Friends’ Visit to Haworth April 27th

Did you know that the Bronte family name was originally Brunty? Neither did I. Somehow “Charlotte Brunty” doesn’t have the same romantic ring to it! That’s just one of the fascinating facts I discovered during the Friends visit to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire. A member of the Bronte Society gave us an illuminating talk about the famous sisters’ childhood in Haworth. She told us that it was their father, Patrick, who was from a barely literate Irish family, who fixed the spelling of the name from Brunty to Bronte – to hide his humble origins perhaps? After the talk, another member of the society led a walk around Howarth showing us the places associated with the family: Haworth church, the Apothecary and the Black Bull pub. Branwell Bronte was a frequent visitor to the Black Bull and his chair is still there to this day.

After lunch, we spent a happy few hours in the Parsonage Museum. I think we were all struck by the tiny books, covered in minute, barely legible, writing, which the sisters filled with stories about their fictional worlds. The Brontes wrote more words as children than in all their published adult works. I was amazed to discover that one of Charlotte’s miniature books is more than 60,000 words long. There was added interest in the museum; a display of costumes used in the recent B.B.C. play, “ To Walk Invisible” and a collection of poetry , written by Simon Armitage, commemorating the bicentenary of Branwell’s birth.

The visit gave us much to think about, especially; how many more jewels of literature would we be reading today had the sisters lived and continued writing into old age?

- Carol Archer


Chester Story Walk ‘Dreaming the Night Field’

Wednesday 15th November 2017, 1.30pm to 3.30pm

Come and join us for tea/coffee and cake, followed by a walk around the heart of historic Chester, accompanied by three artists from Adverse Camber who will entertain us with stories and songs along the way.

Some of you may already know Adverse Camber from last year’s Literature Festival when Litfest Friends sponsored their spellbinding show ‘Fire in the North Sky’ about Norse myths and legends, which was a sell out. As part of this year’s Festival they will be performing again, this time their latest show ‘Dreaming the Night Field’, which is based on the traditional Welsh story of the Mabinogion. That evening event will be going on sale in due course on the Storyhouse website as part of the main Festival programme.

This linked Story Walk daytime event is organised by Litfest Friends as part of the Festival Fringe. Tickets include tea/coffee and cake at Bishop Lloyd’s Palace on Watergate Street Row, where we will meet at 1.30pm. The Adverse Camber artists will then introduce us to their work, before we set off for a circular walk down to the river and back, stopping along the way for stories and songs.

Numbers for this event are limited and we anticipate that tickets will sell out quickly, so if you would like to join us don’t delay in booking your place.

Download booking form



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.