Mum on stage

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Peter Anderson chats with Jodie Nolan, the local mum who is starring in the hyper-successful musical Mamma Mia in the West End this summer

A sunny, funny tale of a mother, daughter and three possible dads set on an idyllic Greek island, has been celebrating the music of Abba and entertaining audiences the world over since 1999. Now a mum who took time out of her West End career has joined the ensemble cast once more. For about a decade Jodie Nolan has been enjoying married life in Chipping Norton, teaching dance and musical theatre, after herself starting to learn ballet at the age of two and a half at a dance school in Byfleet.

Who are her inspirations? “Both my parents, but especially my mother. I was brought up with the philosophy if you really want something go for it, and they were very supportive. Growing up, it was Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz and ballet wise Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Knight.

How did you get your first break in the West End? “I did not go straight into a musicals after leaving the Laine Academy in Guildford, I spent time working as part of the entertainment team on one of the Royal Caribbean Cruise ships, very quickly I had to get my head around all types of shows, and I was away from home. Then, I performed in a couple of tours of Chicago, and then the international tour of Mamma Mia. When I saw that there were vacancies in the West End show and so I gave it a shot and managed to get into the cast in 2008.

Was it hard ten years ago to decide to have a break from the West End? “At the time no, it had been a challenging time for me, I had got married to a lovely husband, but I lost my mother and decided it was time to take a step back for a while. Alongside having children – we now have two lovely daughters and live in idyllic Chipping Norton. I also trained as a teacher in ballet and musical theatre and opened the Nolan Academy. I just felt the time was right now for another shot at the West End and was pleased to get back into Mamma Mia – and supervise the teachers who are covering me in the academy.

Jodie is back on stage in Mamma Mia, but are there any other musicals on her wish list? “What a question! As I walk along The Strand to get to the theatre you see so many musicals that are on. But who wouldn’t want to appear in Les Miserables?”

Want to go?

See Jodie in Mamma Mia in the Novello Theatre in London’s West End – buy your tickets

Vinyl Revival

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Watch The Vinyl Revival at Oxford’s Phoenix Playhouse

Billed as “a film about why the tables are turning again”, The Vinyl Revival is a 43-minute documentary exploring the renaissance of all things vinyl.

Released as part of Record Store Day 2019, it is now enjoying a limited cinema and festival run and you can catch it at the Phoenix Picturehouse in Walton Street, Oxford on Wednesday, 24th July.

In The Vinyl Revival you can hear from new passionate record shop owners as well as the established die-hards going strong and thriving.

The documentary also features musicians and music industry pundits, experts on culture and music history. The film discusses the importance of the record shop and vinyl as a whole. It addresses the why’s of vinyl’s revival, the human need for belonging, the love of history, and the stories of how the humble little record shop has shaped so many lives.

It follows on from the acclaimed Last Shop Standing and is again directed and produced by Pip Piper.

Contributors include Philip Selway (Radiohead), Jen Otter Bikerdike (Rock and Roll Historian), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Ade Utley (Portishead).

After the documentary there will be a Q&A with Pip and Philip Selway of Oxford-band Radiohead. The event starts at 8.30pm.

True lovers of vinyl will be interested in the album, The Vinyl Revival, a gatefold compilation album released for Record Store Day 2019 and the book, The Vinyl Revival and the Shops that Made it Happen by Graham Jones, which inspired the film. Jones is famous for being the man who has visited more record shops than anyone ever.

Nick Mason, of Pink Floyd summed up vinyl saying:
“The vinyl record is the equivalent of whether you have the tea bag or the Japanese tea ceremony, the tea ceremony is the right way to approach music”.

To book tickets and for more information

 

Bjorn Again

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Bjorn Again are set to shine at the black-tie cultural extravaganza that is Henley Festival on the banks of the River Thames, between 10th & 14th July

One of this year’s headline act started out with a pub gig in Melbourne which had an audience of 350, from just a chalkboard outside the pub that day in 1988.

Scripted and choreographed as a tongue-in-cheek satirical parody of ABBA, the show rapidly achieved cult status. Having been acknowledged by Bjorn Ulvaeus as being the show which single-handedly initiated the ABBA revival in the late 1980s early 1990s, the Bjorn Again show is hailed as the most popular and successful show of its type. Now, just over 30 years later Rod Stephen, who founded the group brings Bjorn Again to the Henley Festival.

Growing up in Australia, who was the first band Rod remembers following and seeing live? “I was probably more into the rock scene than music like Abba,” he says. “The main group who I liked at the time started off as a New Zealand group Split Enz (you probably know them better as Crowded House); it was not just their musicality and vocals, but also, they opened my eyes to the theatricality of pop music. I remember seeing them once live and the entire stage looked like a front room, the keyboard player was playing with a standard lamp behind him.”

So, how did the idea of an ABBA parody band come about? “It was 1988, and none of the groups I had been in amounted to anything. I felt like doing something different and thought of a parody band. I had three choices, Queen, The Beatles or Abba, growing up in the 1970s I had the flared trousers so picked Abba. I got together a group of musicians and we spent months rehearsing and watching videos of Abba, then came our first gig. It was at a pub in Melbourne, and the only publicity was on the chalk board outside, “Abba tribute band here tonight”. We had 350 people in, they couldn’t hold any more! We were invited back the next month, and before we knew it, we were performing quite a few nights of the week in either Melbourne or Sydney and the media picked up on us.”

Is this your first time in the Thames Valley, or indeed floating! “I think it is the first time we have appeared at the Henley Festival, and we’ve performed on floating stages though I hope it doesn’t put us too far from the audience. We did make an appearance just up the Thames at the Reading Festival in 1992. I had this call from my agent to say we were needed to play the Reading Festival, and I said needed, why? Apparently, it was one of the late Kurt Cobain’s requests that we open for Nirvana. It was a great gig and that night we really rocked the Abba hits. To this day, I can still remember the cheers of the crowds.

What can the crowds at the Henley Festival look forward to? “All the great well-known Abba hits and some of the others they can sing along to. With Bjorn Again in authentic costumes, hopefully we can get everyone dancing in the aisles.”

Henley Festival

Bjorn Again are on the floating stage on Saturday, 13th July; visit the website

Wallingford Car Rally

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Rev up for rally: Hundreds of vintage and classic cars are set to take to the streets for this year’s Wallingford Car Rally

Petrol heads and fans of vintage vehicles will be lining the streets to get a look at the hundreds of cars set to roll through town as part of this year’s Wallingford Car Rally.

Thousands watched last year as the colourful, classic and quirky drove through the town before parking up at The Kinecroft for a fun-packed day celebrating all things motor-related.

Wallingford’s hugely popular classic car rally and parade is rolling back in to town on 12th May and is set to feature hundreds of amazing cars and motorbikes.

Last year almost £18,000 was given to local good causes – Wallingford Scouts, The Corn Exchange, Riding for the Disabled, SeeSaw, MacMillan and Wallingford Fire Service among others and brought the total raised overall since the event started to almost £120,000.

Entries for the parade, which starts at 10.30am, are now full – they sold out in an impressive 23 minutes – but everyone is welcome to come along on the day and watch the parade drive into the Kinecroft before enjoying the day’s events there which run until around 5pm.

In addition to the cars, visitors will be able to enjoy a great selection of fun activities for the whole family including a climbing wall, penny arcade and many food traders.

Admission is free but buckets are on site for donations directly to local causes.

Visitors on the day can also enjoy rides in a classic or supercar courtesy of The Sporting Bears Motor Club which offer rides in the cars in exchange for a donation.

For more information visit the Wallingford Car Rally site

Green Day’s American Idiot

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Here’s why you should catch this powerful musical at Reading’s Hexagon between now and Saturday, 4th May, writes Peter Anderson

Three childhood friends in post 9/11 America are each seeking for a meaning. That was the inspiration for Green Day’s Grammy winning album, fifteen years ago “American Idiot”. Ten years ago, came the musical with lyrics Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong and a book by Billy Joe and Mike Mayer. The musical won two Tony awards and another Grammy award for best show album. Now the musical is touring the UK and comes to Reading and Wimbledon as part of the tenth anniversary tour. The show stars singer-songwriter Luke Friend (X-Factor), Tom Milner (The Voice and Waterloo Road) and introducing Sam Lavery (X-Factor and Capital FM) as Whatsername.

Peter Anderson caught up with the lovely Sam and asked how she discovered her love and talent for singing. I had often sung around the home as a child, then we had a school trip out to Holy Island that included a talent competition. A lot of the lads did football tricks, some of the girls did dancing and for some unknown reason I had a go at singing. From that moment on that was the way I wanted to go, when I came back from the holiday, I started singing lessons and entered competitions.

Whereas unlike Tom she did not have the chance to sing for Tom Jones, one of her relatives and her inspiration has. “I only have one inspiration, my grandfather. When he was younger, he was a backing singer for a while for Tom Jones and could have made a career of it. But that career would have been in London and he had a young family in the North-East. He decided to forgo the possible career and go down the mines to look after his family. I am so glad that he can now enjoy my success and see what I am doing, and he has been very supportive to me.”

So, what can audiences look forward to in the explosive rock musical that is “Green Day’s American Idiot”? “Very like a gig combined with an emotional roller-coaster ride, we have a live backing band between the three of us. I think it is the kind of show where you leave it humming the tunes and then slowly the issues that the musical also raises dawn on you.”

The three of you are more known as singers than for acting, how did you work on the characterisations? “All three of us major characters have been given a lot of help about the research to do with the complex issues the songs raise. The other idea that I really found helpful was that we were made to read the lyrics time and time again without the music. This gave us the time to really grasp the meaning of the words and who we were singing them to.”

For your chance to see this powerful musical that has introduced a new generation of theatregoers to Green Day’s music the show comes to Reading this week and Wimbledon later in May. It is at the Hexagon from Tuesday 30th April to Saturday 4th May, and the New Theatre Wimbledon between 14th and 18th May.

  For full information on performances and tickets visit www.readingarts.com or www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbedon-theatre.

Avenue Q

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An irresistibly charming tale of the loveable characters on a downtown New York street trying to make sense of life’s burning issues comes to the Reading Hexagon this week.

Avenue Q was created by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, co-creator of Book of Mormon and writer of the songs for Disney’s Frozen. It won the Tony Awards “Triple Crown” for best musical, best score and best book.
Peter Anderson chatted to Lawrence Smith who plays Princeton in Avenue Q.  “I came late to acting,” he says, “my first love was singing. As a teenager, I sang with the National Youth Choir of Scotland. I trained as a classical singer with the Royal Academy of Music and Royal Scottish Conservatoire before moving into musical theatre. If the acoustics are right, backstage there is always a chance I may burst into some Purcell!”
Who has been the inspiration for Lawrence as he has widened his skillset from being a classical singer? “Without a doubt, Audra McDonald. Like me, she trained as a classical singer” in her case at the Julliard. She has won six Tony awards across all four acting categories and is equally at home on Broadway or performing with Houston Grand Opera.

Speaking of widening his skillset, is this the first time Lawrence has worked with puppets? “Absolutely, it’s a challenge combining acting and being true to the character and also manipulating the puppets and keeping everything under control.” He may have not worked with puppets, but he has certainly learned how to handle gadgetry on stage, one of his recent roles was the lead in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd!

What can the Hexagon audience look forward to? “An evening of mischief, bad behaviour and political incorrectness! There are loads of funny songs, and everyone knows it has adult content. But I think the thing that the audience can look forward to is being surprised by the story. With people concentrating more on the songs, etc. I think the story and what it says about human relationships is something that almost tends to creep up on people without them realising.

Princeton has recently graduated with a BA in English – useful for – well we’ll see, he thinks he is a “bright young thing”. Heavily influenced by what he has seen on television he moves to New York, the place where all bright young things hang out. He arrives at Avenue Q, a veritable modern day Cheers, the apartment block where everyone knows your name! There he is greeted by a mixture of loveable and unforgettable characters who help not to not only guide him through New York, but also help him to discover who he is.

Well Avenue Q is the apartment block where Princeton ends up, but who would be the neighbours in Lawrence’s dream apartment block? “Dream is probably an interesting thought. It would be a dream for me, but perhaps not others in the area. I think I would love to live in an apartment block with Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. They would be a lovely group to sing with.”

New York is Princeton’s dream place to live, but does Lawrence have some dream places where he would love  to perform “I have been lucky enough to perform at The Globe and the Old Vic and being Scottish it is great that the run of Avenue Q is taking me up to some Scottish venues. The one place I haven’t managed to perform at so far is the National Theatre, that would be great.”

Avenue Q is part flesh, part felt and all heart.

An evening of mischief, bad behaviour and political incorrectness!

The show runs from today until Saturday, 27th April (advisory age 14+ mature themes). To book your tickets call 01889 9606060 or visit the Hexagon website

Henley House & Garden Show

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Looking for some inspiration for your home and garden, the head to the Henley House & Garden Show at the weekend. 

The show is returning to Henley town centre and the historic town hall on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd March with more than 65 exhibitors of high-end interior and garden goods and services as well as speakers, entertainment, competitions and more. 

Exhibitors include architects and curtain-makers, hot tub suppliers, cars and garages, cushions, candles and infusers, ceramics, garden sculpture and a boat. Designers for gardens, interiors, lighting and sustainability are available for expert advice, plus conveyancing specialists, home-builders and finance advisors. Home décor stands abound and all styles of furniture are covered from Italian dining tables to antiques, farmhouse tables and chairs to ‘living edge’ tabletop consoles. 

The show’s theme is conservation – both of the home (through sustainable recycling and time-honoured building traditions) and of the garden where butterflies and bees do such hard work.  These insects are the show’s symbols as they appeal to both garden and home lovers.  The RSPB and the Woodland Trust will be exhibiting as well as Henley’s own conservation and garden societies who will be in the town hall. Honeys of Henley will be giving a bee and honey tasting talk too. 

Local school children have been involved in an arts and poetry competition to draw bees and butterflies and the winning drawings and poems will be displayed at the show. There will also be a photography competition that will be overseen by the Henley College. Hashtag #HHGS19 on Instagram to send in your winning photos. 

Demonstrations, coordinated by the Creative Duck, will take place throughout the weekend on the stage in the central marquee. Displays include lampshade making, life drawing, building a hedgehog hotel, and tile painting. Local chefs will also be cooking at the Tara Neil Kitchen stand offering delicious treats to try. 

Three speaking events are taking place in the town hall, two on Saturday and another on Sunday. 

Tickets cost only £5 and all proceeds are going to the development of the garden at the Chiltern Centre for disabled children, a respite centre in Henley. 

Also on Sunday there will be  two Lego workshops for children at a cost of £15. 

To find out more visit www.thehenleyhouseandgardeshow.com 

Concert: Violin virtuoso

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Former Young Musician of the Year Jennifer Pike will be playing the piece that won her the title when she appears at Marlborough College.

At the age of just 12, Jennifer Pike became the youngest ever winner of the Young Musician of the Year in 2002.

Three years later she performed at the Proms and has gone on to build an international career which has included many more accolades, not least being the only classical artist to win the South Bank Show/Times Breakthrough Award.

Jennifer is passionate about helping other young people enhance their lives through music and is an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

You can enjoy her music on Sunday, 20th January when she takes to the stage in the Memorial Hall at the college, as part of the World Class Musicians in Marlborough series when she will perform Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending alongside pieces by Bach and Wieniawski.

Following the redevelopment of the Memorial Hall (which Marlborough College provides as sponsors of the concert series) the town now has a state-of-the-art concert hall.

The £6.5million project retains the charm of the original design while adding contemporary touches to create a state-of-the-art facility. The acoustics received accolades after a BBC National Orchestra of Wales concert recently and with improved front of house facilities, a concert at Marlborough College will be a true treat for the senses.

  Tickets available at marlboroughconcertseries.org. Enquiries: 01672 892566 or [email protected]