Much Ado About Nothing

What a wonderful setting for a play, sitting outside in the grounds of Conwy Castle on a summer evening with the seagulls for company. The play is timely, bubbling with repartee and gossip, reminiscent of the ebb and flow of social media. It is the first time I have seen The Lord Chamberlain’s Men perform. The original company was the group of players for whom Shakespeare wrote. The recreated company performs Shakespeare’s plays as he intended: all-male, in full Elizabethan costume and in the open air.  It takes me a little time to get used to the authentic all- male cast. I find the actor playing Beatrice to be a little camp but, overall, it worked. The staging was simple and elegant and the company, who all play several parts, talented. Thank you to the Friends for facilitating the visit! 

Liz Loxley, photo Sue Buckley


Fire in the North Sky – our sponsored event!

It started with Vainamoinen, a wise man born old, then came Antero Vipunen, an ill-tempered giant, Aino, beautiful woman, Louhi, hag of the far north….soon the council chamber of Chester Town Hall was peopled with a host of mythical beings and strange creature. and our heads, and imaginations, filled with extraordinary tales of their adventures.

Fire in the North Sky, Epic Tales from Finland,  was the Friends’ sponsored event at Chester Literature Festival, a strange choice, I thought, but as it turned out, an inspired one. For this was indeed a wonderful evening of stories, songs and music capturing the essence of ancient Finnish landscapes.

Nick Hennessey was the charismatic storyteller who not only brought life to the words but also, through subtle movement, shape and form to his army of characters. Widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s leading storytellers, he has been performing these thousand year old tales from Kalevala for 14 years. No wonder he could gather and sweep us all before him on this adventurous journey!

He was joined by three others on a stage atmospherically lit and with a backdrop of  panoramic landscapes and portraits from Finland’s past. In traditional dress, surrounded by their range of archaic musical instruments, they made a striking image. . But then the whole of this evening, spent with such talented and charismatic performers, was unforgettable.

See for more details.

Peggy Woodcock

Visit To Home Theatre To See Oresteia

THE female chorus dressed as cleaning ladies was a puzzle. The gods wearing jodhpurs was another talking point. And we wondered why a dress on a hanger floated down to the stage, to be then donned by a man? But then Blanche McIntyre, director of this Greek drama, The Oresteia, was clearly aiming at innovation with an ensemble of actors playing multiple roles that crossed generations and gender.

The production was at HOME, Manchester’s new cultural centre and the Friends enjoyed the buzz to this lively modern building packed with young people, many of them A Level students . But there was disappointment that a promised pre-talk by the director turned out to be an academic lecture aimed at said students. Woosh! Over my head and I don’t think I was alone! Anyway, into the new-smelling modern functional theatre we went (with a nostalgic pang for the gorgeous old Library Theatre), for this stripped back version of a bloody tale of murder and revenge, matricide and revolt, a remarkable masterpiece written over two thousand years ago..

And it wasn’t hard to follow, the action all about civic power, primeval forces, terrible justice – you could only be thankful the gory stuff was kept off-stage! Strange, though they hid the blood, we were shown – with the house lights up – the mechanics of the minimal staging. Oddities to ponder, along with such irritations as the male chorus, local blokes enthusiastically shouting! With Manchester people recruited to be the voice of the citizens, the production had a strong community element.But hey, the translation by Ted Hughes gave power to the languageand individual performances were good, so there was much to enjoy. And there was much debate on the homeward journey, always the sign of a successful trip.



Austentatious, Our Sponsored Event At The 2015 Festival


Our sponsored event this year, not forgetting the prosecco beforehand, was a great success. We were delighted to see that one of the Friends, Christine Robinson, had donned regency gear, self-made, specially for the evening!
The title of the improvised play, Ascent of a Balloon, was picked out of a hat from the audience’s (very odd) suggestions and we were treated to a veritable tour de force. Perhaps nearer to a French farce than a witty Jane Austen novel, it incorporated the Napoleonic Wars, French espionage, motherless daughters, wicked future stepmother, a balloon powered by sparrows and a double marriage to conclude! All acted with aplomb by very young and enthusiastic actors.

Tracey Thorn and Dave Haslam at the Litfest 2015

Tracey Thorn with Dave Haslam

Tuesday 13th October 2015, Chester Literature Festival

Tracey Thorn came to speak about her latest book “Naked at the Albert Hall” on the night when the Man Booker winner was to be announced. She immediately revealed that she is a judge for the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction, despite never having written a novel and having no plans to do so.  Nevertheless, as she pointed out, she has been writing since the 1970s, but her output is all songs and memoirs – and songs are fiction! (Or so she said.)  Her earlier book “Bedsit Disco Queen” came out in 2013 so the last four or five years have been particularly busy for her.

Tracey is perhaps best known as the female member of Everything but the Girl – the other half being her husband Ben Watt.  Here I have a confession to make: I had never heard of Tracey or Ben or listened to any of the groups she has played in or with. It is a tribute to her wit and personality that I thoroughly enjoyed the 70 minutes we spent with her, and I thank the person (she knows who she is) who suggested that I go.

Naked at the Albert Hall is essentially about singing and singers and in any musical group, she suggested, the singers have all the neuroses.  One of her own hangups is stage fright and she has not performed live for at least 15 years; indeed she also had a break from recording for quite a few years in the early noughties.  Now however she has a solo collection due to be released on 23rd October entitled “SOLO: Songs and Collaborations 1982-2015”.  It comprises two CDs, one of which focuses on her solo songs while the other contains collaborative work with the likes of Massive Attack, Style Council and the German band, Tiefschwarz.  Had I been a clubber, I would have recognised Protection and several other numbers. Dave Haslam pressed her repeatedly on whether there are any circumstances in which she might perform again – for example in small venues in front of strangers – but she insisted that this was very unlikely.  However, as a true artist and politician, she refused to rule it out.

One of the most interesting revelations was Tracey’s influences and heroes.  She spoke passionately about Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux and – especially – Dusty Springfield.  I was surprised at her adulation of Dusty, whose songs (which I do know and like) paint an awful picture of female subservience to men. It must be the voice!  However she also spoke very positively about Poly Styrene who, Tracey asserted, had a fantastic stage presence without (and I paraphrase) any of the conventional skills and attributes that you might expect in a singer.

Finally I must record how funny Tracey was.  The audience was particularly taken with her story of the day when her teenage daughters found out that she had recorded with John Grant (if you don’t know – look him up).  Thank you, Tracey (and Dave) for a really engaging evening and for opening my eyes to a whole new scene.  It would have been even better had we heard (recorded or live) some of your songs  – I had to rely on Spotify when I got home to discover what I had been missing.  Thank you Litfest, for an inspired invitation to a great speaker.

Peter Goodhew

Wenlock Poetry Festival

Trip to Buxton

Wasn’t It a Lovely Day, the Day We Went to Buxton!

In July, Friends enjoyed a trip to the Buxton Festival. Programme offerings on the day we visited included the irrepressible Miriam Margolyes discussing Charles Dickens, particularly his female characters including Mrs Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, and one of her favourites. This event took place in the famous Buxton Opera House. Also, a fascinating insight into the Sackville-West dynasty was revealed by Robert Sackville-West, the current Lord Sackville, discussing his biography, The Disinherited. Musical offerings at the Pavilion Arts Centre included Debussy and His Muse, the composer’s infatuation with Marie-Blanche Vasnier, and a stunning recital by the Frith Piano Quartet playing Schumann and Dvorak.


‘The Seagull’ theatre trip

50 Friends set off to Salford Quays on a sunny March day to see this final play put on by Manchester’s renowned Library Theatre Company under the helm of their long-serving artistic director Chris Honer. Anton Chekhov used his 1896 tragi-comedy to consider the future of theatre itself, so there was something particularly poignant about this being their very last production before relocating in 2015 to an impressive purpose-built venue under the new banner of ‘Home’ (a future trip perhaps?). As Chris Honer is stepping down after 25 years, we were privileged to hear his farewell pre-show talk before he hands over to his successor. As ever it was filled with insightful commentary on the playwright and this new version of his play, which enhanced our understanding and enjoyment of the performance that followed.
It proved to be a fresh re-imagining of a Russian classic by the award-winning young playwright Anya Reiss, in which the setting was relocated to the world of contemporary middle-class Britain. The drama therefore unfolded against a backdrop of I-pods, laptops and mobile phones. However it all worked well to give the action immediacy and relevance, and the talented cast did an excellent job of drawing us into their circle of angst-ridden relationships. Did we like any of the characters? Probably not that much, but we certainly felt their pain as the tragedy unfolded towards its inevitable conclusion.

While perhaps that all sounds a bit on the heavy side, the fact is that we had a great time watching it and a lovely day out. So bring on the next theatre trip in October!     Elizabeth Lambrakis

Theatre in the Park (5)

Cheshire Young Carers

Since the last newsletter went out in June, we took a group of Cheshire Young Carers to see ‘The Secret Garden’ at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. It was a wonderful production featuring a talented cast of actors and puppets, and a good time was had by all the young people – as you will see from the photo above!  We hope you will agree that CYC are very worthwhile recipients of our continued support.