Ann Widdecombe at the Corn Exchange, Devizes; a review

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Ann Widdecombe at the Devizes Arts Festival

On Thursday night, the Devizes Arts Festival kicked off with ‘An Audience with Ann Widdecombe.’

Ann is famous for her 23-year career in Parliament, her appearance in Strictly Come Dancing, and her right wing Victorian views.

In her rider she has asked for a glass of water and a sandwich.

She arrives on time, sporting a rather fashionable mustard coloured jumper.  It is immediately apparent that she is not up for wasting syllables on irrelevant chat.  She’s come to do the job, and flog some books, and entertain.  ‘She’s dead professional’ says one of the new boys at the Town Hall, as we watch her cracking on with the soundcheck.

The doors open to the public, and Ann appears, dressed as a Victorian opera singer.  The effect of the light catching her ash blonde hair and sequins is startling.

She’s up for signing books before and after the show, and in the interval.  She’s written seven; five fiction, including a self-published detective novel, one autobiography, and a religious book about penance.   She’s polite with the public.  She makes herself accessible.  She’s happy to have photos taken, happy to be in selfies, happy to nip upstairs for a random appearance on Fantasy Radio.  She’s a good sport when something goes wrong (don’t ask).  ‘Always see the funny side’ she says.  Phew.  But she’s not touchy feely at all (and why should she be?).  She’s brisk, and formal.  And there’s something of the…what about her?

Ann is, on stage, quite funny.  ‘Do blondes have more fun?  All I can say is that I noticed men were talking to me much-more-slowly’ she quips.  She kicks off with talking about her recent celebrity appearances, or ‘non-political television’, as she calls it.  She doesn’t do social media.  Television is, in her view, still a good way of reaching the masses.

When Ann left Parliament in 2010, she drew a line.  She was an ‘Admiralty child’.

‘The subconscious lesson of that childhood,’ she says, explaining how she moved from school to school, constantly having to make new friends, ‘was that when something’s gone, it’s gone.’

‘The day I left Parliament,’ she says, ‘I realised that I no longer owed anyone any duty of time and dignity.’

Friends warned her off Strictly, worried that if she did it she would lose her gravitas.

‘What would I want it for?’ says Ann.

Ann does panto these days and has worked with Basil Brush.  She disagrees with hunting, doesn’t agree with abortion, and is in favour of the death penalty.  She’s said Yes to Graham Norton, and No to Jonathan Ross.  She seems a bit thick with Anton from Strictly.  ‘The less time you spend with your feet on the floor the better’ – Anton.  People laugh a lot.

After the interval, a cheeky glass of water and some more book signing, Ann returns for a Q&A.  Questions are, in the main, unchallenging.  Would you pay £16 to heckle Ann Widdecombe?  Probably not.  This is the meat and bones of Ann’s talk for me, and probably for the lady outside who said ‘She’s brilliant, erudite, and feisty, but I don’t feel she’s giving her best, and I’m really not that interested in Big Brother.’

Ann answers all the questions.  Sort of.  She’s up for it, that’s for sure.  Assertive is the word.

She blames the closure of libraries on the internet.  Margaret Thatcher was, while Ann had huge respect for her, ‘a bit remote’.  She talks about her memories of Thatcher and Major walking through the lobbies, how the Red Sea parted for Thatcher whilst Major would stop and have a friendly chat.  She has a Ten Commandments story.  She thinks the quality of MPs in Parliament has gone down due to selection procedures, and that governments suffer from oppositions taking opposition habits into government, and governments taking government habits onto the opposition benches.  She voted for Brexit.  She says she said the ‘something of the night about him’ thing to a couple of people and it just caught on.  She really doesn’t agree with abortion and thinks that there is divisive political skullduggery going on in relation to the issue.  She has always been comfortable with herself.  50 Shades of Grey is ‘quite the dirtiest book I haven’t quite read’.  She had 800 people on her Christmas list when she was in Parliament.  Ann talks about changing demands on the NHS in relation to new scientific medical discoveries, and how Bevan’s original vision is out of odds with the current demand for services.

‘What would we want the NHS to look like if we started it from scratch?’ she asks.

A bit more book signing and ‘bon homie’, and Ann is ready for the off.  People have enjoyed her, and if they didn’t they kept their opinions to themselves.  She’s done everything she signed up for.  She didn’t eat the sandwiches.

‘Good luck with your Festival!’ she says, as she walks out the door.

Something of the…what about her?

Something of the Right, obviously.  But also something I can’t quite put my finger on.

Ann is working it, and good luck to her.  The woman has balls, even if her views are objectionable.  She answers to no-one.  She’s a good speaker.  She’s intelligent.  There are things to admire about her, for sure.  But she is a bit odd.  A bit chilly.  There’s a wall around her.  Maybe you have to build such walls when you are a child being moved from pillar to post, or when you are trying to hold your own as a woman in Parliament, or when you have your knickers showing in the celebrity spotlight.

Who can say.

© Gail Foster 1st June 2018

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Iolanthe; the White Horse Opera at Lavington School

a first night review…

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I was delighted to be asked to review the White Horse Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, Iolanthe, at Lavington School this week.  Delighted, but slightly nervous.  Opera, or operetta, apart from a brief flirtation with The Yeoman of the Guard in my youth, isn’t my cup of tea.  But I’m up for a challenge, and it really was about time I popped my White Horse Opera cherry.

I looked it up online and what I read tickled me.  Fairies and the House of Lords.  Bit of magic and a bit of satire.  Interesting.

First performed in London in 1882, Iolanthe, also known as ‘The Peer And The Peri’, took a mischievous jab at the high society of the time in this bizarre tale of a Fairy who has been banished for wedding a mortal, Strephon her son, a half-man, half-fairy sort of bloke, Phyllis, the mortal object of his (and everyone else’s) affections, various vociferous Fairies; a conflicted Lord Chancellor;  and assorted beery leery Peers.

Phyllis reciprocates Strephon’s love, but the Lord Chancellor, even though he is her legal guardian, also has his eye on her, and forbids Strephon from marrying her.  When Phyllis catches Strephon talking to Iolanthe about the situation and mistakes the ever youthful Fairy for a lover, she rejects him and says that she will marry a Peer.  The Fairy Queen and her crew, unimpressed with the Lord Chancellor and the Peers, put Strephon into Parliament and give him the power to pass any bill he likes…

It’s all a bit tricky really, what with the law about Fairies marrying mortals being punishable by death, the Lord Chancellor’s paradoxical legal dilemma, the state of the political nation, forbidden desires, cosmic compromises, and everyone falling in love with everyone else.  One could get quite deep about it, even (it’s his bottom half that’s mortal, by the way, in case you were wondering), what with all those rampant Fairies and randy Lords, Pagans and the Establishment, intellectual conflicts, ancient energies in tension, and stuff…

Or one could just enjoy a jolly good romp.  So to speak.

Well directed by Graham Billing, with superb musical direction by Roland Melia, the show was visually and aurally gripping from the outset.  The orchestra was tight and melodious throughout.  The acoustics were great (how mellow was that cello!).  The scenery, consisting of a screen backdrop of a flowing stream and a static image of the Houses of Parliament, was simple but effective.  The fairy dresses and butterfly wings were pretty, the Peers looked authentic, and the choreography was energetic.  It was, with the exception of a couple of minor hesitations, pretty slick for a first night.

A few voices stuck out a mile; Phyllis’s (Lisa House) beautiful soaring soprano, Lord Mountarat’s (Matt Dauncey) confident baritone, Iolanthe’s (Paula Boyagis) sweet mezzo-soprano, and Private Willis’s (Charles Leeming) sonorous bass.  Phyllis and Strephon’s (Jon Paget) duet ‘None Shall Part Us From Each Other’, and the Peers’ robust entry with ‘Loudly Let The Trumpet Bray’, got the old goosebumps going good and proper, and I couldn’t fault the whole cast harmonies.

As far as the acting went, good performances all round, but special mention to Matt Dauncey and Jon Paget again, Chrissie Higgs as the feisty Leila and Jessica Phillips as Celia, and Sue Goodman as the scary and imposing Queen of the Fairies.  Oh, and all of the Peers, who were truly amusing, delivered some delicious little cameos, played every moment with gusto, and ripped the Michael out of the aristocracy beautifully.

I’d like to have seen little more evidence of eternal youth and a tad more spring in the step of the Fairy ranks at times.  And a couple of voices took a while to warm up, or sounded better in some songs than others.   Stephen Grimshaw as the Lord Chancellor and Dennis Carter as Lord Tolloller impressed more in the second act, with Grimshaw nailing the complicated patter song ‘Love, Unrequited, Robs Me Of My Rest’, and Carter seeming more comfortable as time went on.

Picky, really, but had to be said.  Small spots of imperfection in an otherwise impeccable show that will doubtless be ironed out by Saturday.

I loved this show.  I spent much of the evening tapping my foot and smiling.  It was lively and engaging from the moment the orchestra struck their first chord.  You know a show’s been good when you haven’t taken your eyes off the stage or thought about domestic trivia for the entire length of it.  The ensemble pieces were well executed and fun to watch, the comic timing was spot on all round, and the sound was full and satisfying.

I enjoyed the surprise of the current political references, and the relevance of the story to the present day.  The visual spectacle.  The rollicking ride.  The glorious flighty flirtiness of it all.  And the stuff about the law and the lore.  What’s in a word, eh?  The lives of men and fairies, according to Gilbert and Sullivan.

(Interesting Iolanthe fact; fairy lights first appeared in the form of the battery operated star shaped lights worn in the hair of Iolanthe’s fairies in the first year of its run).

Iolanthe is an odd, thought-provoking opera about sex and politics that comes heavily disguised as a sparkly frivolous thing.  I reckon the production team and experienced cast of the White Horse Opera did it more than justice.  It exceeded my expectations, and I enjoyed popping my opera cherry very much.  How lucky are we to have quality opera like this out in the wilds of Wiltshire?

Therefore, even though I did say once that I never wanted to see Ian Diddams in a onesie and the Muppets were a tad incongruous, I’m giving Iolanthe…

drum roll…

Eight out of ten.

© Gail Foster 13th October 2017

Cosmic Micturation

On the alleged predilictions of Donald Trump

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I wonder if, at Trump’s inauguration

There will be rain, some cosmic micturation

Anointing him with seedy sacred powers

In shimmered falls of blesséd golden showers

I wonder if America will see

An asset or a liability

In Trump, a man who likes to pay a whore

To do a pretty penny on the floor

I wonder if the world will froth and frown

Or take it on the chin, and lying down

Be sure the satirists will shoot their stings

‘Urine the Whitehouse now’, and sharper things

Some folk may whisper ‘Nothing new in this’

A President who likes to take the piss

What matter if the man’s a tad perverse

It could be sheep, or shit, or something worse

Oh, Bling New World, that suddenly we see

Run by a man who likes to play with wee

Hand on the button, fingers in the pot

America, you’d better like it hot

*

© Gail Foster 11th January 2017

‘Smoke and Roses’ and ‘Takin’ the Pith’

This week I published two books, which are available on Amazon and through Devizes Books

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The first, ‘Smoke and Roses’  is saucy, serious, and sweet, and the second, ‘Takin’ the Pith’, does exactly what it says on the tin.

I guess that ‘Smoke and Roses’ is my mythology.

Both contain poems and prose in different forms, and the language is edgy in both.

There will be some content that you have not read.

I hope you like them.

Thank you so much for your interest.

Gail

Guilty Tory Crush; Kenneth Clarke

for Jemma Brown

 *

Alas, alack, I am undone, upon my cheek a raging flush

For I’ve discovered, oh what fun, I have a guilty Tory crush

You’d think, you would, a girl like me, a wafty lefty sort of bint

Would fain bestow her fancy free on someone of a redder tint

 …

On Dennis Skinner, him, perhaps, or Livingstone, you might presume

Or younger, pinker, backbench chaps, some decades nearer to the womb

But I’m for Clarke, for Old Blue Ken, a Behemoth of an MP

That wonder amongst Tory men; Kenneth Harry Clarke QC

 …

Girl, you say, you’ve lost the plot, the bloke’s a cad, a Tory cove

But I say Ken is steaming hot, unlike yer Howard, or yer Gove

But Girl, you say, he’s of the Right!  It’s wrong, so wrong, in many ways

Come back, come back, in to the light!  This thing for Ken is just a phase

 …

Much like the Mosley years, I say (which episode was far from jolly)

Oh that, well, mmm, a tough one, hey, I’ll put it down to youthful folly

But Girl, our Kenneth’s not yer man, he’s not your type, your type at all

And come the day shits hits the fan he’d have you first against the wall

Er…

God help me!  Look how dextrously he fondles that big fat cigar

Kenneth, take a turn with me, in some cool posh flash racing car

Or take me, twitching, in your hide, or show me how to dance to jazz

What price street cred, left wing pride, who cares when you’re as randy as

 …

Oh, Ken, Your Corpulence, you’re cute, your chubby cheeks are so disarming

The way you burst out of your suit; so boyish, and so fatly charming

You’re bad!  You’re good! You speak your mind!  But really, here’s the nub of it

A forthright man is hard to find, and frankly

You don’t give a shit

 *

© Gail Foster 21st October 2016

 

(Oh come on, girls you must agree, he’s got it goin’ on, has Ken

Just Jemma Brown?  Just her and me? Much more of Ken for us two then

Bags me first dibs then, Jemma, hey, you can have him when I’m done

I’ll have him early in the day, and you can have a later one

He likes a pint or two, you know, well rather more than that methinks

Me, I’ll have his morning glow and you can take him out for drinks

But maybe, mate, one at a time, no threesomes, even though you’re lush

Ha ha Jemma, here’s yer rhyme, about my guilty Tory crush)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humpty Trumpty

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Humpty Trumpty built up a wall

Of hatred and bullshit, in no time at all

So full of hot air and albumen

Bumptious Numpty

An egg amongst men

Trumpty Bumptious, sat on his wall

Infusing the air with a sulphurous pall

Obdurate ovoid, and odious smell

Truly Trumptious

The egg from hell

Rambunctious Trumpty, sat on his wall

A slug on his own at an ugly bug ball

Blot on the skyline, and bombastic bore

Humpty Dumptious

An egg to ignore

Dumpty Trumpty, sat on his wall

The King of the Fools looking down on the small

Dark is his shadow and yellow his yolk

Unctuous Humpty

The egg that spoke

Trumpty the Numpty, sat on his wall

Stirring the winds of the world to a squall

Summoning forces too violent to quell

Presumptious Trumpty

A shit in a shell

Humpety Trumpety, sat on his wall

Spitting out poison and hubris and gall

As stable and safe as a knife on a ledge

Precarious Numpty

An egg on the edge

Trumpty the Terrible, sat on his wall

The sun on his hair and the land in his thrall

Waiting to hatch from his keratin keg

Horrible Humpty

The dangerous egg

Humpty Trumpty; the egg with a plan

To set race against race, and man against man

Let us conjure a mischievous wind to unseat him

Fry him in Mexican spices

And eat him

*

© Gail Foster 2nd Sept 2016

Owen Smith Doth Take The Pith

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I’m not impressed by Owen Smith

Methinks that he doth take the pith

Just wasn’t sure until today

What moved me so to feel this way

 …

Today; the leadership debate

I didn’t have too long to wait

Once you’ve seen it, it’s distracting

Owen Smith is over-acting

See him roll his sleeves up there?

He’s channelling a bit of Blair

Then he’s Harry Potter, then

He’s Brutus dressed as Mister Benn

Jazz hands.  What’s that all about?

Turn it down, no need to shout

For no-one needs a politician

Who thinks he’s at a Glee audition

Now Jeremy, he plays it calmer

More yer kitchen sink type drama

Monochrome, with moody stare

More Alan Bennett, to be fair

Owen’s acting sounds to me

Like desperate soliloquy

His every cliché rings a bell

And all his soundbites bore as well

I reckon Owen Smith’s a fake

He’s on the stage the pith to take

Off, off, and let the curtain fall

I don’t trust Owen Smith at all

*

© Gail Foster 18th August 2016