shopping bags

taking sunday home

*

© Gail Foster 30th July 2017

In To The Woods at The Wharf

The Invitation Theatre Company’s performance of ‘In To The Woods’; a review

*

I was delighted to be invited to the dress rehearsal of TITCO’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘In To The Woods’ at The Wharf, directed by Peter Nelson.  TITCO are a quality act, and I always enjoy their shows.

I watched.  Cute.  Fun.  Some great duets.  Haha! Ian Diddams as the cow.  Woah, Jemma Brown as a bitchy witch (be afraid, be very afraid!).  Neat cape, Tracy Lawrence.  ‘Scrumptious carnality’?  Goodness me.  Love the screen device, and the sepia film.  Clever.  Nice birches.  Ooh, blood.

And then Happy Ever After.

?

As I rode off on my bike I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing.  Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

That would have been Act Two.  Thought it was a bit short.

So, Monday, opening night, and I’m back again.  Ah, there it all is.  The finishing touches have been put to the stage and it’s all pretty with birch and blossom and soft greens, with a backdrop that leads to…who knows.  And someone has clearly been working hard in the Mojo department, because TITCO are bursting with a confidence and enthusiasm that I just didn’t see on Sunday…

It’s a moral tale of good versus evil, this, set in a dark and mysterious wood where anything could happen.  It’s a mash up of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, starring Cinderella, Jack of Beanstalk Fame, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.  It’s a quest for a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.  If only we could find these things then the curse would be lifted and all would be well…

Be careful in the woods, and be careful what you wish for.  ‘Nice is different than good’, after all.

I’m used to TITCO being good.  One can’t enthuse enough really.  These people work together really well, and they’re all worth watching.

As far as acting goes, however, a few performances stand out for me.

Lottie Diddams plays Little Red as Violet Elizabeth, or Queenie from Blackadder, all foot-stamping and pouty, with great comic timing.  Paul Morgan as The Wolf is superbly sinister.  Jemma’s Personality Disorder Witch is terrifying.  Ian Diddams chews cud really well, the Victorian Ugly Sisters are witty, and there’s real tenderness shown in the performances of Naomi Ibbetson as Cinderella and Teresa Bray as the Baker’s Wife.

But TITCO shine brightest when they sing, and in this show it’s the duets that shine the most; The Witch and Rapunzel (Lucy Burgess), Little Red and The Wolf, and anything involving Princes (Mari Webster and Simon Hoy) in particular.  As far as ensemble songs and choreography go, well that’s all good too, and it’s impossible to fault the complex ‘Your Fault’, in which Jack (Lewis Jackson) gets to find his voice.

It’s dark in The Woods, don’t you know.  And it gets darker.  People die.  People reveal the worst and best sides of their natures.  Some of it is positively Freudian.  Just when you think it’s a Happy Ever After…it isn’t.  There be giants and stuff, really good special effects and scary bits.  And there be also, and perhaps most terrifyingly of all, randy Princes…

My award for ‘Man of the Match’ without doubt goes to Mari Webster, for her startlingly sexual thigh-slapping performance as ‘Cinderella’s Prince’ and her hilarious duets with Simon Hoy and Teresa Bray.  Whilst ‘In To The Woods’ is not a pantomime, she plays the part in classical principal boy fashion.  She’s well timed, hugely witty, great to look at, and utterly fascinating to watch.

In summary; In To The Woods, at The Wharf…

Slightly confusing, as plots go, but deliciously entertaining.

Looks cool.

Good performances all round.

Lots of laughs.

Great singing.

Mayhem.  Magnetism.  Mirth.

Moral tale?  Fairy tale?  Musical?  Not-quite-a-pantomime?

You decide.

Call it whatever you like, but don’t miss it.

It’s a fun frolic.

And it is well good.

Nicely played TITCO.

Again.

© Gail Foster 6th June 2017

PS And after this, if you’re hungry for more excellent Devizes entertainment, why there’s Devizes Arts Festival…

…and they all lived happily ever after 😊

Rivers Again

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Let there be rain on Wiltshire fields, before the ancient streams run dry…

*

I hear the sky whispering rumours of rain

Apparently there will be rivers again

Worms for the blackbirds and toads in the mud

Puddles on petals and fields in flood

Streams in the gutter, in burrow and street

Children and rabbits with little wet feet

Flashes of flame setting Ceres alight

And thunderclaps frightening pigeons in flight

The waters will fall on the morrow they say

Deep in the cracks of the dry earth of May

And farmers and flowers with tears in their eyes

Will watch as the corn and the reservoirs rise

As ever the moaners will mutter and sigh

And shake their umbrellas, and curse at the sky

*

© Gail Foster 12th May 2017

Swallows

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for Tracey Lawrence

*

She scans the sky for swallows in the Spring

Down in the Rowdey gardens, by the shed

When I was low and January dead

She held my hand and helped my spirit sing

I saw her soul, a swallow on the wing

Still flying high when other birds had fled

Such loving kindness in the words she said

Such gentleness on earth is everything

She’s in the garden, sitting in her chair

And laughing as the swallows in the skies

Make witty patterns in the Wiltshire air

Like little arrows shot across The Vize

I think that I shall just leave Tracey there

With tears of joy and swallows in her eyes

*

© Gail Foster 2nd May 2017

Easter Sunday; Devizes

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for John (Ted) Dexter

*

no cars on the road

all of the town sofa bound

food lulled and sleeping

walking home, a man

evensong’s slow gentle peace

on him like monks’ robes

old man and poet

meet in quiet communion

by the graveyard gate

souls of the same shade

in unspoken fellowship

watching the birds fly

on the bridge, silence

white blossom, silver water

Easter Sunday light

*

© Gail Foster 17th April 2017

Colin’s Garden

For Colin Hopgood, a good man of Devizes, who has been milkman and Mayor, and tends the allotment by Quakers Walk that gives so much pleasure to so many…

*

‘Tis Spring on the allotments, in the air

The scent of hyacinths, the sense of bees

The sunlight on the cabbages and trees

And sitting in the greenhouse, on his chair

Remembering past summers, and the Fair

The Kenyan heat, the icy Kennet freeze

The smallest seedlings grown into sweet peas

Is Colin, father, lover, milkman, mayor

He’ll tell you, if you ask him, where the boat

That sits amongst the marigolds once sat

He’ll show you his banana tree, and bowers

And time and swans will fly, and barges float

Until he calls his dogs, and doffs his hat

And sends you home with vegetables, and flowers

*

© Gail Foster 23rd March 2017