Skip to content

The Swans Are Flying

The Swans Are Flying!

The Swan Awards are Arts Richmond’s local “Oscars” for the best in the non-commercial theatre within Richmond upon Thames.  The Nominations for these Awards have been announced and the “Swans” will be presented to the final winners on 30th September at the Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington. Guest Presenters will be The Mayor of Richmond upon Thames, Cllr. Ben Khosa, Lynn Faulds Wood and John Stapleton.


The Nominations include:

Best Production of a Play


Richmond Shakespeare Society’s The 39 Steps
Youth Action Theatre’s Blue Stockings
Richmond Shakespeare Society’s Richard II
Teddington Theatre Club’s Stones in His Pockets

Best Musical Theatre Production


Twickenham Operatic Society’s 9 to 5, The Musical
BROS Theatre Company’s Made In Dagenham

The Cygnet Award


(The Cygnet Award is for a production in a non-dedicated theatrical environment.)
Edmundian Players’ Out Of Order
Wild Duck Theatre Picnic at Hanging Rock
Edmundian Players’ Sleeping Beauty

See full details at the Arts Richmond website


EdFringe Opens

Fringe Cut Straight

Edinburgh Fringe Week 1

It is the first full week of the Edinburgh Fringe this week, and the Mark Aspen reviewers will be there to see some companies known in the Richmond – Twickenham – Kingston area.



Opening this week are Space Doctor (StraightUp Productions at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, Venue No. 14, until 27th August); Red Peppers (Blue Fire Theatre Company at theSpace on the Mile, Venue No. 39 until 18th August; and Cream Tea and Incest (Benjamin Alborough Productions at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, Venue No. 53) until 25th August.

Also opening this week is

The Squirrel Plays

Part of the Main at C venues – C cubed (Venue No. 50), 2nd to 27th August


Newlyweds Tom and Sarah are definitely not squirrel people. So when they discover one in their attic, they’re faced with a marriage-testing decision: to exterminate, or not to exterminate? However, the squirrels have also infested the whole neighbourhood. The issue doesn’t only tear Sarah and Tom apart. It threatens the peace of an entire community.

Palace of Varieties

Spice on the Red Peppers

Palace of Varieties

Blue Fire Theatre and full supporting company at Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham, 28th July.

Review by Mark Aspen

Oh, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd! You are in a music hall variety show, ready for your act to wow the waiting audience. George and Lily Pepper bicker in the dressing room, but here we are watching from the wings as the adrenaline mounts. And so it is was for Saturday’s audience at the Mary Wallace Theatre waiting for Noel Coward’s Red Peppers in Blue Fire’s preview of its forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe offering.

The surprise first course before the spicy dish of Red Peppers, was a visit to the Palace of Varieties at that gritty mill town where George and Lily’s show is on tour. Our Compere was Daniel Wain, introducing the turns with his wonted style of punchy panache, mainly musical entertainment from a wide range of gifted performers.


The pace was set by the full throated jazz singing of Hannah-May Lucas, “The Mistress of Song” with Kander and Eb’s All that Jazz from Chicago the Musical. The description of 1920’s Chicago, “where the gin is cold, but the piano’s hot!”, could have applied equally to the Mary Wallace, where musical director Carole Smith’s electric piano accompanied all the singers. Then a more lyrical Thelonious Monk standard, ‘Round Midnight before returning to Kander and Eb’s edgy musical Cabaret.

Further down the programme was our second lady singer, Heather Stockwell, “The Sophisticated Songstress of Shepperton”, in a beautifully contrasting songs-from-the-shows style, and wearing a cool flowing dress that tumbled like a multi-coloured waterfall. The approach now was soft and honeyed, numbers from The King and I, back to 1951 and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: the lyrical Hello Young Lovers, the warm tone crisp and firm; the uplifting Shall We Dance and the reflective piece, Something Wonderful, which at the lower end of the singer’s register showed the wide range of Heather Stockwell’s voice.



But the girls did not hog all the limelight, for the last item on the Palace of Varieties bill was Andrew Truluck, from oop North – North London that is – disputing that London exists South of the River. (He was on safe ground, the Mary Wallace Theatre is north of the Thames.) Introduced as the “Virtuoso of the Vocal Chords”, we were treated to yet another approach to the songs of the musicals … and of the music halls. Genial and gentle voiced, he guided the audience, and indeed invited them to join the choruses in Second World War standards such as the soft crooning, How About You, and (somewhat challenging for the audience) A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Then back to the First World War with This Heart of Mine, Let this Great Big World Keep on Turning and Peg o’ My Heart. (For musical buffs, there is an interesting link between Peg o’ My Heart, which featured in the 1913 musical Ziegfeld Follies and This Heart of Mine from the 1941 film of Ziegfeld Follies.)

The singers parenthesised an entirely different musical genre, classical guitar, played with remarkable dexterity by Luke Taylor. In a complex piece and with concentrated precision, he evoked a vision of sparkling water on hot summer’s day that was the reality outside of the theatre. Although by the 18th Century Italian composer, Domenico Cimarosa, it was very reminiscent of the well-known Spanish guitar composers of a century later such as Albéniz or Granados. It was amazing to watch Taylor play, and clearly not for nothing did the compere introduce him as “Donald and his Dancing Digits”.

As the Palace of Varieties was intended as lead in to Blue Fire’s Red Peppers, Noël Coward was never far away, and the musical offers were interspersed with excerpts from another of Coward’s cycle of the short plays from the Tonight at 8:30 series, Ways and Means. The main protagonists, heiress Stella Cartwright and her gambling-addicted husband Toby, were played by Mia Skytte-Jensen and Daniel Wain, described modestly by Wain (in his compere role) as the Olivier and Leigh of Twickenham, tongue firmly in cheek.

The Cartwrights are irresponsible social parasites, living in a borrowed villa on the Côte d’Azur by their wits and their witticisms. Wain and Skytte-Jensen delivered the brittle quick-fire dialogue of the self-indulgent couple with the coolly detached insouciance that Coward demands of the stereotypical socialites.

Ways and Means forms a nice scene-setter for Red Peppers, for both concern a bickering couple in a jaded marriage, although I felt a bit less sympathy for Toby and Stella Cartwright than I was about to for George and Lily Pepper. (The Peppers actually work hard for their living.)

Red Peppers DSC_7421_colour

As an appetiser for the course of Red Peppers, about to be served after the interval, Palace of Varieties whetted the appetite in a satisfying manner. It was the gin and tonic freshener accompaniment before the full-bodied red wine was opened to go with the Red Peppers.

Mark Aspen
July 2018

Photography by Wolstenholme Images

Red Peppers

Real Bite into the Spice

Red Peppers

by Noel Coward

Blue Fire Theatre Company at Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham, 28th July, then touring until 18th August.

Review by Louis Mazzini

First performed in Manchester over eighty years ago, the comedy Red Peppers remains one of Noel Coward’s most popular plays. Though among his shortest – as one of the ten plays that make up the Tonight at 8.30 sequence – it has an enduring appeal and the central couple of fading vaudevillians has been played by the likes of Anthony Newley and Joan Collins as well as, of course, by Coward himself with his muse Gertrude Lawrence.

In Blue Fire Theatre Company’s lively production, seen here in an Edinburgh preview, Coward’s role is taken by a blisteringly funny Steve Taylor and Lawrence’s by an acid-dropping Lottie Walker. Both are experienced revue artistes and bring real bite to their performances, skilfully recreating the rhythms and slips of Coward’s song and dance routines and, as he takes us backstage, exposing the backbiting venom of a couple in terminal decline and not just on stage.

Red Peppers 1

© Alison Jee

The duo are well supported. Edz Barrett plays the manager of a theatre so run down that even the clothes rail is falling apart. Charles Halford is a bibulous conductor and Joanna Taylor makes a memorably star-struck callboy, while Mandy Stenhouse adds a distinctive cameo playing a theatrical dame who has definitely seen better days.

This is a strong production of a theatrical gem, a glimpse at the long lost world of vaudeville, played by two actors at the top of their game. Highly recommended.

Louis Mazzini
July 2018

Photography by Alison Jee

See also Palace of Varieties 

Blue Stockings

Gowned Academics

Blue Stockings

by Jessica Swale

Youth Action Theatre at the Michael Frayn Theatre, Kingston until 27th July

Review by John O’Brien

Books or looks? That is the dilemma facing a pioneering group of young women in Cambridge in 1896. Considering the popularity of Love Island has much changed? The title refers to a dismissive epithet for an educated woman. Like Jane Eyre these women risked social oblivion. Neither marriage material nor real graduates, they occupied a precarious no-woman’s land betwixt and between. Jessica Swale’s accomplished debut play, acted with brio and verve by The Youth Action Theatre, brings vividly to life the struggle of these remarkable heroines. It’s a story that deserves to be known and this play is a fitting homage to that struggle.

B Stock 1

The set is minimal but apt. Three bookcases give just the right feel of a Cambridge College – Girton, the first college in the university to admit women – and each scene is signposted via PowerPoint projection. The direction is pacey, short scenes move briskly to hold our attention, and keeps us wanting to know more.

We follow four young undergraduates over the course of one academic year as they try to study and be taken seriously. Jennie Hilliard is superb as Tess Moffat. She gets the balance between determined scholar and vulnerable young woman spot on. She deftly navigates the often absurd double binds the bluestockings find themselves in. For example she wants to ride a bicycle to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion but feels that girls don’t sling their leg over to get on the saddle. She agrees to do so but only after asking her lecturer Mr Banks (Josh Clark) to look away. This dilemma – how to be independent within a patriarchal world – forms the heart of the dramatic drive of the play.

B Stock 4. jpg

The Mistress of Girton College, Elizabeth Welsh (Jojo Leppink) convinces as she steers the college and the girls through treacherous waters. They must study hard to match the men but they must not let the college down. They must at all times be respectable. And they must not jeopardise the reputation of Girton by any Suffragette nonsense. To enforce this code she employs the fearsome chaperone Miss Bott (brilliantly played by Emily Dixon) to accompany Tess everywhere. When Will Bennett (Ben Buckley) attempts to embrace Tess Miss Bott archly reminds him that he must keep a distance of 30 inches at all times. Will Bennett and Mr Banks are classic New Men. They too face moral dilemmas: to support the Girton Girls even if it means social pariah status?

B Stock 2

Blue Stockings is a complex play because it shows the almost impossible double binds the College and the girls where trying to work around. Nowhere was this more poignantly dramatised than in the case of Maeve Sullivan (Meaghan Baxter), the poor scholarship girl from the East End. We watch entranced as she flourishes to become the best student in the year and then, in a devastating peripeteia, her brother Billy (Joseph Evans) comes demanding that she return home to look after her sisters as her mother has died. We see how poverty trumps gender. Miss Welsh agrees with Billy, she has to go home, child care comes before education. Such, such are the hard realities the girls are up against.

B Stock 3. jpg

But the most implacable opposition comes from the men. In a scene of devastating explosive force, the leader of the Trinity men, Lloyd (Gwithian Evans) mocks the girls as being a joke. He contrast the 800 year history of male power and scholarship and invokes Newton, Marlowe, Milton, Pepys and Byron to ridicule the pretensions of the Bluestockings. It’s a monologue of stunningly grotesque vituperative force. As a coda the shop keeper who has witnessed this shocking abuse demands that he leave her shop. Lloyd reminds her that his father owns all the shop leases. She immediately backs down and agrees to sell him… a pair of blue stockings. It’s a brilliant metaphor.

B Stock 5

Blue Stockings is a triumph. It pays homage to a remarkable generation of women who showed courage and resilience in the face of the most daunting hurdles. We owe a debt of gratitude to those Bluestockings. What better way to show our appreciation than by going along to see this truly inspirational show and at the same time encourage our future talent in Youth Action Theatre.

Photography by Jonathan Constant

Edinburgh Fringe

Fringe on Top

The Edinburgh Fringe

Our reviewers are at the Edinburgh Fringe.


Among their reviews are some by companies known in the Richmond- Twickenham- Kingston area.  Watch out for these:


Space Doctor

StraightUp Productions at the Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue No. 14), 1st to 27th August

Space Dr 13
After forty years out in the wilderness, Britain’s favourite TV time traveller is back… Space Doctor is a riotous and playful sci-fi parody, set at a fan convention, celebrating the fictional 1970s programme Space Doctor. Amidst re-enactments of the show’s most “celebrated” moments, shocking truths are revealed.

Red Peppers

Blue Fire Theatre Company at theSpace on the Mile (Venue No. 39), 3rd to 18th August



Noel Coward gives a glimpse into a day in the life of a husband and wife vaudeville act who are tired of performing the same old song and dance routines and tired of each other. Onstage staggering through their act, offstage bickering and sniping, they come together only to blast the hapless theatre staff: all the un-glamour of showbiz.


Cream Tea and Incest

Benjamin Alborough Productions at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue No. 53), 5th to 25th August

Cream Tea

Romance! Adventure! Murder! Learn the meaning of these words and more in this anarchic comedy set in Edwardian England. Delight in their capers, mix-ups and the dead bodies left in their wake. Go with the English aristocrat and his loyal valet, Jeffrey, as a simple matchmaking quest quickly deteriorates into a race against time when Machiavellian forces move to wreak their vengeance.


Digital Drama at theSpaceTriplex (Venue 38) and theSpace @ Niddry St (Venue 9), 13th to 25th August

Fast DD

A dark psychological drama based on true events in 1910 in Washington State, USA. “Doctor” Linda Hazzard opens her sanatorium to the public. The public do not always survive… Complex, beguiling and utterly driven, Hazzard advocated a fasting cure that gripped the press and divided a nation. How far would you go to find the perfect cure…?

Romeo and  Juliet

The HandleBards at Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue No. 3), 15th to 19th August

R&J Handlebards
Before the world’s first cycling theatre company toured its seriously silly production of Romeo and Juliet around the world, they pedalled it 1,500 miles around the UK by bicycle, with all the necessary set, props and costume in tow. Now, the all-female troupe is back with riotous amounts of energy, a fair old whack of chaos.

Say Something Happened

BCP at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue No. 53), 20th to 25th August

AB bcp

June, a well-meaning but very inexperienced social worker, visits Mam and Dad to offer the council’s help. It transpires that June is probably more in need of Mam and Dad’s help than they are of hers! Alan Bennett’s one act play showcases the humour and pathos of Britain’s best-loved playwright.

Summer Evensong

Pimms, Power and Piety

Summer Full Choral Evensong

Music by Felix Mendelsshöhn, Henry Purcell, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Jehan Alain

St Mary’s Extended Parish Choir, St Mary’s Church, Hampton, 15th July

Review by Mark Aspen

A Broad Church. Now, there is a term that we often hear applied to the Church of England. However, pop along to St Mary’s at Hampton and you will find that in this case it applies to just one parish church.

The church buildings, together with Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare and Garrick’s Villa nearby, form part of a group of Grade 1 listed buildings. Particularly, with its association with Georgian royalty, St Mary’s Hampton is arguably the most historic of parish churches in the Area and certainly one of the most beautiful. Nevertheless, within all this tradition, St Mary’s late morning service each Sunday is an exuberant modern contemporary service of large and increasing popularity.

Baptism 15 July 2018 1

During this service, last Sunday morning, the 250-strong congregation processed from the church to the River Thames for the total-immersion baptisms of six adults and the christening of a baby. Back in the church, a service of joyful worship continued.

St Mary's ChoirThe measure of the breath of worship tradition at St Mary’s came later in the day, with a traditional Anglican evensong. Choir Director and Organist, David Pimm has gained a reputation amongst music lovers for his occasional series of sacred choral music, requiems and oratorios at St Mary’s. Last Sunday’s service was a traditional choral evensong, where “voices sounding together in harmony is heard at the ‘even’ point between the active day and restful night, allowing listeners time for restful contemplation”. It is a tradition that extends back to 1549 and, as the Vicar, Rev. Ben Lovell, reminded us, evensong has been described as “the jewel in the crown of Anglican worship”.

During the late afternoon, the music of worship had continued by ringing of the changes by an extended team from the Middlesex Bellringers on the St Mary’s Major of eight bells, cast by Thomas Mears in 1831. This formed a prelude to the St Mary’s Summer Evensong, the musical inspiration of which included choral works by Purcell, Stanford and Stainer, plus a number of powerful congregational hymns, parenthesised by remarkable organ solos.

The introductory organ piece was Felix Mendelsshöhn’s Sonata IV for Organ, the last of the six Organ Sonatas to be written in this Opus 65 series. Mendelsshöhn was greatly influenced in his church music by Bach, and the transcendental feel of his Sonata IV illustrates this well. The piece opens with a spritely allegro, which soon develops a more contemplative, pious mood, before returning to a quicker tempo and concluding with an impressively majestic crescendo. When playing the Sonatas, Mendelsshöhn himself demanded a well-pitched organ, with a good standard of touch from the pedalboard as well as the manuals. St Mary’s organ was a gift from King William IV to commemorate his coronation, and was built by J.C.Bishop in 1831. Not only is it a superb instrument, it underwent extensive restoration work in the summer of 2017. So Mendelsshöhn would have been very pleased to play at St Mary’s.

For the introit, the choir entered to the clear Baroque ringing tones of Henry Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Alway, singing an extract from this well-known Bell Anthem with its exhortation “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God”, thereby setting the theme of the service.

When the Royal College of Music was founded in 1882, Charles Villiers Stanford was not only one of its founding professors, but also one of the youngest. His pupils included Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Sadly, Stanford’s many orchestral and operatic works are now neglected, but he still remains one of Britain’s foremost church composers. Certainly, the choral works of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford are not neglected by Pimm and the St Mary’s choir.

Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittus settings in C major (Op. 115) were part of the liturgical backbone of St Mary’s Summer Evensong.  In Magnificat, the canticle based on Mary’s praise to God following her visitation, Stanford points up the humility of Mary through subtle use of voice and volume. Phrase such as “the lowliness of His handmaiden” are taken pianissimo, whereas “He hath filled the hungry with good things”, as a soprano duet contrasts with the tenor and bass counter-concept of “and the rich He hath sent empty away”. The Nunc Dimittus, elderly Simeon’s touching reaction to seeing the infant Christ, in Stanford’s scoring is soft, peaceful and widely expressive. In the hands of St Mary’s choir, working largely as an ensemble, Stanford’s intentions were given clear emotional insight.

The richness of emotional expression in Stanford’s sacred choral works was amply demonstrated in the anthem, Glorious and Powerful God, one of the three motets of Opus 135 and the choral centre to Summer Evensong. The anthem is an acknowledgement of might of God and mankind’s relationship with God. The measured phrasing, “We understand Thy dwelling is on high, above the starry sky”, where sustained soprano notes almost paint a picture of the Milky Way, forms a vividly descriptive opening. Then God and mankind interact in the supplication to “show us Thy light”, a gentle and quiet episode, before the bold plea comes strongly in, “Arise, O Lord”. The conclusion is bold and decisive, “Thy name be blest, founder and foundation” of the world.

A brief mention must be made of the skill of the bible readers, Nigel Francis, who read from Job, and Didie Bucknall, whose reading from St Paul’s epistle to the Romans sounded just like she had taken Paul’s letter straight from the envelope and was letting us know what he had to say.

Pimm and the St Mary’s choir are exponents of the works of the Victorian composer, Sir John Stainer, and the choral part of the service concluded with Stainer’s Sevenfold Amen. The title speaks for itself, but the exploration of intonation and the complex interweaving of voices restates this time-immemorial single word as a certain conviction of truth and an affirmation of God’s promises.

Jehan Alain came from a family in Paris whose every member seemed to be associated with organs, as organists, organ composers, or organ builders. Jehan Alain was an organist and composer. He was killed in action, aged 29, in June 1940 and posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery. As a skilled motorcyclist in the French Army, he had been reconnoitring the enemy advance on Saumur, when he came across a platoon of German soldiers. He engaged them single-handed, armed only with his rifle, and killed sixteen of the enemy troops before being brought down himself.

Forming the final organ solo for Summer Evensong was Litanies. Composed three years before his death, it is probably one of the best-known of Alain’s works, but is recognised as being fiendishly difficult to play. The piece builds on an intricate melodic concept, which it repeatedly dismantles and reconstructs in a variety of moods, ranging from joyfully soft and reflective to apprehensively troubled and edgy. Alain explained his intent thus: “When the Christian soul in its distress finds no new words with which to implore God’s mercy, it repeats endlessly the same invocation with strong faith. Reason having attained its zenith, Faith alone reaches on high.” The motif itself goes through a remarkable progression, reappearing in overlapping forms. The work’s impressively complex conclusion is hugely powerful and finally resolves in a note-crammed cornucopia.

Nat at Organ 4A


The Bishop organ, in all its restored glory, was put through its acrobatic paces with great dexterity of hands and pedals by the outstanding visiting organist, Nat Keiller, an award-winning Royal College of Organists graduate, no stranger to the St Mary’s organ. Keiller’s virtuosity, a highlight of the Summer Evensong, was amazing and quite exhausting even just watching and listening.

What better way, then, to round off the evening by decamping into the churchyard for a civilised glass or two of Pimm’s and a cream tea with delicious home-made scones and jam, where we all enjoyed the evening sunshine of the beautiful world this side of the starry sky.

Mark Aspen
July 2018

Photography courtesy of Jenny Winterburn and Thomas Forsythe.